History of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots for Kids

Bedtime History

Imagine you live in old Scotland.  The year is 1550.  You are an 5 year old child, but you are already a queen.  You walk through your castle, which is an old stone building, wearing a long dress to keep warm because the stone castle is cold in the winter.  You follow your mother, who takes care of you and helps teach you how to act like a royal.  She tells you how to act so that others will respect you as a leader.  You know in your heart that you will be an adult one day and then you will be fully in charge.  But for now, you listen to your mother and follow what she tells you about your duties.  You are also scared because there is a tense feeling in the air.  You are worried for your safety, as is your mom.  You are Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was also known as Mary Stuart.  She was born in the mid-1500s and was the daughter of the king of Scotland, who died just days after she was born. 

When Mary was born, the time period in Europe was known as the “Middle Ages” or “Medieval Times”.  It was a time when people did not know a lot about science and many people were very religious.  It was also a time when there was a lot of fighting amongst different people to be kings or rulers of different countries and about the role that religion should play in people’s lives.  

Mary was born in December 1542 at a palace in West Lothian, Scotland.  Her father was King James the 5th of Scotland and her mother’s name was Mary of Guise.  Baby Mary was only six days old when her father died, making her the new queen of Scotland. You may have heard of a king that lived around this time, King Henry the 8th.  He was a relative of Mary Stuart.  In fact he was her great uncle.  

Because Mary was only a baby when she became queen of Scotland, her great-uncle, Henry the 8th, said that he would act as ruler in her place until Mary was old enough to take on the role. At the time, Henry the 8th was the king of England.  This made people suspicious that King Henry the 8th just wanted to take over power as leader of Scotland too.  At the time, England and Scotland were two separate countries with two separate leaders. 

One of the people who did not want to see King Henry the 8th in control of Scotland even temporarily, or for a short period of time, was Mary’s mother. Instead she said that she would act as ruler in baby Mary’s place until she was old enough to lead the country herself. 

The rejection of King Henry the 8th as ruler made him angry.  He tried in a different way to gain control of Scotland by requesting that baby Mary be betrothed to his son, Prince Edward of England. Betrothed means to promise that two young people will get married to each other when they are older.  This was something that was often done in the old days before people married for love.  It was often done as an attempt to try to connect rich families to each other. 

Unfortunately for King Henry the 8th, many Scottish people did not want Prince Edward of England to be able to marry baby Mary when she grew up.  They were worried about the power that this would give England over their country, Scotland.  They were also worried about what that would mean for their main religion, Catholicism, since Prince Edward and his family had split from the Catholic Church and were now Protestants.

King Henry the 8th was very angry about the rejection of his son as the future husband of baby Mary.  So he ordered that his English army attack Scotland.

To protect little Mary from these attacks and possible death, Mary was sent to living France with the royal family.   

Mary was 5 years old when she went to live with the French royal family, including the French King named Henry the 2nd and his wife, Catherine de Medicis. 

Mary grew up in a very luxurious palace, which means that it was fancy and had everything that a child of the time could want.  Instead of being betrothed to Prince Edward of England, Mary’s family instead decided to promise, or betroth, her to the French Prince, Francis the 2nd, who was also a young child like her when she first came to live in France.  Mary and Francis grew up as friends in the French palace. 

Mary had a great childhood.  She loved living in the palace and learned to speak French.  When Mary was 16 years old, in 1558, she and Prince Francis got married. One year later, Prince Francis became king when his father died.  His new title was King Francis the 2nd of France.  This made Mary both the queen of Scotland and France’s queen consort, or wife of the king. 

Mary also had a strong claim to the English throne, meaning that many believed that she was the real queen of England.  However, Mary never officially became queen of England.  In November 1558, her cousin Elizabeth the 1st was crowned the queen of England.  She was always concerned about Mary and the fact that some people thought she was the real queen of England. 

Unfortunately this role didn’t last long. Francis developed an ear infection about a year after he became king and because they don’t have the medicine they do today, he passed away. This left Mary as a widow at only 18 years old as well. 

