Mary made a remarkably good and quick crossing to Scotland from France, arriving in the firth of Forth on 10th August1561 as the sun was shining, at Leith. This had everyone scurrying around like blue bottomed flies because nothing was ready yet to give her the entrance her majesty deserved. She went straight to Holyrood Palace and must have wandered around its rooms with wonder, empty as yet of her furniture. It might not be France but it was a large well appointed Palace and she set up her apartments. Her welcome from most people was thoroughly warm and enthusiastic, and Mary would have the support of the woman and man on the Musselborough Omnibus for almost all of her reign, excepting one rather key moment. But sadly, there was also the relentless and voluble opposition of John Knox. He organised a group of musicians beneath her window to keep her awake, which was mean. And on the first Sunday at Holyrood, when Mary went to mass in her private chapel as agreed with Lord James, there was a bust up in the courtyard as a group of Calvinists tried to have it stopped. John Knox and Lord James had fallen out rather hard over this – as far as Knox was concerned Mary should be subject to the Reformed kirk.
Mary’s view was different. In all she did soon after she arrived, she concentrated on building amity, consensus and harmony, under a framework of the rightful majesty of Scotland’s monarch. She therefore issued a proclamation early that she was resolved with her Councillors to make a final order for pacifying the differences on religion – but until that point the arrangements should remain as they were, with Catholic and Protestant living and worshipping side by side, albeit under the official religion of Protestantism. No one should seek to change or challenge this state of affairs. I am reminded of Henry VIII of England, and his mumpsimus and sumpsimus. Too late now I think.
She made the same attempt at reconciliation with her Council, involving magnates from across the spectrum and across the great families. I have been trying hard to beat the names of the major families into you since the end of the 15th century, and hopefully you have referred to my chart of nobility on the website, and will anyway recognise some of these names. Mary included the Hamiltons in the form of the Earl of Arran, the son of the head of the Hamilitons, the Duke of Chatellerault and former leader of the Council in Mary’s minority. As it happens, Arran was not well, with mental health problems, and would be end up being confined. In the meantime, he’d earned some ridicule in attempting to marry Elizabeth. It must be said the star of the Hamiltons was not in the ascendant. Maitland of Lethington became her personal secretary; and having been worried about Mary and her Catholicism, Maitland was converted to Mary’s talents if not her religion, announcing that she ‘doth declare a wisdom far exceeding her age’. He glowed even more brightly in writing to Cecil that she
Behaves herself so gently in every behalf as reasonably as we can require. If anything be amiss, the fault is rather in ourselves
I can hear Cecil’s teeth grinding in his grave as I write at such praise.
Also, on the Council were other magnates oriented towards Protestantism and amity with the English – the Campbell Earl of Argyll, the Douglas Earl of Morton, and Lord James Stewart. But other interests were also included; George Gordon, the Catholic Earl of Huntly, and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who although Protestant was deeply anti English. Bothwell will of course play a major part in Mary’s life; there’s a picture of him that survives which I have to say has all the aspects of a pantomime villain in a Buster Keaton film. It’s on the website. You might notice that the Stewart Earls of Lennox are missing; they are still in England after fighting on the English side during the rough woo’ing – but you know, watch this space.
So, Mary used her considerable talents to build consensus, around a regime pursuing reconciliation and her rights of succession to the English throne. It is critical to understand just how important to Mary this is, to the point of an obsession almost as strong a Cecil’s obsession with the English succession. A constant stream of letters wound their way between the two queens; Mary was convinced that all she needed to do was to meet Elizabeth in the flesh and all would be well, and therefore pursued a meeting between them. A strong and deep belief in getting her way through her charm is something of a feature of Mary’s character.
So reconciliation then; Mary did a great job in these early days of bringing people together but she was rather hamstrung by the currents of antagonism, feuding and ambition between the lords. One of these was that between Arran and Bothwell, a dispute which lead to fighting in the streets of Edinburgh. Arran by this stage was showing serious signs of illness and was confined. Meanwhile he claimed that Bothwell had encouraged him to kidnap the Queen. It is a feature of Mary’s reign that on more than one occasion her magnates planned to capture her and force her into a course of action. Professor Williams makes the point that the attitude with which Mary had to deal was uniquely challenging. Mary was more than usually vulnerable – unknown to her magnates, lacking the networks, subject to patriarchal social concepts that weakened the natural authority of monarchy. On this occasion though, Bothwell was forced to leave Scotland, and will leave the stage for a few years.
