It is the 8th of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1587.
We have a little know rule here at CHA. I wouldn't expect you to know it. It reads that if five different actors portray any significant figure in the church's history, 4 of whom have won an Oscar, and one has been Oscar-nominated, well, then you get your own episode of the Almanac.
I'll give you the actresses who portrayed today's remembrance. These are Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Vanessa Redgrave, Saoirse Ronan. All of them have portrayed the Catholic queen amongst a newly Protestant nation. All of them played a lead role in a story of international intrigue and murder.
All of them played the woman who has been called by Historian John Guy "the unluckiest ruler in British history." The first clue that she might be unlucky is that she was named Mary. This seemed to be the "Monkey's Paw" in Early modern England. Her son would be one of the most consequential English rulers, the man with the Bible named after him.
She is Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots, and we remember her on the day she was beheaded by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, today, the 8th of February in 1587. Let's run down the life of this beleaguered Catholic queen and her contribution to Church history.
She was born in 1542 as the only child of James V and the French Mary of Guise. Being the only child of James V made her queen when he died six days after her birth. James V was the son of—you guessed it—James IV, who was married to Margaret Tudor. That's the sister of Henry VIII, meaning Mary had both Stuart and Tudor blood. This was a threat to whoever was on the throne. Henry attempted to have his son, the future king Edward, marry Mary. She would have none of it. Thus, began the so-called "Rough Wooing," a story for another time.
Mary was sent as an infant to France, her mother was French, and France was Catholic at the time. She married Francis, the young son of Henry II of France and his wife, Catherine D'Medici. With Henry's death, Francis became king, and Mary became queen until he died when she was 18. And she went back home to reclaim the Scottish crown from the regent, her half-brother.
Elizabeth was now the sole monarch of England with the death of her sister, Mary I of England, "Bloody Mary." But her mom was Anne Boleyn. And many thought that Anne Boleyn was not properly married to Henry, and thus Elizabeth was not legitimately queen. This was a favorite argument by Catholics who knew that Mary Stuart had Tudor blood, and was a faithful Catholic raised in Catholic France. If France and Scotland could unite against England, the Catholic faith could be reinstated in the now Protestant England.
What was most effective in Mary's short reign as the Queen of Scots was the amount of religious tolerance she allowed or at least tolerated. This is the Scotland of John Knox, whose vitriol against Catholics was only matched by his vitriol for women. This chivalric fellow wrote a book against Mary called "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women."
The story has twists and turns. Unlike Elizabeth, Mary marries often, and it was part of what led to her downfall. But it was Elizabeth who was the cause of Mary's downfall as she promised her cousin safe haven in England but then had her arrested, imprisoned, and killed.
Before being beheaded, The Earl of Kent said to Mary: "Your life would be the death of our religion. Your death would be its life." And this is the key takeaway. The existence of a theological opposition in the British Isles was significant in this age as a political counterbalance to the dream of a Christian Protestant state.
Catholic Stuarts would not fare much better than Mary after her son's smashing success as a joint monarch over England and Scotland. While James VI/I was a Protestant, the example of his mother and her ability to pacify Protestant and some Catholic minority interests signaled the rise of the post-Confessional monarchy. But a "post-confessional" 16th century didn't exist. This and the fate of the "least lucky monarch in British history" came to a head, with her head, on this, the 8th of February in 1587.
The reading for today comes from English poet Robert Herrick, "His Prayer for Absolution."
For those my unbaptized rhymes,
Writ in my wild unhallowed times,
For every sentence, clause, and word,
That's not inlaid with thee, my Lord,
Forgive me, God, and blot each line
Out of my book, that is not Thine.
But if, 'mongst all, thou find'st here one
Worthy thy benediction,
That one of all the rest shall be
The glory of my work, and me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who embodies the best of the Oscars, including De La Hoya, Wilde, Schindler, and the Grouch, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by 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.