Mary Stuart and Cleopatra are the two women who have most

attracted the fancy of poets, dramatists, novelists, and painters,

from their own time down to the present day.

In some respects there is a certain likeness in their careers.

Each was queen of a nation whose affairs were entangled with those

of a much greater one. Each sought for her own ideal of love until

she found it. Each won that love recklessly, almost madly. Each,

in its attainment, fell from power and fortune. Each died before

her natural life was ended. One caused the man she loved to cast

away the sovereignty of a mighty state. The other lost her own

crown in order that she might achieve the whole desire of her


There is still another parallel which may be found. Each of these

women was reputed to be exquisitely beautiful; yet each fell short

of beauty's highest standards. They are alike remembered in song

and story because of qualities that are far more powerful than any

physical charm can be. They impressed the imagination of their own

contemporaries just as they had impressed the imagination of all

succeeding ages, by reason of a strange and irresistible

fascination which no one could explain, but which very few could

experience and resist.

Mary Stuart was born six days before her father's death, and when

the kingdom which was her heritage seemed to be almost in its

death-throes. James V. of Scotland, half Stuart and half Tudor,

was no ordinary monarch. As a mere boy he had burst the bonds with

which a regency had bound him, and he had ruled the wild Scotland

of the sixteenth century. He was brave and crafty, keen in

statesmanship, and dissolute in pleasure.

His first wife had given him no heirs; so at her death he sought

out a princess whom he pursued all the more ardently because she

was also courted by the burly Henry VIII. of England. This girl

was Marie of Lorraine, daughter of the Duc de Guise. She was fit

to be the mother of a lion's brood, for she was above six feet in

height and of proportions so ample as to excite the admiration of

the royal voluptuary who sat upon the throne of England.

"I am big," said he, "and I want a wife who is as big as I am."

But James of Scotland wooed in person, and not by embassies, and

he triumphantly carried off his strapping princess. Henry of

England gnawed his beard in vain; and, though in time he found

consolation in another woman's arms, he viewed James not only as a

public but as a private enemy.

There was war between the two countries. First the Scots repelled

an English army; but soon they were themselves disgracefully

defeated at Solway Moss by a force much their inferior in numbers.

The shame of it broke King James's heart. As he was galloping from

the battle-field the news was brought him that his wife had given

birth to a daughter. He took little notice of the message; and in

a few days he had died, moaning with his last breath the

mysterious words:

"It came with a lass--with a lass it will go!"

The child who was born at this ill-omened crisis was Mary Stuart,

who within a week became, in her own right, Queen of Scotland. Her

mother acted as regent of the kingdom. Henry of England demanded

that the infant girl should be betrothed to his young son, Prince

Edward, who afterward reigned as Edward VI., though he died while

still a boy. The proposal was rejected, and the war between

England and Scotland went on its bloody course; but meanwhile the

little queen was sent to France, her mother's home, so that she

might be trained in accomplishments which were rare in Scotland.

In France she grew up at the court of Catherine de' Medici, that

imperious intriguer whose splendid surroundings were tainted with

the corruption which she had brought from her native Italy. It

was, indeed, a singular training-school for a girl of Mary

Stuart's character. She saw about her a superficial chivalry and a

most profound depravity. Poets like Ronsard graced the life of the

court with exquisite verse. Troubadours and minstrels sang sweet

music there. There were fetes and tournaments and gallantry of

bearing; yet, on the other hand, there was every possible

refinement and variety of vice. Men were slain before the eyes of

the queen herself. The talk of the court was of intrigue and lust

and evil things which often verged on crime. Catherine de' Medici

herself kept her nominal husband at arm's-length; and in order to

maintain her grasp on France she connived at the corruption of her

own children, three of whom were destined in their turn to sit

upon the throne.

Mary Stuart grew up in these surroundings until she was sixteen,

eating the fruit which gave a knowledge of both good and evil. Her

intelligence was very great. She quickly learned Italian, French,

and Latin. She was a daring horsewoman. She was a poet and an

artist even in her teens. She was also a keen judge of human

motives, for those early years of hers had forced her into a

womanhood that was premature but wonderful. It had been proposed

that she should marry the eldest son of Catherine, so that in time

the kingdom of Scotland and that of France might be united, while

if Elizabeth of England were to die unmarried her realm also would

fall to this pair of children.

And so Mary, at sixteen, wedded the Dauphin Francis, who was a

year her junior. The prince was a wretched, whimpering little

creature, with a cankered body and a blighted soul. Marriage with

such a husband seemed absurd. It never was a marriage in reality.

The sickly child would cry all night, for he suffered from

abscesses in his ears, and his manhood had been prematurely taken

from him. Nevertheless, within a twelvemonth the French king died

and Mary Stuart was Queen of France as well as of Scotland,

hampered only by her nominal obedience to the sick boy whom she

openly despised. At seventeen she showed herself a master spirit.

She held her own against the ambitious Catherine de' Medici, whom

she contemptuously nicknamed "the apothecary's daughter." For the

brief period of a year she was actually the ruler of France; but

then her husband died and she was left a widow, restless,

ambitious, and yet no longer having any of the power she loved.

Mary Stuart at this time had become a woman whose fascination was

exerted over all who knew her. She was very tall and very slim,

with chestnut hair, "like a flower of the heat, both lax and

delicate." Her skin was fair and pale, so clear and so transparent

as to make the story plausible that when she drank from a flask of

wine, the red liquid could be seen passing down her slender


Yet with all this she was not fine in texture, but hardy as a man.

She could endure immense fatigue without yielding to it. Her

supple form had the strength of steel. There was a gleam in her

hazel eyes that showed her to be brimful of an almost fierce

vitality. Young as she was, she was the mistress of a thousand

arts, and she exhaled a sort of atmosphere that turned the heads

of men. The Stuart blood made her impatient of control, careless

of state, and easy-mannered. The French and the Tudor strain gave

her vivacity. She could be submissive in appearance while still

persisting in her aims. She could be languorous and seductive

while cold within. Again, she could assume the haughtiness which

belonged to one who was twice a queen.

Two motives swayed her, and they fought together for supremacy.

One was the love of power, and the other was the love of love. The

first was natural to a girl who was a sovereign in her own right.

The second was inherited, and was then forced into a rank

luxuriance by the sort of life that she had seen about her. At

eighteen she was a strangely amorous creature, given to fondling

and kissing every one about her, with slight discrimination. From

her sense of touch she received emotions that were almost

necessary to her existence. With her slender, graceful hands she

was always stroking the face of some favorite--it might be only

the face of a child, or it might be the face of some courtier or

poet, or one of the four Marys whose names are linked with hers--

Mary Livingstone, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton, and Mary Seton, the

last of whom remained with her royal mistress until her death.

But one must not be too censorious in thinking of Mary Stuart. She

was surrounded everywhere by enemies. During her stay in France

she was hated by the faction of Catherine de' Medici. When she

returned to Scotland she was hated because of her religion by the

Protestant lords. Her every action was set forth in the worst

possible light. The most sinister meaning was given to everything

she said or did. In truth, we must reject almost all the stories

which accuse her of anything more than a certain levity of


She was not a woman to yield herself in love's last surrender

unless her intellect and heart alike had been made captive. She

would listen to the passionate outpourings of poets and courtiers,

and she would plunge her eyes into theirs, and let her hair just

touch their faces, and give them her white hands to kiss--but

that was all. Even in this she was only following the fashion of

the court where she was bred, and she was not unlike her royal

relative, Elizabeth of England, who had the same external

amorousness coupled with the same internal self-control.

Mary Stuart's love life makes a piteous story, for it is the life

of one who was ever seeking--seeking for the man to whom she

could look up, who could be strong and brave and ardent like

herself, and at the same time be more powerful and more steadfast

even than she herself in mind and thought. Whatever may be said of

her, and howsoever the facts may be colored by partisans, this

royal girl, stung though she was by passion and goaded by desire,

cared nothing for any man who could not match her in body and mind

and spirit all at once.

It was in her early widowhood that she first met the man, and when

their union came it brought ruin on them both. In France there

came to her one day one of her own subjects, the Earl of Bothwell.

He was but a few years older than she, and in his presence for the

first time she felt, in her own despite, that profoundly moving,

indescribable, and never-to-be-forgotten thrill which shakes a

woman to the very center of her being, since it is the recognition

of a complete affinity.

Lord Bothwell, like Queen Mary, has been terribly maligned. Unlike

her, he has found only a few defenders. Maurice Hewlett has drawn

a picture of him more favorable than many, and yet it is a picture

that repels. Bothwell, says he, was of a type esteemed by those

who pronounce vice to be their virtue. He was "a galliard, flushed

with rich blood, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, with a laugh so

happy and so prompt that the world, rejoicing to hear it, thought

all must be well wherever he might be. He wore brave clothes, sat

a brave horse, and kept brave company bravely. His high color,

while it betokened high feeding, got him the credit of good

health. His little eyes twinkled so merrily that you did not see

they were like a pig's, sly and greedy at once, and bloodshot. His

tawny beard concealed a jaw underhung, a chin jutting and

dangerous. His mouth had a cruel twist; but his laughing hid that

too. The bridge of his nose had been broken; few observed it, or

guessed at the brawl which must have given it to him. Frankness

was his great charm, careless ease in high places."

And so, when Mary Stuart first met him in her eighteenth year,

Lord Bothwell made her think as she had never thought of any other

man, and as she was not to think of any other man again. She grew

to look eagerly for the frank mockery "in those twinkling eyes, in

that quick mouth"; and to wonder whether it was with him always--

asleep, at prayers, fighting, furious, or in love.

Something more, however, must be said of Bothwell. He was

undoubtedly a roisterer, but he was very much a man. He made easy

love to women. His sword leaped quickly from its sheath. He could

fight, and he could also think. He was no brawling ruffian, no

ordinary rake. Remembering what Scotland was in those days,

Bothwell might well seem in reality a princely figure. He knew

Italian; he was at home in French; he could write fluent Latin. He

was a collector of books and a reader of them also. He was perhaps

the only Scottish noble of his time who had a book-plate of his

own. Here is something more than a mere reveler. Here is a man of

varied accomplishments and of a complex character.

Though he stayed but a short time near the queen in France, he

kindled her imagination, so that when she seriously thought of men

she thought of Bothwell. And yet all the time she was fondling the

young pages in her retinue and kissing her maids of honor with her

scarlet lips, and lying on their knees, while poets like Ronsard

and Chastelard wrote ardent love sonnets to her and sighed and

pined for something more than the privilege of kissing her two

dainty hands.

In 1561, less than a year after her widowhood, Mary set sail for

Scotland, never to return. The great high-decked ships which

escorted her sailed into the harbor of Leith, and she pressed on

to Edinburgh. A depressing change indeed from the sunny terraces

and fields of France! In her own realm were fog and rain and only

a hut to shelter her upon her landing. When she reached her

capital there were few welcoming cheers; but as she rode over the

cobblestones to Holyrood, the squalid wynds vomited forth great

mobs of hard-featured, grim-visaged men and women who stared with

curiosity and a half-contempt at the girl queen and her retinue of


The Scots were Protestants of the most dour sort, and they

distrusted their new ruler because of her religion and because she

loved to surround herself with dainty things and bright colors and

exotic elegance. They feared lest she should try to repeal the law

of Scotland's Parliament which had made the country Protestant.

The very indifference of her subjects stirred up the nobler part

of Mary's nature. For a time she was indeed a queen. She governed

wisely. She respected the religious rights of her Protestant

subjects. She strove to bring order out of the chaos into which

her country had fallen. And she met with some success. The time

came when her people cheered her as she rode among them. Her

subtle fascination was her greatest source of strength. Even John

Knox, that iron-visaged, stentorian preacher, fell for a time

under the charm of her presence. She met him frankly and pleaded

with him as a woman, instead of commanding him as a queen. The

surly ranter became softened for a time, and, though he spoke of

her to others as "Honeypot," he ruled his tongue in public. She

had offers of marriage from Austrian and Spanish princes. The new

King of France, her brother-in-law, would perhaps have wedded her.

It mattered little to Mary that Elizabeth of England was hostile.

She felt that she was strong enough to hold her own and govern


But who could govern a country such as Scotland was? It was a land

of broils and feuds, of clan enmities and fierce vendettas. Its

nobles were half barbarous, and they fought and slashed at one

another with drawn dirks almost in the presence of the queen

herself. No matter whom she favored, there rose up a swarm of

enemies. Here was a Corsica of the north, more savage and untamed

than even the other Corsica.

In her perplexity Mary felt a woman's need of some man on whom she

would have the right to lean, and whom she could make king

consort. She thought that she had found him in the person of her

cousin, Lord Darnley, a Catholic, and by his upbringing half an

Englishman. Darnley came to Scotland, and for the moment Mary

fancied that she had forgotten Bothwell. Here again she was in

love with love, and she idealized the man who came to give it to

her. Darnley seemed, indeed, well worthy to be loved, for he was

tall and handsome, appearing well on horseback and having some of

the accomplishments which Mary valued.

It was a hasty wooing, and the queen herself was first of all the

wooer. Her quick imagination saw in Darnley traits and gifts of

which he really had no share. Therefore, the marriage was soon

concluded, and Scotland had two sovereigns, King Henry and Queen

Mary. So sure was Mary of her indifference to Bothwell that she

urged the earl to marry, and he did marry a girl of the great

house of Gordon.

Mary's self-suggested love for Darnley was extinguished almost on

her wedding-night. The man was a drunkard who came into her

presence befuddled and almost bestial. He had no brains. His

vanity was enormous. He loved no one but himself, and least of all

this queen, whom he regarded as having thrown herself at his empty


The first-fruits of the marriage were uprisings among the

Protestant lords. Mary then showed herself a heroic queen. At the

head of a motley band of soldiery who came at her call--half-

clad, uncouth, and savage--she rode into the west, sleeping at

night upon the bare ground, sharing the camp food, dressed in

plain tartan, but swift and fierce as any eagle. Her spirit ran

like fire through the veins of those who followed her. She crushed

the insurrection, scattered its leaders, and returned in triumph

to her capital.

Now she was really queen, but here came in the other motive which

was interwoven in her character. She had shown herself a man in

courage. Should she not have the pleasures of a woman? To her

court in Holyrood came Bothwell once again, and this time Mary

knew that he was all the world to her. Darnley had shrunk from the

hardships of battle. He was steeped in low intrigues. He roused

the constant irritation of the queen by his folly and utter lack

of sense and decency. Mary felt she owed him nothing, but she

forgot that she owed much to herself.

Her old amorous ways came back to her, and she relapsed into the

joys of sense. The scandal-mongers of the capital saw a lover in

every man with whom she talked. She did, in fact, set convention

at defiance. She dressed in men's clothing. She showed what the

unemotional Scots thought to be unseemly levity. The French poet,

Chastelard, misled by her external signs of favor, believed

himself to be her choice. At the end of one mad revel he was found

secreted beneath her bed, and was driven out by force. A second

time he ventured to secrete himself within the covers of the bed.

Then he was dragged forth, imprisoned, and condemned to death. He

met his fate without a murmur, save at the last when he stood upon

the scaffold and, gazing toward the palace, cried in French:

"Oh, cruel queen! I die for you!"

Another favorite, the Italian, David Rizzio, or Riccio, in like

manner wrote love verses to the queen, and she replied to them in

kind; but there is no evidence that she valued him save for his

ability, which was very great. She made him her foreign secretary,

and the man whom he supplanted worked on the jealousy of Darnley;

so that one night, while Mary and Rizzio were at dinner in a small

private chamber, Darnley and the others broke in upon her. Darnley

held her by the waist while Rizzio was stabbed before her eyes

with a cruelty the greater because the queen was soon to become a


From that moment she hated Darnley as one would hate a snake. She

tolerated him only that he might acknowledge her child as his son.

This child was the future James VI. of Scotland and James I. of

England. It is recorded of him that never throughout his life

could he bear to look upon drawn steel.

After this Mary summoned Bothwell again and again. It was revealed

to her as in a blaze of light that, after all, he was the one and

only man who could be everything to her. His frankness, his

cynicism, his mockery, his carelessness, his courage, and the

power of his mind matched her moods completely. She threw away all

semblance of concealment. She ignored the fact that he had married

at her wish. She was queen. She desired him. She must have him at

any cost.

"Though I lose Scotland and England both," she cried in a passion

of abandonment, "I shall have him for my own!"

Bothwell, in his turn, was nothing loath, and they leaped at each

other like two flames.

It was then that Mary wrote those letters which were afterward

discovered in a casket and which were used against her when she

was on trial for her life. These so-called Casket Letters, though

we have not now the originals, are among the most extraordinary

letters ever written. All shame, all hesitation, all innocence,

are flung away in them. The writer is so fired with passion that

each sentence is like a cry to a lover in the dark. As De Peyster

says: "In them the animal instincts override and spur and lash the

pen." Mary was committing to paper the frenzied madness of a woman

consumed to her very marrow by the scorching blaze of unedurable


Events moved quickly. Darnley, convalescent from an attack of

smallpox, was mysteriously destroyed by an explosion of gunpowder.

Bothwell was divorced from his young wife on curious grounds. A

dispensation allowed Mary to wed a Protestant, and she married

Bothwell three months after Darnley's death.

Here one sees the consummation of what had begun many years before

in France. From the moment that she and Bothwell met, their union

was inevitable. Seas could not sunder them. Other loves and other

fancies were as nothing to them. Even the bonds of marriage were

burst asunder so that these two fiery, panting souls could meet.

It was the irony of fate that when they had so met it was only to

be parted. Mary's subjects, outraged by her conduct, rose against

her. As she passed through the streets of Edinburgh the women

hurled after her indecent names. Great banners were raised with

execrable daubs representing the murdered Darnley. The short and

dreadful monosyllable which is familiar to us in the pages of the

Bible was hurled after her wherever she went.

With Bothwell by her side she led a wild and ragged horde of

followers against the rebellious nobles, whose forces met her at

Carberry Hill. Her motley followers melted away, and Mary

surrendered to the hostile chieftains, who took her to the castle

at Lochleven. There she became the mother of twins--a fact that is

seldom mentioned by historians. These children were the fruit of

her union with Bothwell. From this time forth she cared but little

for herself, and she signed, without great reluctance, a document

by which she abdicated in favor of her infant son.

Even in this place of imprisonment, however, her fascination had

power to charm. Among those who guarded her, two of the Douglas

family--George Douglas and William Douglas--for love of her,

effected her escape. The first attempt failed. Mary, disguised as

a laundress, was betrayed by the delicacy of her hands. But a

second attempt was successful. The queen passed through a postern

gate and made her way to the lake, where George Douglas met her

with a boat. Crossing the lake, fifty horsemen under Lord Claude

Hamilton gave her their escort and bore her away in safety.

But Mary was sick of Scotland, for Bothwell could not be there.

She had tasted all the bitterness of life, and for a few months

all the sweetness; but she would have no more of this rough and

barbarous country. Of her own free will she crossed the Solway

into England, to find herself at once a prisoner.

Never again did she set eyes on Bothwell. After the battle of

Carberry Hill he escaped to the north, gathered some ships

together, and preyed upon English merchantmen, very much as a

pirate might have done. Ere long, however, when he had learned of

Mary's fate, he set sail for Norway. King Frederick of Denmark

made him a prisoner of state. He was not confined within prison

walls, however, but was allowed to hunt and ride in the vicinity

of Malmo Castle and of Dragsholm. It is probably in Malmo Castle

that he died. In 1858 a coffin which was thought to be the coffin

of the earl was opened, and a Danish artist sketched the head--

which corresponds quite well with the other portraits of the ill-

fated Scottish noble.

It is a sad story. Had Mary been less ambitious when she first met

Bothwell, or had he been a little bolder, they might have reigned

together and lived out their lives in the plenitude of that great

love which held them both in thrall. But a queen is not as other

women; and she found too late that the teaching of her heart was,

after all, the truest teaching. She went to her death as Bothwell

went to his, alone, in a strange, unfriendly land.

Yet, even this, perhaps, was better so. It has at least touched

both their lives with pathos and has made the name of Mary Stuart

one to be remembered throughout all the ages.

MARIE ANTOINETTE AND COUNT FERSEN Meissonier facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail