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Who's Who?

Head and shoulders portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots wearing white veil
Mary, Queen of Scots by Francois Clouet, RCIN 403429 ©

Use these portraits from the Royal Collection to take a closer look at some of the important people from Mary, Queen of Scots’ story.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Head and shoulders portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots wearing white veil

Mary, Queen of Scots by Francois Clouet, RCIN 403429 ©

This portrait shows Mary wearing a white veil. 

White was the traditional colour of mourning in France and this was painted around the time she lost three members of her close family.

  • Her father-in-law, Henri II of France, who died in July 1559 after a jousting accident.
  • Her mother, Mary of Guise, who died in Scotland in June 1560.
  • Her husband, Francis II, who died following a terrible ear infection, 6 months after Mary's mother in December 1560.

Mary returned to Scotland and moved in to the Palace of Holyroodhouse 8 months after the death of her husband. 

This portrait now hangs on the wall of her Bedchamber at the Palace.

James V - Mary's father

Half-length portrait of James V

James V - Mary's Father ©

This half-length portrait hangs proudly in the grand north-west tower, which was built by James V nearly 500 years ago.

He died when Mary was only six days old and never got to meet his daughter.

The Royal Arms of Scotland hangs in the background, alongside his initials in Latin ('IRS', which stands for 'Iacobus Rex Scotorum' – or 'James, King of Scotland').

Mary of Guise - Mary's mother

Engraving of Mary of Guise

Mary of Guise by Edward Harding, RCIN 618268 ©

This is Mary’s mother, who was French. 

When Mary, Queen of Scots was five, her mother sent her to live in France. 

Scotland was a dangerous place for the young queen, so Mary of Guise believed her daughter would be safer growing up in the French court. 

Meanwhile Mary of Guise stayed in Scotland and became Regent, meaning she effectively ruled the country until her death, when Mary, Queen of Scots was 18.

Henry VIII - King of England

Head and shoulders portrait of Henry VIII

Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, RCIN 404741 ©

When Mary was very young, Henry VIII came up with a plan to strengthen the links between England and Scotland by arranging her to get married to his son, Prince Edward. 

There was a lot of disagreement about this, and both the Palace and Holyrood Abbey were attacked by English troops during what became known as the ‘Rough Wooing’.

Francis II - Mary's first husband

Engraving of Francois II, King of France

Francois II Roy de France, RCIN 616516 ©

Mary married Francis in 1558, when he was Dauphin Francis, heir to the French throne. 

Mary was 15 and he was 14.  The marriage only lasted two years. 

Francis died from an ear infection in 1560, just a year after becoming King of France.

Henry, Lord Darnley - Mary's second husband

Full-length portrait of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and his younger brother Charles

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and his brother Charles Stewart, Earl of Lennox by Hans Heworth, RCIN 403432 ©

Mary married Lord Darnley in the chapel at Holyroodhouse four years after returning to Scotland. 

He wanted to be King, and although Mary gave him the title, she did not let him have more power than her. 

He was vain, jealous and could be violent. In 1567, he was murdered in a garden less than a mile from the Palace.

David Rizzio - Mary's Private Secretary

Portrait of David Rizzio holding a violin

Portrait of a Man known as David Rizzio, attributed to British School, RCIN 401172 ©

David Rizzio was a musician in Mary, Queen of Scots’ court and later became her private secretary and close companion. 

He was brutally murdered in Mary's private apartments at Holyroodhouse in 1566. 

The murderers were led by Lord Darnley, who was jealous of Rizzio's influence over Mary.

James, Earl of Bothwell - Mary's third husband

Miniature portrait of a man called James Bothwell

Portrait of a man called James Bothwell by George Perfect Harding, RCIN 421500 ©

It was once thought that this miniature portrait was the Earl of Bothwell, though it is likely that it is actually his cousin.

Most portraits show Bothwell with a lighter beard and a different hairstyle.

Many people suspected that the Earl of Bothwell was involved in the murder of Lord Darnley. 

There was rebellion in Scotland when Mary married him shortly after Darnley’s death.

Elizabeth I - Queen of England and Mary's cousin

Portrait of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, British School, RCIN 403451 ©

Following the rebellion, Mary fled to England hoping Elizabeth I would help her. 

However, Elizabeth was suspicious of Mary as she also had a claim to the English throne. 

She had Mary imprisoned for 19 years, before ordering her execution in 1587.

James VI and I - Mary's son

Full-length portrait of James VI and I

James VI & I by Paul van Somer, RCIN 401224 ©

Mary was forced to abdicate before she fled to England and her son James became King of Scots aged just one.

In 1603, Elizabeth I died and he became King of England and Ireland too. 

He was known as James VI in Scotland and James I in England as they had never had a King James before.

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