The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots on February 8, 1587 was a landmark moment in the reign of Elizabeth I and history has often given the English queen a bit of a side eye for her handling of it. Likely there would be more sympathy for Elizabeth’s position if Mary hadn’t, at face value, appeared so sympathetic – a beautiful woman, a mother, a widow, a deposed queen, a Catholic punished for her faith.
But Mary certainly isn’t without detractors. Though she ascended the Scottish throne as an infant after the premature death of her father, James V, she would only directly rule Scotland from within its confines for less than seven years. Raised in France as a Catholic, Scotland and its increasingly Protestant people were wholly foreign to her when she returned to it as an adult in 1561. Her rule was clumsy, her government fractured, her personal life scandalous and she continued to make herself a thorn in the side of England and her cousin, Elizabeth. What helped to solidify Mary’s legacy as a martyr-like figure is, in fact, her behavior during her execution.