The Characters

MARY STUART

Mary Stuart reigned over Scotland from 1542-1587. She was a Catholic, which immediately created tensions with her cousin Elizabeth I, who was a Protestant. Mary was also next in line to the English throne after Henry VII’s children – a threat to the childless Elizabeth.

Her father, King James V of Scotland, died a week after Mary was born. She was sent to France to marry a young French prince. There, Mary was trained well for the role of Queen; she was highly educated and universally praised for her beauty, wit and charm. However, she returned to Scotland in 1561, a 19-year-old widow. At the time, Scotland was in the throes of a reformation crisis, and there was much protestant opposition to Mary’s reign.

In Scotland, Mary entered a stormy marriage with her cousin Lord Darnley, a violent drunkard. Their marriage was unhappy, although it did provide a new heir to the Scottish and English throne: in June 1566, Mary gave birth to a baby boy called James. Darnley was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1567. Mary married the Earl of Bothwell, James Hepburn, just three months later. Protestant Lords objected strongly, eventually forcing Mary to abdicate the throne for her 13-month-old son, James, who was to be brought up a protestant.

Disguised as a man, Mary fled to England, where she was imprisoned for 19 years in various castles. She never saw her son again. She was found to be plotting against Queen Elizabeth through letters in code, and was deemed guilty of treason. Mary was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. When Elizabeth died in 1603, Mary’s son James became King of both England and Scotland.

ELIZABETH I

Elizabeth I was Queen of England from 1558 until her death in 1603. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who was executed when Elizabeth was two and half years old. When Anne and Henry’s marriage was annulled, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. It seemed unlikely that she would ever rule.

However, Elizabeth became one of the most iconic monarchs in British history. In 1558 she succeeded Mary I — who had previously imprisoned her at the Tower of London — to the throne. Perhaps resulting from the immense strain of her early life, she was a comparatively moderate and at times overly cautious ruler. She depended on a group of advisors led by Lord Cecil, and was known to be extremely circumspect in decision making, sometimes to the irritation of her advisors.

Historians often claim that the closest Elizabeth came to finding love was the Earl of Leicester. She appointed Leicester as one of her most trusted advisors, and there were suspicious rumours when Leciester’s wife died suddenly and mysteriously in 1560. However, nothing ‘official’ happened between them, and the nature of their relationship is unclear. In 1566 Parliament refused to grant Elizabeth any further funds until she married, which (understandably) angered the Queen. She addressed the members of Parliament, explaining that her decision not to marry was a political one, that the welfare of England was paramount. She once proclaimed, 'I am already bound unto a husband which is the Kingdom of England'.

When Mary Stuart arrived in England in 1568, Elizabeth feared that her presence may spark a Catholic uprising, as many Catholics believed Mary was the rightful Queen of England. Elizabeth needed to keep her under close surveillance, and transferred her between castles for the next 19 years. Despite this apparent cold-heartedness, which eventually led to Mary’s execution, Elizabeth was fascinated by – and possibly jealous of — her Scottish cousin: her great beauty, her wit, her privileged upbringing, her appeal with the men who visited her. However, the two Queens never actually met. Elizabeth only learnt about her cousin through the accounts and rumours of those who visited her.

ROBERT DUDLEY, THE EARL OF LEICESTER

Leicester was the Favourite of Queen Elizabeth from her accession until her death. They had known each other since they were children. He advised her on domestic and foreign politics, and the two were emotionally dependent on each other throughout their lives, though it is unclear whether they were ever lovers. In fact, Elizabeth had suggested that Dudley marry Mary Stuart in 1563, in order to strengthen the amity between England and Scotland against foreign powers. But this was only on the condition that they both lived at Elizabeth’s court. This plan fell through.

WILLIAM CECIL

Cecil was the chief advisor to Elizabeth for most of her reign. His main goal was to create a united, Protestant British Isles, and to protect Queen Elizabeth. To this end, he was a major influence in Elizabeth’s decision to sign Mary’s death warrant. In fact, Elizabeth was more hesitant about signing the warrant than might be expected. Mary had been found guilty of conspiring in the Babington Plot to kill the English Queen in October 1586, but Elizabeth only signed the warrant on 1 February 1587. However, she still did not seal and dispatch the warrant, so Cecil convened a secret meeting of the Privy Council in which it was agreed to send the execution warrant to Fotheringhay Castle, where Mary was held, with instructions to carry out the order. Elizabeth was only informed after Mary was executed on 8 February 1587.

LORD TALBOT

Talbot was the keeper of Mary Stuart. Elizabeth assigned him the role in 1568 and he was made to guard Mary for over 15 years. It is said that this task had damaging effects on Talbot’s marriage, health and finances.

ANNA

Anna is Mary’s companion and friend.