Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots


‘In my end is my beginning’. Mary Queen of Scots returned from life in France to take up her position as Queen of Scotland at eighteen, a triumphal return, celebrated by the people. She thought she would rule as Queen like her cousin, Elizabeth I. But instead, her arrival was the beginning of the ‘hunt for Mary Queen of Scots’, as her half brother, relations, fellow aristocrats, husbands, British interests and spies who thought her a threat all battled to seize her throne, and her life was subsumed in murder and violence. She had been born, seemingly, with everything – great riches, royal blood of Scotland, England and France, the Queen of Scotland at six days old. And yet she died after half her life in captivity, executed in front of strangers, her belongings burnt and stolen, even her heart extracted and hidden.

This course explores Mary Queen of Scots and her world and her relations with Elizabeth I. We look at life in France and queenship in Scotland, the terrible husbands – and asks who killed Lord Darnley? We examine the difficult position of Elizabeth, who wished to see a fellow queen retain the throne but was surrounded by men who feared Mary as a Catholic threat.

Mary Queen of Scots gave up everything in her attempt to rule as woman, in her own right. It was, it seemed to those watching, this: two Queens, one island, and only one could survive.

Delivery: The course will be delivered by a series of 4 video lectures, and separate group Q&As with the course tutor via a video conferencing platform. Participants will also receive a reading list, course literature and activities. Links and details will be sent to participants a few days before the course begins. Lectures will be released at 7pm each Monday and will be available to view for a month and half.

ENROL – £37.50


1. The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary was thrust into royalty at just six days old, sent to France to the Court, which was safe, but a political high wire, full of threats. This lecture explores her early life, thrown between powerful interests in Scotland and France. Accompanied by her four ladies in waiting – all named Mary! – she set off for France aged just five after kidnap threats in England. But, for the little girl, it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.

2. Who killed Lord Darnley?

Mary had some of the worst husbands in British royal history (and there is competition!). She had a son – but there was also violence, blood and murder. This lecture explores the murder of Lord Darnley in Edinburgh in 1567, examines the potential suspects – and the train of shocking events it sent on course.

3. Elizabeth, queenship and her spies: Catholicism and the Reformation.

Elizabeth was in a uniquely difficult position. She wished a Queen to remain on her throne, for she knew if Mary fell, it would be used against her. But her advisors were obsesed with Mary as a Catholic threat. Elizabeth refused to believe she was under threat. This lecture explores the world of Catholicism in Reformation Europe

4. The Hunt for Mary Queen of Scots: plots within plots

As Mary’s imprisonment went on, Catholic plots seemed, to Elizabeth’s inner circle, to be spreading across the country, emboldened by the fact that Elizabeth did not have an heir. The spies set about following, tracking – and even setting Mary up. But would their evidence persuade Elizabeth that she needed to take the ultimate act? The hunt for Mary Queen of Scots was on.

You Tutor: Professor Kate Williams a leading academic, broadcaster and bestselling author of many critically acclaimed books, including Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots.

If you have any queries about the course, please do not contact the tutors direct. Instead, contact enquiries@histfest.org where we will be happy to advise.