Mary Queen of Scots (AD 1542-1587)





HIS week in English Catholic History, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned Queen of Scotland on September 9, 1543. She was only 9 months old.

Mary Queen of Scots is mainly remembered for being the Catholic rival for England’s throne right after England had broken with Rome and become Protestant. She is also a direct ancestor of the current Queen of the United Kingdom, whereas Elizabeth I, Mary’s contemporary, died without any children, having chosen not to marry.

Since Queen Elizabeth of England, Mary’s cousin, was the illegitimate child of Ann Boleyn, for whom King Henry VIII divorced his true wife Catherine, Mary had a legal claim to Elizabeth’s throne.

Many years later, after 18 years of imprisonment, Mary was beheaded by Elizabeth, based on accusations that Mary had conspired to murder her. It seems clear, however, that these charges were trumped up to eliminate Mary’s Catholic Scottish claim on the Protestant English throne.


At her trial, following the guilty verdict, Mary said to an attendant, “Well, did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live; I was too great an obstacle to their religion.”


Queen Elizabeth asked Sir Amias Paulet, Mary’s caretaker, to secretly “shorten the life” of Mary to avoid the double scandal of publicly executing a queen and her own cousin. Paulet refused, saying he would not “make a shipwreck of his conscience, or leave so great a blot on his poor posterity.”

Mary spent the night before her execution in prayer. She wore red, the color of martyrs, to her execution. She said to her executioner, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.” Her last words were, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

After the executioner chopped off her head, he held up Mary’s severed head by the hair and said, “God save the Queen.” At this point, the head fell, and he was left holding only her wig.

After Mary’s beheading, her clothes, the chopping block, and everything touched by her blood was burned to discourage relic-hunters.

So if Mary died for the Faith, why isn’t she considered a martyr?

First, Mary’s second husband Lord Darnley was violently jealous, and murdered one of Mary’s counsellors. Lord Darnley later died under suspicious circumstances, when the house he was staying in was blown up by gunpowder and he was found smothered in the garden.

Second, Mary was kidnapped by the infamous Earl of Bothwell, rumored to be behind her second husband’s death, and brought to Dunbar Castle. Bothwell also may have raped her. She invalidly (see Canon 1089) married him under coercion two weeks later in a Protestant ceremony.

These two scandalous events permanently ruined Mary’s reputation.

However, because of her pious end, and because the blessed souls, even of Purgatory, can aid those on Earth, let us conclude with a prayer to her: Mary, Queen of Scots, pray for us, and glorified may you reign upon a better and imperishable throne!


For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive our This Week in English Catholic History articles in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, (C) 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 9.06.47 AM.png                                  image1.jpeg

John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

5 thoughts on “Mary Queen of Scots (AD 1542-1587)

  1. I cannot quite make out the year of death given for Lady Mary Grey on the lower right of the genealogical chart, but it looks to be 1558. If this is the case, it is a mistake, as she died in 1578.


  2. “Most modern scholars agree that these charges were trumped up …”

    Very few “modern scholars” would agree with this statement. What happened was that Anthony Babington and a number of “co-conspirators” entered upon a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and to spring the Scots’ Queen from her captivity. Among the conspirators there was at least one informant, and so Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Secretary (and spymaster-in-chief) was very quickly aware of it. He decided to allow the plot to continue, in the hope that Mary would be implicated in it, and even facilitated a way by which a correspondence could be conducted, supposedly secretly, between the conspirators and Mary, smuggling the letters through the providers of food and drink for the imprisoned queen and her attendants. Walsingham saw, of course, all the correspondence, and even doctored some of it. For instance, the conspirators would not proceed until Mary signified her approval of their scheme, but Walsingham had their letter altered so as to request her specific approval of assassinating Queen Elizabeth – and when she gave her approval (as she did) her fate was sealed.

    Mary suffered a very sad fate, but she brought most of her misfortunes on herself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Dr. Tighe, Thank you for your constructive critique. We have changed the article to make the more modest claim that it is our own judgment the charges were trumped up, as it may be there are a good number of scholars who agree with you, though the sources we consulted in writing our modest vignette above defended her innocence. First of all from the publicly available resources we consulted–admittedly in a non-exhaustive fashion–it seems that Mary’s reply was altered by one Thomas Phelippes, who forged an incriminating postscript that was used by Mary’s accusers to condemn her. Why was this forgery deemed necessary? Secondly, by tradition, the execution of a monarch for any reason was illegal, let alone for “treason”: Naturally, a monarch of one country cannot commit treason against the monarch of another since he is not a citizen of that country and owes no loyalties to the monarch. Thirdly, from the beginning to end, Mary admitted she had and would always try to escape, but denied her complicity in any assassination plot. Given indications of Mary’s piety in these later years, her comparative frankness, and the mortally sinful nature of going to one’s grave with such a lie on one’s conscience, it seems unlikely the Catholic Mary would persist to her death in such a lie. Fourthly, copies of the Casket Letters from her earlier life we know were altered in order to incriminate her by her enemies–the pretext for imprisoning her in the first place–and the originals of both the Casket letters and of the later Babington plot both disappeared. In a modern trial secondary evidence like this would be completely inadmissible. For these reasons we feel “trumped up” is a completely justified description of the charges and evidence the Protestant supporters of Elizabeth brought against Mary. I would personally agree however, as you have said, Mary did bring much of her misfortune upon herself. She is to be blamed for her imprudence insofar as she entrusted her person to the protection of her natural rival the legally bastard and heretical Elizabeth, whose interests were insuperably opposed to Mary’s own and whom by Mary’s own Catholic standards she should never have trusted, as events proved. Had she fled instead to France, she might have been more successful. In Christ by His Grace, Dr. Lerner


  3. Dear Dr. Tighe, we have corrected the dating error in the genealogy above which you correctly point out. Thank you. In Christ by His Grace, Dr. Lerner


  4. Pingback: The Queen’s 2018 Christmas Message: An Ordinarian’s Analysis | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s