Collection of papers relating to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-332
  • Dates of Creation
      16th century-17th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English, Scots, French, and Latin.
  • Physical Description
      2 volumes manuscripts, 3 separate manuscripts.
  • Location
      De.1.12/6; De.1.12/22; Dc.7.93; Dc.4.83/1; Dc.6.79

Scope and Content

The papers include: a copy, in French, of a letter to Queen Elizabeth of England, 8 November 1582; the draft of a document, in French, regarding the marriage of Mary with the Dauphin of France and the succession to the kingdom of Scotland, 1549; The declaration of the will of the most mychty and werteous prencess Marie Quene of Scotland, dowarure of France, during the tyme of hir extreme maladie, with the preirs and exhortations maid be hir, 1566; Detectio Mariae, sive de Maria, Scotorum regina, totaque ejus contra Regem conjuratione, fedo cum Bithuelio adulterio ... tragica plane historia; and, a Journal of affairs transacted anent Mary, Queen of Scots, begun at York, October 4th, 1568, and ended at Hampton Court, January 15th following.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace on either 7 or 8 December 1542. She was the daughter of James V (1512-1542) and his second wife Mary of Guise (1515-1560). On the death of her father from fever at Falkland Palace on 14 December 1542, after an armed encounter with a body of English Borderers at Solway Moss, Mary became Queen when she was barely a week old. Under the regency of James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, and with the support of the pro-English and reforming party, she was promised in marriage to Prince Edward of England, son of Henry VIII, and half-brother of Princess Elizabeth.

The promise of betrothal was frustrated by Cardinal Beaton who removed Mary and her mother to Stirling Castle where the infant Queen was crowned on 9 September 1543. With the repudiation of Arran's agreement by the Estates (the Scottish Parliament) now under the control of the Catholic party, war with England followed. The war - the 'Rough Wooing' of Scotland by Henry VIII - led to much devastation in south-eastern Scotland and to a Scottish defeat at Pinkie Cleugh on 10 September 1547. After the battle, Mary was removed to the island priory of Inchmahome on the Lake of Menteith for her security, and then to Dumbarton Castle.

In July 1548, the Estates ratified an agreement for Mary's marriage to Francis, the French Dauphin (son of Henry II and Catharine de' Medici), and she sailed for France from Dumbarton in August 1548, barely six years old. Mary was then educated at the French court in St. Germains-en-Laye acquiring a knowledge of Latin, Greek, Italian, and of course French. Scots and English would come later. Her political and religious instruction was given by the Guises, especially the Cardinal of Lorraine and Antoinette de Bourbon. Meanwhile, in Scotland the Catholic party gained its strength among the nobility and Mary of Guise became Regent in Scotland in 1554.

On 24 April 1558, Mary was married to Francis at Notre-Dame in Paris. Later, in November 1558, came the death in England of Mary Tudor and the subsequent ascension of Elizabeth. In France, Mary, as great-grandaughter of England's Henry VII (his daughter Margaret married Scotland's James IV) laid claim to the English throne and she and Francis assumed the titles of King and Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. On the death of Henry II on 10 July 1559, Francis and Mary continued to use these titles when they succeeded to the French throne in their late teens.

Barely a year later, on 11 June 1560, Mary of Guise died in Scotland and power there began to pass to the pro-English party again, and Catholicism was proscribed. Then, on 5 December 1560 came the death of Mary's young husband, Francis II. Power in France passed from the Guises to Catharine de' Medici. Mary lost her position in the French court. On 19 August 1561, not yet nineteen years old, she returned to Scotland, landing at Leith.

Almost immediately, Mary gave official recognition to the reformed church but stipulated that she had the liberty to retain the Mass in her private chapel at Holyrood. This took her into conflict with John Knox (c.1513-1572), preacher and key figure in the Scottish Reformation.

