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Much Ado About Nothing?

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Keith M. Brown assesses the life, death and legacy of Mary Stewart

On February 1st 1587 Elizabeth I of England signed the death warrant of her cousin, Mary Stewart, the former Queen of Scotland (1542-67) and of France (1559-60). Seven days later Mary was beheaded in Fotheringay Castle.

At a stroke (three actually) the English government solved a major security problem, for Mary was the rival claimant to the throne and a focus for Catholic dissent in England, where she had been held prisoner since the summer of 1568. Mary's death also cleared the way for her son, James VI of Scotland, to advance his own claim to succeed Queen Elizabeth, and it removed an embarrassing reminder of the revolutionary means by which the infant King had been crowned twenty years before.


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