So, what about these Tudors, and how does Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland figure in to all of it?
To begin to understand the politics surrounding Mary’s life, and the entire conflict between Scotland and England in the 16th century, we have to look back at the life of her paternal great uncle, Henry VIII.
Henry VIII, King of England
King Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had formerly been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur. When Arthur died, it was deemed necessary for a papal dispensation to be issued, allowing Henry to marry Catherine, as she was his dead brother’s wife, and the Catholic Church prohibited such a marriage. Catherine denied that her marriage to Arthur had even been consummated, so no dispensation was needed. However, both Spain and England wanted to be sure of the legitimacy of the marriage, so permission from the Pope was requested and granted. Problems soon arose in the marriage when all of Henry’s male offspring were born dead or sickly, leaving his only daughter, Mary Tudor, as sole heir to the throne of England. The King was quick to claim that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s wife, in effect, his sister. He sought an annulment from the Pope, but when none was forthcoming, he broke with the Roman Catholic Church, and his new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had their marriage annulled. Soon after, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, making the king the head of the English church.
Henry soon married Anne Boleyn, in hopes of producing a male heir. To Anne’s misfortune, she bore him only one surviving heir (Elizabeth I) and no male children. A plot was hatched, and Anne was beheaded for treason, so Henry could marry yet again, to the Lady Jane Seymour. This union produced Prince Edward.
Before Henry died in 1547, his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, convinced him to reconcile with all his recognized offspring and decree in his will the following order of succession: first, Edward; second, Mary Tudor; and last, Elizabeth. Edward VI died a sickly young man in July 1553 and Mary died in November 1558 after nearly destroying her country in a feverish and bloody attempt to turn it back to Catholicism (hence her nickname of Bloody Mary). This left only Elizabeth, receiving the crown at the age of 25.
Mary I, Queen of Scotland
Into these tumultuous times, Mary Stuart was born in Scotland, the only surviving child of James V. When Elizabeth took the throne of England in 1559, she was considered the rightful queen by the Protestants. To the Catholics, however, Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was illegal. In their opinion, this made Elizabeth illegitimate, and Mary Queen of Scots the legal heir through Henry’s sister and Mary’s grandmother, Margaret Tudor. As previously mentioned, Henry attempted to wed the young Scots queen to his son Edward shortly after she was born, leading to the conflict now known as the “Rough Wooing.” This strife between England and Scotland continued right up to the time the Protestant Elizabeth I gained the English crown in 1558, and the Catholic Mary returned to take her place as rightful Queen of Scotland in 1561. As you can see, the ties between these cousin Queens runs deep, indeed!