My interest in English history and particularly the English Royals has gotten a boost since I subscribed to Netflix a few months ago. After reading several books about Mary, the Queen we forwarded to movies. I have been able to put together a series of movies where some of the characters have overlapped, giving me a new insight into the lives of the English kings and queens from as far back as the 16th century.
The movie Mary, Queen of Scots was released in 1971. I don’t recall that it received much publicity at the time, but the actors are familiar to most of us. A young Vanessa Redgrave plays the part of Mary Stuart, familiarly known as Mary, Queen of Scots. Glenda Jackson plays Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, who is the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. You may recall that Henry divorced Katharine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and thus started a chain of events which caused Henry’s excommunication from the church and the beginning of the Church of England as we know it today.
Mary was married to King Francis II, the Dauphin of France, when they were both teenagers. He met an untimely death and Mary was widowed at the age of 17. The politics in France were such that Mary decided to return to Scotland to claim her throne there. Mary’s father, King James V of Scotland, died shortly after her birth. Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, had acted as regent while her daughter Mary was living in France.
Meanwhile, Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth I of England, was fearful that the return of Mary to Scotland might cause her to seek the English throne also since she was the rightful heir. Mary’s grandmother, Margaret Tudor, was the sister of King Henry VIII, placing Mary in line for the English throne over the several illegitimate children of Henry, which included Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth I never married and is often referred to as the Virgin Queen. Nevertheless, she had a longstanding relationship with Robert Dudley who was her constant companion and advisor in court matters. Dudley in later years gained the title of Earl of Leicester.
The Scottish Mary was forever a thorn in the side of Elizabeth. She tried to persuade Robert Dudley to marry Mary, but he refused. Meetings were set up between Lord Henry Darnley and Mary who both consented to a marriage. Mary was smitten with the young Darnley; however, Darnley saw the alliance as an aid to his political ambitions. A child was born to them, James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I on the throne. Mary comprehended Darnley’s true nature and the marriage did not last, having been rocky from the beginning.
Elizabeth’s advisors were quick to suggest that Mary was a dangerous enemy seeking the throne for herself. Elizabeth was loathe to seek Mary’s death which was one suggestion. Mary was held in custody in several castles and houses in England for 19 years before Elizabeth agreed that she should be tried and executed for treason for her supposed involvement in several plots to assassinate Elizabeth.
There is no dearth of intrigue when we enter the English courts as an observer. The Elizabethan age in England was one of great prosperity. It was considered the Golden Age in English history. The 45 years of the reign of Elizabeth I were the height of the English Renaissance and the time of the greatest development of English poetry, literature and theatre. While the events related above were happening in the courts, it was easy to have those horrific intrigues overshadowed by the opulence and riches experienced throughout the kingdom by many of its citizens who lived totally unaware of what was really going on behind the palace doors.
Movie: Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) – Netflix
You can read review at Rotten Tomatoes here.