This morning features the opening of the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh: a remarkable building, beautifully designed, but a project marred by massive cost overruns. Queen Elizabeth II is attending amid some controversy: some wish she wasn’t there at all, while others expressed dismay over the II in her title. Queen Elizabeth I of England was, after all, never recognized in Scotland: during Elizabeth’s reign, Scotland was ruled by James V, who died in 1542 when his daughter Mary was just six days old. The story of Mary, Queen of Scots, is one I’m not all that familiar with, but the short version is like something out of a soap opera.
A Catholic, Mary was first married to the future King Francis II of France, but he died not long after taking the throne, so Mary married her Catholic cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Mary may have had an affair with one of her Italian advisors, David Rizzio, and he didn’t last long when Darnley found out: Rizzio was murdered. By 1567 Darnley tried to take over the line of succession for his heirs: he was strangled and his house blown up by Protestant saboteurs. The main Protestant conspirator was James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, whom Mary soon married after he divorced his wife.
The outcome of all this drama was as serious as it could possibly be: Mary had offended and alienated anyone who might have supported her, and the Scottish nobility raised an army against her. Before 1567 was over, she had been defeated and forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her son, James VI. Mary sought refuge in the English court of Elizabeth I, but was effectively a prisoner for the next 20 years. Because Elizabeth was Protestant, many Catholics believed that Mary should be Queen of England but, after several abortive conspiracies, Elizabeth had had enough and signed Mary’s execution warrant in 1587.
In a suitably ironic coda, Mary’s son James VI succeeded to the throne of England as James I when “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth died in 1603. Despite his Catholic heritage, James’ bloodline could be traced directly back to King Henry VII, and he had already succeeded in quelling Catholic ambitions, and married the Protestant Princess Anne of Denmark, despite having been kidnapped by Protestant militants earlier in life. With Britain largely united, the sectarian conflict was mostly over, and the focus shifted outward, leading to war with Spain over their refusal to let the Spanish infanta marry James’ son, the later Charles I. I could go on, but that will do for one day.
Sir Sean Connery is in attendance, and has naturally managed to offend a few people already. Strangest sight of the morning: the Queen entering the building and being greeted by officials, while the brass band plays, of all things, Mark Knopfler’s theme music from Going Home. Um…?