1542-1543: Mary’s first year

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  • Falkland Palace, where Mary's father, King James V, died.
    Falkland Palace in Fife
  • A portrait of King Henry VIII hangs in the Outer Chamber at Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.
    King Henry VIII © Royal Collection Trust
  • Linlithgow Palace is the seat of Stewart kings and birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. © Historic Scotland
    Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian © Historic Scotland
  • A wedding portrait of James V and Mary of Guise, the parent of Mary, Queen of Scots, from Blair Castle, Perthshire
    A wedding portrait of James V and Mary of Guise from a collection at Blair Castle, Perthshire

From being destined to be the sole surviving heir to the Scottish throne, her betrothal to Edward, Prince of Wales aged only six months and her coronation at nine months, the first year of Mary’s life is a fascinating period in Scottish history.

Born into conflict: 8 December 1542

The death of the two infant sons of King James V of Scotland on the same day in 1541 destined Mary to be the sole surviving heir to the Scottish throne. Her mother was Marie de Guise, whom King James V had wed to further the alliance between Scotland and France; earlier, Marie (reportedly replying that she had ‘a very little neck’) had declined the hand of Henry VIII of England, who had hoped to thwart James’ ambitions.

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Linlithgow Palace This was the seat of Stewart kings and birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. It's a spectacular lochside ruin with its atmospheric Great Hall, the scene of royal banquets, and its famous ‘oriels’, the elegant projecting windows that marked the king’s and queen’s bedchambers.

One of the Stirling Heads representing King James V © National Museums ScotlandNational Museum of Scotland Dating from c.1542, representing King James V, is one of the Stirling Heads, carved from oak and originally part of the ceiling of the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle.

Infant queen: 14 December 1542

Aged 6 days

Two weeks before Mary’s birth, King James V suffered a devastating defeat by Henry VIII’s forces at the Battle of Solway Moss. Humiliated and ill with fever, he retired to Falkland Palace, where he died aged just 30. Thus six-day-old Mary began a reign that would span a quarter of a century, as a queen who would inspire some of the stormiest chapters of British history.

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St Michael’s Parish Church, the Roman Catholic church close to Linlithgow Palace, where Mary was baptised.St Michael’s Parish Church This Roman Catholic church lies close to Linlithgow Palace, where Mary was baptised. The font, carved with symbols relating to the Stewart royal family, and still used for christenings today, is now in Newbattle Abbey, a Cistercian monastery until 1587.

Falkland Palace At this castle in Fife you can visit the restored King’s Room.

Betrothal to England: 1 July 1543

Aged 6 months

King Henry VIII of England, Mary’s great uncle, was determined to bring Scotland into union with his kingdom. He took advantage of his victory at Solway Moss and the period of regency to propose that Mary would marry his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, then aged five. The agreement was enshrined in the Treaty of Greenwich, and signed between representatives of England and Scotland.

Discover the portrait of King Edward VI which hangs in the Outer Chamber at Palace of Holyroodhouse © Royal Collection TrustDiscover more

Portraits of King Henry VIII of England and King Edward VI hang in the Outer Chamber at Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

Coronation: 9 September 1543

Aged 9 months

The infant Mary was crowned Queen of Scots in the Chapel Royal, Stirling Castle, and it is said she ‘howled’ non-stop throughout the ceremony. She spent most of her first five years in the safety of the castle, under the care of her widowed mother, Marie de Guise.

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Stirling Castle This Royal Palace, the work of Mary’s father James V, is one of the finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the whole of Britain. It boasts unique carved stonework, and the king’s and queen’s apartments, where the young queen’s tiny feet must once have pattered.