Mary realised full well that part of the package of conciliation was that the traditionally central role of the Scottish monarch needed to be re-asserted in all its majesty – a non factional Queen who could be trusted to be strong and decisive but unbiased. Mary was successful to a degree in this, but appeared rather over reliant on her half brother James Stewart – oh dear I’ve stopped calling him Moray, sorry. None the less, she made decisions clearly in consultation with her council. At the same time, she acted to enhance her princely status. Since her original entrance to Edinburgh had been less than ideal, she now did a re-run with all the trimmings – cheering crowds, lots of pageants celebrating her status, gorgeous rich and furiously expensive clothes. To a degree her procession was a success – but it was a success despite the efforts of Knox, who tried to highjack the pageants very much in the employ of Protestantism, and employed rowdy groups yelling and shouting – and incidentally having a few bevvies on the way and ending up worse for wear in the process. Mary decided she must deal with this – her view of her royal role was to be above all, not subservient to the church. So, she demanded to see Knox to have it out.
I think you might say that this was far from a meeting of minds; Mary was instinctively consultative and out to look for compromise; but here she was also determined to establish her royal authority, and argued strongly for her royal rights. When challenged Knox rolled out his resistance theory – if Princes disobeyed God, then they must be restrained. Knox rarely seems to have gone for emollience as a strategy, or maybe Knox’s idea of emolling was indistinguishable from Blowtorch, likening princes that err to a mad father whose children must ‘keep him in prison until his frenzy be overpast’. When Knox’s hurricane had blown itself out and he stopped, there was silence in the Queen court, and it was the silence of shock and awkwardness – this was the kind of language and attitude for which Mary had not been prepared with her upbringing in the French court. At length, after the tumbleweed had blown through, Mary said
Well then, I perceive that my subjects shall obey you, and not me; and shall do what they like and not what I command: and so, I must be subject to them, and not they to me
This a slightly lame end to the conversation it has to be said; and when Knox had left she wept from the frustration of it all. The impression is leavened by the report that Knox sent to Cecil, which indicated that as far as he had seen, Mary had firmly held her ground and not conceded to his argument. Which I suspect is something that not many would be able to say in argument with Knox.
Mary was on stronger ground, though, when it came to the trappings and projection of majesty. She quickly followed the tradition of the most successful Scottish kings by travelling through her kingdom to show herself to her people – starting with a progress to Perth. She persisted and succeeded in spite of organised opposition from Calvinists; where people lined the road, cheered and took her to their hearts, a group of Calvinists accompanied the crowd to heckle and jeer the Catholic queen. Mary found this tough; Thomas Randolph, the English Ambassador described how after a number of such verbal attacks, Mary was suddenly taken ill, and described it as one of the ‘sudden passions’ to which she was prone
After any great unkindness or grief of mind.
The court she established at Holyrood quickly reflected the best traditions of her father and grandfather as 1562 opened. Mary was paid throughout a stipend of £30,000 from the French, representing the jointure agreement from her marriage; so despite the difficult state of public finances, she had a supply of cash to use for her household. She had brought goods and furniture from France which had Holyrood decked out with magnificence, and a glittering wardrobe to boot. The hospitality and entertainments flowed over Christmas 1561, and hoary English Ambassador Thomas Randolph was overwhelmed by the dancing, music and masques
My pen staggereth, my hand faileth further to write…I never found myself so happy nor never so well treated
Mary loved fine things, loved dancing, sport, riding and hunting, and she was loaded with charisma which established a bond with her subjects. She was a talented musician on her own account – playing lute, and participating by singing in ensembles. She patronised the arts and listened to Sangsters. But she recognised that all these things were also tools to re-establish the prestige of the monarchy after a long and even by traditional standards unusually fractious minority. On her progresses as well as at Holyrood she made sure that she represented the power and magnificence of her government – however much Knox might complain of the parties and masques as fripperies. Together with the broad based council she had established with the most powerful lords in the land, there is little doubt that Mary was establishing her place in a potentially explosive situation – managing the forces of religious conflict, noble factionalism and Anglo French pressure.
A central part of that prestige in Mary’s mind was the relationship with England; she would not sign a treaty of Edinburgh she considered beneath her; but she saw recognition of her rights to the succession in England as part of her prestige – if Elizabeth would recognise her rights her position would be greatly more secure in Scotland; and specifically as successor to a combined British Isles, most of which would be protestant, it would be a powerful counterweight to the insubordination of Knox. Elizabeth very probably always recognised Mary Stuart’s rights – but that was a very different thing to official recognition – Elizabeth saw the recognition of her successor as simply putting a sword into the hands of those who might want to raise rebellion and replace her.
Mary was convinced that a meeting between them, face to face rather than by Zoom, obviously, would allow her to explain things – she was convinced she’d get on like a house on fire with her royal sister.
And by Spring 1562 a meeting at York was on the cards. Cecil was besides himself; he saw where this was leading and was desperate to stop it. In foot dragging mode, Cecil would have made Sir Humphrey Appleton proud inventing feeble excuse after feeble excuse to Maitland, Mary’s secretary who was in London on a mission to make the meeting happen. But progress was being made, Elizabeth seemed encouraging.
And then in March it all became more difficult, as the diplomatic world changed. The Guise had been out power in France since the Francis’ death, and the queen Mother Catherine de Medici followed a policy of supporting the growing protestant movement, and its leaders – the Bourbon Prince de Conde and Admiral Coligny. On 1st March, the Duke of Guise was passing through the small town of Vassy. What occurred is confused, but it seems that the Duke discovered a group of Huguenots worshipping in their church, a barn. When his men tried to force their way inside, they were repulsed. Either the duke ordered the barn fired, or ordered his men to shoot. Either way by the end 63 Huguenots lay dead and 100 wounded. The massacre of Vassy tends to be held as the first outbreak of the French religious wars.
It took a while, but when the news reached England Cecil went ballistic; this confirmed his fears that the Guise would form a Catholic alliance. But possibly surprisingly, at Greenwich palace, Elizabeth overruled Cecil and agreed on 6th July to Mary and Maitland’s request –she would meet, Mary. Well when that news broke Mary was jubilant and wrote
And let God be my witness I honour her in my heart and love her as my dear and natural sister
You have to wonder what would have happened if they had met; Elizabeth was inclined to be jealous when she heard of Mary’s stature, charm and accomplishments and maybe it would have not helped; maybe Mary’s charm would have worked. Hopefully they would not have had to wander around through a bunch of laundry as per the latest MQoS film. But in a rather classic piece of Elizabethan indecision, the agreement stood for precisely 9 days before Elizabeth changed her mind. Mary was as devastated as she’d been delighted. Within 3 months the war in France started in earnest, and with England considering military intervention in France, the idea of a meeting disappeared down the priority list.
Rather than meeting with Elizabeth, Mary decided to spend the summer of 1562 on a further progress, to the north. The progress might also have been designed to bring to heel the cock o’ the North as he was known – George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. Gordon was not in great odour; he’d opposed the meeting with Elizabeth and had generally vented his unhappiness with the power of Mary’s much favoured half brother , lord James. Huntly had seen how lord James’ power had grown – earlier in the year he had been married and Mary had elevated him to the earldom of Mar. In fact, as only came out later, she’d elevated him to the earldom of Moray. So look everyone, this Lord James guy – will now be known as Moray, OK? James Stewart = Moray, Moray = James Stewart. Repeat after me – there is no lord James any more only Moray. Good. And sorry for my flip flopping
So this was infuriating to Huntly. He was surrounded by pro-English Prots. He’d previously administered the lands of the Earldoms of Mar and Moray – and now that James Stewart chap had half inched them.
So much for Huntly. Mary came north, to Stirling, Perth, Glamis and Aberdeen. Huntly probably never meant to rebel, but he fumbled it. He prepared a massive feast at his castle of Strathbogie – but Mary refused to visit, and headed instead to Huntly’s town of Inverness where she planned to finish her progress. But when she came to the gates of Inverness guess what? The castellan would not open for her. For the Queen! Good Golly, that’s effectively a declaration of war right there. Mary didn’t back down – the next day she took the castle and hung the Castellan from the walls.
Huntly was now in a right old panic, and decided to capture the queen as she crossed a ford on the River Spey, which it has to be said is the politics of desperation – but here we go again, a plan based on capturing the monarch and forcing them to do the will of a magnate. You take Kate Williams’ point? Gordon’s son led a force of 1000 loyal men to the ford and lay in ambush. Mary’s army when she arrived numbered 3,000. The Gordons gaily ran away. Bit of a pun there. How’s your Scottish country dancing?
Mary appears to have been having a hoot, Randolph wrote to Cecil
I assure your honour I never saw her merrier, never dismayed, nor never thought the stomach to be in her that I find
Mary was proving herself a warrior. And when she reached Aberdeen she partied, had John Gordon executed and then outlawed Huntly and left Moray to chase him down. Which he duly did, at which point Huntly died of a heart attack. 6 months later in May 1563, Huntly was attainted by parliament, and his corpse stood in for him at the session, the bizarre experience of Mary condemning a body in a box. His moveable goods were seized and sent to Holyrood.
