Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 17, 1567: Mary Queen of Scots Imprisoned

After her army lost the Battle of Carberry Hill on the 15th of June, Mary of Scotland was taken as a prisoner to Loch Leven Castle. As this website notes:

Mary was taken here in mid-June 1567 after her defeat at Carberry Hill by Lords Lindsay and Ruthven, under her half-brother's instructions, Lord Moray. The castle was the property of Sir William Douglas, Moray's half-brother, where he lived with his wife, children, mother, another of his brother and another youngster. The mother was Margaret Erskine, known as Lady Douglas, who had married his father, Robert Douglas. Robert Douglas had died at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 but Margaret had borne him seven children. Before her marriage, Margaret had been the mistress of Mary's father, James V, and six children were born out of the relationship. Margaret always resented Mary's presence on the throne, when her own son, Moray could have been there instead. The other son on the island was George Douglas, young and handsome, who fell in love with Mary from the start and would later help her escape from Lochleven. The other youth, a boy between fourteen and sixteen years of age, was Willie or "Wee Douglas", reputed to be an orphaned cousin but possibly an illegitimate son of William Douglas. Willie Douglas was also bewitched by the Queen and played an important part in her escape.

It is on this island that Mary gave birth for the second time. It is disputed at what stage of pregnancy she was. Mary herself allegedly said that she was seven months pregnant in July, which would mean that she was already with Bothwell months before Darnley's murder. The second dispute is over what happened to the child. The most widely accepted theory as narrated by Claude Nau, her secretary who wrote under her authority, is that there were stillborn twins who were buried on the island. Nevertheless, another version, found in Castelnau's memoirs, is that Mary gave birth later to a daughter who was smuggled out of Lochleven and sent to France. Mary's French relatives would have sent her to a convent in Soissons where she became a nun. Although improbable, the story is not impossible. Whatever the truth, Mary did fall very ill on the island, and it was in this weakened and vulnerable state that Moray sent Lords Ruthven, Melville and Lindsay to present her with abdication papers. She was forced to sign them under threat from Lindsay on 24 July 1567. Forever wanting to see the good in people, Mary continued her plea to Moray who deceitful as always, maintained that he kept her in Lochleven for her own safety. On 22 August, he was made Regent.

She would escape on May 2, 1568, aided by Willie Douglas and George Douglas. Mary gathered a new army to regain the throne from Moray and her one year old son, but was defeated again at the Battle of Langside on May 13 that year. Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll was the commander of her army and he continued to support her for a time but eventually allied himself with the regency of Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox in 1571. Mary fled to England, hoping for Elizabeth's help and ended up her cousin's prisoner for years.

The paintingMary, Queen of Scots Escaping from Loch Leven Castle is by William Craig Shirreff:

In 1805, this painting won a student prize for Shirreff while he was at the Trustees’ Academy. He chose an episode from the life of Mary, Queen of Scots which had been related by Gilbert Stuart in his influential ‘History of Scotland’ (1783). In a letter to his father the young artist wrote: "I have taken the point of time when Lord Seaton is receiving Mary from the boat, and young George Douglas handing her on and one of the attendants holding the horse that the Queen is to ride on. I am very pleased with it myself." By the early nineteenth century, Mary was a popular romantic heroine. William Lizars, one of Shirreff’s friends, engraved this painting after the young artist’s premature death.

I find this genre of historical paintings so fascinating: the artist imagines a historical scene and depicts it to whatever degree of verisimilitude he or she finds appropriate (dress, props, etc). The artist's efforts tell us more about his or her own era than the event or era depicted. Mary, Queen of Scots was an incredibly romantic and tragic figure in the early 19th century. Schiller's play, Maria Stuart, had influenced her historical reputation--and Donizetti's 1835 opera would continue that romanticizing trend.

Shirreff wants to depict her beauty and her charm--indeed, her effect on men--in this painting. I think he succeeded (and so did he!).

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