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Westminster Abbey – Mary Queen of Scots – A Brief Biography

In 2012 we will be launching a series of exciting and new London walks, one of which will take you inside Westminster Abbey.However, since it has always been our police to present you with as much information as possible, prior to you joining us for a London Walking Tour, we are currently previewing these tours here on the website.

Today we will look at the tomb of one of the most intriguing and, ultimately, tragic figures in our history – Mary Queen of Scots, whose tomb is located in a tiny chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542 and was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland. Six days after her birth James died and Mary became Queen of Scotland. In 1556 she married Francis, Dauphin of France and, when he died in 1560, she returned to Scotland. Four years later she married her cousin Lord Darnley and when he was, apparently, murdered she married the 4th Earl of Bothwell who, it was widely believed, had been responsible for Darnley’s murder. Following an uprising by the Scottish nobles, Mary was imprisoned but escaped and, after an unsuccessful attempt to retake the throne of Scotland in 1568, Mary fled to England and threw herself upon the mercy of her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Mary’s arrival in England threw the English court into turmoil. Mary was next in line to the English throne after Elizabeth 1st. But since Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn and, in the eyes of the Catholic church, since Elizabeth’s father, Henry V111, had not been legally separated from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, to many throughout Europe – not to mention to a large number of English Catholics as well – Elizabeth was illegitimate and Mary was the rightful Queen of England.

Mary was therefore arrested and, for the next 19 years, she was kept prisoner at a succession of castles and houses throughout England where she became a magnet for a plethora of plots aimed at replacing Elizabeth with her cousin Mary on the throne of England.

In 1586 the fanatical Catholic nobleman, Sir Anthony Babbington, developed an ingenious way of communicating with Mary by secreting messages in the bungholes of the Queen’s beer caskets.  He was therefore able to inform her of a plan to ‘despatch the usurper’ Elizabeth and, with the aid of a Spanish invasion, place Mary onto the throne of England. Mary wrote back apparently giving her consent to the assassination.

What neither she nor Babbington knew was  Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham’s agents, were intercepting the beer barrels and therefore, knew all about the plot. Babbington was duly arrested and executed, Mary was charged with treason and put on trail in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle before a panel of 40 noblemen that included Sir John Puckering and which was presided over by Sir Thomas Bromley.

Found guilty, she was beheaded in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle  0n 8th February 1587.

Her body was interred at Peterborough Cathedral, about 70 miles to the north-east of London. Then, in 1604, Mary’s son, King James V1 of Scotland, was crowned King James 1st of England and he had his mother’s remains exhumed and reburied in Westminster Abbey where she now lies in a chapel almost opposite the chapel where Elizabeth 1st lies. And the most intriguing things about these two Royal ladies, whose names are so indelibly linked in the pages of history, is that they never actually met each other.

On our, soon to be launched, London walking tour of Westminster Abbey you will be able to hear the tale of Mary, Queen of Scots and many more tales of those who lie buried in Westminster Abbey.

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