In preference to suggestions of re-marriage with either the Kings of Sweden, Denmark, and France, the Archduke Charles of Austria, Don Carlos of Spain, the Dukes of Ferrara, Nemours, and Anjou, or the Earl of Arran and the Earl of Leicester, Mary chose her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. They were married on 29 July 1565. Described variously as handsome, weak, needy, insolent, vicious, and worthless, Mary herself was alarmed by his debauchery and arrogance and was soon estranged from him. Alarm turned to disgust when he and other Protestant nobles burst into her apartments on 9 March 1566 and murdered the Italian courtier and musician David Rizzio, her adviser and private foreign secretary. Although Mary was six months pregnant at the time, she survived the shocking ordeal and Prince James was born on 19 June 1566.

Mary's abhorrence and contempt for Darnley was accompanied by a growing affection for James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell (c. 1535-1578) and when her husband was murdered in the destruction of the house of Kirk o' Field just outside the city walls on 10 February 1567 (Darnley was lying sick there with smallpox), there was a suspicion that Mary was not completely ignorant of the plot. On 12 April however, a mock-trial acquitted Bothwell and on 24 April he abducted the Queen, perhaps with her approval and certainly without much resistance from her, and carried her to Dunbar. Bothwell then obtained a divorce from his recently married wife on 7 May, received a public pardon on 12 May from Mary for her seizure and was created Duke of Orkney, and then was married to the Queen on 15 May 1567. It was at this point that Mary was faced with a confederacy of nobles who stood against her and she surrendered at Carberry on 15 June 1567. Imprisoned on an island castle in Loch Leven, Mary was compelled to abdicate in favour of her infant son. She was now aged twenty-four.

After escaping from Loch Leven on 2 May 1568, and in spite of receiving much support and massing an army of six thousand, she was defeated by the Regent, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, at Langside on 13 May 1568. Mary then crossed the Solway into England and sought the help of Elizabeth I only to remain under house arrest - a prisoner - for just over twenty years - variously at Carlisle, Bolton, Tutbury, Wingfield, Coventry, Chatsworth, Sheffield, Buxton, and Chartley. In England she became the focus of plots by English Catholics and foreign agents. Through the efforts of Sir Francis Walsingham (1530-1590) and his state security system, the 1586 Babington Plot against Elizabeth was revealed, implicating Mary who was then housed at Chartley in Staffordshire. She was brought to trial in September 1586, a sentence of death was passed in October 1586, and with the consent of Elizabeth she was executed at Fotheringay Castle on 8 February 1587. She was succeeded by her son, James VI, who would later become King James I of England and Ireland on the death of Elizabeth.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Thorne, J. O. and Collocott, T. C. (eds.). Chambers biographical dictionary. Revised ed. with supp. Edinburgh: W. and R. Chambers, 1982. (2) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.12. Llwyd-Mason. London: Smith, Elder and co., 1909. (3) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Micropedia, 15th ed. Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to material related to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): and these include letters to Mary from James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, 1567-68, in La.III.825/2, pp.48-62; letter, in French, from De Pierceville to the Cardinal of Lorraine about preparations for the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin, at La.II.524; Detectio Mariae by George Buchanan, at La.III.241; A treatise concerning the righte title and interest of ... Marie by John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, at La.III.392, ff.12-48, and other at La.III.392, ff.102-125; and other letters, notes, and mentions of Mary in letters. There is also a copy of a letter of Charles Paget to Mary, 29 May 1586, with a copy of part of her answer, 27 July 1586, at Dk.7.32, f.3.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: letters and papers, Hatfield House, Ref. HMC NRA 32925 Gascoyne-Cecil; letters and papers, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Cotton MSS; letters and papers (mainly copies) British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Sloane MSS; letters (7), circa 1557-1576, Pierpont Morgan Library, Ref. RE; letters, 1554-1587, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. Adv MSS 29 2 1, 54 1 1-8; letters to Archbishop James Beaton, 1562-1582, Scottish Catholic Archives, Ref. JB NRA 7865 Scottish Catholic, see NRA(S)0018; and letters to Elizabeth I, West Sussex Record Office, see Timothy J McCann, Goodwood Royal Letters 1977.