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    Scotland’s Mary Queen of Scots

    6 min read

    With her recent portrayal both on the big screen and in the controversially acclaimed series Reign, Mary’s image has become ever so popular. But is it all true, or is there a different story hidden behind the court’s splendour and comforts?

    Let’s have a look.

    By Cecilia Mariani
    More by Cecilia

    Mary on Screen: A Realistic Portrait?

    Mary Stuart, the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland and Marie de Guise, was born on the 8th of December 1542. She was only six days old when her father died, and she succeeded him as Queen Mary of Scotland.

    Mary spent most of her childhood and teenage years at the French court. It was here that she married Francis, the Dauphin of France, at the age of sixteen. After Francis’s death in 1560, Mary returned to an increasingly protestant Scotland. A devoted catholic herself, she was not warmly welcomed. Nonetheless, she tried to rule her country as best she could, and to unify it.

    Mary was described as beautiful and clever by her contemporaries. She was a strong figure throughout her life, which was marked by tragedy and drama. Both the series Reign and the film Mary Queen of Scots, perhaps, put too much emphasis on the romantic aspects of her life rather than on the difficulties that she faced as a monarch. However, in both representations, Mary is depicted as the vibrant and strong character that she was.

    On one hand, Reign has been hugely criticised for being completely inaccurate, a teenage drama that focuses on beauty and romantic intricacies rather than a historical representation. On the other hand, Mary Queen of Scots has been described as “A kind of nothing of a film. It’s neither a rigorous history lesson nor a particularly interesting work of drama and character” (New York magazine). But what would a film be without a bit of action and added flavour?

    Neither the series nor the film are a 100% faithful representation of history. However, as long as we do a little research of what really happened and manage to get past the inaccuracies, we are bound to enjoy a good show. And surely, if this is the price to pay to get more people interested in history, I don’t see any wrong in that.

    Visit Mary's Scotland

    Scotland is famous for its castles and palaces, and some of these are linked to Mary and her life. Neither of Mary Queen of Scots’s screen representations were filmed in these places. The series was mostly filmed overseas in Canada, and the film using other sites in the UK. Nonetheless, Mary’s real places are full of history and charm and are definitely worth a visit. Here are a few.

    Linlithgow Palace

    Linlithgow Palace, 24 kilometres west of Edinburgh, was one of the main residences of the Scottish monarchs, and Mary Queen of Scots’s birthplace. Beside it is the parish church of St.Michael, where Mary was baptised. Both buildings are open to visitors, but beware, the palace is said to be haunted by the spectre of Marie de Guise, Mary’s mother.

    Find our more

    Stirling Castle

    Stirling Castle was one of the main royal residences, and one of the most important castles in Scotland. Mary was crowned in the castle’s chapel and lived there with her mother until her marriage with Francis was arranged and she was sent to France.

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    The Palace of Holyrood

    was the official residence of the Scottish monarchs since Mary’s return from France in the XVI century. Situated at the heart of Edinburgh, the palace is where Mary’s second and third marriages took place. Nowadays, it is the official residence of the British monarchs in Scotland, and the Queen spends a week there every year.

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    edinburgh mary queen of scots

    Edinburgh Castle

    Edinburgh Castle is a mighty fortress situated on top of Castle Rock, from where it dominates the city of Edinburgh. This is where Mary Queen of Scots came to find safety before the birth of her child. It was here that James was born, later to become King James VI, the monarch who united the Scottish and English crowns.

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    Loch Leven Castle

    Loch Leven Castle is situated on an island in the middle of Loch Leven, south of Perth. After her third marriage to Lord Bothwell, Mary was imprisoned here by some rebellious Scots. It was during her imprisonment here that Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James. After this, she managed to escape from the castle and fled to England, seeking help from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. But, as we know, that didn’t go as planned.

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    Dunbar Castle

    Dunbar Castle is a notable location in Mary’s life. The ruins of the castle sit perched on rocks by the comely seaside town of Dunbar. It was here that she fled to after the murder of her private secretary, and it was here that she was abducted to by Lord Bothwell and reportedly raped by him before their marriage.

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    In My End is My Beginning: Mary’s Legacy

    Mary’s complicated and controversial life made her one of the most intriguing figures in Scottish and European history. She was condemned by some and praised by others, who considered her the only rightful monarch, and a true catholic martyr.

    When Elizabeth I was proclaimed Queen of England, she was seen as illegitimate by many Catholics, who considered Mary Queen of Scots the rightful heir instead. She always had a claim to the English throne, and this claim is what ultimately led her to her death.

    When Elizabeth died without an heir, Mary’s only son James became King of England and Ireland, as well as Scotland, thus unifying the two crowns. With this, he finally succeeded in what his mother did not but had always fought for. Therefore, every British monarch since then is a descendant of Mary, leaving Elizabeth out of the picture, and complying with Mary’s words: “In my end is my beginning”.

    Mary Queen of Scots FAQ

    How are Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth Related? Read More

    Mary and Elizabeth were cousins. Mary’s grandfather, James IV of Scotland, married Margaret Tudor. Margaret’s brother, Henry VIII, was Elizabeth’s father.

    How Did Queen Mary of Scots Die? Read More

    Mary spent the last 19 years of her life as a captive in England. She was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, at the age of 44.

    Why Did Queen Elizabeth Execute Mary? Read More

    Mary was imprisoned and executed with the accusations of plotting to take Elizabeth’s throne.

    Who Succeeded Mary Queen of Scots? Read More

    Mary was succeeded by her only son James VI and I. He also succeeded Elizabeth at her death, and became the first monarch to rule Scotland as well as England and Ireland.

    Meet the Author: Cecilia Mariani

    “When I was a child, I spent most of my summer holidays exploring the Italian Alps with my family. As I grew up, it was inevitable for me to follow my parents’ passion and to start searching for my own mountain adventures. This search brought me all over Europe, until I discovered Scotland. The Highlands are a magic place, where culture and traditions mix with the environment, offering the perfect opportunity to discover amazing places. I love to show this to people with my work, and to share it with friends in my everyday life.”

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