1565-1567: Marriage and motherhood

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  • Craigmillar Castle on a clear Edinburgh day © Historic Scotland
    Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh © Historic Scotland
  • At Edinburgh Castle Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, James VI of Scotland and I of England © Historic Scotland.
    Edinburgh Castle © Historic Scotland
  • Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots © Royal Collection Trust
    Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley © Royal Collection Trust
  • This gold, enamel and seed pearls locket is set with tiny portraits that are believed to represent Mary and her son James.
    Pendant locket from the late 16th century © National Museums Scotland

Learn about Mary’s controversial second marriage to her first cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the scandalous murder of her Italian secretary and confidant, David Rizzio, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and the birth of her only child who would eventually unite the monarchies of Scotland and England.

Second marriage: 29 July 1565

Aged 22

In choosing to wed Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Mary was accused of furthering her political ambitions. English-born Darnley was her first cousin and, like her, the grandchild of Margaret Tudor. Indeed, Elizabeth was unhappy about the marriage: she recognised that any offspring would have a strong claim to the English throne. But Mary was reportedly ‘bewitched’ by Darnley, describing him as the ‘lustiest and best proportioned lang man’; he was over six feet, one of few men taller than her. Mary was 22, and Darnley just 19.

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Palace of Holyroodhouse Mary Queen of Scots married Lord Darnley by Roman Catholic rites in Mary’s private chapel at Holyrood, after which Darnley left Mary to hear the nuptial mass alone.

Marraige ryal, minted in Edinburgh in 1565 © National Museums ScotlandNational Museum of Scotland Look at the rare silver coin, minted in Edinburgh in 1565 and known as the marriage ryal, which bears an inscription that begins with Henry’s name rather than Mary, who should have first place as Queen Regnant. Given his dynastic ambitions there is some speculation that Darnley may have had a hand in this. These coins were quickly withdrawn from circulation.

Wemyss Castle This Fife castle is where Mary and Darnley met for the first time as adults, in February 1565. 

Huntingtower Castle This location was a resting place for Mary during the Chaseabout Raid of August 1565, when her forces suppressed a rebellion over her marriage to Darnley.

Murder in the palace: 9 March 1566

Mary aged 23 (and pregnant)

Darnley grew arrogant and demanded of Mary the ‘Crown Matrimonial’ which would have made him jointly monarch and sole heir to the throne had he outlived her. Mary refused, and the marriage became strained. Darnley became jealous of her friendship with her Italian secretary and confidant David Rizzio, who was rumoured to be the adulterous father of her unborn child. On the night of 9 March 1566, during a dinner party, Rizzio was violently murdered by a group of Protestant conspirators, accompanied by Darnley. Mary fought to protect Rizzio and had to be physically restrained. It is said her screams brought hundreds of men pouring out of Edinburgh taverns with makeshift weapons, but she was forced to go to the window at gunpoint and dismiss them. 

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A stain on the floor of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, said to be the blood of Rizzio © Royal Collection TrustThe Supper Room at the Palace of Holyroodhouse © Royal Collection Trust Palace of Holyroodhouse Stand in the tiny Supper Room where Mary and Rizzio dined. It’s located in a turret off Mary’s bedchamber.

Rizzio was stabbed 56 times in Mary’s Outer Chamber in Holyrood – where a stain on the floor visible to this day is said to be of his blood.

Motherhood: 19 June 1566

Aged 23

The only child of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley would rise to become James VI of Scotland and I of England, and go down in history as the intended victim of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot. James was born in June in a tiny room at Edinburgh Castle, but his baptism at Stirling Castle in December was a lavish affair to celebrate the male heir to the Scottish throne. Mary was obliged to borrow £12,000 from Edinburgh merchants to foot the bill for the feasting, costumes and fireworks (the first ever seen in Scotland). She also partly funded the celebrations from tax – the only time during her reign that she raised tax, for which she had to seek parliamentary approval. Mary refused to allow the Archbishop of St Andrews to spit into the baby’s mouth, as was the custom, describing him as a ‘pocky priest’.

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This gold, enamel and seed pearls locket is set with tiny portraits that are believed to represent Mary and her son James © National Museums Scotland Edinburgh Castle This is the birthplace of James VI of Scotland and I of England. 

National Museum of Scotland From the Penicuik Jewels (Scottish, late 16th century), made from gold, enamel and seed pearls, a pendant locket is set with miniature portraits that are believed to represent Mary and her son James.

The plot against Darnley: 1566-1567

Mary aged 23-24

The murder of Rizzio made the breakdown of Mary’s marriage to Darnley inevitable, despite Darnley ostensibly ‘changing sides’ and supporting Mary. Rumours spread that Darnley was in fact plotting to imprison Mary and rule on behalf of his son himself. However, others were plotting against him, including the Earl of Bothwell. While Mary was convalescing from a post-natal illness, at Craigmillar Castle on the outskirts of Edinburgh, a pact to dispose of her husband known as the ‘Craigmillar Bond’ is said to have been made between leading nobles, with or without her knowledge.

DiscoverThe 15th or 16th century silver and ebony Craigmillar Crucifix was found in ‘Queen Mary’s Room’ at Craigmillar Castle © National Museums ScotlandThe front of the Craigmillar Crucifix © National Museums Scotland more

Craigmillar Castle This castle is set in the area called ‘Little France’, because of Mary’s many French retainers who settled there. The castle hosted Mary in September 1563, and from 20 November to 7 December 1566. 

National Museum of Scotland The 15th or 16th century silver and ebony Craigmillar Crucifix was found in ‘Queen Mary’s Room’ at Craigmillar Castle.