Today in Mary Queen of Scots History: December 8, 1542: The Birth of Mary Stewart
December 8 is the birthday of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was born at Linlithgow Palace, in “the coldest of winters,” as John Guy writes in Queen of Scots. (12) Guy goes on to describe Linlithgow as a “luxurious residence”, furnished in the “latest Renaissance styles”. With glazed windows and painted ceilings, the palace had crowns and thistles “intricately carved” into the stonework and woodwork. (12) It was a favorite lodging of Mary of Guise, and so it would make sense that she would want to give birth there.
In An Accidental Tragedy: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots, Roderick Graham writes, “Early in the morning of 8 December 1542 armed messengers left the warmth of the Linlithgow Palace guardrooms at the gallop, their breath steaming in the sudden chill and their horses’ hooves striking sparks from the frozen cobbles outside the forecourt…The horsemen were all carrying the urgent news that Marie de Guise, Queen of Scotland, was safely delivered of a child…the messengers had been standing by since her labour had begun.” (3)
There was some confusion as to the true date of Mary’s birth. Antonia Fraser, in her ground-breaking biography of Mary, attests to this. She writes, “The date of Mary Stuart’s birth, although given as the 8th by a concurrence of contemporary accounts, including Knox, is given as the 7th by her own partisan Leslie, who had special access to official records. It has therefore been suggested that Mary was actually born on the 7th and that the date was altered to coincide with the feast of the Virgin. Whatever the truth of this, which can never be proven, Mary Stuart herself always believed that she had been born on the 8th…” (14)
Mary Stuart very well could have been born on the seventh of December but at that time of year when dark comes early, it is difficult to know when exactly the next morning begins. Also, it is easy to imagine that Mary of Guise, knowing of her husband’s defeat the week before, and the political liability that birthing a girl presents, sought to make such a birth as miraculous as possible by asserting that the child was born on a feast day of the Holy Mother, especially since the child was born prematurely (Fraser, 15). By connecting the baby Mary Stuart to the Immaculate Conception, the most Holy Virgin Mary, Mary of Guise is showing her dying husband and the rest of the world that she has given birth to a most special child, blessed by the Holy Mother herself. To the emerging Protestant Kirk, this was an important point and wouldn’t be missed. Even at the day of her birth, Mary Queen of Scots was being used as Catholic Propaganda. It would continue, with her compliance, until the day she died.
Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Dell Publishing Co, 1969
Graham, Roderick. An Accidental Tragedy: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 2009.
Guy, John. Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004