Mary was born to Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. She was born on December 8, 1542, in Linlithgow Palace. Her father's death six days after her birth left young Mary fatherless.
The national integrity and independence of Scotland during this period was threatened by the English campaign initiated by Henry VIII. On November 24, 1542, the Scottish army was defeated by the English army at the Battle of Solway Moss. King James V was to lead the troops in battle in person. However, he fell ill, and was forced to withdraw to Falkland Palace. He died two weeks later, leaving Scotland in turmoil. Upon the death of her father, Mary Stuart was crowned as the Queen of Scots in 1543, even before she turned one. James Hamilton, the 2nd Earl of Arran and the regent of the throne, signed a treaty with Henry VIII on behalf of Queen Mary. According to the treaty, Mary was to wed Edward, the son of King Henry VIII, when she came of age. Cardinal David Beaton became the regent by the end of 1543. He broke the treaty due to the repeated and unnecessary invasions and interference by the English in Scotland. He was murdered in 1546, followed by two invasions in the same year.
In July of 1548, Mary was sent to France. Her mother, Mary of Guise, and the Scottish Parliament agreed upon her marriage to Francis II, the son of Henry II of France. Henry II, who was very much in favor of the agreement, aided Scotland in the war against the English.
The French found her to be a very lovable girl, and one of her French hosts commented, "It is not possible to hope for more from a princess on this earth." Henry II was always fond of her, and always said that she was a very lovely child. According to King Henry II, "the little Queen of Scots is the most perfect child I have ever seen". Even as small children, Mary and Francis II shared a very close and affectionate friendship. During her long stay in France, she developed a very special affection for animals, with dogs topping the list.
Mary received education in the same manner as French princesses. She was taught a variety of languages, like Latin, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. She also mastered arts like dancing, singing, and playing the lute. Her uncle, Cardinal Guise, taught her the skills of statesmanship.
The wedding ceremony between Francis II and Mary was held in 1558 in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. In 1559, they were crowned the King and Queen of France, after the demise of Henry II. Tragedy followed the coronation, as Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, died on June 11, 1560. Her husband, King Francis II, died on December 5 in the same year.
The following year, she returned to take over the rule of Scotland. In 1565, she married her cousin, Henry Stewart, also known as Lord Darnley, who was 19 years old at the time. In 1566, her trusted adviser and secretary, Piedmontese, was murdered by Scottish noblemen. Mary was taken prisoner and kept at the Holyrood Palace. During this time, Mary was pregnant. She wanted to escape to ensure the well-being of her child, who was the future heir to the Scottish and English throne.
Her husband, Henry Stuart, had sided with the nobles. However, Mary persuaded him to help her escape. Three months before the birth of her child, she escaped. In 1567, Henry Stuart was murdered by the Scottish nobles, who forced Mary to wed nobleman James Hepburn. Mary gave in to the demands of the nobles to establish peace in Scotland.
In 1568, when Mary was only 25, she escaped from Scotland and made her way to England to seek help from Queen Elizabeth I. Instead of helping her, Elizabeth imprisoned Mary. Initially, Mary was charged with the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. Elizabeth was afraid that Mary would gather Catholic supporters from within England, and also from states like Spain. Mary was held captive by Elizabeth for 19 years.
She was put on trial in the October of 1586. The outcome of the trial was decided even before it was actually held. Mary was found guilty of conspiring against Queen Elizabeth. Many controversies followed, and finally, on February 7, 1587, Mary was informed that she was to be executed the very next day.
She made her will on the dawn of the day of her execution. She was executed in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle. Scots mourned her death, and a mass funeral was held in the Notre-Dame cathedral by Henry III of France. Her long imprisonment and execution made her a martyr in the eyes of the people of Scotland. The words, "In my end is my beginning", were embroidered by her on one of her cloths of estate when she was in prison. The words signify her belief in life after death. She has indeed lived as a legend in the hearts of the Scottish people.