Thursday, 8 December 2016


Marie (Mary) Stuart, Queen of Scots
As Scotland recognizes the birth of it’s 16th century monarch, Queen Mary Stuart - born this December day in 1542 at the Heathered Isles’ Linlithgow Palace, Unraveling Musical Myths takes a look back at the ill-fated rulers only true stronghold in the annals of British history: her impressive post-mortal foray into the world of symphonic muses.

Queen Mary’s tragic life and all-too-brief “reign” (if one could even call it that in the era of ruling noble factions in Scotland) has been covered extensively on this blog. You may find background on this notorious femme fatale by perusing the archives.

In brief: the young, hapless Queen, who attempted rule by matters of heart over matters of state was internationally reviled over the course of her blink-of-an-eye reign, save for the French King, Henri II and his sickly son, the dauphin François who Mary was all but forced into wedding after England’s tyrannical Henry VIII set siege on Scotland (a violent period of British history known as "The Rough Wooing") in an effort to kidnap the young royal and force a betrothal to his only legitimate son, the future king of England Edward VI - which forced Marie de Guise (mother to the queen) to make a marriage pact for her daughter with François – and in effect with France – in exchange for exile and for a French military presence in Scotland to help the nation defend themselves against the troublesome English. Detested by the French Queen Regent and conspirateur Catherine de Medici, Mary would be swiftly ousted from Court following the unexpected premature death of King François by inner ear infection in 1560.

No longer Queen Consort of France, Mary sought to regain control over her native Scotland and chose to retreat there. It would be a disaster right from the beginning. The Queen had just but set foot on terra firma after a stormy crossing at sea when the young Catholic ruler was met - rather rudely -  by the Protestant leader John Knox, who loudly chastised the Queen and cursed her very arrival on Scotland. This was not the Catholic Scotland of her youth – this was a country in the midst of a Religious Reformation.

[1]Wedded bliss? A smug portrait of Lord Darnley, flanked by Mary.
Lord Darnley was born Henry Stuart - making the former Consort King
first cousin to Mary.
One disastrous marriage later to the consort king Lord Darnley[1] – a highly vainglorious, narcissistic lout sent to the Island by Mary’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England - and the persistent ruler would find herself embroiled in a series of diabolical plots – both as victim and as alleged manipulatrice – that would prove to be her undoing.

First, her close confidant and alleged lover, the luteist David Rizzo is executed in front of the Queen by her jealous husband after Mary shocks the nation by appointing him – a commoner - Secretary For Relations With France. It seemed Lord Darnley had political aspirations of the highest degree and would stoop to any level in order to overthrow his wife, disinherit her child (the future "Union King," James VI and I), and secure for himself the Scottish throne (including accusing Mary of a treasonous affair and alleging the child she presently carried in utero to be the illegitimate spawn of a humble musician – hardly fit to be a future King).

Lord Darnley would pay dearly for his transgressions when Mary – and her very real lover – the Scottish Lord James Hepburn (the Earl of Bothwell), successfully launched an almost aborted coup d’état by first attempting to blow the king up as he slept, and, when that failed, by chasing him down and throttling him to death. As enraged nobles - all of whom carried their own political aspirations - sought to imprison and execute the Queen and Lord Bothwell for the heinous murder of Lord Darnley, Mary once more sought exile – this time sailing South, to England, where she rightfully possessed an heirship to the English Royal Throne via the female line of Tudors (Margaret, sister to Henry VIII was Mary’s grandmother through her marriage to the Scottish King James V – Mary’s grandfather). 

Mary's only surviving son, James Stuart may have come
out the winner in an ages old battle for the British
Throne, yet his coronation would prove him to
be undoubtedly the son of the hapless Queen Mary
when it was announced that the newly-minted King
would receive his Coronation in the midst of a plague
that was busy decimating Europe. The "Union King"
as a result would receive none of the royal 
festivities traditionally granted to Kings to mark the
historical occasion. It seemed the so called
"Stuart curse" (coined during his 

mothers reign) preceded him to the throne.

England itself was embroiled in a religious revolution, and those remaining Catholics who felt themselves thwarted by the Queen and punished for their worship were engaged in countless plots to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth – a "usurper" of the English throne once declared by King Henry VIII himself (Elizabeth’s father and England’s former king) to have been a bastard child - and place who they felt was the “rightful” Queen on the English throne: Mary Stuart. Mary herself famously became involved in several of these plots – how deeply involved remains hotly contested depending on which side of the United Kingdom one hails. In any event, the former Queen would be subjected to a show trial, promptly found guilty, and, after much hesitation, beheaded by an executioner in Elizabeth’s employ.

In a cruel twist of irony (or as a matter of just desserts – which ever be your pleasure) Mary’s son, James, who had been raised English – and Protestant – would effortlessly accomplish what Henry VIII had sought to accomplish during his so-called "Rough Wooing" some sixty years earlier, and what Lord Henry Darnley sought to steal from Mary, and what Mary herself ultimately sacrificed her life for whilst trying to become: the heir presumptive of a United England. After Elizabeth died bearing no offspring in March of 1603, a middle-aged James automatically secured for himself the throne of both England and Scotland, simultaneously establishing the Stuart dynasty - and bringing together the two millenia-old enemy nations under one Kingdom: The United Kingdom.

Mary's only surviving child (she tragically miscarried twins whilst in prison) would reign gloriously over the British Empire as James I of England and James VI of Scotland.

Mary’s fascinating life and tragic death have spawned countless biographies, plays, biopics – even a television series. Her many failed exploits are the stuff of legend. The classical music sphere knows her best as a scorned coquette in maestro Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (click here to listen to “Mary’s” famous aria “Quando de Luce Rosea”)

...but  Did You Know?

Queen Mary Stuart was also honored in the form of Lieder?

Both megalithic composers Richard Wagner and Robert Schumann (who used the Queen’s own writings as his libretti) were just a few of the many famous and revered musicians to have set the fateful Queen’s life to music.

Listen below to Herr Wagner’s “Les Adieux de Marie Staurt: Adieu, charmant pays de France" (The Farewell of Mary Stuart: Goodbye, my beloved country of France”) [left] followed by Schumann’s five-song collection “Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart” (Poems of Queen Mary Stuart, or Mary Stuart Songs (colloquially)), for voice & piano (Op. 135) [right]:

Learn more about these lieder (external links):

“Les Adieux de Marie Staurt: Adieu, charmant pays de France" 

“Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart”


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