Monday, March 6, 2023

Deep Dive into Mary, Queen of Scots

 I go on tears. Ex-pat Kenya. Ex-pat Paris. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda. Hemingway. Martha Gellhorn. My tears veer between the literary and the historical. I was a history major at Berkeley, and there isn't a whole lot about 16th-century England that I don't have a fair grasp of. The latest deep dive is into the guilt of Mary, Queen of Scots. You can't really be interested in Elizabeth I's reign without treading on the well-worn toes of Mary Stuart. Her status first as Dauphine then Queen of France (briefly) and then her return to Scotland colored Elizabethan foreign policy until the day she was beheaded. Not that voodoo dolls were part of William Cecil's effects, but if it were possible, he'd have had one and would stick that doll every single night. Many times.

Anyway, the big question is, of course, did she know that her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was going to be murdered? Naturally, the tome of all tomes when mentioning Mary Stuart is Lady Antonia Fraser's biography, which even among her critics (who feel that Mary was as guilty as hell!) acknowledge that it is the most thoroughly researched treatment as a whole. Lady Antonia comes down on the side of, gee, she might have had an inkling, but surely not. Bollocks, I say.

I base this not on the actual events (bizarre as they are), but on the aftermath of the murder at Kirk O'Field. Mary couldn't even feign any sort of pretense, not even play-acting that she was mourning his death. This is a woman who was still wearing her white veil of mourning two years after her first husband's death! Yet she couldn't be arsed to curtain any of her activities upon Darnley's death, despite numerous missives from abroad castigating her for her lack of political acumen (notwithstanding her complete lack of grief). Not that I think that Darnley shouldn't have been dealt with. His death unleashed far more of a political nightmare than incarcerating him in a dingy cell would have done. And Mary's fears that throwing him in jail would compromise her son's legitimacy really doesn't hold much water. After all, less than a hundred miles away, a woman, whose legitimacy was an even bigger question, was managing her country just fine. Darnley was conspiring with foreign powers to dethrone her and place himself on the throne. He actually had a decent claim to it, and it seems a case of who murdered who first. Anyway, he's murdered, and she acts like it's just another day in Scotland. No forty days of mourning for her this go around. There were weddings and parties to attend!

But her lack of any (even if false) sympathy isn't what ultimately swayed me to land firmly in the, oh yeah, she knew camp. It was when she was once incarcerated in England and her never-ceasing conspiracies with foreign powers to bump Elizabeth I from her throne. It wasn't even a case of her "looking through her fingers" as she did with her husband's murder. It was outright, "I'm the rightful heir. That bastard is on my throne and if you invade and she just happens to be killed, London is worth it!" It was that blatant.

This was a bloodthirsty age. Elizabeth agonized over finally charging Mary with treason (after several uncovered plots), and based on Mary's letters to various conspirators, she wouldn't lose one moment of sleep if her "dear sister" had been dethroned and killed. I'm not basing this opinion on the Casket Letters. I really don't care about them, because the endless arguments are, in my opinion, pointless. And it was certainly in Mary's brother James's interest to blacken Mary to the point where Elizabeth couldn't possibly release her. The perpetrators of Darnley's murder (and what a worthless sod HE was) all had tragic ends. Darnley was strangled to death. Bothwell died insane in a Danish prison. Mary was beheaded. James Stuart, Mary's half brother, was assassinated. Darnley's father, the Earl of Lennox, was also assassinated. What's the saying? Men make plans, and God laughs. Elizabeth and Cecil died in their beds. 

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