Well, what are we to think of that? It shows I think that Mary was prepared to take decisive action when the situation warranted it; she was brave, and her instincts for action came to the fore with a vengeance; she was a leader. But was it wise to break Huntly? The danger is that she rather pushed Huntly into rebellion for rather limited reasons, and as a Catholic he was a natural supporter for her; though again, the sight of Mary acting against a Catholic lord must have soothed protestant fears. But it might well be that Mary was manipulated by Moray, to get rid of his local rival in the north. And Mary wasn’t much of a completer finisher, did not really follow up; although she attainted Huntly, she did not attempt to replace him with a supporter, someone to take over the network of loyalties to build a new lordship – and as we saw with the fall of the MacDonalds and the slow build up of the Campbells and Gordons to replace them, that took time and effort and needed starting early. As a result, in a few years’ time the Huntlys were able to return and relatively easily re-establish their control. Absolutely finally, the apparent destruction of one of the greatest of magnates must have sent a shiver down more spines than Huntlys.
Mary kept travelling and did a good job of showing herself across the lowland regions – from Banffshire to Ayrshire. On the way she carried out the traditional if fading royal role of delivering justice, but was not always effective at understanding how different localities work – in which she was either poorly informed, or was a result of her lack of upbringing in Scotland. So, disputes such as those of the Robertson of Athol or the feud between the Macgregors and their neighbours went unresolved and caused much greater trouble later. But charm and win the hearts of local lairds she could do – and did, in spades.
Nonetheless, Mary felt her position to be insecure. Partly fuelling this was Knox’s opposition, and the lack of recognition of her rights to the English throne. But she’d just about had it with Elizabeth’s dithering by now; during the exchanges of letters, the relationship reached rock bottom when the English queen tried to assert a right to dictate who Mary married in return for recognition; and then burst through said rock bottom to go lower when Cecil insisted Mary’s claims would be put to a court of inquiry; and it transpired that Elizabeth’s candidate for her hand was her own squeeze Robert Dudley.
Well I never did. First of all, Mary was no pushover and quite conscious of her status – she was a queen, considered herself every bit the equal of Elizabeth, and had no intention of being dictated to. As to the idea of submitting to an inquiry – well, Cecil knew where he could shove that. And then – Dudley!? The English queen’s cast off, a mere knight, latest point in a family that had produced 2 generations of traitors. Forget it, beloved sister, forget it. In fact Elizabeth seems to have lost control of her emotions at this stage; she would quickly withdraw the Dudley idea, and clearly her Robin had no interest in marriage to Mary; but when she made the offer she seems to have had some fevered idea of the three of them – Mary, Elizabeth and Robert – all together at the English court having fun. Which is a little nutty, I’d argue. However, it might be argued that Dudley might have turned out OK; he would demonstrate his loyalty over decades at the English court, so hopefully Mary could have trusted him; he would presumably spend a deal of time back in England, and therefore Mary could have hopefully had a baby maker, but not a king seeking to interfere in ruling all the time. But Mary wanted more than that probably; she wanted a lord at her side who could help her control her barons.
Long before we get to this point Mary had lost patience; she favoured the English alliance because it brought the support of Moray and the Protestant lords – but their relationships with Cecil and the English Council was not delivering results. Mary sparred diplomatically with Elizabeth and Cecil with great skill, and kept them guessing, but she started looking at alternatives – and her target was Phillip of Spain’s son, Carlos.
Well, when rumors of this leaked out, the cat was well and truly surrounded by fluttery birds. In fact time would prove that Phillip was not interested, but for a while that was not clear. It was also quickly clear that Mary would get no support from France or her Guise relatives, all of whom had problems of their own, and the Franco-Scottish Empire was firmly off the to do list in favour of ‘win or survive vicious religious wars’. Which incidentally had already claimed the life of the Duke of Guise in February 1563, much to Mary’s grief.
Don Carlos, of course, was Catholic, so the rumour that Mary was looking to marry him well and truly lit Knox’s blue touch paper. It led to two run-ins with Knox.
The first came when Knox took the opportunity of the May 1563 parliament to attack the queen’s marriage. Mary was livid at such effrontery, and summoned him to Holyrood to be royally carpeted. She lost control of the interview early, her frustration at his rigid refusal to work with her or meet her half way, his refusal to recognise her royal authority. So she ticked him off
I have borne with you in all your rigorous manner of speaking both against myself and against my uncles; yea I have sought your favours by all possible means. I offered unto you presence and audience when so ever it pleased you to admonish me, and yet I cannot be quit of you. I shall be once revenged.
