Thursday, 29 August 2013
Above: Nastassja Kinski as Tess.
The Outcast, Richard Redgrave (1851).
The Victorian era (1837-1901) famously espoused oppressive, even stifling, moral values concerning domesticity, sexuality, and femininity. Building on ancient and medieval ideals of sinfulness and the seductiveness of Eve, women were expected to be chaste, virginal, silent and fair - as Coventry Patmore immortalised in his 1854 poem, they should be an 'angel in the house'. Those who rejected these values were viewed as a threat to respectable society and became known as 'fallen women'. They became outcast, shunned, because they were viewed as tainted and spoiled. Richard Redgrave's famous painting, The Outcast, illuminatingly explores these issues. The painting illustrates a father casting out his daughter from the family home because she has allowed herself to be seduced and has borne an illegitimate infant which she holds in her arms. Other family members weep, plead with the father, and beat the walls with frustration. We cannot tell if they are sympathetic towards the outcast woman, or whether they feel shame and dishonour. This painting serves as a warning to other young women of the dangers of male seduction.
Victorian authors explored the theme of the fallen woman in their novels. It is worth considering, therefore, whether or not they perceived the fallen woman to be a threat to society, by virtue of her corrupted social position, or whether they discerned her to be a greater threat to ideals of femininity and respectability. Perhaps the two were intertwined and connected. These authors were usually sympathetic. Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown recognised the complex and powerful emotions which the fallen woman experienced by virtue of her fall from grace. These particular painters portrayed the fallen woman in a tragic light, with Rossetti presenting the fallen woman in his painting Found as a prostitute who is too ashamed to return to her former lover, who attempts to carry her off. Rossetti questions whether the fallen woman should so easily be condemned and judged when her situation was often a great deal more complicated and less clear-cut. Holman Hunt even more controversially presented the fallen woman in Awakening Conscience as a redeemer, a repentant sinner. Ford Madox Brown castigated men for their irresponsibility and warned them to aid their lovers when they fell from grace.
Authors were similarly quick to recognise the complexities of the situation. Perhaps most famously, Thomas Hardy centralised the theme of the fallen woman in his classic novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles, published in 1891. The novel's subtitle, A Pure Woman, infuriated and scandalised critics when the novel was first published, for they perceived the novel's heroine Tess to be anything but a pure woman. The novel's plot is well known. The daughter of an impoverished villager dwelling in rural Wessex during the nineteenth century, Tess Durbeyfield discovers, in a dramatic chain of events which will lead to her early death, that she may be descended from the ancient and renowned family of d'Urberville. Her family, determined to recover their fortunes, encourage her to approach her 'cousin' Alec d'Urberville who, they hope, will assist her in obtaining the family fortunes. However, the sly and menacing Alec proceeds to seduce the innocent Tess, culminating in the controversial but eerie scene of Chapter 11 which is renowned for its ambiguity - does Alec rape Tess, or does she willingly allow sexual intercourse with him? The narrator presents her in an innocent and victimised light through the use of colour imagery to emphasise her purity: 'the white muslin figure', 'this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive...' We are left in doubt that Tess, an innocent and sexually inexperienced maiden, is relentlessly and unwillingly seduced by the amorous Alec. Tess later gives birth to an illegitimate son, who dies several weeks later. As a fallen woman, like so many other women of her time and class Tess is forced to seek employment outside her home, and journeys to Talbothays Dairy where she meets and falls in love with Angel Clare, an apprentice farmer.
Above: Angel and Tess (1891 illustration, Joseph Syddall).
When Angel asks Tess to marry him, this naturally puts her in a difficult position, for Angel is unaware that Tess is not a virgin and has borne an illegitimate child. Although he disavows religion and seems unconventional, Angel in fact adheres to contemporary gender and social prejudices pervading his era. Growing increasingly troubled and alarmed, Tess decides to inform Angel about her past, although her mother warns her not to. Believing that he will prove understanding and sympathetic, Tess is devastated to learn that Angel, like most Victorian men, views her as corrupted and tainted by virtue of her past: 'O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another', 'the woman I have been loving is not you... another woman in your shape'. Cruelly, he informs her that she is 'another' person. The couple later separate, and Angel journeys to Brazil to begin a new life. She is later reacquainted with Alec d'Urberville, who begs her not to tempt him again (adhering to contemporary values which blamed the woman for sexual transgressions) but then professes his desire to be with her. At this point, Angel begins to repent of his treatment of Tess. Eventually, the couple are reacquainted. When Angel begs her forgiveness, Tess admits that she has become Alec's mistress since she believed that Angel would never return to her. In a fit of anger and sorrow, Tess stabs Alec to death and runs away with Angel. They travel to Stonehenge, where Tess is discovered by the police and arrested. She is later executed, and Angel marries her sister.
The novel explores the unfairness of the sexual double standard pervading Victorian society. But does Hardy suggest that the fallen woman is perceived to be a greater threat to her society, or to ideals regarding the ideal woman? Of course, the two might not be completely independent from one another, but it seems likely that Tess is viewed by her male contemporaries as a greater threat to ideals of femininity. Angel admonishes her for appearing to be pure and chaste, when in fact she is not a virgin and has already borne an illegitimate child. Alec blames her for apparently seducing him, ignoring the fact that he probably raped her in the eerie setting of the Chase. On the other hand, Tess clearly fears that she will be viewed as threatening the values and ideals of the society in which she lives. She remains silent about her past life when she seeks new employment at the dairy, because of the fear that if found out she will be thrown out of respectable society, and her family warn her not to reveal her past to other individuals. Finally, the actual ending of the novel and Tess' eventual fate - execution in a Wessex prison - serves as a warning of how the fallen woman, by virtue of her actions, is believed to dangerously threaten respectable Victorian society, and is deserving of severe punishment for her actions. While Tess is executed as a murderess, this chain of events ultimately begins and ends with the belief that she is a fallen woman, seduced and corrupted at an early age, and outcast from her society.
The unfairness of the position of the fallen woman was recognised by other eminent Victorian authors. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre evidences Jane's rebelliousness and fury with ideals concerning femininity and warning against the dangers of female sexuality and transgression, while rejecting the ideal of the 'angel in the house'. As Beth Kalikoff notes in her article The Falling Woman in Three Victorian Novels (1987), 'both popular fiction and nonfiction barely conceal a genuine dread of female sexual, social, and economic autonomy'.
The fallen woman was a pressing issue in Victorian society. Playing on contemporary ideals of femininity and sexuality derived from ancient understandings, the fallen woman was perceived as transgressive, corrupting, and irresponsible. She was shameful to her family, repulsive to her society, and threatening to other women. Victorian authors such as Hardy and Bronte portrayed the theme of the fallen woman in a positive light, but the ultimate fate of women such as Tess demonstrates the dangers in rejecting ideal female values and qualities. As Tess' case, albeit fictional, discerns, the harshest of punishments could be meted to fallen women. But the medium of literature and art allowed individuals to criticise and condemn the harshness and cruelty of punishing fallen women because of the devastating impact these actions had on their lives.
Thursday, 22 August 2013
Although the Wars of the Roses - known in the fifteenth century as the Cousins' War - had been raging intermittently and violently for the last 30 years, encompassing horrific battles at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury and more minor skirmishes across the country, the Battle of Bosworth on this day in history, 22 August 1485, was unquestionably the most significant battle of the lot. The Wars had seen three usurpations (Edward IV usurping Henry VI; Henry usurping Edward; and Richard III usurping Edward V), and Bosworth threatened a fourth usurpation: that of the relatively unknown Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who prepared to face England's controversial king, Richard III.
For many years the exact location of the Battle was controversially debated and questioned by both archaeologists and historians. Danny Williams, in 1974, developing the research of eighteenth-century historians, theorised that Richard's army gathered on the western slopes of Ambion Hill and marshes on the southern slopes, while Henry Tudor's forces approached from Whitemoors. The Stanley forces arrived from Near Coton. Williams suggested that the forces clashed west of Ambion Hill, near Shenton, where the Yorkist king eventually died.
However, Peter Foss (1985) disagreed with Williams' conclusions and believed that the battle occurred on low lying ground, Redesmore, which was situated between Ambion, Dadlington, Stoke Golding, Upton and Shenton. Richard's army assembled on a ridge southwest of Ambion Hill while Henry's troops gathered on Fenn Lane; the Stanley forces, meanwhile, gathered at Stoke Golding and Dadlington. Foss placed the actual battle north of Stoke Golding, on Fenn Lane. Michael K Jones, writing in 2002, disagreed, placing Henry's camp at Merevale since the Crowland Chronicle reported that Henry Tudor had provided compensation to Mancetter, Witherley, Atterton and Fenny Drayton for damage caused to crops during the battle. He put Richard's army between Merevale and Ratcliffe Culey. Jones concluded that the actual battle occurred in the area south and east of Ratcliffe Culey.
These conclusions were undermined by the 2010 archaeological survey funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, using metal detecting, in which Glenn Foard, a Battlefields Trust archaeologist, located evidence to provide the true location of the battle: "the site, never before suggested as the battlefield, straddles the Roman road known as the Fenn Lane, near Fenn lane farm. It is three kilometres south-west of Ambion Hill and a kilometre west of the site suggested by Peter Foss." A silver gilt-boar, Richard's badge, was discovered, probably worn by a knight in the king's retinue during the battle. Silver coins belonging to Charles of Burgundy and the largest collection of round shot found on a medieval battlefield were also discovered.
Richard III had endured a controversial and difficult reign since first usurping the throne 2 years previously, following the premature death of his elder brother Edward IV. Whether Richard was ultimately responsible or not for the deaths of his two nephews, the 'Princes in the Tower', his unlawful usurpation of the Crown had caused scandal and outrage in England. While Richard had been successful in restoring law and order, and enacted successful financial and legal reforms, he continued to face rebellion and threats during his brief reign. These were headed by Henry Tudor, the young earl of Richmond who had been groomed by his uncle Jasper Tudor, with the assistance of Henry's ambitious and notorious mother Margaret Beaufort, with the intention of, one day, making him King of England. In promising to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, once he had become king of England, Henry was able to enjoy support from English Yorkists, many of whom were disaffected with Richard and desired his usurpation.
Henry had first attempted to invade England in 1483, during the Duke of Buckingham's rebellion against King Richard, but stormy weather frustrated his attempts. However, Henry refused to give up, and on 7 August 1485 successfully arrived on the south-west coast of Wales, determined to claim his crown. Henry gathered crucial support on his journey through the country, although the support and allegiance of his mother's husband, Thomas Stanley, and his family proved less certain, even during the battle itself. As Henry was to recognise, their support was essential to his cause.
Richard, however, refused to renounce his throne without a fight, and mustered his own troops, which vastly outnumbered those of the Tudor pretender. He intercepted Henry's army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire in late August. John Howard, duke of Norfolk, and Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, were among several powerful nobles who supported Richard's cause and served in his army. By contrast, Henry was able to rely on the support of John de Vere, earl of Oxford. Wary of the Stanleys, Richard took Lord Strange, son of Thomas Stanley, as hostage for his father's support during the battle.
The Yorkist army, which probably numbered around 10,000, assembled on the battlefield, with Norfolk's group of spearmen assembled on the right flank, protecting the cannon and 1,200 archers. Richard's group, encompassing 3000 infantry, formed the centre. Northumberland's 4000 men, most of them mounted, guarded the left flank. In contrast, Henry probably had fewer than 1000 English men in his army; historian John Mackie suggested in 1983 that 1800 French mercenaries, led by Philibert de Chandee, formed the core of the Tudor army. John Mair, writing in c1520, argued that many of the force were Scottish. In total, Henry's army encompassed some 5000 men. The earl of Oxford commanded his army and retired to the rear with his bodyguards.
During the battle, Richard's army held sway for much of it, and a Yorkist victory appeared inevitable during the early stages. Henry's troops were harassed by Richard's cannon as they sought to manoeuvre around the marsh. Norfolk's men and contingents of Richard's group advanced, with arrows attacking both sides as they advanced. Norfolk's men fled the field as Oxford's men proved steadier in hand-to-hand combat. Crucially, Northumberland's men refused to assist Richard's forces when the King sought to engage their help, recognising his army's weaknesses. Why Northumberland refused to help has been debated by modern historians.
Richard himself decided to attack Henry's group after witnessing Henry's departure to the Stanleys. While Richard killed Henry's standard-bearer William Brandon, and managed to unhorse Edward IV's former standard-bearer John Cheyne, Richard was defeated by the crucial decision of Sir William Stanley, kin to Henry Tudor, to lead in his men to fight at Henry's side. The king's group was outnumbered and surrounded by enemies. Richard's banner man Sir Percival Thirwell lost both his legs but, admirably, managed to hold the Yorkist banner aloft until he was hacked to death. Richard's horse was mired in the soft ground, forcing him to fight on foot. While his followers offered him horses in order to escape, the king refused. Although, as contemporary chroniclers agree, Richard fought valiantly to the end, he was overwhelmed by the numbers of Welsh spearmen around him and was killed on the battlefield. Richard's forces disintegrated on news of his death - the duke of Norfolk was killed, while Northumberland and his men, who had refused to intercede on Richard's behalf, fled north.
Although there is no evidence to support the legend that Richard's crown was eventually found in a hawthorn bush, Richard's circlet itself was found and brought to Henry, who was crowned King on Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding. The Yorkist king's corpse was stripped naked and strapped across a horse, before being brought to Leicester and openly exhibited in a church to prove his death. The corpse was eventually placed in an unmarked tomb in Greyfriars Church. Discovered in 2012, it is possible that Richard's body will be reinterred in York Minster. Since he was extremely popular in the North, where he exercised formidable power, enjoyed widespread loyalty and because his family were the Yorkists, this would be a fitting place for him to be buried.
Henry eventually married the nineteen-year old Elizabeth of York, ending the bloody feud between the Yorkists and Lancastrians and ushering in a new ruling house, the Tudors, who would rule England for 118 years, bringing in alternatively peace, prosperity, bloodshed, rebellion, and murder. Henry VII actively presented the Battle of Bosworth as a symbol for a new beginning for England, hiring chroniclers such as Polydore Vergil to portray the Tudors in the best possible light. For many, Bosworth symbolises the end of the medieval period and the beginning of 'modernity'.
Sunday, 18 August 2013
Above: queens, cousins, rivals. Mary Stuart, queen consort of France and queen regnant of Scotland (left) and Elizabeth Tudor, queen regnant of England (right).
Being a queen regnant in sixteenth-century Europe was no easy task. Prevailing misogynistic notions questioned whether women, as the inferior sex, had the right to rule over their male superiors. John Knox, the vehement Scottish Protestant preacher, opined in his The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women, attacking the rule of female monarchs such as Mary Tudor and Mary of Guise and published in 1558, that female rule was contrary to Biblical law. He bitterly concluded: 'For their [women's] sight in ciulie regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weakness: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered'. In view of this, the experiences of the queens regnant Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, and Elizabeth Tudor, queen of England, should be considered in light of the customary expectations of figures such as Knox.
Modern psychologists often suggest that childhood experiences are formative in governing later choices, actions and motives. Alfred Adler believed that people develop desires and drives during the childhood phase which later affects adulthood. Ann Smith concluded, in her article published by Psychology Today, that 'our own childhood experiences, which include parents, combined with our own personalities, our reaction to siblings and peers and the context of our lives send us off on a path with a particular set of beliefs and patterns that have a huge impact on our future relationships'. Although the psychology of queen regnants such as Mary and Elizabeth, living four hundred years ago, can only be guessed at, it is credible that the childhood experiences of these two queens, which were vastly different, dictated significantly their later actions and beliefs, particularly in relation to queenship and authority.
Above: John Knox's The first blast of the trumpet (1558) was aimed at attacking female rulers such as Mary Stuart and Mary Tudor (right).
Both women descended from the first Tudor king, Henry VII, who had attained the crown of England through his defeat of the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. Elizabeth Tudor's birth had only been brought about by the annulment of her father's first marriage and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533, with her birth occurring in September of that year. This marriage and the accompanied break with the Roman Church proved highly significant in European politics, particularly later on in the sixteenth century, for Catholic powers such as France and Spain viewed Henry VIII's divorce as illegal and his remarriage void, rendering his second daughter Elizabeth a bastard with no right to accede to the throne of England. Mary Stuart, by contrast, was the grand-niece of Henry VIII since she was the daughter of the Scottish king, James V (nephew of Henry), and his French queen Mary of Guise. Her line of descent and her claim to the English throne came through Henry's eldest sister Margaret Tudor, second child of Henry VII.
Elizabeth Tudor's childhood was extremely complex and must be viewed as, at best, topsy turvy. For the first three years of her life, she had occupied a central place in her father's affections as the heir to his throne following the bastardisation of her elder sister Mary. Besotted with his new wife Anne, the English king continued to hope, however, that she would bear him the much longed-for son to succeed Henry on the throne of England. Like most European rulers, Henry adhered to prevailing ideas that female rulers were unacceptable and contrary to God. This idea had, of course, provided the context for the annulment of his first marriage and his belief that his daughter Mary was illegitimate. Elizabeth enjoyed the luxury and splendour befitting an English princess, with her own household and servants, but because this occurred in the first three years of her life it is questionable to what extent she remembered or fully appreciated these luxurious early years.
In 1536, before her third birthday, Elizabeth's fortunes changed dramatically with her mother's loss of favour and eventual execution on charges of treason, adultery, and incest. While most historians firmly believe in Anne's innocence, her daughter was presumably shattered by the news of her mother's death, although at two years old how much she understood of the situation was very limited. Historians such as Sarah Gristwood and Maria Perry question how closely Elizabeth had bonded with her mother, for she had never resided with her. Following the custom of sixteenth century royal practice, Elizabeth had been nourished by a wet nurse and had been assigned her own household at Hatfield. Her visits to court had been relatively infrequent. Perhaps, as John Neale suggests, Elizabeth's 'emotional life was unaffected by her mother's fortunes'.
But this is slightly dubious. Following her mother's execution, Elizabeth was also, like Mary, declared a bastard, no longer in line to the English throne. Her title of princess was stripped from her, and it is probable that her father, by virtue of who her mother was, viewed her with considerable disfavour for a time. Probably Henry neglected Elizabeth in the immediate aftermath of her mother's death, for in the late summer of 1536 her governess Lady Bryan was forced to beg Cromwell for new clothes for the toddler. Later that year, however, she had returned to court and the Cardinal du Bellay observed the king's affection for his youngest daughter. By all accounts, during her life Elizabeth revered her father's memory and proudly proclaimed her parentage. By contrast, she is said to have mentioned Anne Boleyn's name only three times in her seventy-year long life. Does this indicate suspicion or even hostility towards her mother, who had been executed for the foulest of crimes? Historians such as Alison Weir think not, believing that she may have, as queen, commissioned George Wyatt to write a secret defence of her mother.
Although Elizabeth was probably not severely affected personally in the immediate aftermath of this event, it is likely that her mother's execution 'must have overshadowed Elizabeth's childhood. Over the years, guarded revelations, gossip, rumour and innuendo... and the growing awareness of her bastard status, must have caused the maturing Elizabeth recurring distress and enduring insecurities, and certainly affected her emotional development' (Weir, 2009). The executions of both Katherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554, by her sister Queen Mary) likely caused Elizabeth considerable distress, bringing back painful memories of her own mother's brutal end. But how did these early childhood experiences govern Elizabeth's decisions and choices as a ruler?
For one thing, as Antonia Fraser suggests, she learned from a very early age to hide her true feelings. Although Elizabeth was notoriously prone to fits of anger, distress, and annoyance, her own personal feelings regarding, for instance, personages such as Anne and her cousin Mary Stuart, queen of Scots, remain mysterious, as do her personal feelings for Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester and her lifelong suitor. Wisely, Elizabeth chose not to become embroiled in plots against her sister Queen Mary, although she was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time. When Thomas Seymour tried to seduce her in 1549 during the reign of her brother Edward as a means of pursuing power at court, Elizabeth wisely refused to have nothing to do with him, and at the news of his execution she noted his 'very little judgement'.
In other ways, too, the impact of Elizabeth's early childhood experiences can be clearly discerned. She was notoriously touchy about her status, and reacted furiously to allegations that she was a bastard and thus no rightful queen of England.
Elizabeth's reign was characterised by her caution and indecisiveness. She sought to placate foreign powers such as Spain while cautiously supporting fellow Protestants in the Netherlands, who sought to free themselves from the tyranny of the Spanish monarchy. Nevertheless, she did not seek to invade Scotland or France as a means of asserting her authority as her father, Henry VIII, sought to do. Her own horror of bloodshed and her desire for clemency can also be explained as a result of her personal aversion to the bloody experiences of her youth. Famously, she spent weeks, even months, agonising over her duty to sign the death warrant of Mary Stuart, and unlike her Catholic sister, refused to instigate a full scale Holocaust of religious deviants during her throne. Notwithstanding this, English Catholics were, of course, harshly persecuted from the 1570s on in light of the menacing threat of Spain and, to a lesser extent, France.
But above all the impact of Elizabeth's childhood can most illuminatingly be seen in her attitudes to marriage and her decision to remain unmarried as England's Virgin Queen. Her father had not prioritised her marriage in her youth, although suggestions of a betrothal to the son of the French king had surfaced during her early years. Later, when Mary Tudor sought to marry Elizabeth to the duke of Savoy, Elizabeth personally refused, on grounds of her decision, already made in her early twenties, to remain single, a decision which revolted her unhappily married sister. Why she chose to do so can only be guessed at, although most historians attribute her momentous decision to the bloody experiences of marriage suffered by her mother Anne and her stepmother Katherine Howard. Potentially, the death in childhood of two of her stepmothers, Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr, also influenced Elizabeth's aversion to marriage, for she may have come to associate the married position with an early death, pain, even bloodshed. Others argue that she feared the loss of both personal and political power if she had to give way to a husband, while some contended that she refused to marry because she was physically unable to bear children.
In her illuminating article 'Why Elizabeth I Never Married', Retha Warnicke suggests that political issues were far more important, for 'every British queen regnant who married soon discovered that her husband and his family complicated her life politically'. The unsuccessful marriages of three other queen regnants at this time, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart, probably influenced Elizabeth's marital beliefs. Jane's Dudley in-laws were unpopular, while Mary Tudor's Spanish husband was so hated that a popular rebellion was directed against him in 1554. Mary Stuart's second marriage to Henry lord Darnley had, of course, ended in his brutal murder, attributed by hostile individuals to the Scottish queen herself. Her third husband brutally raped her and left her alone in a hostile Scotland. In view of Warnicke's arguments, it is extremely likely that both Elizabeth's childhood experiences and the experiences of later queen regnants in relation to marriage governed her momentous decision to remain unmarried.
Above: Queens Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart in their youth.
It is clear that Queen Elizabeth's personal views and decisions regarding foreign policy, marriage, and the shedding of bloodshed were strongly governed by her formative childhood experiences. Is the same notion true for Mary Stuart, queen regnant of Scotland and, at one stage, queen consort of France? As second cousin to the English queen, Mary Stuart had enjoyed a far different childhood to Elizabeth. While Mary as dauphiness of France was to enjoy a life of luxury and splendour similar to that of the English princess before the execution of her mother, beforehand her birth in 1542 to the Scottish king James V occurred at a time of political and foreign difficulties in Scotland. The hostility of Henry VIII, directed in continuing invasions of Scotland, was worsened by the death of James six days after his daughter's birth. At 6 days old, therefore, Mary Stuart became queen of Scotland. Her mother, Queen Mary, became regent of Scotland during her daughter's minority, but her French lineage and her Catholic faith rendered her an unpopular figure to Scottish Protestants. It is significant that the Scottish Reformation occurred from this time.
The hostile misadventures of the English king encouraged the Scottish dowager queen's decision to send her infant daughter to the land of her own birth, France, where she would be brought up by her Guise relatives and groomed for a splendid marriage to the French dauphin, Francois, who would day accede to the crown of France. Although, like Elizabeth, Mary's infant years had been traumatic and complex, during her adolescence she enjoyed a life of luxury and fulfilment as a princess of France. She grew into a tall, striking, charming woman who enjoyed poetry, music, and dancing, and who sought personal satisfaction in outdoor physical exercise. While she was of the Catholic faith, during her teenage years she was not devout. However, the year 1558 was significant for Mary and the course of her life. Aged fifteen at the time, Mary's position in Europe was immeasurably strengthened by the death of her cousin Queen Mary Tudor, ruler of England, in November. Because Catholic powers, as mentioned, identified Elizabeth as a bastard, in the eyes of Europe, Mary Stuart was now the rightful queen of England. Elizabeth's Protestant faith rendered her a heretic, and her illegitimacy was proclaimed to be a pressing reason why she should never accede to the crown of England. Accordingly, Mary and her French husband, whom she had married in April of that year in Paris, began using the royal arms of England alongside those of France and Scotland and it was ordered that they should be referred to as the king and queen of France, Scotland and England.
Mary's childhood and adolescence had encouraged her to believe that, by virtue of her excellent lineage and her Catholic faith, she was the rightful queen of England. But her future became uncertain in 1560 when, aged only seventeen, the French dauphin died prematurely. No longer queen consort of France, Mary decided to return home to Scotland as its queen regnant, although not after considering a second marriage alliance with a powerful nation such as Spain. Once in Scotland, Mary's political decisions and choices as queen are intriguing in view of her childhood experiences. Her religious policy was famously fair and liberal, for although she was a Catholic, the Scottish Reformation had progressed so extensively that she quickly discerned that it would be unwise to press for Catholicism to become the state religion. Her own mother had faced mounting hostility in view of her Catholic faith, culminating in an invasion. Wisely, Mary learned from her childhood experiences in accordance with the political and religious situation prevailing in Scotland. Like Elizabeth in the early years of her reign, who famously desired not 'to make windows into men's souls', Queen Mary sought peace and stability in a kingdom which was slowly experiencing increasing inner tensions. She may also have been influenced by the religious violence in France between Catholics and Huguenots during her childhood. As Fraser contends, she seems to have had a personal aversion to bloodshed and violence, like her cousin Elizabeth.
Mary's beliefs regarding marriage and motherhood were significantly different to those of Elizabeth, most likely because of her own childhood experiences in that regard. While Elizabeth may have equated motherhood and marriage with bloodshed and an early death, Mary's acquaintance with the fertility of the French royal family, coupled with her own maternal feelings, meant that marriage was a promising prospect for her. She also regarded it as essential in order to preserve dynastic and political stability in Scotland. Unlike Elizabeth, who feared the loss of her authority through marriage, Mary naturally desired a strong ruling hand to aid her in her queenship. In view of this, in 1565 Mary, having fallen in love with the dashing but volatile Henry Stewart, lord Darnley, chose to marry once more. Her choice, aside from his own personal failings, was a wise one, for Henry had royal blood by virtue of being the son of Lady Margaret Douglas, niece of Henry VIII as the daughter of Margaret Tudor. Since Mary Stuart was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, she was first cousin to Lord Darnley.
Mary's political decisions and views were dictated entirely by her childhood experiences in France. There, absolutism reigned, and the monarchy was entirely respected with its due reverence. By contrast, the Scottish monarchy was beset with difficulties in view of increasing religious conflict among the Scottish lords. They were violent and sought only to pursue their own interests. Abduction and rape of rich widows was commonly used as a means of achieving power and greater wealth. It was therefore impossible for Mary to appreciate the tensions and resentment prevalent among her nobility. Despite her religious tolerance, her Catholic faith rendered her unacceptable to hostile Protestants such as John Knox and her brother, the earl of Moray. Her husband, Lord Darnley, soon proved to be a disastrous choice as consort. Immature, jealous and easily manipulated, he was soon embroiled in a plot to kill Mary's beloved secretary Riccio, who was blamed for causing the Queen's disillusionment with her second husband. Less than a year after Riccio's brutal end, Darnley himself had been murdered, his strangled body found at Kirk o'Field. His house had been blown up in a plot to kill him, probably governed largely by the Earl of Bothwell who subsequently abducted the Scottish queen and raped her. Their marriage ceremony followed shortly afterwards. Mary now totally lost any support she had formerly enjoyed from the nobility. Viewing her as an adulteress and whore, they imprisoned her at Lochleven, and forced her to abdicate in favour of her infant son James. Months later, she managed to escape to England, where she would endure 19 years of imprisonment before Queen Elizabeth signed her death warrant, when evidence gradually but quickly emerged that Mary had been involved in a number of plots against her. Mary's life came to an end at the hands of the executioner's axe in Fotheringhay Castle in February 1587.
While Elizabeth's decisions were governed by caution and indecision, Mary's have often been considered reckless and impulsive, although her early religious policies were tolerant and well-considered. She also sought to pursue a policy of conciliation with the nobility, in order to avoid bloodshed and violence at the Scottish court. Both women were influenced supremely by their childhood experiences. In relation to marriage, Elizabeth shrunk from the prospect due to her own psychological views and her political awareness, while Mary's association of marriage with lineage and power, formed at the court of France, governed her decisions to remarry once in Scotland. Both women pursued strong alliances with European powers as a means of strengthening their positions politically and personally; Elizabeth because of the experiences of her father and sister in their reigns and because of England's own insecurities; and Mary because she was aware that Scotland's conflict could only be assuaged by the helping hand of a loyal Catholic ally. Both women also sought conciliating religious policies since both had a horror of bloodshed and violence. But in the most important decisions, it seems clear that Elizabeth was both more politically astute and more aware of the importance of her people's opinions. Consequently, she refused to marry Robert Dudley in 1560 following the mysterious death of his wife because she was aware that she was implicated by some in Amy Robsart's death; she refused to go to war with fellow Protestants because she feared England's loss of security at the hands of hostile powers such as Spain; and she refused to suffer the loss of her virgin status. Elizabeth was understandably reluctant to place her political and personal authority in doubt were she to marry an overbearing husband. Her own sister's example had demonstrated such a risk.
By contrast, Mary Stuart's decision to marry Darnley appears singularly misguided even if, at the time, it was considered a strong alliance. But her own decision to marry Bothwell scandalised her people and alienated her nobility, although it seems hardly fair to blame Mary since he had both abducted and raped her and it is certain that she had very little choice. But the belief that she was a constant schemer and plotter against the English queen, whatever the truths of it, and the association of her name with murder blackened her reputation irretrievably. Unlike Elizabeth, who at an early age by virtue of her childhood experiences became cautious and indecisive, Mary was more impulsive and reckless by virtue of the fact that her childhood had not prepared her in the same manner for a successful queenship. Her sense of absolutism political sense and her views regarding marriage were significantly different to those of Queen Elizabeth.
Queen regnants faced hostility and suspicion in the sixteenth century, when it was believed that women were inferior to men and as such had no right to rule over them. The example of Queen Elizabeth proved that a woman could rule successfully, while that of Mary Stuart indicated the difficulties a female ruler faced by virtue of her gender. Both women's childhoods dictated their decisions later in life and their own personal characteristics, but while Elizabeth has been generally praised as a successful ruler and perhaps even England's greatest monarch, Mary has often been condemned, as a result of her political and religious decisions, as a failure, notwithstanding the prevailing image of her as a religious martyr or tragic figure.