Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

Mary and Lord Darnley

During the three or four years which elapsed after Queen Mary's arrival in Scotland, she had to pass through many stormy scenes of anxiety and trouble. The great nobles of the land were continually quarreling, and all parties were earnest and eager in their efforts to get Mary's influence and power on their side. She had a great deal of trouble with the affairs of her brother, the Lord James. He wished to have the earldom of Murray conferred upon him. The castle and estates pertaining to this title were in the north of Scotland, in the neighborhood of Inverness. They were in possession of another family, who refused to give them up. Mary accompanied Lord James to the north with an army, to put him in possession. They took the castle, and hung the governor, who had refused to surrender at their summons. This, and some other acts of this expedition, have since been considered unjust and cruel; but posterity have been divided in opinion on the question how far Mary herself was personally responsible for them.

Mary, at any rate, displayed a great degree of decision and energy in her management of public affairs, and in the personal exploits which she performed. She made excursions from castle to castle, and from town to town, all over Scotland. On these expeditions she traveled on horseback, sometimes with a royal escort, and sometimes at the head of an army of eighteen or twenty thousand men. These royal progresses were made, sometimes among the great towns and cities on the eastern coast of Scotland, and also, at other times, among the gloomy and dangerous defiles of the Highlands. Occasionally she would pay visits to the nobles at their castles, to hunt in their parks, to review their Highland retainers, or to join them in celebrations and fetes, and military parades.

During all this time, her personal influence and ascendency over all who knew her was constantly increasing; and the people of Scotland, notwithstanding the disagreement on the subject of religion, became more and more devoted to their queen. The attachment which those who were in immediate attendance upon her felt to her person and character, was in many cases extreme. In one instance, this attachment led to a very sad result. There was a young Frenchman, named Chatelard, who came in Mary's train from France. He was a scholar and a poet. He began by writing verses in Mary's praise, which Mary read, and seemed to be pleased with. This increased his interest in her, and led him to imagine that he was himself the object of her kind regard. Finally, the love which he felt for her came to be a perfect infatuation. He concealed himself one night in Mary's bed-chamber, armed, as if to resist any attack which the attendants might make upon him. He was discovered by the female attendants, and taken away, and they, for fear of alarming Mary, did not tell her of the circumstance till the next morning.

Mary was very much displeased, or, at least, professed to be so. John Knox thought that this displeasure was only a pretense. She, however, forbid Chatelard to come any more into her sight. A day or two after this, Mary set out on a journey to the north. Chatelard followed. He either believed that Mary really loved him, or else he was led on by that strange and incontrollable infatuation which so often, in such cases, renders even the wisest men utterly reckless and blind to the consequences of what they say or do. He watched his opportunity, and one night, when Mary retired to her bedroom, he followed her directly in. Mary called for help. The attendants came in, and immediately sent for the Earl of Murray, who was in the palace. Chatelard protested that all he wanted was to explain and apologize for his coming into Mary's room before, and to ask her to forgive him. Mary, however, would not listen. She was very much incensed. When Murray came in, she directed him to run his dagger through the man. Murray, however, instead of doing this, had the offender seized and sent to prison. In a few days he was tried, and condemned to be beheaded. The excitement and enthusiasm of his love continued to the last. He stood firm and undaunted on the scaffold, and, just before he laid his head on the block, he turned toward the place where Mary was then lodging, and said, "Farewell! loveliest and most cruel princess that the world contains!"

In the mean time, Mary and Queen Elizabeth continued ostensibly on good terms. They sent embassadors to each other's courts. They communicated letters and messages to each other, and entered into various negotiations respecting the affairs of their respective kingdoms. The truth was, each was afraid of the other, and neither dared to come to an open rupture. Elizabeth was uneasy on account of Mary's claim to her crown, and was very anxious to avoid driving her to extremities, since she knew that, in that case, there would be great danger of her attempting openly to enforce it. Mary, on the other hand, thought that there was more probability of her obtaining the succession to the English crown by keeping peace with Elizabeth than by a quarrel. Elizabeth was not married, and was likely to live and die single. Mary would then be the next heir, without much question. She wished Elizabeth to acknowledge this, and to have the English Parliament enact it. If Elizabeth would take this course, Mary was willing to waive her claims during Elizabeth's life. Elizabeth, however, was not willing to do this decidedly. She wished to reserve the right to herself of marrying if she chose. She also wished to keep Mary dependent upon her as long as she could. Hence, while she would not absolutely refuse to comply with Mary's proposition, she would not really accede to it, but kept the whole matter in suspense by endless procrastination, difficulties and delays.