After Francis’s death, Mary decided to return to Scotland.  She was now fully an adult and it felt safer for her to return and live in her home country.  However, things were different in Scotland since she had last lived there.  During the time she was away, her mom had become very close with a man named John Knox.  He had become powerful by using their friendship to gain power in the Scottish royal family.  And he had a lot of influence, or control over others. 

One of the things that John Knox had done was convinced her mom to change the official religion of Scotland from Catholicism to Protestantism. But Mary had grown up in France where she was raised as a Catholic.  Mary decided to be a ruler that created a feeling of religious tolerance in Scotland.  This means that she told her people that they should all try to accept each others’ differences and live together in peace even though they had different religions.

In 1565, when Mary was 23, she married again, this time to Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley [her cousin].  Some people were mad about their marriage, including Mary’s cousin Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry the 8th and she was the acting queen of England.

Not long after they got married for the second time, her husband started to become obsessed with power.  Mary became pregnant with her first child and was happy to know she would have a baby soon.  However, she became worried about her husband’s ruthless behaviour.  Ruthless means brutal and mean. 

But Mary tried to carry on, believing he would be the man that she hoped he was.  Henry started to get meaner to people who were in his way or against him.  Marydecided that she no longer wanted to be married to Henry.  But she was pregnant and soon she gave birth to her first son, named James, who later became James the 4th of Scotland and James the 1st of England.

Shortly after baby James was born, Henry and his friends went out on a hunting trip to the fields outside of Edinburgh, a large city and capital of Scotland.  While he was out on the trip, there was a mysterious explosion that struck, killing Henry.  After the explosion was investigated, people thought that the explosion was caused by a person.  Some suspected that it may have been done on Mary’s orders or by her and her friend James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.  But no one ever really knew for sure. 

Only three months later, Mary got married again.  This time, her husband turned out to be James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.  Many people were angry about their marriage.  They thought that James Hepburn was only interested in becoming king.  

They were also mad at Mary for getting married again so quickly.  And people started to suspect that maybe she was involved in her second husband, Henry’s, death.  As a result of people’s anger and suspicion, or distrust, James Hepburn, Mary’s third husband went into exile.  This meant that he was banished from the castle and country and not allowed to live there anymore, so he went to live in a hidden place.

The people told Mary that they know longer wanted her to be queen of Scotland.  She decided to step down and instead, her baby son James became king.  He was barely one year old.

Mary was arrested shortly after this as well and she was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. Less than one year later, Mary escaped from Lochleven Castle. She escaped to England, where she asked her cousin, queen Elizabeth for her help and protection.  Instead of helping her, however, queen Elizabeth was still threatened by queen Mary.  She had Mary arrested and put into captivity for the next 18 years.  Captivity means that he was imprisoned and couldn’t leave the castle.

Mary was imprisoned, but she wasn’t in a jail cell.  Instead she lived inside the castle area and had an okay life, although she could never leave. Elizabeth tried to treat her cousin somewhat well, even though she wouldn’t let her go.  

In 1586, when queen Mary was 43 years old, she started writing letters with someone who said they would help Mary escape. The same person was plotting to kill Elizabeth, the Queen of England. The letters were found and Mary was brought to trial and was found guilty of plotting against the queen which was a major crime.  She was sentenced to death for what she had done. After she passed away, Mary’s son James became King James in 1587.  

Even now, hundreds of years after Mary died, many people continue to be very interested in her life.  There are many movies made about her.  While her real name is Mary Stuart, she is usually known as Mary, Queen of Scots.  

We can learn a lot from Mary’s life, including resilience, duty and tolerance.  And we can also learn a lot from this period of time, both good and bad.  For example, we can admire the things that Mary did, becoming queen at a very young age and learning to become a strong ruler.  And persisting through three marriages and the anger of people, as well as imprisonment for 18 years. 

We can also see that the way that people fought for power back then caused problems.  People used violence and hurt each other to get what they wanted.  We can feel lucky that our society has progressed since then and that we have learned to be more peaceful.

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