At this point Mary burst into tears of frustration, but before Knox could speak snapped at him
What have ye to do with my marriage
If Mary expected Knox to show sympathy, or crumble in the face of her fury, she was sadly mistaken. Instead she got a lecture, made of sandpaper, none of the edges smoothed down, wherein he made it clear that he addressed her as an equal, or even a moral inferior. Once again Knox had broken all the rules of civility to which she was accustomed; and in front of her court she apparently just howled. By the time she had herself back under control, Knox was on a new topic of lecture, so she ordered him out of the room. Knox’s pursuit of Mary was relentless, based on extremism, misogyny and furious hatred of Catholicism. Mary was now looking for revenge.
At the end of 1563, she thought she had her chance. Two Calvinists threatened a Catholic priest who had celebrated mass in Mary’s private chapel. The pair were imprisoned for defying Mary’s edit on religion – only for Knox to exhort the convocation of the kirk to free them in defiance of Mary’s authority. Ah ha! Thought Mary, now I’ve got ‘im the little tinker. Despite Maitland’s pleadings to stop, she put Knox on trial for inciting a conspiracy. She was joyfully expectant
Yon man made me weep and shed never tear himself. I will see If I can make him weep.
She could not, as it happens. Knox conducted his own defence, and was acquitted. When Mary came into the chamber and heard the result, she ordered that they vote again, and get it right this time. They voted again and got it wrong again. Knox was free, and his smugness must have been unbearable. Mary had not chosen the scene of her revenge carefully enough. But she was probably betrayed – by her own half brother, Moray. He had argued in favour of the prosecution in the Council, but was suspected of using his influence with the court to acquit Knox behind the scene. The event did nothing for Mary’s authority or relationship with the kirk. In 1564, however, she did manage to score a few points, and continue to enhance her already strong popularity with her ordinary citizens. She ordered the Court of Sessions to spend more time resolving the cases of the poor. It was a small but significant victory – many of the cases were against affluent friends of Knox, and Mary continued to publicly carry the royal role of delivering justice to all her people.
Mary’s pursuit of an international marriage had by now crashed, but an intriguing new possibility had reared its head. Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox was asking to return, after 20 years of exile in England. This was interesting for its own sake – here was a Stewart family asking to return, potentially a new ally for Mary. But even more interesting, Lennox had married Margaret Douglas, daughter of Margaret Tudor no less, and they’d had a son, Henry, Lord Darnley. I’m guessing many of you will have heard that name before, and feel a sense of foreboding creeping through you. Well might you, gentle listener, well you might. Anyway, this meant that Darnley also had claims to the English throne even if not as good as Mary’s.
Elizabeth and Cecil probably boobed at this moment in allowing Lennox and Darnley to leave; they may have rather missed that here was an opportunity for Mary to strengthen her claim to the English succession. As it turns out of course, Mary has also probably boobed, for reasons she could not know at this time, namely that Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, was a stinker and not worthy of her. At this point, it looked like a double whammy – Lennox a Stewart supporter, and Darnley a potential marriage candidate to strengthen still further Mary’s claims to the English throne.
The attraction of Lennox was that Mary was reaching the end of the line with the leadership of Moray, Argyll and Chatellerault on the Council; their policy of friendship with England had produced little benefit, as Cecil and Elizabeth had given little, continued to push the Treaty of Edinburgh, and sought to assert control over Mary’s decisions. However, the return of Lennox triggered a major re-alignment of power on the Council. Lennox was restored to many of his lands which lay in the west, in the Clyde area; giving his lands back was a serious punch in the eye for the Hamilitons, namely the Duke of Chatellerault and Earl of Arran.
Furthermore, Lennox did a good job of squeezing into the group, sticking his elbows out to force them to make room. He quickly built back up his affinity in the Clyde area, but also established a group on the Council – with the Catholic earls of Athol, Caithness and lord Seton, and with protestant Lords Ruthven and Home.
It was all most unsettling, and the political situation underwent a re-alignment. Moray and Argyll soon realised to their horror that although he’d lived in England for 20 years, Lennox and his son were not automatically in a pro English camp; they were out for themselves, in it for the power and the glory, and the same went for Lennox’s group on the Council. As Mary moved towards favouring Lennox as her principal advisor alongside Maitland, the cold winds of isolation breezed under Moray and Argyll’s britches. And what would come from their britches was trouble – I refer of course to the reappearance of factionalism, which Mary had managed to keep under control. Their marginalisation prompted Moray, Argyll and Chatellerault to sign a bond, promising to support each other and oppose a Catholic marriage. The serpent had woken.
 Dawson, J Scotland Reformed p249