In November 1558 Henri II of France upon hearing the news that Mary I of England (Bloody Mary) was dead declared that his young son, Francois, and his daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots were king and queen of England by virtue of Mary Queen of Scots descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest surviving daughter of Henry VII. In the eyes of the Catholic world Elizabeth was at best the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and could thus have no claim to the crown.
The quartering of the English arms with Mary’s arms was the start of a lifelong struggle between Elizabeth and Mary although Elizabeth did acknowledge that the initial ambitions stemmed from the House of Guise and Henri II. At this stage in the proceedings it was largely a matter of posturing – but a seed had been sown.
Barely two years later in December 1560 Francois died from an ear infection that turned into an abscess on his brain. Mary decided to return Scotland – landing her squarely on Elizabeth’s doorstep. This was a development that made her claim to the throne more dangerous not least because Mary refused to accept the Treaty of Edinburgh which recognised Elizabeth as Queen of England. As a direct consequence of her refusal to ratify the treaty Elizabeth refused to permit her cousin safe passage. Mary relied on God and good winds to get her home to Leith on August 19 1561 but the tone was set for growing animosity between the two queens until Mary went to her death at Fotheringhay in 1587.
Mary had been in France since she was five-years-old. Her mother, Mary of Guise, widow of James V had sent her only surviving child abroad for fear of kidnap attempts from her own nobles and from the attentions of the on-going English so-called ‘Rough Wooing’. In April 1558, after an upbringing fit for a princess, Mary, aged 15, married the dauphin who was almost two years younger than her. In 1559 Henri II was killed in a jousting accident. The young husband and wife briefly became king and queen of France. Francois had always been a sickly boy so the day to day ruling of France fell to his older relations including his mother Catherine de Medici and his uncles the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise.
In Scotland, Mary of Guise, Mary’s mother who had acted as her daughter’s regent died in June 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh should have been ratified in the July but Mary insisted that she hadn’t agreed to it so wouldn’t sign it. By the end of the year Mary Queen of Scots would be a widow. She was just eighteen. Her ten-year-old-brother-in-law Charles now became king of France and Catherine de Medici became regent.
At Calais, in French hands since 1558, Mary boarded the vessel that would take her back to a Scotland where John Knox preached Protestantism. The man who was the admiral of her little fleet was none other than James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell.