In Linlithgow Palace in Scotland, a daughter is born to James V, the dying king of Scotland. Named Mary, she was the only surviving child of her father and ascended to the Scottish throne when the king died just six days after her birth.
Mary’s French-born mother, Mary of Guise, sent her to be raised in the French court, and in 1558 she married the French dauphin, who became King Francis II of France in 1559 and died in 1560. After Francis’ death, Mary returned to Scotland to assume her designated role as the country’s monarch. Mary’s great-uncle was Henry VIII, the Tudor king of England, and in 1565 she married her English cousin Lord Darnley, another Tudor, which reinforced her claim to the English throne. This greatly angered the current English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.
In 1567, Darnley was mysteriously killed in an explosion at Kirk o’ Field, and Mary’s lover, James Hepburn, the earl of Bothwell, was the key suspect. Although Bothwell was acquitted of the charge, his marriage to Mary in the same year enraged the nobility, and Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her son by Darnley, James. Mary was imprisoned on the tiny island of Loch Leven.
In 1568, she escaped from captivity and raised a substantial army but was defeated by her Scottish foes and fled to England. Queen Elizabeth I initially welcomed Mary but was soon forced to put her cousin under house arrest after Mary became the focus of various English Catholic and Spanish plots to overthrow her. In 1586, a major Catholic plot to murder Elizabeth was uncovered, and Mary was brought to trial, convicted for complicity, and sentenced to death.
On February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason at Fotheringhay Castle in England. Her son, King James VI of Scotland, calmly accepted his mother’s execution, and upon Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603, he became James I, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland.