There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Two: A Progress North

In which Mary, Queen of Scots goes with her half-brother James to visit the Northern parts of her kingdom.


Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary Queen of Scots by Rosemary Goring

Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Mary Was Here: where Mary Queen of Scots went and what she did there by Historic Scotland

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Vulgar History Podcast

There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Two: A Progress North

May 31, 2023

Ann Foster:
Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. I’m your host, Ann Foster. This is Part Two of… This whole season is called There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots, but we’re telling the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and this is the second part of that. So, it’s kind of a mini-series within a series. 

There are so many people in this story. When I’ve been researching, the various books – I’m about to tell you what books I’ve been looking at – every time a new person comes on, inevitably a man, I’m just like, “Okay, I can’t imagine he’s going to be important as well,” so I just read ahead and then it’s, like, “Retroactively, augh, he is important.” And then I have to go back in and learn who he is so I can introduce him to you when he joins the story. There’s an ensemble cast in this story. 

So, the last time we were talking, Mary, Queen of Scots was born in Scotland, she became Queen of Scots aged 6 days, when her father died and then she went to France. I thought it was interesting that what the television show Reign spent, I believe, 62 episodes telling, over three seasons of television programming, I covered last time in what, like, an hour and a half? Just, kind of, Mary in France. And I do think I’m going to bring up Reign throughout this whole series within a series because that’s where I first became interested in Mary, Queen of Scots’s story. I think that’s part of what was so smart about that show and what made it such a good premise for a show because when Mary comes back to Scotland, the stuff that she did, she was busy. [laughs] As we’re going to see, it’s harder to insert more, I don’t know, wacky plot lines and hijinks around how busy she was when she was literally in Scotland ruling. But in France, that’s a period of numerous years, like, 13 years or something, where not a lot was written about what she did because no one was paying so much attention to her at that point, really. So, Reign was able to just invent lots of different things to have happen to her. Anyway, it was really good, it was a great premise for a show. And I think it’s notable that when I got to Season 4 of Reign, which is when she comes to Scotland, they really put that off as long as they could for the reasons I was just explaining. When she gets to Scotland, well first of all, the whole cast of characters is going to change but also, there’s a lot less wiggle room to invent plot lines for her to get involved in. 

Anyway, so, I’m going to tell this episode assuming you heard Part One already but also assuming it’s maybe been a week since you heard Part One so when we introduce people, I’ll re-remind you who they are, I’ll re-remind you what names we’re giving them. Because everyone in this story increasingly is called James, Charles, Janet, and George. And for my own sense of whimsy – honestly, it’s so I can tell them apart, but hopefully, it’ll help you to tell them all apart – I’ve given people a whimsical nickname, often a thing that they were actually called at the time, sometimes just a name I made up, just so we can tell all these people apart who all… They all have the same surname too, everyone is a Stuart. 

Anyway, this is Part Two, Mary, Queen of Scots Part Two here on the Vulgar History podcast. Again, she was in France, she went there to marry the heir to the throne, then the king died so her husband became the king, so she was the queen of France. But then that husband died making her both a teen widow, the dowager queen of France, I guess. But also, so the king who died, her husband, Francis, he had several younger siblings including his younger brother Charles who is going to be the new king and so, Mary and her uncles – the de Guise uncles who were so ambitious – were like, “Well, what if we do a King Henry VIII/Arthur situation and just like, marry her to the younger sibling?” But Catherine de’ Medici, who was the mother of the French kings, the de Guises had had so much power and control when Mary was married to Francis and she was like, “No.” If she lets Charles, the new French boy king, marry Mary then the de Guises are going to get power again and she didn’t want that, so that was just never, truly never, an option. And Mary was just, kind of like, “What am I going to do?” She stayed in France for a while trying to figure out what she was going to do, and no one knew what to do with her either. 

We get to this, but it’s something like a year between Francis dying and Mary actually going to Scotland. She was in mourning for a while, 40 days or something, wandering around looking like a ship’s sail. But then eventually, she had to figure out what to do and it was like, is she going to live out the rest of her days as dowager queen of France, but Queen of Scotland, but in France? Is she going to go to a nunnery? What’s the plan? 

Various people came to her with various plans and eventually, the one that she decided to do was her older half-brother, whose name is James Stewart – and as we call him on this show, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart – came to her. He was in Paris, remember he was there for her wedding, he had gone there to go to university, he got radicalized by the Huguenots (the Protestants there”, and he was like, “Listen, I’m kind of in charge in Scotland right now,” this is him talking, not me. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was like, “Well, Mary,” he had been part of the group of the asshole lords, Protestants, in Scotland who had usurped power from her mother, they became the council of the 24 assholes. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had been part of that, but he was like, “Mmm, well what if we bring over Mary and she’ll be like, ‘the Queen’” but he, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, can sort of be in control of things. And she just had to do something and she’s like, “Well, let’s do Scotland. I have to do something, let’s do Scotland.” 

So, she got her uncles, the de Guise uncles– This is one of the last things they’re going to do although they were all over the last episode, when she gets to Scotland, they kind of fuck off and forget about her. So, they helped her arrange her, like, transport from France to Scotland. There were fears that the English might try to intercept and kidnap her, and this is recurring; there are a lot of people constantly planning to kidnap this person. So, why would the English want to do that? Because she was a threat; there were Catholic people in England and in Scotland that felt that Mary should be the Queen of England instead of Elizabeth. And maybe people who support Elizabeth would kidnap her to stop her from doing that or maybe people who wanted her to be queen would kidnap her to make her be queen of England. Regardless, her uncles spread false rumours about where she was going, what her itinerary was going to be, and where she was going to land. And, for the record, the English didn’t capture her, but an English fleet did follow close behind just to see where she was going and what she was up to. 

So, she rode on, there were like two galleys, which are, like, big ships, along with smaller transport ships of her belongings. She’s a queen, she’s incredibly wealthy, she gets an allowance as the dowager queen of France and she’s moving, if you imagine the contents of a Renaissance castle, from France to Scotland. So, there are a lot of ships. So, her galley that she was riding on. On there with her were – in a return appearance, and they’re going to be here for basically the rest of the story – the four Marys who were her four best friends who were all the daughters of important noble Scottish families whose names were all Mary. There was a rumour I heard that she made them change their names to Mary so they would have the same name as her, but they were actually all called Mary. Anyway, glad to have them back in the story. So, they’re there on the ship with her as well. 

Also along for the ride are other members of what I’m going to call her entourage; she has various French servants and courtly people who she’s bringing with her from France to Scotland. This included two French poets, both named Pierre, one of whom we’re going to talk about later, one of the Pierres, some drama happens around him. Anyway, so the other galley carried the rest of her staff. The rest of her staff included these people who were on her payroll which included people like a surgeon, two medical men, an apothecary, a tailor, an upholsterer – which is maybe the same thing as an embroiderer, I know she had her own personal embroiderer, we’re going to talk a lot about her embroideries because there’s a lot to say – a painter, a lute player, ushers, a confessor (so, like, a priest) a chaplain, a barber – which I guess would be, I don’t know if she was getting haircuts but the men around her were getting haircuts and their beards trimmed, I guess – a stocking maker and her fool. Actually, she had two lady fools, and we’ll talk about them in a bit. So, these were all French people, she was coming in with a bunch of French immigrants, I guess. 

And then, as I said, there are all these other small ships with her luggage. So, she was bringing over furniture, gowns, paintings, works of art, bed linens, tapestries. She travelled with these huge, beautiful, wall-sized tapestries and, like, when she moved when she was in Scotland and would go from one castle to another on a trip, she would often bring the tapestries with her to sort of… Honestly, she brought the tapestries, they’re described as Turkish rugs as well. We’ll talk about it more when she gets to the castle but she’s moving into these cold stone buildings and she’s just like, “Let’s make it cozy in here.” She’s doing like a Bobby Berk, just like, really making it feel more like home. She also brought over 100 horses and mules. 

So, I do want to mention about her fashion. She brought over a lot of gowns, and they were colourful and beautiful. But in this period of time, she only ever wore black and white, and this is a statement of her mourning for her husband Francis. That’s interesting because if you recall when he died there was a whole thing about Catherine de’ Medici and her daughters all wore black, which is the colour for Italian royal mourning, but then Mary notably wore white, the colour for French royal mourning. But also, she wears black and it’s maybe to kind of fit in a bit better. She knew she was a Catholic queen going into a Protestant country, so if she was wearing all these flashy colours all the time maybe… She wanted to be taken seriously as a queen, and we’ll see how that goes. But anyway, she was always wearing black, and she was always giving gifts. Giving gifts was clearly her love language; she was always giving gifts to her friends and to people she wanted to support, or she hoped would be her allies. So, she ended up passing along most of these colourful dresses to her close female friends and associates, eventually. 

Also, speaking of the 100 horses. So, they were impounded, I guess is the word, they were caught up by the– What’s it called when you’re going from one place to another? Immigration, or whatever. They were caught at the border; the horses were kept impounded for a month by the English because of paperwork issues which, honestly, just sounds familiar just in terms of when you’re flying places, the horses didn’t have visas or whatever. 

But lest you think even this moment of just her on a ship leaving France would be straightforward and wouldn’t involve death, guess what? So, she’s on her giant galley and just at the mouth of the harbour, where the harbour goes out into the ocean, a fishing boat was rammed into by another ship, and she saw this happen because she was standing on the deck of her galley. And so, the fishing boat started to sink, and all the crew on board started to sink. Mary was like, “Oh my god,” because she’s very generous and helpful and she’s witnessing this tragedy, so she was like, “Oh my god, can we help them?” She begged the captain of her galley to save these drowning sailors, but the other boat dragged all the men down with it and they all drowned before anyone could go there and help. And so, she was like, “Hmm, what does this mean as an omen for me leaving France to go to Scotland? Feels like maybe not a good one.” And people who saw her do this wrote about it, they talked about what her actions were like, what she looked like, and remember she’s 18 years old. So, she remained on the deck leaning over it, and you see in some of the movies about her and the paintings of her, they have this iconic moment of her leaning on the rail, I believe in Reign they show this. And she kind of bid adieu to France. She said something like, “I probably will never see you again.” And then night fell, and she was too melancholy to go into her room, she really thought the fresh air would be helpful to her, so she’s like, “I just want to sleep up here on the deck.” So, she got her servants to bring her bed up onto the deck with her bedding and then she slept in the open air that night. 

So, usually the trip, the commute from France to Scotland took something like a week, seven days, but they had favourable winds. So, that’s a good omen! [laughs] And they arrived there in five days which was practically a record. The people in Scotland hadn’t expected her to arrive yet because there weren’t, like, morse code machines, no one could call ahead to be like, “Oh actually, we’re coming faster.” So, no one knew, and she just arrived kind of randomly. “It was an unusually damp and depressing morning, a cold sea mist cloaked the shore as they arrived,” which was another spooky omen, and the ships anchored at the entrance to the harbour– And I just remembered I forgot to tell you all my sources. And because I am quoting from a whole bunch of books, I want to make sure that all these authors get their shoutouts. 

When I went in to do these episodes I was like, “Mary, Queen of Scots, I’ve written about this, I know this story, I’ll just refresh my memory.” But especially this earlier part, I did not know so much of this stuff and I learned a lot from books including: Embroidering Her Truth: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter, Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson, Mary, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy, and Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary, Queen of Scots by Rosemary Goring, as well as I verified numerous names on Wikipedia just to be like, “Which James Hamilton is this?” Because everyone has the same names. Anyway, I will link to all those books in the show notes, they’re all really, honestly so helpful. And as we get to the later episodes, those books continue to be helpful as well as other books. I also referred to the book Mary Was Here: Where Mary, Queen of Scots Went and What she did There, the book that was put out by the Historic Scotland Society, or whatever, that just talks about all the castles where she went. 

So, she’s just arrived, the weather is foggy, misty, ominous. But anyway, she knew her job, she knew what she needed to do, and that was to be the Queen and win everybody over to her side. So, she came out with big smiles, just like a celebrity on a red carpet and she had enormous personal magnetism and charisma. And a lot of what happens in this story, just bear that in mind, the way she’s able to win people over to her side, or also alternately, the way some people just can’t stand her, she’s just got a real charisma about it. And when she was out among the public, she was always so friendly and kind. I don’t know, whatever, if she was a celebrity today, she’d be signing autographs and taking selfies. She knew that it was important for regular, everyday people to love her, and guess what? They did. 

But yeah, again, there was no great crowd there to greet her or officials, they just kind of showed up and everyone’s like, “Oh, she’s here?” So, her companions or whatever, they’re like, “Let’s go have lunch and try to figure this out.” So, they went over to a rich person’s house while the actual dignitaries very quickly rode there on horseback from– Well, firstly people had to go to Edinburgh to be like, “Oh my god, she’s here.” And then they have to return from Edinburgh to get to where she was, she was in a place called Leith which is not far from Edinburgh but far enough. 

Anyway so, by the time they were done eating this meal, some people had made it to greet her, including the person who had partially convinced her to come here and do this, her half-brother Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart. And I don’t think I mentioned this before in the previous episode, and this is what’s happening. I’m recording these in order, but I’m also researching the next one while I’m recording this one so when I find something out later that pertains to a previous episode, I have to let you know. So, I don’t think I mentioned this last time because I didn’t know when I recorded last time. So, her mother, Marie de Guise had warned her not to trust Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, probably because Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had been, like, one of the leaders of the rebel asshole lords who usurped her. Anyway, Mary was like, “Everyone seems to be an asshole, I have to choose one of them to side with. This guy’s my half-brother and he seems powerful so let’s go with him.” 

Also arriving there were two people I believe I mentioned last time, both called James Hamilton, a father and son duo. Because the dad was the Earl of Arran, we call him Arran, and the son is going to be Arran Junior. So, they’re both there, their family is the Hamiltons who traditionally were often the regents – because there were like five boy kings in a row in Scotland – so they’re tangentially related to the royal family. At this point, I think the Earl of Arran is next in line to be the Scottish King. 

Anyway, so all these guys were on the Protestant side. Mary, of course, is Catholic but she’s not just showing up with no plans, she knows that what she wants to have happen – not unlike Mary’s portrayal in the television show Reign – is to let the Protestants keep being Protestant and the Catholics can keep being Catholic and not try to force religion one way or the other. And this is crucial because, well firstly, Scotland was only just, like, the Protestant Reformation had just started while she was in France. So, it was still, kind of, not quite cemented, it felt sort of precarious like it could switch over to being Catholic, but she was like, “Don’t worry, everyone can keep their own same religion.” But things had been happening. Not so long ago, Mary I had been the Quofn in England and she took over as a Catholic queen with a Protestant king before her and she became known for how she would burn lots of protestants and she was known as Bloody Mary. And that’s, like, Mary, Queen of Scots’s cousin, basically, also called Mary, also Catholic, so everyone’s just kind of like, “Eughhh! What are you going to do?” And she’s like, “Don’t worry, I might be a redheaded person related to the other person also called Mary, also Catholic queen, but I’m chill so don’t worry about it.” 

Anyway, because her horses at this point were still in impound, they borrowed horses to process up to the royal palaces at Holyrood for a reception. So, it was noted that when she arrived Mary and the Marys were all dressing, like, to match; they dressed to impress but they also coordinated like a bride and her bridesmaids at a wedding where it’s like, “I’m Mary and these are the Marys,” and they look great together. Or you know when you see Blackpink or BTS where it’s just, kind of like, they’re a group but they also match. And their thing was they wore black and white. Mary, Queen of Scots, just to recap as well, was literally, I think, 6 feet tall; tall for a woman now, tall for a woman then. 

Everybody mentioned how she had this peaches and cream really pale skin which was the beauty standard of the era and she also had striking long auburn hair. So, red hair, pale skin, she knew she looked good in black and white, which is why she wore those colours a lot, but anyway, she and Marys showed up and it was like, “Oooh, this is French this is chique.” The people in Scotland were just like, “Okay, okay.” Again, to bring it back to Reign, that’s a bit of what that show was doing, people talk about the costumes a lot on that show to be like, “That’s not accurate,” and it’s like, “Yeah, they weren’t trying to be.” What they were trying to do – like, what they dressed Adelaide Kane in, who played Mary in that show – was a lot of couture gowns, like, high fashion. Because to a modern-day audience, they wanted to impress upon the fact that Mary and the Marys were fashion forward, they were trailblazers they were wearing couture gowns of their era. To our modern eyes, when you see people wearing oldy-time clothes it’s like, “Those are oldy-time clothes,” and someone could be like, “That’s a fine dress” and we’re like, “Oh, I guess that’s nice than the other one,” but we don’t know. But when you’re watching a show and, inherently, you can just, when they look like an elegant expensive dress that you would see today, then you can translate that. Anyway, so they’re just coming in and having a fashion moment. 

Celebrations began to celebrate her return. So, in Edinburgh, there were bonfires, there was music; people were just rejoicing, they were excited to have her back. They were like, “This is great. The Queen is here, she’s beautiful, she’s glamourous,” any occasion to party. When it was time for her to go to bed at the palace, several hundred goofballs congregated under her window playing fiddles and other string instruments and apparently singing out of tune and just having a nice time. So, it’s like, she arrives and everyone’s excited – asterisk, not everyone but the everyday subjects of her kingdom were excited she was back. 

And yeah, so she’s staying at Holyrood House, which is a palace you can still visit, it is apparently the most magnificent of the Scottish royal palaces. So, after she’d been there a while, she decided, “Okay, let’s redo the entry into Edinburgh but maybe not on borrowed horses and with people knowing to expect me.” So, then they had a grand procession entry and I think it’s– Having just had the new coronation of Charles III in England, which was not what we’re talking about here but a very old-fashioned sort of thing. But if you think about the scale of that, the carriage going through the streets, the amount of people out there cheering, like, to that level of excitement when she had her re-entry. So, there were pageants and performances, masques, which were kind of like plays that the asshole lords had either paid some money to write them, or they wrote them themselves by some other asshole playwright that had a lot of, like, “Ooh, being Protestant is important. We like being Protestant and Catholics are kind of terrible.” So, there was some not-so-subtle messaging in these performances. That being said, some of the people not excited about her being there boycotted this whole situation including Arran Junior and Senior, as well as goddamn John Knox. 

So, I think you know I’m not a fan of John Knox. I hate how much he’s in this story and I hate that I have to talk about him, but I do because he is, regrettably, incredibly important in this story. He just makes me so mad. When I’m reading the books to research this, when she shows up, I literally, unintentionally shake my head, I’m just like, “Nooo. No.” Like when I need to confirm facts about him, when I look him up on a search engine, I’m just, like, [shudders] and I close the tab. Anyway, so who is this guy? So, he was the main driving force behind the Scottish Reformation in the sense of, he was a very persuasive speechmaker, he could get people really riled up. He had very firmly held beliefs, that he wanted to force on everybody else, which were inspired by Calvinism which is the kind of Protestantism that he learned when he was in Geneva for some reason. 

In terms of this story, this is the Vulgar History podcast, this isn’t the history of the Reformation podcast so here’s what you need to know: he’s a fucking nightmare person. I personally am offended by his existence, and he was also incredibly popular but, like, in an incel way. Everybody came to all of his sermons, he was the main minister at the main church in Edinburgh, which was a paid position. Everybody came every week, it was like they were all listening to, like, Jordan Peterson on the Joe Rogan podcast. They were just, like, his personal magnetism, I guess, was part of why he was as successful as he was. He also was a writer, he had written a book/pamphlet which was called, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which was– I’m not going to read it but what I read about it is that he had just written this a couple years before, and it was basically saying women should not be in charge of anything, women should not be rulers and if they are then good Christians should murder them because women shouldn’t be in charge of anything. 

He wrote this at the same period of time when Mary, Queen of Scots’s mother, Marie de Guise, was still regent. So that was, kind of like, he was criticizing her, he didn’t like having a woman in charge. It was also the same time when Mary I was in charge in England and she was, like, burning all the Protestants. So, I can see why a Protestant minister would be not a fan of Mary I, but he really turned this into a real personal crusade about how he hated women, he hated Catholics, the worst thing you could be, to him, was a Catholic woman. Yeah, and he was inciting revolution that all good Christians – by which he meant men because I think he wanted women to stay home and have babies – should depose women leaders, which was kind of his deal. But anyway, the everyday people of Edinburgh, as much as they might listen to his podcast, they’re just like, “We love this party, we love our glamourous new queen, this is great.” Mary knew this and this is part of why she really made sure to always be good so that she would always have the public on her side. This was politically very advantageous to her, but she was also a people pleaser; she liked people to like her. And yeah, so these Calvinist-inspired assholes dominated the privy council, or the town council, but it was such a small amount of people actually, in relation to the overall population of Scotland, not to get into the Highlands, which we’ll get to. 

Anyway, so her first Sunday at Holyrood, she went to hear Catholic mass in her private chapel, which was kind of a compromise she had reached where she was like, “Listen, I accept that this is a Protestant country now, that’s fine. But I’m Catholic, I was raised Catholic, and I’m not going to change my religion. So, I’m just going to keep going to Catholic services myself.” And her brother Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was like, “Sure, that’s great.” But of course, some John Knox fanboys came to heckle her as she was walking over to her private chapel, they were shouting for the priest to be killed. But to his credit, also very handily, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart stood at the door of the chapel to protect Mary, which was making her feel like, “Okay, you know what? I backed the right guy, my half-brother is helping me out, at least in this instance.” But also, he was out there so when the guys were trying to break in, he could be like, “Hey, don’t do that,” but then wink at them to be like, “Yet.” 

Anyway, John Knox hated Catholics and he said to him, “The celebration of one Catholic mass was worse than if 10,000 Catholics advanced an army to try and change the country’s religion.” So, he’s a man who speaks in extremes, like, simmer down John Knox. After this, Mary, she’s just like, “No, this is what I want to do,” so she issued a proclamation, so everyone knew she wanted to do this. “Protestants and Catholics let’s be cool with each other,” and also, please nobody harass her servants or any member of her retinue for any reason at all, which, I like that. This could not be a more vague and, like, kind statement but Arran Junior protested this. He’s like, “Anyone who attends Catholic mass is committing a crime that is worse than murder, don’t do it. Nobody do it.” 

So, Mary is like, “Okay, can I talk to this John Knox guy?” Because she’s, like, first of all, the Queen. Second of all, she had been raised to be very privileged, people cared what she had to say to some extent, and she knew that she had this personal charisma and power and could charm most men. But also, she had been raised in France which was a place where the monarch had basically absolute power, so people didn’t fuck with the monarchs. So, she’s like, “Bring John Knox to me, I’ll get him to stop being an asshole.” This is within literal days of her arriving in Scotland she’s just like, “Gotta nip this in the bud with him inciting people to murder me.” 

So, she brought along Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart to be in the meeting with her, both as a witness, but also to be like, “Look, I’m cool with Protestants, let’s stop inciting violence against me.” But right away, as soon as he came into the room practically, John Knox launched into an impromptu sermon, just mansplaining to her about why women shouldn’t be rulers and how women rulers were terrible. And she was like, “But I’m the Queen so like, what?” And he was like, “I don’t mean you, I just mean Mary I who was burning Protestants in England.” And she’s like, “What are you trying to tell me? Stop mansplaining.” And he’s like, “I’m cool to live in a country where you’re the monarch because even Saint Paul in the Bible had to live under the rule of Emperor Nero who was evil and a terrible sinner.” And Mary was like, “Are you just comparing me to Emperor Nero bro? Like, the son of Agrippina,” from the previous Vulgar History podcast. Anyway, Mary was stunned by his wild debate style and the way that he didn’t give a fuck and didn’t treat her with respect. 

Ultimately, they were just like, “Okay, you can go now,” and then she wept. She burst out crying in anger and frustration, which we’re going to see a lot. She’s a crier, nothing against that, and the sorts of men who don’t think that women should be in charge of anything in any leadership position would use that to be like, “Look, she’s a weak woman!” Where it’s like, “No, she’s just a crier, some people just are.” Anyway, she didn’t cry until after he left. John Knox hadn’t seen her cry, and later he was like, “Hm, she’s actually pretty good at debating me, for a woman.” Which… Okay. 

Anyway, a bit more about John Knox. I can’t talk about him for too long, it makes me too angry but here are just some facts about this, unfortunately, main character in this story. So, at this point Mary, Queen of Scots was 18, he was 47 years old. He had been ordained as a priest and then he worked as kind of, like, a bodyguard for George Wishart who was the guy from last time who had been murdered by David Beaton. And then the assholes who had killed David Beaton, they holed up in a castle kind of holding it hostage to be like, “Make the country Protestant, or else!” And then the French captured them all. So, they were there doing that. John Knox, I forget what I said last time about him exactly, but he wasn’t one of the people who killed David Beaton but when he heard that these guys were holding this castle hostage for Protestantism, he was like, “Gotta go.” Oh, I think at this point he was working as a lawyer and he just fucked off his law practice, abandoned all his clients, he was like, “I have to go be with these revolutionaries.” This is like a January 6th moment for me. 

So, he went and served as the chaplain for these guys but eventually, they were arrested, and he had to go work in a French prison galley, Jean Valjean vibes. Then he went to Geneva, discovered Calvinism, which made him even more of a nightmare, and then he officially devoted his life to screaming at everybody that they should convert as well. Prior to this, he had been in England as well and that’s where he married his first wife, whose name was Marjorie, but she had since died. He was known to consort a lot with the sex workers of Edinburgh. So, the fact that he’s just being all, like, “Women suck, and I hate them, and they should all not be horny and stay home and mind children, except for the sex workers who I pay to fuck.” So, he’s just, like… the worst. 

Anyway, so three weeks after arriving, Mary, Queen of Scots appointed her inaugural privy council and it showed her intent to make Catholics and Protestants hand-in-hand, working together to just like, balance everything out and avoid civil war. She appointed her brother, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart as her chief advisor, which provided continuity from the past few years when he had kind of been in charge. And also, because at this point, she was like, “I need to trust someone, and I choose him.” He was also encouraging her in this direction of, “Choose a middle path. Don’t go full Catholic but don’t go full Protestant. Just hope that everyone will kind of play it cool but also try to not exacerbate things with England and Scotland.” He’s just like that song in West Side Story, “Play it cool, Mary” and try to hopefully avoid wars. So, they were very much on the same page at this point. 

So, of the people who comprised the privy council, there are 12 men. Seven of them were Protestants including Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, as well as Arran Senior, and then another guy, his name is William Maitland. He had been her mother’s Secretary of State but then he was in the group that usurped her power, but he had some skills that she needed. He’s AKA the Scottish Machiavelli, which is how people of his time referred to him. In Scots, they called him Michael Wylie, which I think is just the Scots way of saying Machiavelli, not sure. Anyway, he continues to be on. But just as a case study, the fact that this guy, Scottish Machiavelli had worked alongside Marie de Guise for years and then decided to switch and not back her anymore but now he, like, is backing her daughter, we’re going to see a lot of people doing this. There is a lot of switching back and forth teams, like, the only people who were true to their actual religious beliefs and their own side of things are maybe John Knox, he does not waver from being on the side of whoever is the biggest asshole, and Mary herself. Everyone else is just switching sides. And this is where I needed to give everyone whimsical names because otherwise, I’m like, “Wait, that guy? Why is he there now? He’s on that side now?” And then the next page is like, “Now he’s on that side.” People just keep switching to the point where I assumed it was a bunch of different people. No, it’s just the same people switching. 

And so, Maitland was sent to go to London to negotiate regarding the Treaty of Edinburgh, which I believe I spoke about last time, but it’s this document that I believe Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart negotiated with Elizabeth’s team, but Mary refused to sign it because it was an incredibly shitty deal for her. It was the document that said something along the lines of, “If Mary dies…” It was bad. I don’t remember exactly what it was, I don’t want to say it off the top of my head because I’ll get it wrong, but it was a shitty thing that was good for England and good for Protestants but not good for Mary herself. Because at that point, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was kind of onside with England in the sense of they were a Protestant country and Scotland was kind of a Protestant country and he’s like, “Let’s work for our own best interests, for now.” So, Maitland’s job, Scottish Machiavelli, was to convince Elizabeth that if she acknowledged Mary’s claim to the English throne, Mary would ratify this shitty treaty. That did not happen. Elizabeth did not buy that; she did not agree to that. 

Another person on the council was a guy who is going to come up again in the future. His name is Lord Ruthven, which, it’s a cool name to me, I don’t know if in Scotland that’s a common last name a lot of people have. But Lord Ruthven was rumoured to be a warlock and/or necromancer and he was actively dying of cancer but that doesn’t stop him from being a main character in this story for a while as well. 

And then of the Catholics chosen for the privy council, one of them was a guy named George Gordon, AKA 4th Earl of Huntly, AKA Cock o’ the North. And I need to tell you about this man. First of all, to his great credit, he was Catholic, but he was willing to make it seem like he was maybe going to compromise. So, sometimes when he was down in Edinburgh, he would condescend to sometimes attend some of John Knox’s sermons. So, he would go into the incel podcast studio with the other thousands of incels, so he would go but he wasn’t enjoying himself. What he would do is show his irritation with the preacher by pulling his bonnet down over his eyes, picking at his nails, and muttering, “When these naves have railed their fill, then they will hold their peace.” So, he’s basically being like, “I’m going to let these assholes get it out of their system.” But the vibe of, like, pulling the bonnet over your eyes, like, anyone who has ever been in a meeting, or honestly, a church service, that you find really boring, that’s the vibe, the bonnet over the eyes. So, you might be able to tell, I like this guy. 

So, George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, Cock o’ the North was the most powerful Catholic man in Scotland. So, he was from the House of Huntly which controlled much of the northeast, but their power base extended further around the Highlands and the far north. And we talked last time I think about the Highlands versus the Lowlands and again, it’s another thing where it’s just like, “Let’s all play it cool and not have a civil war,” sort of vibe. So, Cock o’ the North had accompanied Mary’s mother, Marie de Guise, when she had visited Mary in France that time, and after having spent that time in France, Cock o’ the North came back and was inspired by the French architecture and tapestries to decorate his castle, Huntly Castle, in this French style, which really stood out because that castle is in the middle of rural Aberdeenshire. In fact, Marie de Guise had stayed there once when she was on a progress, and she was impressed with what he’d done with the place. So, he’s a guy with a good eye for interior design and that sort of thing. 

He was the Cock o’ the North because, why was he so powerful? He had a personal charisma around him but because of his family connections and inherited role, people just relied on him. If he called supporters, he could get a large number of followers and supporters from the surrounding countryside. He was the chief of a vast swath of territory in the north and northeast, he was also Lord Lieutenant of the North and had been or would be Sheriff of Inverness, Sheriff of Aberdeen, privy councillor (he was just named that), Lieutenant of the Borders, Provost of Aberdeen and recipient of the French Order of Saint-Michel. So, not just the most powerful man in the north of Scotland but also the most Catholic nobleman in the country and his family, the Huntlys, were also vaguely related to the Scottish royal family in the way that it seems like everybody is because of all these illegitimate children from all these men called King James. 

So, Cock o’ the North’s oldest son was called Alexander and he was married to the daughter of Arran. And then later, his other son George was married to Arran’s other daughter. So, because of all these connections, Mary wanted him on the council because he was powerful, connected, and also Catholic; she wanted the most powerful Catholic to be on her team. The English called him King of the North and sometimes Terror of the English. 

So, a little trip. Mary went on a trip to Crichton Castle to attend the wedding of her half-brother, not Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, a different half-brother, she had numerous half-siblings. Oh, and also this was a match that she had matchmade. One of her hobbies was matchmaking for other people. So, the wedding was being held at Crichton Castle because that was the bride’s home base. She was called Janet Hepburn– My cat’s name is Hepburn; her first name is not Janet. Anyway, Janet Hepburn, no relation to my cat that I know of, but definite relation to the Earl of Hepburn who we discussed before. So, to recap, Janet’s dad was Patrick Hepburn who was the guy who had tried to win the hand of Marie de Guise to the extent that he, I believe, divorced his wife even though Marie de Guise hadn’t said she would marry him and in fact, she did not. And then, he died, Patrick. His son is James Bothwell, we’re going to call him Bothwell because everyone is called James. So, Janet’s brother was Bothwell, a military guy who Marie de Guise had trusted to deliver a message to Mary that one time in episode one, I believe I talked about this. 

Anyway, Mary is happy to attend a wedding so she can let loose and dance. Remember her favourite activity and one of her biggest talents was dancing. So, as she would prove to be, she was very generous, she would often pay for the brides’ dresses when women who she matchmade were getting married, she’d buy them expensive gifts. But note, she was still wearing her black ensembles; she was still in mourning and wanting to fit in and look business-professional. But because it’s getting into the colder winter months at this point, she’d wear black but black velvet and she’d have fancy headwear, sparkling earrings, rings, and necklaces. So, she’s all in black but it’s, like, “Make it fashion,” which is not the kind of black which someone like John Knox would wear, which is like, I don’t know, his whole thing is plain, “Everything should be plain. Decorations are the sign of the devil,” or whatever. Mary also, even though, and I respect this, she’s 6 feet tall and she also liked to wear high heels. She was a heels girl, pointy-toed shoes were on trend, so she stepped out wearing these pointy-toed high-heeled shoes, letting loose on the dance floor, not unlike in the early season of Reign, in the Season and episode one of Reign we see her dancing, she and the Marys liked a dance party. There were fireworks at this wedding celebration because that was a big thing in Scotland at the time. And in fact, Mary’s father and her grandfather had been big fans of fireworks. Later on, when her personal library was inventoried, there was a book called The Art of Fire Postscript

A few weeks after this wedding, Bothwell, the brother of the bride, instigated a fight with Arran Junior. I need to mention that Arran Junior is constantly described as being mentally unwell and unstable. That’s who he is. No one is like, “Oh, is he going to scheme and do a lot of stuff?” It’s more just kind of like, “Ooh, he’s unpredictable.” Anyway, so Bothwell instigated a fight with Arran Junior and in the fallout, Arran Junior– So, they got in a fight and Arran Junior would later make claims against him. He said that Bothwell had been planning, at this wedding, to kidnap the Queen, to kill her chief ministers, and incarcerate her in another castle. But he said that Bothwell was planning this with him, Arran Junior. So, both of the men were thrown in prison for treason for allegedly maybe trying to kidnap the Queen. And this is interesting, put a pin in this for later, because at the time people just thought, “These are just the ravings of an insane person, of course, Bothwell wasn’t doing that.” But put a pin in that. Anyway so, they’re both thrown in prison for treason. Bothwell escaped because this is a story in which no one ever stays in jail ever. He fled abroad to Norway, and we’ll hear about how that turned out in a later episode. Arran Junior was jailed for four years and then he went into house arrest, and he just was, like, basically bedridden with the various things he had going on. 

So anyway, Mary liked to travel around, and Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart encouraged her to do this, and I think it was a good idea to travel around the country, to see it, and to meet more of her subjects so they could see her, and they’d be more likely to be loyal to her and this was in fact, effective. So, during one of these progresses, she went to Stirling, which is the fortress-esque castle where she lived as a little baby, and one night while she was there, a candle on a table beside her pillow set her bed curtains on fire in the middle of the night while she was asleep. Smoke filled the room, and this is in an era before smoke detectors, and she was lucky to escape before she was suffocated. And my notes here are, like, I feel like the writers of Reign saw this and were like, “We’re going to invent a character called Clarissa who lives under Mary’s bed, and both seems to be trying to kill her and also seems to be trying to save her.” So, this incident had big Clarissa vibes. That means nothing if you haven’t watched Reign but if you have, my notes just say, “Clarissa?” 

Anyway, so she’s in Stirling and then she went to see mass in the chapel, like, every castle has its own chapel, and remember there’s the deal, she’s like, “Everyone can be Protestant but I’m going to stay Catholic and I’m still going to go to Catholic masses.” And so, she went to the chapel at Stirling, and this is the same chapel where, as a little 6-day-old baby – or I guess she was a couple months at that point – she’d been crowned baby Queen so many years ago. But then Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart showed up and he forced her chaplains to leave. But why? And he was like, “Because loophole, I said that you could have Catholic mass at Holyrood, but you can’t have Catholic mass anywhere else, only at that one place,” which is not what he meant and not the intent of what he meant but literally the words of what he had said. He was doing this mostly just so that the asshole Protestants would still support him but it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to his sister. So, then Mary on her progress next went to Perth and she was confronted by Protestants who yelled at her and things and she suddenly felt sick and had to go indoors to recover, no kidding. And then eventually she went back home to Holyrood. 

So, December 5th,1561 is the first anniversary of Francis’s death, her first husband. And so, she’s like, “Okay, I’m going to remember my dead husband, who I truly loved, who I grew up with.” So, she put the palace into mourning for two days, she ordered all kinds of black fabric like black velvet to be used, and special masses to be sung in her private chapel. She wore white, changed from her usual black. But the special services she was holding, the memory masses for Francis, were not attended by very many people except for the most loyal of her servants because most of her household were afraid if they attended Catholic services, they’d be beaten up by gangs of Protestants, and they were probably right. The asshole lords, of course, did not attend and she asked them, “Well, can you just wear mourning clothes for the day?” They also did not do that because they were assholes. 

Christmas is approaching, it’s December so she threw parties. It’s a young, vibrant group of people and she’s like, “Let’s just have fun like they do in France.” Somebody recorded that her parties– What they wrote was, “The ladies here be merry, leaping and dancing, lusty and fair.” And so, throwing the parties but also, she’s doing the Bobby Berk from Queer Eye, just upgrading the palaces to a state of splendor. All of her stuff arrived from the ships; she’s got the rugs, 100 tapestries were unpacked, and 36 Turkish carpets. She sat on a gilded throne which was high-backed and upholstered with crimson velvet and cloth of gold. Low stools were set out for the Marys and folding stools for important visitors, all covered in velvet, so just an elegant, fancy situation. 

And she had this vast wardrobe I talked about. She was wearing black all the time, except at the parties, where she would wear her colourful cute outfits, when she was, like, an off-duty Queen. She also loved costumes and disguises. Because she was 6 feet tall, if she dressed in men’s clothes, she could maybe be mistaken for a man and that was what she did. So, sometimes she and the Marys would run incognito, or they thought, through the streets of Edinburgh. They would put on men’s clothes, pants, and just like, go hang around and be like, “Hello, fellow men,” and have a nice time. Sometimes they’d also put on disguises to dress as, like, peasants to go shopping at the market, pretending they were normal people. And at a masque, at a banquet in honour of the French ambassador at one point, Mary and the Marys appeared dressed in their men’s outfits which made everyone go, “Oh, Herman, my pills!” I can’t entirely wrap my head around the Protestant and Catholic of it all, but the Protestants were like, “No one should dress fancy, no one should do anything other than pray all the time,” and I don’t know, something about showing up in pants was especially shocking to them for some reason. 

So yeah, I mentioned before she had two female fools or court jesters whose names were Janet Musche and Nichola la Jardinière, and the role of these two was to provide irreverent commentary on contemporary political events and personalities. They were cherished members of the household. I love that she had two female fools, it was her version of The Daily Show or whatever, making her laugh. 

Also, Mary was a very athletic person, so she liked regular exercise. So, not unlike Empress Sisi, she would ride a horse every day, sometimes alone for up to three hours. She also liked going hunting a lot, maybe because it’s a sport you could do while being on a horse. She also liked hawking; she took to it actually right away. Apparently hawking or falconry, I think it’s called, where you have the falcon and it lands on your arm, she was very good at that. She also enjoyed archery and anything to do with horses. When it was cold or rainy or just late at night, she would stay in and play chess, cards, or billiards, often staying up late gambling. She, in terms of work-life balance, I think she nails it here; when it’s time to party, she parties, and when it’s time to work, she will work. I admire that. 

But of course, John Knox hated fun. So, he complained that she kept herself very serious when she was in the presence of her advisors but then when the Marys came around or there was a party then she would let loose and have a good time. I don’t know if he found that that meant she was inconstant or something but, guess what? People can have different vibes in different situations. He also didn’t like her outfits because clothes were subject to moral judgement in his world/that of the Protestant Reformation. Luxury fabric was looked upon by him as a sign of vanity, they wanted these unadorned outfits as a sign of respect for God. 

So anyway, Mary, again, every time there’s a man in this story I was like, “He can’t be important later, can he? Oh goddammit, he is.” So, just another name to add to this whole situation. So, a guy called George Buchanan is on the scene, he’s an old man and he’s a poet. He’d also just returned to Scotland; he had been banished like 20 years before because of his political cartoons. That happened to somebody else in the Hortense Mancini episode, it was his friend, her old man friend, he had been kicked out of France for, like, political cartoons or something? Anyway, George Buchanan, so he’d gone to Paris, that’s where he’d been for 20 years, and while in Paris, he met Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart who had been there for university and they hit it off to the point that Buchanan was like, “Hmm, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart should be the King of Scotland, not Mary.” They were both Protestants, I should mention. So, it’s likely the influence of Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart that got Buchanan the gig as Mary’s instructor which seemed to be more of, like, I don’t know if he assigned her reading or whatever, but she was a young person, she was 18. But he also became sort of like the court poet, he would write the plays and perform at the masque parties. Like with Alice Spencer and that whole family, Mary and the Marys would star in these performances as goddesses and nymphs, which again, they did on the show Reign. So yeah, he was recognized as her official court poet. 

And then a thing happened where on twelfth night, which are the after Christmas revels that you do, they were celebrating by doing the tradition of Queen of the Bean, which is a tradition where a bean was baked into a cake and whoever found the bean was Queen for the day. That was an episode of Reign and the person who got the bean was called Penelope and she usurped, this was in France, Catherine de’ Medici, and then got the King of France into a sub-dom relationship. Reign is a great show; no flaws, perfect show. In this situation, the person who got the bean was one of the four Marys, it was Mary Fleming. And in this situation, what Mary Fleming did was act as Queen for the day and Mary, Queen of Scots acted as her servant. And we know that she and her friends like disguises and play-acting so I’m sure they had a really nice time. 

Yeah so, because she liked dancing and parties, she kept minstrels and musicians on her payroll. She had a consort of five viole – and I’m not sure if a viole is a violin or a viola – players and three lute players, some of her valets sang and played the lute too. She also liked wind instruments; she had several pipers and an oboe player, later adding trumpets, fifes, drums, and tabors. Her domestic staff formed a choir that sang at her evening functions, and I like this detail as well, she invented a new kind of party, an equestrian masque, which is a way that she could ride a horse while also wearing a costume and acting in a play which is the most Mary, Queen of Scots thing I can imagine. I’m sure this guy, Buchanan was just like, “You want me to write you what? A play where you’re being who?” 

Meanwhile, England. So, on the scene, the English ambassador is a guy named Randolph, messy bitch loves drama. We love this in an ambassador because that means he writes lots of bitchy gossipy things that people put into books that I then read. So, she was like, “Randolph, can you help me get in touch with Elizabeth in England?” Because although I’m saying Mary has the parties, she’s got the Marys with her, she’s got her half-brother, she’s very lonely actually. Like, nobody gets her completely. When she was in France she hung out, Francis was the King, and then the other women were princesses, they were on her same level. But here no one, as much as I love the Marys, they didn’t get it, they didn’t know what it was like to be her. And who Mary saw as the only person who could maybe be her soulmate in that way was Queen Elizabeth who was the Queen of England right now. But she also knew that John Knox and the others would probably respect her, Mary, more, if and when she was able to get Elizabeth to say, “Mary, Queen of Scots is my official heir to the throne.” So, she really wanted to get Elizabeth to name her heir to the throne of England. And because Mary, Queen of Scots was so friendly, outgoing, and charming, she figured that she could maybe use her charm to figure out a way that she could maybe meet Elizabeth and figure this out face-to-face. 

Speaking of Elizabeth at this time. So, Elizabeth had become the Queen of England when she was 25 so she’s like 10 years-ish older than Mary so she’s been Queen for a bit in England by now. Elizabeth had not yet gotten married. Again, I’m telling this story trying not to put too much of what I know is going to happen into it. But there were rumours at this time that Elizabeth might get married because the person she’d been hanging a lot around with was a man named Robert Dudley, who we’re going to call Bobby Duds. The thing about this is that Bobby Duds was already married, he had a wife whose name was Amy. But then, what do you know? One day Amy was found dead at the bottom of a strangely short flight of stairs, and it seemed like she had been maybe murdered, or maybe she tripped and fell, or maybe she killed herself. No one knew what had happened, but it looked bad for Bobby Duds. Option one is, like, did he murder his wife so he could marry Elizabeth? In which case Elizabeth couldn’t marry a wife-murderer. But then it’s like, did Elizabeth arrange the murder so she could marry Bobby Duds, in which case, again, then she’s the murderer. Truly, nobody knows to this day, it’s a famous unsolved murder. 

So, just someone would get into this thing about John Knox being like, “Women leaders are too lusty and scandalous except for Elizabeth. She’s an exception because she’s Protestant.” It’s like, there are two queens in this story and one of them is an 18-year-old widow who likes to have dance parties, and the other is a 30-year-old woman who maybe got her lover to kill his wife. And John Knox is like, “One is good, and one is bad,” it’s like, “Fuck you, John Knox.” 

Anyway, so Mary and Elizabeth started being pen pals, so she wrote to her being like, “What about making me your heir?” And Elizabeth is like, “Mmm, I don’t know.” She’s especially not going to put anything in writing but Elizabeth’s whole thing, and this is part of why she was really successful, is she never committed to things unless she was going to. So anyway, Mary really wanted to push this to a face-to-face meeting. And the thing is, Elizabeth also was like, “Maybe Mary should be my heir,” because, we talked about this in the Lady Jane Grey season but who was going to be Elizabeth’s heir? The fact that Elizabeth was on the throne was really due to the lack of any other options. So, at this point, Elizabeth’s heirs were the Grey sisters, so that’s Katherine and Mary Grey, the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey. And Elizabeth didn’t want them to be queen because they weren’t royal whereas Mary, Queen of Scots was royal. But also, Katherine Grey had defied Elizabeth’s wishes, she had secretly gotten married without permission and was currently in jail, where she got pregnant again because she was in jail with her husband, twice. 

Elizabeth’s main guy, her main advisor was William Cecil, and he preferred the Grey sisters as heirs but Elizabeth did actually at this point prefer Mary because Mary was a queen with zero scandal around her. And although she was Catholic, she was claiming to be cool with Protestants so maybe this could work at this point. But William Cecil knew, because he had spies everywhere, and he was in contact with a bunch of people in Scotland and he knew that Mary was very personally persuasive, charismatic, and magnetic. He knew if these two women met, Mary might be able to persuade Elizabeth to name her heir. William Cecil did not want that to happen, so he got to work cockblocking this meeting. 

Meanwhile, lots of people wanted to marry Mary. We’re going to talk about a lot of them in the next episode, but she was rejecting them all. She joked she would have no one but Elizabeth, she sent a picture of herself to Elizabeth which was mostly because she wanted Elizabeth to send a picture of her, she just wanted to know what Elizabeth looked like. But then, her uncles, the de Guises back in France fucked this all up. So, her uncle the Duke of Guise, I think this is her uncle Francis AKA Frank, was going through a village where some Huguenot Protestants were worshipping in a barn and then his men fired muskets at them killing 23 and wounding 100. And what this showed was to people like William Cecil, made it seem like the de Guise family were on a religious crusade to kill all Protestants and they might come across the English Channel and do that in Scotland or England as well. And they’re, of course, Mary’s family. 

She knew that this hurt her cause for everything, for religious tolerance, to be cool with Elizabeth. So, she spoke to the English ambassador Randolph to try to distance herself from her uncles’ actions, being like, “That’s them, they’re fucked up. I’m not like that.” But this just made William Cecil even more determined that these two queens couldn’t meet but Elizabeth was like, “Fuck you, yes we will.” So, Elizabeth planned a meeting between them in York. Mary wrote, “I honour her in my heart and love her as my dear and natural sister.” She was so excited they were going to meet but then, nine days later, Elizabeth changed her mind because of, kind of, the ripple effects of this whole, Mary’s uncle massacre situation. So, she cancelled on her. Mary was so upset she took to her bed and refused to move or to speak to anyone. And I mean, her uncles did kind of cause wars of religion in France, the first of the wars of religion in France. And England intervened there, like, they were supporting the Huguenots against the de Guise faction. It basically meant that Mary and Elizabeth could not meet each other just because of political stuff. And Mary was just really caught in the middle of this French situation. If she declared her support for the de Guise family, that would be putting her in opposition to Elizabeth and maybe a war would happen, but if she sided with Elizabeth, she would maybe be accused of betraying her family and her religion so she’s like, “What am I going to do?” 

So, she couldn’t go hang out with her cousin, Elisabeth, Mary was like, “Well, I had these weeks booked off so I should be able to take another trip.” So, at the suggestion of Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, she took a royal progress to northeastern Scotland to see more of the country and show herself to the subjects up there. You know that she was excited about it because she prepared by ordering a whole lot of fabric, thread, and trimmings to make new outfits for her and for the Marys, all still in black, for official purposes. Yeah, and so she headed up north for this trip to meet and greet her subjects, and turns out, she loved the Highlanders. I need to reveal at this point, I think I’ve mentioned on this podcast before that much of my own personal ancestry is from Scotland and I’ve recently learned that many branches of my family tree were in fact Highlanders. So, I love that Mary was visiting Highlanders and I love that she loved the Highlanders, and they liked her too. We all vibe, maybe that’s why I like her so much. Mary, in fact, just loved their whole deal, she ordered Highland outfits for herself to, like, cosplay as a Highlander, and she ordered plaid for her courtiers. She was just like, “Let’s all wear plaid, this is the vibe! Plaid-core.” 