I have said that, after Elizabeth, Mary's claim to the British crown was almost unquestioned. There was another lady about as nearly related to the English royal line as Mary. Her name was Margaret Stuart. Her title was Lady Lennox. She had a son named Henry Stuart, whose title was Lord Darnley. It was a question whether Mary or Margaret were best entitled to consider herself the heir to the British crown after Elizabeth. Mary, therefore, had two obstacles in the way of the accomplishment of her wishes to be Queen of England: one was the claim of Elizabeth, who was already in possession of the throne, and the other the claims of Lady Lennox, and, after her, of her son Darnley. There was a plan of disposing of this last difficulty in a very simple manner. It was, to have Mary marry Lord Darnley, and thus unite these two claims. This plan had been proposed, but there had been no decision in respect to it. There was one objection: that Darnley being Mary's cousin, their marriage was forbidden by the laws of the Catholic Church. There was no way of obviating this difficulty but by applying to the pope to grant them a special dispensation.

In the mean time, a great many other plans were formed for Mary's marriage. Several of the princes and potentates of Europe applied for her hand. They were allured somewhat, no doubt, by her youth and beauty, and still more, very probably, by the desire to annex her kingdom to their dominions. Mary, wishing to please Elizabeth, communicated often with her, to ask her advice and counsel in regard to her marriage. Elizabeth's policy was to embarrass and perplex the whole subject by making difficulties in respect to every plan proposed. Finally, she recommended a gentleman of her own court to Mary—Robert Dudley, whom she afterward made Earl of Leicester—one of her special favorites. The position of Dudley, and the circumstances of the case, were such that mankind have generally supposed that Elizabeth did not seriously imagine that such a plan could be adopted, but that she proposed it, as perverse and intriguing people often do, as a means of increasing the difficulty. Such minds often attempt to prevent doing what can  be done by proposing and urging what they know is impossible.

In the course of these negotiations, Queen Mary once sent Melville, her former page of honor in France, as a special embassador to Queen Elizabeth, to ascertain more perfectly her views. Melville had followed Mary to Scotland, and had entered her service there as a confidential secretary; and as she had great confidence in his prudence and in his fidelity, she thought him the most suitable person to undertake this mission. Melville afterward lived to an advanced age, and in the latter part of his life he wrote a narrative of his various adventures, and recorded, in quaint and ancient language, many of his conversations and interviews with the two queens. His mission to England was of course a very important event in his life, and one of the most curious and entertaining passages in his memoirs is his narrative of his interviews with the English queen. He was, at the time, about thirty-four years of age. Mary was about twenty-two.

Sir James Melville was received with many marks of attention and honor by Queen Elizabeth. His first interview with her was in a garden near the palace. She first asked him about a letter which Mary had recently written to her, and which, she said, had greatly displeased her; and she took out a reply from her pocket, written in very sharp and severe language, though she said she had not sent it because it was not severe enough, and she was going to write another. Melville asked to see the letter from Mary which had given Elizabeth so much offense; and on reading it, he explained it, and disavowed, on Mary's part, any intention to give offense, and thus finally succeeded in appeasing Elizabeth's displeasure, and at length induced her to tear up her angry reply.

Elizabeth then wanted to know what Mary thought of her proposal of Dudley for her husband. Melville told her that she had not given the subject much reflection, but that she was going to appoint two commissioners, and she wished Elizabeth to appoint two others, and then that the four should meet on the borders of the two countries, and consider the whole subject of the marriage. Elizabeth said that she perceived that Mary did not think much of this proposed match. She said, however, that Dudley stood extremely high in her regard, that she was going to make him an earl, and that she should marry him herself were it not that she was fully resolved to live and die a single woman. She said she wished very much to have Dudley become Mary's husband both on account of her attachment to him, and also on account of his attachment to her, which she was sure would prevent his allowing her, that is, Elizabeth, to have any trouble out of Mary's claim to her crown as long as she lived.

Elizabeth also asked Melville to wait in Westminster until the day appointed for making Dudley an earl. This was done, a short time afterward, with great ceremony. Lord Darnley, then a very tall and slender youth of about nineteen, was present on the occasion. His father and mother had been banished from Scotland, on account of some political offenses, twenty years before, and he had thus himself been brought up in England. As he was a near relative of the queen, and a sort of heir-presumptive to the crown, he had a high position at the court, and his office was, on this occasion, to bear the sword of honor before the queen. Dudley kneeled before Elizabeth while she put upon him the badges of his new dignity. Afterward she asked Melville what he thought of him. Melville was polite enough to speak warmly in his favor. "And yet," said the queen, "I suppose you prefer yonder long  lad," pointing to Darnley. She knew something of Mary's half-formed design of making Darnley her husband. Melville, who did not wish her to suppose that Mary had any serious intention of choosing Darnley, said that "no woman of spirit would choose such a person as he was, for he was handsome, beardless, and lady-faced; in fact, he looked more like a woman than a man."

