Mary, Queen of Scots

Contributor: Roxann Penny. Lesson ID: 12364

Can you imagine becoming the ruler of a nation at six days old? You will learn about a baby monarch who grew up to become queen of not one, but two nations! Study her tragic life and (in)famous end!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

Did you know that this popular English nursery rhyme is thought to be about Mary Queen of Scots?

Take a journey through ancient Scottish history and learn about this tragic queen, and how she may have "lost her head."

Mary, Queen of Scots, was also known as Mary Stuart, and Mary I of Scotland.

She was born in 1542 in Linlithgow Palace, Scotland. You can see what Linlithgow Palace looks like from the image below:

Linlithgow Palace

Six days after her birth, Mary's father, James V of Scotland, died, making her an infant queen. Can you imagine becoming a monarch while you are literally still in diapers? At the age of five, Mary was betrothed (promised to be married) to the son of King Henry VIII, but the arrangement was broken, and Mary was taken to Sterling Castle with her mother where she was coronated (a ceremonial crowing). The image below depicts Sterling Castle in Scotland:

Sterling Castle

Take a closer look at the structures in both images.

  • How are they similar?
  • How are they different?
  • Note your observations in a journal. You may use a Venn diagram to compare the images.

Although she was the rightful ruler of Scotland, Mary spent most of her youth in France, while regents (people assigned to govern on someone's behalf) managed her affairs back in Scotland. While living in France, Mary married her first husband, who later became the King of France. This made Mary queen of France, and queen of Scotland. When the king of France died, Mary returned to Scotland. She was only eighteen years old!

  • How do you think Mary's Scottish subjects felt about her return?
  • Do you think Mary was happy to return to Scotland?
  • Can you predict what happened after Mary's return to Scotland?

Discuss your prediction with your instructor, then continue with the lesson to determine if your predictions are correct.

Mary's return to Scotland


Mary's return to Scotland would prove to be rather traumatic.

As a devout Catholic, Mary of Scots was treated with suspicion by the majority of people in Scotland, who were Protestants. Nevertheless, Mary remarried, this time to her cousin, the Earl of Darnley. Together, they had a son, James. Mary's marriage to the Earl was not a happy one, and when he was found dead after an explosion near his home, many thought Mary was responsible for his death.

What followed?

If you guessed that Mary got married again, give yourself a high-five because that is precisely what she did. Three months after the death of her second husband, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell who, at the time, was considered a chief suspect in the murder of Earl Darnley. As you may imagine, this caused the Scottish people to become even more distrustful of Mary. Consequently, Mary was forced to abdicate (give up) her rule, and her son, James, became king. Mary was sent to prison in Lochleven Castle, shown in the image below:

Lochleven Castle

What happened to Mary at Lochleven?

In 1568, Mary escaped from Lochleven, but her freedom was short-lived. Fearing for her life after her army was defeated, Mary fled to England, where she sought the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

Can you guess what happened to Mary when she arrived in England? Select the correct answer from the following choices, then click to reveal the correct answer below:

  1. Queen Elizabeth embraced Mary and gave her the protection she wanted.
  2. Mary fell in love and tried to divorce her husband.
  3. Mary was imprisoned for nineteen years and was beheaded after being charged with plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.

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Discuss your overall impressions of what you know about Mary, Queen of Scots with your parent or teacher. Also, consider the following questions in your discussion:

  • Do you think as a queen she was treated justly?
  • Do you think she was wise in her decisions?
  • If you had the opportunity, what advice would you give to Mary?

Try to imagine yourself as a young ruler facing a mountain of responsibilities. Do you think you would be up to the task? Mary, Queen of Scots did not have a choice in deciding if she wanted to be a queen. In fact, she was only about five years old when she was coronated. Despite her youth, she accepted her responsibilities and met her obligations.

Continue on to Got It? to write about what you know about Mary.

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