Mary, Queen of Scots (8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587), also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, reigned over Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567.
Mary, the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland, was six days old when her father died and she acceded to the throne. She spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents, and in 1558, she married the Dauphin of France, Francis. Mary was queen consort of France from his accession in 1559 until his death in December 1560. Widowed, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Four years later, she married her half-cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and in June 1566 they had a son, James.
In February 1567, Darnley's residence was destroyed by an explosion, and he was found murdered in the garden. James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was generally believed to have orchestrated Darnley's death, but he was acquitted of the charge in April 1567, and the following month he married Mary. Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southward seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England.
On 11 August 1586, after being implicated in the Babington Plot, Mary was arrested while out riding and taken to Tixall. In a successful attempt to entrap her, Walsingham had deliberately arranged for Mary's letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham.From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth.
Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle in a four-day journey ending on 25 September. In October, she was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen's Safety before a court of 36 noblemen, including Cecil, Shrewsbury, and Walsingham. Spirited in her defence, Mary denied the charges. She told her triers, "Look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England".She protested that she had been denied the opportunity to review the evidence, that her papers had been removed from her, that she was denied access to legal counsel and that as a foreign anointed queen she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason.
She was convicted on 25 October and sentenced to death.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, even in the face of pressure from the English Parliament to carry out the sentence. She was concerned that the killing of a queen set a discreditable precedent and was fearful of the consequences, especially if, in retaliation, Mary's son, James, formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England.
At Fotheringhay, on the evening of 7 February 1587, Mary was told she was to be executed the next morning. She spent the last hours of her life in prayer, distributing her belongings to her household, and writing her will and a letter to the King of France.The scaffold that was erected in the Great Hall was draped in black cloth. It was reached by two or three steps, and furnished with the block, a cushion for her to kneel on, and three stools for her and the earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, who were there to witness the execution.
Her servants, Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle, and the executioners helped Mary remove her outer garments, revealing a velvet petticoat and a pair of sleeves in crimson brown, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church,with a black satin bodice and black trimmings. As she disrobed Mary smiled and said she "never had such grooms before ... nor ever put off her clothes before such a company She was blindfolded by Kennedy with a white veil embroidered in gold, knelt down on the cushion in front of the block on which she positioned her head, and stretched out her arms. Her last words were, In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum ("Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit").
Mary was not beheaded with a single strike. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed the neck, except for a small bit of sinew, which the executioner cut through using the axe. Afterwards, he held her head aloft and declared, "God save the Queen." At that moment, the auburn tresses in his hand turned out to be a wig and the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had very short, grey hair.