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The Wildly Different Childhoods of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

December 10, 2018 in History

By Hadley Meares

Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Queen . “It was never disputed or tested, as was Elizabeth’s. This awareness of her pre-eminence was her companion through life, something taken for granted, the responsibilities to which she did not apply much profound thought nor, in the end, much value.’’

The baby queen spent her first five years being moved from one palace to another in Scotland to keep her safe from the warring clans of the highlands. In 1548, when Mary was sent to her mother’s homeland of France to become the fiancée of the Dauphin, she was already a figure of romance and sympathy. For the next 13 years, the little Dauphiness- Queen would be worshipped by both the French royal family and her mother’s powerful family.

“The little Queen of Scots is the most perfect child that I have ever seen,” King Henry II of France proclaimed soon after meeting his new charge (Mary of Guise had stayed in Scotland to rule her daughter’s domain). His son, the sickly, despondent Francis, also adored his future wife and hung onto her every word.

Since Mary was already an anointed Queen, she walked before any of the French princesses, even the King’s own daughters. “It is impossible,” Mary’s doting grandmother wrote, “for her to be more honoured than she is.”

“While her cousin Elizabeth’s youth was largely spent outside court life with her books and plans, and the occasional visitor to engage her thoughts,” writes Dunn, “Mary’s life from the age of six was lived at the very center of the most glamorous court in Christendom.”

Mary spent her childhood surrounded by cousins, slavish servants, tutors and pets. Her bills show that she had a lavish wardrobe the young Elizabeth could only have dreamed of, as well as dancing, horseback riding and singing lessons.

“In marked contrast to her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Stuart enjoyed an exceptionally cosseted youth,” Antonia Fraser writes in her biography Mary, Queen of Scots. “It is left to the judgement of history to decide whether it did, in fact, adequately prepare her for the extreme stresses with which the course of her later life confronted her.”

Elizabeth I (TV-PG; 3:05)

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