This is part 13 of a 15 part series examining the historical antecedents of the Anglican Communion.
For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are a friend of his; and you keep company with adulterers. You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.
Psalm 50: 17-20
Henry VIII had an older sister, Margaret, who was married to James IV of Scotland pursuant to a treaty with Henry VII. James and Margaret had only one child who survived to adulthood. He became King James V of Scotland. James V married Madelaine de Valois, daughter of King Francis I of France, reinstating an old alliance between Scotland and France. Madelaine died not long after they were married, and James V then married Mary of Guise, who was the daughter of a French duke.
In 1541, war broke out between James V and his uncle, Henry VIII. The war ended in November 1542, when England delivered a humiliating defeat to Scotland. An English force numbering about 3,000 routed a Scottish force numbering about 18,000. King James V was quite ill when the battle was lost. The news cannot have contributed to his ability to recover. In early December, he received word that his wife had given birth to a daughter, who was named Mary. Six days after her birth, James V died, leaving Mary Stuart as his sole heir.
After the death of James V, Henry VIII proposed a peace treaty with Scotland. This was signed in July 1543. Under the terms of the treaty, Mary was to be wed to Henry’s son, Edward VI. Mary of Guise opposed the treaty and hid Mary in a remote castle. Henry began demanding that Scotland break its alliance with France, ultimately resulting in Scotland, under the regency of Mary of Guise, repudiating its marriage treaty with Henry. Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of Scotland in September 1543. She was nine months sold. In 1544, a small English party came to Scotland intent on kidnapping Mary Stuart, but she was again hidden by her mother.
Shortly afterward, Scotland entered a marriage treaty with the King of France under which Mary was to be betrothed to the king’s son, Francis. Mary was brought to the French court as a small child and was raised there. This was alarming to the English because Mary was a direct lineal descendant of Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, and would have a claim on the throne if the children of Henry VIII should die without producing heirs themselves. In that case, the dauphin and future king of France would have a claim on the English throne if he were to wed Mary Stuart.
Mary was wed to the dauphin Francis in 1558. She was 15. He was 14. A year after the wedding, King Henry II of France, the dauphin’s father, died. Francis became king of France and Mary became Queen consort. Mary was 16. But only a year and a half after his coronation, Francis died, and Mary became queen dowager of France at 17.
In 1561, Mary returned to Scotland to take her throne. Her mother, Mary of Guise, who had been acting as regent, had died the previous year and Mary was now of age to reign in her own name.
Mary was born when Scotland was still Catholic, and she was raised in the Catholic French court. She had no intention of straying from her faith. During her absence, however, Scotland had come under the influence of the fiery Protestant leader, John Knox, who had been strongly influenced by John Calvin when studying in Europe. Knox preached against her return, decrying the fact that she heard mass, accusing her of dressing too elaborately, and claiming that she was guilty of dancing.
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, a Protestant, had been queen of England since 1558. As the only other living descendant of Henry VII, Mary would be next in line for the throne. Mary was eager for Elizabeth to acknowledge her right of succession, while Elizabeth was understandably nervous about taking any action that might have encouraged Catholic factions in England to rebel against her and attempt to install Mary as queen. Elizabeth proposed that Mary wed a husband of Elizabeth’s choosing in exchange for Mary being acknowledged as her heir. Mary rejected the proposal. Elizabeth would have no doubt selected a Protestant husband for Mary. Mary instead married a prominent English Catholic, Lord Darnley. A son, James, was born in 1566. Darnley was apparently abusive, an alcoholic, and quite promiscuous. It is widely believed that he contracted syphilis while married to Mary. In 1567 there was an explosion at the house where he was living and his murdered body was discovered outside.
Mary appears to have become enamored of James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, and he was widely believed to have been responsible for the murder of Darnley. Later in 1567 he staged what appeared to have been an abduction of Mary and took her to his castle. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that the abduction was anything but forced. In May, 1567, three months after her husband had been murdered, Mary was wed to Bothwell using Protestant rites.
The Scottish nobility, which was largely Protestant, had by this time had enough of their queen. In June, they confronted Mary and Bothwell with a large armed force. Mary surrendered and was imprisoned. She was forced to abdicate her throne in favor of her one year old son, who became James VI of Scotland. Eventually, she escaped from her imprisonment and after an unsuccessful attempt to take back her throne by force, she made her way to England and asked for asylum from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.
Having Mary in England was a threat to Elizabeth’s crown, since many of her subjects, particularly those who considered themselves Catholics, regarded Elizabeth as the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII, and therefore believed that Mary Stuart was the rightful heir to the English throne. Elizabeth did not initially wish to execute her cousin, and instead had her confined to various castles far away from London. Even with her far away, however, the accession of Mary to the throne remained the goal of several serious plots to assassinate or unseat Elizabeth. In 1587 Mary Stuart was brought to trial for treason, and was convicted. She was beheaded on February 8. With her died any realistic hope by English Catholics that one of their own could ever hold the throne of England again.
Mary’s son, who had been crowned King James VI of Scotland, was now next in line for the throne. He was being raised in a thoroughly Protestant court, indeed one that was Calvinist and Puritan. When Elizabeth died in 1603, he would become King James I of England. England’s turn to Protestantism was complete and permanent.
Father, we have sinned. We have murdered. We have committed adultery. We have borne false witness. We have plotted against our rightful rulers. We have killed and tortured in your name.
Have mercy, Father. Use the blood shed by Jesus on the cross to cleanse the sins of our ancestors and our own sins. Wipe clean this stain on our history. Restore us. Break the cycle of repeated sins. Free us from bondage to this history. Begin a new creation in which you are our God and we are your people.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and true King.