Melville was not very honest in this, for he had secret instructions at this very time to apply to Lady Lennox, Darnley's mother, to send her son into Scotland, in order that Mary might see him, and be assisted to decide the question of becoming his wife, by ascertaining how she was going to like him personally. Queen Elizabeth, in the mean time, pressed upon Melville the importance of Mary's deciding soon in favor of the marriage with Leicester. As to declaring in favor of Mary's right to inherit the crown after her, she said the question was in the hands of the great lawyers and commissioners to whom she had referred it, and that she heartily wished that they might come to a conclusion in favor of Mary's claim. She should urge the business forward as fast as she could; but the result would depend very much upon the disposition which Mary showed to comply with her wishes in respect to the marriage. She said she should never marry herself unless she was compelled to it on account of Mary's giving her trouble by her claims upon the crown, and forcing her to desire that it should go to her direct descendants. If Mary would act wisely, and as she ought, and follow her  counsel, she would, in due time, have all her desire.

Some time more elapsed in negotiations and delays. There was a good deal of trouble in getting leave for Darnley to go to Scotland. From his position, and from the state of the laws and customs of the two realms, he could not go without Elizabeth's permission. Finally, Mary sent word to Elizabeth that she would marry Leicester according to her wish, if she would have her claim to the English crown, after  Elizabeth, acknowledged and established by the English government, so as to have that question definitely and finally settled. Elizabeth sent back for answer to this proposal, that if Mary married Leicester, she would advance him to great honors and dignities, but that she could not do any thing at present about the succession. She also, at the same time, gave permission to Darnley to go to Scotland.

It is thought that Elizabeth never seriously intended that Mary should marry Leicester, and that she did not suppose Mary herself would consent to it on any terms. Accordingly, when she found Mary was acceding to the plan, she wanted to retreat from it herself, and hoped that Darnley's going to Scotland, and appearing there as a new competitor in the field, would tend to complicate and embarrass the question in Mary's mind, and help to prevent the Leicester negotiation from going any further. At any rate, Lord Darnley—then a very tall and handsome young man of nineteen—obtained suddenly permission to go to Scotland. Mary went to Wemys Castle, and made arrangements to have Darnley come and visit her there.

Wemys Castle is situated in a most romantic and beautiful spot on the sea-shore, on the northern side of the Frith of Forth. Edinburgh is upon the southern side of the Frith, and is in full view from the windows of the castle, with Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat on the left of the city. Wemys Castle was, at this time, the residence of Murray, Mary's brother. Mary's visit to it was an event which attracted a great deal of attention. The people flocked into the neighborhood and provisions and accommodations of every kind rose enormously in price. Every one was eager to get a glimpse of the beautiful queen. Besides, they knew that Lord Darnley was expected, and the rumor that he was seriously thought of as her future husband had been widely circulated, and had awakened, of course, a universal desire to see him.

Wemy's Castle


Mary was very much pleased with Darnley. She told Melville, after their first interview, that he was the handsomest and best proportioned "long man" she had ever seen. Darnley was, in fact, very tall, and as he was straight and slender, he appeared even taller than he really was. He was, however, though young, very easy and graceful in his manners, and highly accomplished. Mary was very much pleased with him. She had almost decided to make him her husband before she saw him, merely from political considerations, on account of her wish to combine his claim with hers in respect to the English crown. Elizabeth's final answer, refusing the terms on which Mary had consented to marry Leicester, which came about this time, vexed her, and determined her to abandon that plan. And now just in such a crisis, to find Darnley possessed of such strong personal attractions, seemed to decide the question. In a few days her imagination was full of pictures of joy and pleasure, in anticipations of union with such a husband.

The thing took the usual course of such affairs. Darnley asked Mary to be his wife. She said no, and was offended with him for asking it. He offered her a present of a ring. She refused to accept it. But the no meant yes, and the rejection of the ring was only the prelude to the acceptance of something far more important, of which a ring is the symbol. Mary's first interview with Darnley was in February. In April, Queen Elizabeth's embassador sent her word that he was satisfied that Mary's marriage with Darnley all was arranged and settled.

Queen Elizabeth was or pretended to be, in a great rage. She sent the most urgent remonstrances to Mary against the execution of the plan. She forwarded, also, very decisive orders to Darnley, and to the Earl of Lennox, his father, to return immediately to England. Lennox replied that he could not return, for "he did not think the climate would agree with him!" Darnley sent back word that he had entered the service of the Queen of Scots, and henceforth should obey her orders alone. Elizabeth, however, was not the only one who opposed this marriage. The Earl of Murray, Mary's brother, who had been thus far the great manager of the government under Mary, took at once a most decided stand against it. He enlisted a great number of Protestant nobles with him, and they held deliberations, in which they formed plans for resisting it by force. But Mary, who, with all her gentleness and loveliness of spirit, had, like other women, some decision and energy when an object in which the heart is concerned is at stake, had made up her mind. She sent to France to get the consent of her friends there. She dispatched a commissioner to Rome to obtain the pope's dispensation; she obtained the sanction of her own Parliament; and, in fact, in every way hastened the preparations for the marriage.

