Mary Queen of Scots married Francis II on July 14, 1558, at 16 years old. Francis was 15 years old at the time. Francis was the son of Henry II of France, who passed away from a jousting accident leading to sepsis in 1559. His mother, Catherine de' Medici, was an Italian noblewoman born into the Medici family, who married Henry in 1533. Mary was the only legitimate surviving child of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise.
The planned marriage dated back to 1554, when a betrothal was arranged by the French ambassador, Guillaume de Mornay, and the Scottish minister, John Ruthven. A betrothal is a formal agreement between two people for them to be married in the future. Both felt the marriage of Mary to Francis would be beneficial as they thought that she would be a good ruler for Scotland and France, respectively.
Mary and Francis had a difficult relationship from the beginning. Francis had become King of France in 1559 on the death of his father. Francis did not like how independent Mary was and how she did not want to follow his rules. Francis tried to impose rules such as having her live in France and not Scotland. Mary was reluctant to live in France because she was afraid that she would not be able to freely express herself.
Francis was a poor ruler and France was in disarray during his rule. Francis was not able to quash the Protestant movement and he was not able to keep control over Scotland. At the time, a protestant movement was spreading throughout both countries. With France in the midst of a religious revolution, the precursor to the French Wars of Religion, there were also many warring factions vying for control of the country.
The French religious revolution of the 1500s was a result of the Protestant Reformation, which began in Germany in 1517. This was a movement which sought to reform the Catholic Church, and ultimately led to the establishment of Protestantism. In France, it triggered a period of civil unrest and political turmoil as the Protestant and Catholic sides clashed over religious reform, with both sides seeking to impose their beliefs on the population. Protestant groups, such as the Calvinists, wanted to re-establish the Catholic Church as the only true faith, while Catholic groups, such as the Jesuits, wanted to keep the Catholic Church open to Protestants.
The 1500s in Scotland saw a period of religious upheaval as the Scottish Reformation began to take shape. This period was marked by a struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and the new Protestant faith. The Protestant movement was led by John Knox and was supported by the Scottish nobility. This religious revolution was an attempt to break the control of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and to introduce a more democratic form of religion. One contributing factor was that the Protestant Reformation was happening in other parts of Europe, and Scotland was looking for a way to distance itself from the Catholic Church. Another reason is that the Scottish king, James IV, was a Protestant and he wanted to change the religious landscape in Scotland.
Mary and Francis moved to England in 1559, residing in London and Essex. They spent their time ruling their countries and trying to keep their kingdoms safe. They were also busy attending court and meeting with important people, discuss politics and military matters. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, was the queen of England and believed Mary was a pretender to the throne. Elizabeth was not afraid of Mary, and she wanted to make sure that she stayed out of England. Mary and Francis returned to France in 1560 because they were afraid that Elizabeth would try to force them to convert to become Protestants. Elizabeth was anti-Catholic because she wanted to maintain the power and stability of the Anglican Church. She believed that Catholicism was a threat to the Church and her authority.
In November 1560, Francis’ heath began to deteriorate. Historians claim that Francis had fainted on November 16, 1560 and died in Orléans on December 5th. Catherine de' Medici, Francis’ mother, became regent for the late king's ten-year-old brother Charles IX, who inherited the French throne. His body was interred in the Basilica of St Denis on December 23, 1560.
Francis was believed to have been frail both physically and mentally and these factors likely led to his early demise. Some believe his death was caused by an ear infection while other diseases, such has meningitis, have not been ruled out. From the side of the Catholics, they suspected Protestants of having poisoned the king, a theory also unproven.
When Francis died, there is no definitive answer as to how Mary felt about the death of her husband and likely never be fully known. Some believe that she may have been devastated by the news, while others believe that she may have been relieved. Others believe that she may have been worried about her own safety, while others feel that she may have been relieved to finally be rid of Francis. It is likely that she experienced a mix of emotions at the time.
Mary spent about nine months in France after the death of Francis and finally returned to Scotland and assumed the throne. Upon her arrival in Scotland on August 19th, 1561, Mary was welcomed with great fanfare upon her return. She was greeted at the border by her brother, the Earl of Moray, and escorted to Edinburgh. A grand banquet was held in her honor, and she was given a magnificent horse and a retinue of 200 attendants. Equally, the citizens of Scotland were thrilled when Mary returned in August 1561. They had been hoping she would return for years, and they welcomed her with open arms.
On her return to Scotland, she tried to put into practice several policies and initiatives. These included attempts to keep the country unified, strengthen religious ties, and improve economic conditions. At the time, Scotland was torn between Protestants and Catholics. The Privy Council of Scotland, which advised Mary, was comprised of Protestants by a majority. Being a devout Catholic, she was very tolerant of the Protestants, which raised a lot of questions. Her leniency gave the appearance of her interest into other things outside the problems within Scotland, such as interest on the English throne. As a Catholic queen, Mary was virtually powerless from a military perspective against the Protestants, and in addition to her policies, she likely strengthened her ties with England and Elizabeth I.
Mary believed she was the heir presumptive to the English throne because she was next in line after her father, James VI and I. Fearing of a potential conspiracy and possible removal of her position as queen, Elizabeth I did not name an heir. She did however admit that Mary had the strongest argument for succession even without officially naming an heir to the throne.
By 1562, Mary turned to other matters at hand, such as seeking a husband from the European royalty.
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