Today is the birthday (1542) of Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, queen regnant of Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567 and queen consort of France from 10 July 1559 to 5 December 1560.
Mary, the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland, was 6 days old when her father died and she ascended to the throne. She spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents, and in 1558, she married the Dauphin of France, Francis. He ascended the French throne as King Francis II in 1559, and Mary briefly became queen consort of France, until his death on 5 December 1560. Mary returned, a widow, to Scotland, arriving in Leith on 19 August 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, but their union was unhappy. In February 1567, his residence was destroyed by an explosion, and Darnley was found murdered in the garden.
James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was generally believed to have orchestrated Darnley’s death, but he was acquitted of the charge in April 1567, and the following month he married Mary. Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favor of James, her one-year-old son by Darnley. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southwards seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North. Perceiving her as a threat (duh!), Elizabeth had her confined in a number of castles and manor houses in England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, and was subsequently executed. Have to love the Tudors.
Mary’s execution is legendary because she arrived at the scaffold in a black robe which she threw off at the last minute to reveal a bright red dress – the color of martyrs. Mary is a much beloved figure in Scotland, but, at the risk of a barrage of criticism from the Scottish side of my family, I have to say my feelings are mixed. My feeling is that “ruthless” pretty well sums her up, but, in mitigation, it sums up her cousin Elizabeth too. Such were the times. Her descendants were a mixed lot too – the Stuarts. Using the vocabulary of 1066 and All That, James I & VI and Charles II were “good” kings, and Charles I and James II & VII were not. Williamandmary, and Anne were all right. The ascension of Mary’s son, James I & VI, united the kingdoms of Scotland and England, perhaps soon to be undone. It’s never been an entirely happy union.
To celebrate Mary’s birth you could make Auld Alliance, a dip made by pounding Roquefort and whiskey together. I made it once and found it rather overpowering. A couple of my guests liked it, though. Instead, here is my recipe for marmalade which I used to make at this time of year. The etymology of the word “marmalade” is unknown, but some people cling to the idea that it is a corruption of the French “marie malade” (Mary is sick). Cute, but wrong. It is best if you use bitter oranges, but regular ones will do.
2 lbs oranges
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juiced
3 pounds sugar
Wash the oranges and lemon thoroughly. Place the oranges whole into an 8-quart stainless steel pot. Add the lemon zest and juice and 6 cups of water to the pot, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to maintain a rapid simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 40 minutes or until the fruit is very soft. (I used to do this by placing the pot on my wood stove overnight – slow simmering brought out incredible flavors).
Cut the orange peel into small strips and mash the meat, removing the pits. Return to the simmering water.
Increase the heat under the orange mixture to return to full boil. Add the sugar and stir the mixture continually, until it reaches 223°F/106°C. The mixture will darken considerably.
Test the readiness of the marmalade by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on a chilled plate and allowing it to sit for 30 seconds. Tilt the plate. The mixture should be a soft gel that moves slightly. If the mixture is thin and runs easily, it is not ready. Keep simmering until the required gel is reached.