Mary, was 6 days old when her father (King James V of Scotland) died and she acceded to the throne of Scotland.
Her early years were spent in an atmosphere of unease as her mother, Marie de Guise, sought to protect her from the predatory Scottish nobles who fought for the regency and for control of the little queen. Despite this tension, Marie de Guise sought to give her daughter a happy childhood and Mary spent most of her childhood in France.
Mary de Guise appointed four girls to be her daughter’s childhood companions and, later, ladies-in-waiting. What all the girls had in common, as well as their Christian name, was noble birth and similarity in age to the queen. The four girls were: Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Fleming and Mary Livingston.
Mary, now married, returned to Scotland with her four Mary’s ladies-in-waiting in 1561 when she was 18. The first years in Scotland were taken up with her determination to control the complex political situation with which she was faced. Whilst Mary was a child in France, Scotland had changed their official religion to Protestantism, which led them to look for support from Protestant England, rather than Catholic France. Mary – no religious fanatic – tried to steer a course between the different factions that sought to dominate her.
The four Marys went everywhere with the queen, even accompanying her to parliament in 1563. They had stools in her chamber, when to sit in the presence of the monarch was an extraordinary honour; they waited on her at table; and they took leading roles in the lavish court entertainments so important to 16th-century monarchy. They danced at masques, played music for visiting ambassadors, rode, hunted and hawked with the queen and her nobles.
Following an uprising against Mary and her husband, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son (the future King James I of England). After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southward seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Perceiving Mary as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in various castles and manor houses in England.
She spent 18½ years in custody (with the four Mary’s) in various castles, before being found guilty of being part of the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I in 1586, and was beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle.