Today in Mary Queen of Scots History: September 9

Today in Mary Queen of Scots History:  September 9

(above:  Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned)


September 9 is the date that Mary Queen of Scots was crowned Queen of Scotland. She was only nine months old at the time and she could not have remembered it when she was older, although she certainly celebrated the date.

The year was 1543. The date itself, according to Antonia Fraser, was “inauspicious” (24), being the thirtieth anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, but it was probably chosen more for its proximity to the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, exactly nine months after Mary’s birthday, which fell (officially anyway) on The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. John Guy writes that the anniversary date was “delicious irony” (25). The coronation of the little Queen followed nine months of intrigue and attempts at power-grabbing by the various factions in the Scottish nation; Henry VIII bought as many nobles as he could, but in the end, Mary of Guise, the Queen’s mother, prevailed. She proved to be as crafty as any of the men she had to deal with.

Jane Dunn writes that it was “an ancient but modest ceremony…” (61). John Guy elaborates:

“Mary was carried in procession from her nursery at Stirling and crowned Queen of Scots in the adjacent Chapel Royal. The coronation was the most solemn ritual known to church and state; its symbolism was sacramental and conferred religious as well as civil legitimacy on her. In the course of the ceremony, a nine-month-old child was transformed into an anointed queen, possessed of those sacred powers of majesty that God alone could bestow or call to account. … In the procession, Arran bore the crown, Lennox the scepter, and the Earl of Argyll, the most powerful of all the Scottish lords and Arran’s brother-in-law, the sword of state. These regalia, known collectively as the “honors of Scotland” and still on display at Edinburgh Castle, had been obtained by James IV and his son in their tireless efforts to trumpet their prestige. They were first used together on this day. The crown, originally worn by James V at the coronation of Mary of Guise, was far too big and heavy for a child. It was held over Mary’s head by Beaton, who was dressed in the full panoply of a cardinal. He blessed her and anointed her with holy oil. She howled volubly and kept it up while every bishop and peer knelt in turn to recite his oath of allegiance. … By tradition, heralds read aloud the royal genealogy, a roster that could take up to half an hour to recite. In view of Mary’s lusty interventions [her crying], this part of the proceedings was omitted. The pro-English lords were conspicuous by their absence, but otherwise the day passed ‘with great solemnity’ and was rounded out with banquets, masques, dramatic interludes and other entertainments in the great hall, followed by ‘great dancing before the queen with great lords and French ladies.'” (25-26)

It is curious that all the authors I consulted remarked on the fact that Mary cried all through the ceremony, like she was supposed to be solemn and quiet like a miniature adult. She was, after all, only nine months old, and was probably teething. Not to mention that she probably hated being held in one place for such a long time. Anyone who knows anything about babies at that age knows that they want to move about constantly. They are just learning to crawl – some of them are already standing and even taking their first steps.

Another thing that was mentioned – by Fraser – was a comparison of Mary’s coronation to that of Elizabeth’s, fifteen years later. I am going to write about this specifically in another blog post, but I have to say that I have real issues when authors write about Mary and then compare her unfavorably in any way to Elizabeth. That’s like comparing an apple unfavorably to an orange. They’re different fruits that grow on different trees in different climates with different growing seasons. Maybe you like apples better than oranges and maybe you like oranges better than apples and maybe you like them both. But they’re different fruit. Mary is not Elizabeth. Her coronation was totally different – politically, nationally, and given the age difference – Mary could not participate in her coronation as Elizabeth could.

The main thing – which formed Mary’s character more than anything else did – was that her coronation transformed her into two people – Mary Stuart the person and Queen Mary, the anointed of God – half human and half divine. This is why royalty speak of themselves as “we”. Mary did not grow up as a princess or a countess and then marry a king to become a queen or inherit the throne as Elizabeth did. She was anointed a queen as a baby and she knew no other identity. To forget this when studying Mary Queen of Scots – or even reading a novel about her – is to forget her most basic essence.

Works Cited
Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Dell, 1971
Guy, John. Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004