Medicine, Magic and Music

Part 2 – Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, was Queen of Scotland from December 1542 to July 1567 and Queen Consort of France from July 1559 until December 1560.

Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and Marie of Guise, a member of the House of Guise, which played a significant role in 16th-century French politics. Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V and she acceded to the throne when her father died. She was six days old. She spent the majority of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents along, and in 1558 she married the Dauphin of France. He became King Francis II in 1559, and Mary was briefly Queen Consort, until his death in December 1560. The young widow returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on August 19, 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their union was unhappy. In February 1567, his residence was destroyed by an explosion and Darnley was found murdered in the garden.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was thought to be the master-mind behind Darnley’s death, however he was acquitted of the charge in April 1567. Twelve days later he married Mary. It has always been a question as to whether the marriage was one of force or whether she agreed or not. Another theory is that she was in complete agreement with the marriage.

Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On July 24, 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favor of James, her one-year-old son by Darnley, her deceased husband. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southwards seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics. Unsure of what to do with the capricious Mary, and with many of her counselors perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, and was subsequently beheaded.

Mary remains a controversial figure in history. There are a few things we know for certain. She was tall, citations note her height at 5’ 10” to six feet, her grandmother was King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, she was the mother of James I and VI of England and Scotland, and she was considered beautiful in her own time and by our contemporary standards. As an old adage states, someone that beautiful has to be guilty, and Mary Stuart is quite possibly the best example of that statement in history. He married her handsome English cousin Henry, Lord Darnley, a reckless match which she later regretted.

Henry, Lord Darnley
Public Domain

She loved music and was skilled at playing both the lute and viola. Two of her favorite activities were music and dancing, which was shunned by the strict Protestant Calvinist beliefs of John Knox, the head of the Scottish Kirk (Church). The powerful Scottish Lairds (Nobles) were increasingly becoming members of the Scottish Kirk and frowned upon her practices as well. A truce of sorts was reached in which Mary and her court could enjoy their Catholic Masses in private. The young Queen and her entourage, known as the Four Maries, were allowed to enjoy their masquerades and merry making within the confines of the castles at the Queen’s state events. Knox felt that the young queen, and her love of dance and music had turned the royal enclaves into brothels, rather than places for honest women.  

The turning point for in Mary Stuart’s life came with the death of David Rizzio. He was an Italian courtier and musician, who rose to become the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, is said to have been jealous of their friendship. Darnley joined in a conspiracy of Protestant nobles, led by Patrick Ruthven, Lord Ruthven, to murder him. This murder became the catalyst for the downfall of Darnley, and it had serious consequences for Mary’s turbulent career.

Rizzio, whose name appears in records as David Riccio di Pancalieri in Piemonte went from Turin, Italy to the Court of the Duke of Savoy, at Nice, France. Finding no opportunities for advancement there, he was employed by the Count de Moretto in 1561, who was leading a diplomatic mission to Scotland. Once in Scotland, Rizzio, found that there were no further opportunities for him and he was dismissed from service. He ingratiated himself with the Queen’s French musicians. James Melville, a personal friend of Rizzio, said that “Her Majesty had three valets in her chamber, who sung three parts, and wanted a bass to sing the fourth part”. Rizzio was considered an excellent singer, which brought him to the attention of the Queen.

Having grown wealthy under her patronage, he became the secretary for relations with France in 1564, after the previous secretary of the post retired. This post attracted a quarterly salary of £20. Ambitious-seeing himself as all but a Secretary of State, Catholic and a foreigner, Rizzio was much too close to the Queen. Rumors swirled that Mary was having an affair with the Italian Fiddler, as some called him and that her child was possibly his.

Maty witnessing the death of Rizzio
Public Domain

Jealousy on the part of the vain and arrogant Lord Darnley led to his murder in the Queen’s presence, in her supper chamber in the Palace of Holyroodhouse after the royal guards were overpowered and the palace was turned over to the control of the rebels. Commanded by Patrick Ruthven, they demanded Rizzio be handed over. The Queen refused. Rizzio then hid behind Mary but was seized and stabbed to death in the presence of the Queen. He was stabbed 56 times on March 9, 1566 by Lord Darnley and his co-conspirators. The Queen was seven months pregnant at the time of the murder.

After this violent struggle, Rizzio’s body was thrown down the main staircase, stripped of its jewels and fine clothes. He was buried within two hours in the cemetery of Holyrood. Records state that his body was removed by the Queen’s orders and deposited in the sepulchre of the Kings of Scotland.

Mary’s turbulent life continued. Lord Darnley was dead with a year, and a few years later the beautiful Scottish Queen escaped into England in hopes of being rescued from her own nobles by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. This ended badly as well, with her execution in 1587 on charges of high treason against her cousin. And it all began because she wanted a fourth musician in her chamber. It should be noted that her son was born heathy and although he was taken from her at an early age, he eventually become King James VI and I, the first Stewart King of Great Britain.

Next stop in Medicine, Magic and Music: The Healing Properties of Music observed in the Lives of Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots & Elizabeth I is a look into how music and the arts flourished in the reign of Elizabeth I.

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