François Clouet: Portrait of Mary Stuart (1558-1560)

(Royal Collection, UK)

A painting by the French artist François Clouet (1510-1572). The tragic Mary Stuart (1542 – 1587), as the only surviving child of king James V of Scotland, she succeeded him when she was just six days old as Queen of Scotland. As she was to young to rule, a regency was formed led by James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault and 2nd Earl of Arran. King Henry VIII of England proposed a marriage between Mary and his own son and heir, Edward VI (hoping to break the Scottish-French alliance), which initially was accepted but later rejected by the Parliament of Scotland which led to war with England (the Rough Wooing, 1542-1551). The French king Henry II however proposed a marriage between Mary and his son, the dauphin Francis - uniting Scotland and France. With a promise of French military aid, the marriage proposal was accepted and the 5-year old Mary moved to France to live there a the French court until she was 18. In 1559 Mary married with king Francis II and became queen-consort of France. The marriage however was short-lived as Francis died after a reign of only 17 months from a middle ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain. Mary returned to Scotland as queen but her catholic faith and long absence resulted in her being regarded with suspicion by many of her subjects. Seeking a new husband, Mary Stuart married her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in 1565. The couple got one child, a son: the future king James VI of Scotland & and as king James I of England and Ireland , who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I of England as James I. The marriage between Mary and lord Darnley deteriorated quickly after the birth of James. Lord Darnley was very unpopular amongst the Scottish nobles and when Mary's private secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered in 1566 by orders of lord Darnley, this led to his downfall. In 1567 the house of lord Darnley was destroyed by gunpowder and lord Darnley was found murdered in a nearby orchard. The main suspects of the murder were Queen Mary and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell who was eventually acquitted of the charge. Mary however quickly married with James Hepburn after this which resulted in a uprising against her. Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James VI and fled Scotland to her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. As Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth's throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, Elizabeth saw Mary as a threat and locked her up in various castles. After an imprisonment of almost 19 years, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586 and was beheaded the following year. Her body was eventually interred in Westminster Abbey in a chapel opposite the tomb of Elizabeth I. The painting shows Mary in happier times at the time of her marriage to king Francis II around 1558-1560.