But one of the reasons why her brother really wanted her to go up there, one of the reasons why she was going up there was to deal with Cock o’ the North, who, it’s important to note here that Cock o’ the North and Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart did not get along, they never really had. Mary was turning to Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart for advice, and he was like, “Cock o’ the North is dangerous,” so Mary believed him. 

So, at this point, Cock o’ the North, he’s like a man in his forties, he’d lived a hard, stressful life full of battles, being imprisoned, et cetera. So, remember when Mary first arrived in Scotland on that gloomy day two days early, she arrived in Leith which is down near Edinburgh, in what I believe is the Lowlands, but while she was still setting her plans on where to go, Cock o’ the North and his allies had been encouraging her to land instead in Aberdeen, which is further north, because he was like, if she landed there Cock o’ the North could summon Catholic nobles in the region and maybe they could lead a Catholic army down together to make Scotland Catholic again and end the Reformation. Cock o’ the North, as I mentioned before, was really influential, and he could summon an army of, like, 20,000 people on a moment’s notice because they all loved him and were ready to follow him into battle. Interestingly, before she went to Scotland, Cock o’ the North was like, “You should land there,” and she’s like, “Mm, I don’t know.” But then he’s like, “Also, just a heads up, maybe don’t trust your brother Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart,” which her mother had also said but Mary was like, “Mm, I think I will.” Maybe Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had that same Stewart family charisma where you just want to trust him, I don’t know. 

So, remember at this point, he was on her privy council and stuff, but I also said remember everyone is switching teams all the time. So, what happened at this point was that Cock o’ the North was mad that Mary had planned to meet with Elizabeth because Cock o’ the North didn’t fuck with Elizabeth, he didn’t like Protestants, he didn’t like England, and he did not hide that he disapproved of this. Remember he went to the John Knox sermons and pulled the bonnet over his face; he didn’t hide his emotions well. But he felt confident to speak his mind to Mary because he was so powerful and had all these connections. He personally, as I mentioned before, was descended from the royal family, so he was descended from Mary’s grandfather, I think he was an illegitimate son of Mary’s grandfather, something like that. So, he had been raised at court with Margaret Tudor, Mary’s grandmother, as his guardian. He hung out and grew up with his cousin J5, Mary’s dad, as kids. He was also Chancellor of Scotland so he kind of felt safe speaking his mind. He’s also Catholic and you figure, “Mary’s Catholic; Catholic to Catholic, she’ll get this.” At at least one point we know of Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and Cock o’ the North argued publicly in front of Mary. 

So, they’re going up north and she wanted to be like, “Listen, Cock o’ the North let’s get along, whatever.” But Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was like, “Or, maybe we could take away all of his lands and titles.” So, they set out with an armed guard comprised mostly of haters of Cock o’ the North, was who Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had gotten to be the people they were going up there with. So, first, they go to Aberdeen where she was greeted by Cock o’ the North’s wife, the Countess Elizabeth Lady Huntly who we’re just going to call The Countess and she was waiting there with around 1,500 armed troops. Mary had been expecting 100 so this was, kind of like, a bit startling to her to be like, “Ooh, is Cock o’ the North threatening me? What’s going on?” 

But The Countess didn’t want to talk about him at all, she wanted to request– Because her son, Cock o’ the North’s son had been arrested, I forget if I talked about this, but I’ll remind you if I haven’t. So, he had cut off another guy’s arm with a sword and had escaped prison, and had run to hide up north. And so, The Countess was like, “Please show leniency to my son, he cut off another guy’s arm but he’s a really nice guy.” And Mary was like, “Okay, if your son surrenders here, we’ll put him on trial in Aberdeen.” And The Countess was like, “Okay great, cool, we’ll do that.” But then the son learned that if he revealed himself, the jailer would be this long-time family enemy, who was also Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart’s uncle, so the son ran away again, he didn’t trust this. But instead of going into hiding, this son, I’m just going to call him The Son because there are a lot of sons. The Son of Cock o’ the North, he summoned his men and started following the progress, like following Mary, Queen of Scots to maybe kidnap her, some people thought he was maybe infatuated with her. And this is the double-edged sword of being an extremely attractive, charismatic person, you’re going to get stalkers. Anyway, so he was just like, on the run but following them. Also, like that other guy from before, he wanted to marry Mary but The Son, already had a wife, but divorce was kind of no big deal to them. Anyway, a warrant was put out for his arrest and it’s like, “Turn around, he’s behind you.” 

So, this is happening. Cock o’ the North and The Countess had invited Mary to come visit them at his castle, remember his nice French-themed castle, but Mary refused to go there because she was like, “No, that’s obviously a trap for your son to kidnap me,” so she bypassed them, she didn’t visit them at their castle. She went to a different castle and at that castle, she officially pronounced that she had made her half-brother Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart now the Earl of Moray. She’d actually already done this, but she hadn’t publicly announced it because she knew that it would upset Cock o’ the North because he used to have that title and he oversaw those lands, and he wanted that title. So, doing this publicly was a kind of passive-aggressive, or potentially aggressive-aggressive, insult Cock o’ the North. And this is also why Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart in many biographies is just called Moray because he became the Earl of Moray, but I call him Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and I will never stop. 

So, Mary’s group went onto the royal castle of Inverness, which was under the care of Cock o’ the North’s other son, Alexander. Having heard the way that Mary treated his dad or his family, Alexander didn’t let her into this castle. Mary was obviously mad about this, and she was like, “I’m the fucking Queen what the fuck is this?” And then a rumour got to Mary that Cock o’ the North himself maybe wanted to kidnap and marry her, despite having a wife who was amazing, The Countess. So many rumours, so many kidnappings. This one, I feel like Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart might have started this rumour. 

Anyway, so, he’s just like– Is the parrot literally called Iago in Disney’s Aladdin movie? Because when I say Iago, I’m not picturing the Shakespeare play, I’m picturing the Disney animated movie Aladdin. But Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is just like, “Yesss, we must destroy Cock o’ the North,” where it’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings guy, Gollum. If you haven’t noticed yet, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is a piece of shit. I didn’t want to come out and say that at the beginning so you could just be there with Mary and like, “Okay, this is who she trusts. Okay, he’s got good judgement.” No! He’s a piece of shit and I’m happy to reveal that to you. I tried not to spoil that for as long as I could but it’s getting unavoidable. But Mary is starting to notice that too. 

Anyway, so at this point, things are just, like, spiraling out of control. Cock o’ the North was hard at work, trying to persuade people from the south of the country to join with the northeast against the Queen in some sort of revolution. So, on learning this, Mary pronounced Cock o’ the North and his son John, the one who is on the run in the first place, outlaws. So yeah, in my notes here I just said that but in my notes I also have this, “Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is like Gollum like, [Gollum voice] ‘Yes sister, send for reinforcements,’” and so she did, including a man with a great name, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange; he’s going to show up a couple more times and you’re going to remember that name because it’s a memorable name. He’s a great soldier and any time he appears it’s in some soldier capacity where it’s like, “We need the best soldier: Kirkcaldy of Grange.” 

So, he attempted to capture Cock o’ the North while he was at his castle having a meal. But Cock o’ the North heard about this and managed to escape by climbing over the back wall, no shoes on, no weapons, and then he outran his pursuers on his horse. Meanwhile, his wife The Countess had gone to see a local witch, to get a prophecy about what she should do. Which is honestly, no shade at all, how many of us go to tarot cards or fortune tellers? So, she listened to a witch and the local witch was like, “Mmm, Cock o’ the North won’t come to harm if he goes to this specific place, Corrichie.” But there’s going to be a real Macbeth-esque twist to this. It’s like, “No harm will come to his body at Corrichie,” or something. So, The Countess was like, “Listen, Cock o’ the North, my husband, go challenge the Queen in battle, the witches said no harm will come to you.” So, he’s like, “Okay, let’s do what the witch says.” And so, with his 700-person army, he headed to the Hill of Fare at Corrichie. Meanwhile, Mary has her force. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is there, the Scottish Machiavelli is in charge as well. She had, like, 2,000 people, so more than twice as many.

There was this battle, more than 220 men were killed, 120 were taken prisoner including Cock o’ the North and two of his sons. As he was being taken off prisoner, Cock o’ the North suddenly fell from his horse, dead of a heart attack or a stroke. And this is like, so the witches had said, “If he goes to Corrichie, he won’t be hurt in battle,” or something. So, The Countess was like, “Go there, you won’t be hurt in battle.” But he wasn’t hurt in battle, but he died of a heart attack after losing a battle so it’s a real Macbeth-adjacent Scottish witch fortunes, you gotta really look for loopholes. Anyway, so his son, The Son, John, did not die of a heart attack, he was taken for execution. So, Mary and the Marys went to witness the execution, they’re like, “Doo-doo, let’s see an execution. We love the Highlands; we’re wearing our plaids.” It was one of those big, oldy-time execution parties but it was badly done, it was a botched execution.

If you got to @VulgarHistoryPod on Instagram I have the Vulgar History bingo card and one of the things on that is in fact, “Botched execution,” I believe because I guess when an execution goes okay, people don’t write about it, but it feels like every execution I’ve mentioned on this show, something goes wrong. Anyway, so the guy doing the execution, not good, kept missing. He had to swing over and over. Mary eventually fainted and seeing some of the Scots women were like, “Oh, what’s wrong with her? Get over it. You gotta be rough and tough like us Scots ladies.” But to be fair, to quote Rosemary Goring in her biography of Mary, “It had been a difficult month.” 

So, we talked about her illness symptoms last time, I think. So, when she is stressed that often makes Mary have trouble with her appetite, and when she doesn’t eat enough, her porphyria-type symptoms kick in again. So, she felt ill shortly after her return to Edinburgh. So, this might have been a porphyria kicking in thing but also, it almost sounds like her symptoms and the way it spread around the court, it might have been the first appearance in Scotland of influenza. Anyway, she got better. Also coming along back to Edinburgh was the dead corpse of Cock o’ the North because he was going to be put on trial, as a corpse. 

So again, I don’t know if this is on the Vulgar History bingo sheet, but this is another recurring motif which is, “Dead body treated as living person.” His body was basically mummified and filled with spices, embalmed, and kept in storage until he could be put on trial as a corpse for treason, I guess. Anyway, meanwhile, The Countess and their daughter Jean also traveled south to Edinburgh because Mary and Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart had seized their castle and taken all their stuff, like their tapestries, all their furniture, and their beds; there’s a weird shortage of beds in this era in Scotland. So, now The Countess and Jean were going to be joining Mary’s court and courtiers, like, maybe as ladies-in-waiting, because they were vaguely related to her, so she sort of had a responsibility to take care of them despite everything that just went down. 

Meanwhile, Cock o’ the North had another adult son, George, AKA Cock o’ the North Junior, is what we’re going to call him, to keep the memory of Cock o’ the North ever alive. So, Cock o’ the North Junior was still alive. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart tried to get Mary to issue a warrant for his execution, but she wouldn’t because she was starting to see her brother as kind of a piece of shit, getting her to start a civil war just so he could become the Earl of Moray. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart stole a secret warrant from her, I don’t know if that’s like stealing a pharmacist’s prescription pad with a signature on it and putting on the prescription herself. He stole a secret warrant from her and rode off to see Cock o’ the North Junior and order the captain of the castle where he was staying to execute him. The captain of the guard saw through these obvious lies and didn’t do it. He’s like, “Let’s double-check with Mary that this is okay.” When Mary found out, she forbade the execution and in fact, took Cock o’ the North Junior under her personal protection, as she’s obviously coming to realize her brother Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was a piece of shit and that actually, maybe she shouldn’t have fucked over the entire Gordon family because she needed them to support her as Catholics and to counterbalance Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart’s increasing amount of power. 

And then seven months after his death, the undead corpse of Cock o’ the North was put on trial for treason. So, they propped up his coffin, so it looked like he was standing, and he was put on trial, and guess what? He was found guilty. But even John Knox was like, “This whole thing is clearly just a setup to get more power for Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, clearly.” Meanwhile, the ordinary people of Scotland were facing famine. The country, in terms of agriculture, was not doing well, especially in the north, many people died of hunger. John Knox saw this as divine punishment for Mary’s actions e.g., dancing and wearing dresses with embroidery on it.

Meanwhile, in France, her uncles, the de Guise uncles, continued to slaughter Protestants. Elizabeth wrote to Mary to be like, “What the fuck is up with your uncles?” But then she got a further letter revealing that Elizabeth had contracted smallpox. Mary had had smallpox as a child and she knew that it sucked and she knew that a big concern for people was, “Am I going to get scarring after?” So, she was like, “Hey, I didn’t get any scars, I’m sure you’ll be fine too.” She wrote back a letter hoping Elizabeth would get well soon but also, if Elizabeth died, Mary was at this point positioned to maybe take over as the new Queen. But then Mary fell ill again, she found out that Elizabeth had gotten better, and she knew that she needed a more secure investment in becoming heir to the English throne. Pen pal friendship with Elizabeth was clearly not going to give her the power and the security that she needed, especially because William Cecil was trying to bar Mary from ever being Queen of England via an act of exclusion. So, her best option was going to be to get a husband that would help secure her dynastic rights in England. And next week we’re going to talk about Mary, Queen of Scots, and the search for a husband. 

So, a couple of housekeeping things. First of all, I’m excited to tell you that I’ve got this all sorted. I’m working with an organization called The Wordary which does transcriptions of podcasts. So, starting in June, transcripts of new episodes –and then we’ll be working backward from the new episodes – will be available if you go to and just click on the episode you want the transcript for and then there should be a little thing there you can click on to read a transcript of it if you prefer to read podcasts rather than listen to them. And the transcripts are by Aveline Malek of The Wordary. 

Also, a reminder that [laughs] our store, I’m laughing because there was a quote, wait, from John Knox, in his will, he was talking about, he has a quote where he’s saying, “I’ve been such a good man all my life.” And one of the things he said was, “Merchandise I have not made,” and I laughed out loud because I was like, “Merchandise I have made that says, ‘Where is Your God Now, John Knox?’” So, I just appreciate that every time you buy some of the Where is Your God Now, John Knox? merch, it bothers him, and that makes me happy. So, anyway, the merch currently, if you go to, that takes you to our Tee Public store and that’s the best option for people in the US in terms of shipping costs and things like that. If you live not in the US and you go to, that’s where you’ll get better shipping on things internationally. And all those links will be in the show notes. So again, if you live in the US,, if you’re anywhere else, 

And the stuff in the store right now, I’m so happy with it. The designs are delightful, and they’re all done by artists who I worked with to design these specifically. So again, there’s Where is Your God Now, John Knox? themed merchandise, designed by Jennifer Ferguson, who is a member of the tits out brigade. There is also Renaissance Reformation Girl Squad and Goth Queen Mom Friend merch designed by Karyn Moynihan from the Double Love – The Sweet Valley High podcast. Jan Jupiter has designed Catherine de’ Medici’s Flying Squadron merch. So, you can get all of that in these stores. We’re talking mugs, t-shirts, stickers, magnets, tote bags, all of it, it’s there. 

Also, if you want to support this show in another way, there’s my Patreon. So, if you go to, and that is where, if you just pledge money, basically whatever amount per month. So, for a dollar a month you get early ad-free access to all episodes of Vulgar History, if you pledge at least $5 or more a month, you get the early ad-free access to all episodes of Vulgar History as well as you get Patreon-exclusive bonus podcasts like, So This Asshole, where I talk about gross men from history. And I’ve had two people so far ask me – and I feel like by the time this episode comes out more will have asked me – they’re like, “Have you not done So This Asshole John Knox? Will you do, So This Asshole John Knox?” My response is, I don’t know if I can, I hate him so much. But I feel like by the end of these Mary, Queen of Scots episodes, I will have, against my will, learned enough about him, I could do a John Knox episode. But here’s what I’m going to say. Right now, I have 392 supporters on Patreon. If and when I get to 500 supporters on Patreon, I will So This Asshole John Knox. So, that is my deal for you. And you can also follow me on Instagram where I’m @VulgarHistoryPod or on TikTok I’m at @VulgarHistory. 

And next week, yeah, more Mary, Queen of Scots content. So, thank you all for listening, and until next time, like Mary, Queen of Scots herself, keep your pants on, and then unlike her, well, although philosophically, tits out. 


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary Queen of Scots by Jennifer Morag Henderson

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Homecoming: The Scottish Years of Mary Queen of Scots by Rosemary Goring

Mary Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Mary Was Here: where Mary Queen of Scots went and what she did there by Historic Scotland

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