Elizabeth I’s Deadly feud with Mary, Queen of Scots

The roots of the 20-year feud between Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots began long before both monarchs were born. Aside from it being a typical political fight, a large part of it was deeply entrenched in religion. In the end, as we all know, Mary came out the bigger loser.  Ever wonder how the feud between Elizabeth I, Queen of England and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots started in the first place? In this article, we explore the root cause of this deadly altercation that culminated in the beheading of  Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary’s grandmother, Margaret, was the older sister of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father. After Henry VIII severed relationship with the Catholic Church (as a result of his divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon), the Catholics considered all offsprings of the king illegitimate. One of such offspring was Elizabeth herself. The predominantly Catholic nobles and lords in Scotland claimed that the rightful heiress to the throne of England, after the death of Mary I (Bloody Mary), was Mary, the Queen of Scots. Mary’s claim to the English throne received support from Catholics in England as well.


At some point, the French even supported Mary’s claim. Mary’s father in-law from her first marriage, King Henri II of France, campaigned vigorously to place Mary in line to the English throne. However, none of those moves materialized. After a series of alleged marital scandals and miscalculations, the nobles and lords in Scotland forced Mary to abdicate her throne in 1567. Leaving everything behind, including her one-year-old son- James (later King James VI), Mary then fled to England where she was eventually beheaded on charges of treason. Before Mary’s death in 1587, Elizabeth had placed Mary under house arrest for close to two decades.

Historians believe that putting Mary to death was one of the most difficult things Queen Elizabeth I had to do during her 44-year reign on the English throne. Elizabeth’s counselors believed that as long as there was breath in Mary’s lungs, Mary was bound to pose a significant challenge to Elizabeth’s reign.

Mary’s death sparked a direct confrontation between England and the rest of Europe. The predominantly Catholic dominated France and Spain were outraged by the actions of Elizabeth. Several plans were made to attack England and vanquish all traces of Protestantism from England. However, all of this anger died down. Elizabeth I delicately managed the fallout with those European powers. She did this by not oppressing Catholics in England. And because she bore no heir, her cousin, James VI of Scotland (Mary’s son), successfully inherited the English crown after her death. James VI became king of both Scotland and England.

In a very remorseful letter sent by Elizabeth to Mary’s son (now King James VI), Elizabeth I made peace with herself by apologizing for not halting the execution of Mary. She laid the blame at the door step of William Davison, her Secretary.

Click here to find out why Queen Elizabeth I refused to get married all her life.

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