© National Trust Photographic Library / Bridgeman Images
This is a painting of Mary Queen of Scots (1542–1587), and her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545/46–1567). The portraits were made by an unknown artist in around 1565, at the time of their marriage. Despite being married three times, there are relatively few portraits of Mary with her husbands. This could be due to the short duration of each of her marriages, and the tragic and often chaotic circumstances that surrounded them.
Similarities can be drawn between the character of the Duchess in John Webster’s play, The Duchess of Malfi, (written 1612–13) and Mary Queen of Scots. Both made dynastic first marriages, at the instruction of their families. However, they were both also widowed young, and their lives and reigns were drastically shaped by the personality and status of their subsequent husband(s).
Both struggled to balance power with love, and the obligation to choose an appropriate partner.
Francis De Valois was the first-born son of Henry II of France (1515–1559) and Catherine de’ Medici (1518–1589).
Despite becoming Queen of Scotland when she was six days old Mary grew up at the French court, with the French royal children. She married Francis in April 1558 in an extravagant ceremony, and according to contemporary reports the two teenagers were fond of each other because of their childhood bond.
Francis inherited the French throne in 1559 when he and Mary were aged 15 and 16 respectively. However, Francis was not strong and he died in December 1560 after only 17 months on the throne. Mary left France and returned to her native yet unfamiliar Scotland to rule alone.
Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany – known as Lord Darnley (1545/46–1567)
Lord Darnley was Mary’s cousin; they had a shared grandparent and link to the English crown through Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII. Darnley was also distantly related to the Scottish crown through his father, a descendent of James II.
Dynastically, Darnley was a perfect match for Mary because of his connection to the English throne, which would support her claim to the English succession, and because he was not a foreign prince – theoretically ensuring his allegiance to Scotland and Mary.
Mary and Darnley wed on 29 July 1565. The marriage was a disaster. Contemporaries commented that Darnley was arrogant, immature and irresponsible. His constant demands to be crowned king of Scotland in his own right alienated both his wife and the Scottish nobles. His behaviour worsened after the birth of their son, the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England (1566–1625).
On 10 February 1567 Darnley and his men were found murdered at Kirk o’Field, Edinburgh. The murder is one of the great historical mysteries, and there has been much debate about the extent of Mary’s involvement.
The Earl of Bothwell was a highly controversial Scottish nobleman and magnate. It was widely believed that he was responsible for Darnley’s death.
Shortly after Darnley’s murder Bothwell abducted Mary and forced her to marry him. The nobility turned against the crown and attempted to capture Mary and Bothwell. Bothwell escaped, while Mary calmly surrendered.
Bothwell fled to Scandinavia, trying alternately to recruit, cajole or beg for help to fight for the Scottish crown. He died alone and insane in a Swedish prison in 1578.