Thursday, December 8, 2022

Today on the show, we look at the complicated religious context of Mary, Queen of Scots.

It is the 8th of December 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Americans seem to be somewhat obsessed with the British monarchy, from movies to miniseries and wall-to-wall news coverage when one of them gets married. But the modern British crown has nothing on the 16th century- the era of King Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, and Elizabeth the “Virgin Queen.” But of all the intrigue of that Tudor line, there is perhaps no monarch as fascinating and ill-fated as the part Tudor, part Stuart to the north- she was Mary, Queen of Scots, and she was born on this, the 8th of December in 1542. Mary, a Catholic, would famously live a parallel life to her Protestant cousin Elizabeth, also a female monarch amidst the upheaval of the Reformation.

So, Mary’s Father was King James V of Scotland (this is the house of Stuart)- the son of Margaret Tudor (Margaret was the sister of Henry VIII), so both James and his daughter Mary would have been technically in line for the English crown as well as the Scottish. Mary’s mother was Mary of Guise- a powerful noblewoman in France. James V died when Mary was only 6 days old. So, amidst the turmoil of the Reformation and warring Scottish nobles, she was sent to her mother’s native France, where she would have an arranged marriage to Francis, the son of French King Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Medici.

She grew to be quite educated (she spoke multiple languages), quite tall (perhaps 5’11), and quite popular amongst the French. When French King Henry died in 1559, Francis became King Francis II of France, and she was Queen Consort of France- she was also next in line to be Queen of England. In fact, many Catholics saw her as the rightful Queen of England, as Elizabeth was a product of what they saw as the illegitimate marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn.

But then the turbulent year of 1560 saw Francis die unexpectedly, and Mary was a widow at 18. She would move back to Scotland to assume the title Queen of Scots, but this was just as John Knox had returned from Geneva to help implement the Reformation in the Scottish Kirk.

The Scottish Reformation, unlike the English Reformation, would be decidedly Calvinist and would come about through more popular acclaim than royal prerogative. This could make a French-speaking Catholic Queen something of an albatross. John Knox would meet with her personally 4 times and condemn her- he had previously made his opinions known in his book, the “first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women.” Mary would practice an early form of religious tolerance, privately practicing her own Catholic faith while consenting to the Reformation in the country. This would, unfortunately, make her unpopular with both sides.

She would seemingly live from scandal to scandal. She married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord of Darnley. Darnley was unpopular with many nobles and seen as vicious- especially considering his murdering of Mary’s secretary David Riccio whom he believed to be having an affair with her. Henry would then die mysteriously- the house he was staying at blew up, and he was found strangled to death in the garden. The man accused of the murder, James the Earl of Bothwell, was acquitted, but the rumor was that he was having an affair with Mary. He would soon kidnap the queen and forcibly marry her.

The Nobles would have none of this, and so they arrested them both, sent Bothwell into exile, imprisoned Mary, and made her son, then just one year old, the new King of Scotland- he would be King James VI, who would also become King James I of England (of King James Bible fame).

Mary would escape from prison and eventually flee to England, where she sought the protection of her Protestant cousin, Queen Elizabeth. But as Catholics claimed Mary was the rightful queen, Elizabeth would be wary of her. When a plot to kill Elizabeth to put Mary on the throne, Mary was tried and condemned. She was beheaded at Fotheringray Castle in 1587. Born on this day in 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was 44 years old.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- from Psalm 146:

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,

    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of December 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Marys include the Queen of Scots, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Anne Spier from the Babysitters Club. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite babysitters club is Super Special #1, “Baby-Sitters on Board.” I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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