Murray, on the other hand, and his confederate lords, were determined to prevent it. They formed a plan to rise in rebellion against Mary, to waylay and seize her, to imprison her, and to send Darnley and his father to England, having made arrangements with Elizabeth's ministers to receive them at the borders. The plan was all well matured, and would probably have been carried into effect, had not Mary, in some way or other, obtained information of the design. She was then at Stirling, and they were to waylay her on the usual route to Edinburgh. She made a sudden journey, at an unexpected time, and by a new and unusual road, and thus evaded her enemies. The violence of this opposition only stimulated her determination to carry the marriage into effect without delay. Her escape from her rebellious nobles took place in June, and she was married in July. This was six months after her first interview with Darnley. The ceremony was performed in the royal chapel at Holyrood. They show, to this day, the place where she is said to have stood, in the now roofless interior.

Mary was conducted into the chapel by Lennox and another nobleman, in the midst of a large company of, lords and ladies of the court, and of strangers of distinction, who had come to Edinburgh to witness the ceremony. A vast throng had collected also around the palace. Mary was led to the altar, and then Lord Darnley was conducted in. The marriage ceremony was performed according to the Catholic ritual. Three rings, one of them a diamond ring of great value, were put upon her finger. After the ceremony, largess was proclaimed, and money distributed among the crowd, as had been done in Paris at Mary's former marriage, five years before. Mary then remained to attend the celebration of mass, Darnley, who was not a Catholic, retiring. After the mass, Mary returned to the palace, and changed the mourning dress which she had continued to wear from the time of her first husband's death to that hour, for one more becoming a bride. The evening was spent in festivities of every kind.

We have said that Darnley was personally attractive in respect both to his countenance and his manners; and, unfortunately, this is all that can be said in his favor. He was weak-minded, and yet self-conceited and vain. The sudden elevation which his marriage with a queen gave him, made him proud, and he soon began to treat all around him in a very haughty and imperious manner. He seems to have been entirely unaccustomed to exercise any self-command, or to submit to any restraints in the gratification of his passions. Mary paid him a great many attentions, and took great pleasure in conferring upon him, as her queenly power enabled her to do, distinctions and honors; but, instead of being grateful for them, he received them as matters of course, and was continually demanding more. There was one title which he wanted, and which, for some good reason, it was necessary to postpone conferring upon him. A nobleman came to him one day and informed him of the necessity of this delay. He broke into a fit of passion, drew his dagger, rushed toward the nobleman, and attempted to stab him. He commenced his imperious and haughty course of procedure even before his marriage, and continued it afterward, growing more and more violent as his ambition increased with an increase of power. Mary felt these cruel acts of selfishness and pride very keenly, but, woman-like, she palliated and excused them, and loved him still.

She had, however, other trials and cares pressing upon her immediately. Murray and his confederates organized a formal and open rebellion. Mary raised an army and took the field against them. The country generally took her side. A terrible and somewhat protracted civil war ensued, but the rebels were finally defeated and driven out of the country. They went to England and claimed Elizabeth's protection, saying that she had incited them to the revolt, and promised them her aid. Elizabeth told them that it would not do for her to be supposed to have abetted a rebellion in her cousin Mary's dominions, and that, unless they would, in the presence of the foreign embassadors at her court, disavow, her having done so, she could not help them or countenance them in any way. The miserable men, being reduced to a hard extremity, made this disavowal. Elizabeth then said to them, "Now you have told the truth. Neither I, nor any one else in my name, incited you against your queen; and your abominable treason may set an example to my own subjects to rebel against me. So get you gone out of my presence, miserable traitors as you are."

Thus Mary triumphed over all the obstacles to her marriage with the man she loved; but, alas! before the triumph was fully accomplished, the love was gone. Darnley was selfish, unfeeling, and incapable of requiting affection like Mary's. He treated her with the most heartless indifference, though she had done everything to awaken his gratitude and win his love. She bestowed upon him every honor which it was in her power to grant. She gave him the title of king. She admitted him to share with her the powers and prerogatives of the crown. There is to this day, in Mary's apartments at Holyrood House, a double throne which she had made for herself and her husband, with their initials worked together in the embroidered covering, and each seat surmounted by a crown. Mankind have always felt a strong sentiment of indignation at the ingratitude which could requite such love with such selfishness and cruelty.