11 Things You Might Not Know About Mary, Queen of Scots

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mary, Queen of Scots has long been written about and portrayed as the beautiful, tragic cousin queen of Elizabeth I—the one whose disastrous marriage choices left her without a country while Elizabeth's fiercely guarded independence gave her complete control but no heir. But though Mary was forced to abdicate her Scottish throne to her infant son after a rash of uprisings and conspiracies and live out the rest of her life as an imprisoned guest in England, her desire to rule both Scotland and England did eventually come to pass when her son inherited both thrones. Her story has been told a number of ways, from Vanessa Redgrave's Oscar-nominated portrayal in the 1971 film, to the CW series Reign, to the 2018 movie starring Saoirse Ronan in the title role—but here are 11 facts about Mary that you might not know.

1. Mary became Queen of Scotland when she was 6 days old.

Mary's father, James V of Scotland, had become king at just 17 months old when his father was killed in battle. But on December 14, 1542, at age 30, he died "of no discernable cause," according to Allan Massie's book The Royal Stuarts. "He seems simply to have lost the will to live."

Mysterious as the king's death was, Mary's birth had fortuitous timing. She was born on December 8—just six days prior. Mary's father had numerous illegitimate children, but his two legitimate infant sons (one was 11 months, the other only a week old) by second wife Mary of Guise had both died the prior year within a day of each other. And so, as the only surviving legitimate heir, Mary became queen immediately, making Mary, Queen of Scots the youngest-ever British monarch.

2. She is not Bloody Mary.

Mary, Queen of Scots—a.k.a. Mary Stuart—had many things in common with Mary Tudor, a.k.a Mary I. They were both Catholic (though Mary Stuart did not persecute her Protestant subjects); they were both Tudors (Scots Mary's grandmother was Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of King Henry VII, the first monarch of the House of Tudor); and they both had major beefs with Elizabeth I (Mary Tudor's half-sister and Mary, Queen of Scots's first cousin once removed).

But even if they're sometimes confused, Mary I was old enough to be Mary Stuart's mother. In fact, at one point, King Henry VIII had offered his eldest daughter, Mary Tudor, as a wife to Scotland's King James V. If that marriage had happened, King James would never have married Mary of Guise, Mary Stuart's mother.

3. Mary changed the spelling of the family name.

 Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, circa 1558.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, circa 1558.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Stewarts were the ruling family of Scotland for centuries, starting in 1371 with Robert II (a grandson of Robert the Bruce). Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, was the eighth in this line. But at age 5, her guardians secured a marriage treaty that would unite Scotland and France, and Mary was sent to be brought up in the French court with her intended, the 3-year-old Dauphin, Francis. Sometime before their marriage in 1558, she changed the spelling of Stewart to Stuart to "make it easier for the French to pronounce."

4. Mary was fluent in Latin.

She was also fluent in French and the Scots dialect of the Lowlands (and was proficient in Italian, Spanish, and Greek), but the Seigneur de Brantôme, a soldier and historian who had known Mary as a child in the French court and wrote a memoir of her long after her death, recalled that around the age of 13 or 14, she "recited publicly, in the presence of King Henri, the Queen, and the entire court, in a room of the Louvre, a speech in Latin composed by herself, sustaining against the common belief the thesis that it is becoming in women to be acquainted with literature and the liberal arts."

5. She was very tall.

At least, by contemporary standards. "By the time she was 14, Mary was much taller than average," John Guy wrote in his biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. "In an age when a woman was considered tall if she reached 5 feet 4 inches, Mary finally grew to almost 6 feet." (As an adult, Mary is often listed as being 5 feet 11 inches.)

6. Bucking tradition, she wore white for her first wedding.

Mary, Queen of Scots in mourning wear, circa 1560.
Mary, Queen of Scots in mourning wear, circa 1560.
François Clouet, The Royal Collection, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

White was considered a color of mourning at the time, but Mary loved the shade (and likely how it looked against her pale skin and striking red hair). She chose a white gown for her Notre Dame wedding to Francis II. According to the Discours du grand et magnifique triumphe, an historical account of the day, "[The] Queen-Dauphine … was dressed in a garment white as a lily and so sumptuously and richly made that it would be impossible to describe it and of which two young ladies carried a wonderfully long train." The marriage only lasted two and a half years—Francis, who was always in poor health, died in December 1560 at age 16.

7. Mary loved golf.

Golfers worldwide revere Scotland's St. Andrews as the "Cathedral of Golf." It's considered the oldest golf course in the world, and Mary had a vacation cottage there and played often. She had likely learned the game as a child in France (or, at least a similar pastime called pell mell), and one longstanding story is that she coined the term caddie based on the military cadets who carried the clubs for royal players. According to sports columnist Sally Jenkins, "It's thought that her accented pronunciation of the term was further bent by a brogue when she came to Scotland to assume the throne."

But Mary's love of golf also drew harsh criticism and was seen as proof that she conspired to kill her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. "She was so keen on the game that she was accused of cold-bloodedness for playing a round just days after her husband was assassinated," Jenkins wrote.

8. She used to wash her face in white wine.

In the 16th century, it was fashionable for those who could afford it to bathe in white wine. Mary had incredibly fair skin, and the antiseptic properties of white wine essentially worked as a toner. During her long imprisonment in England, the Earl of Shrewsbury, to whom she had been entrusted, was known to complain about the costs of her beauty routine.

9. The Protestant Elizabeth I was godmother to Mary's son.

Though the crux of Mary and Elizabeth's rivalry was the line of succession and their religions (and those of their respective countries), Elizabeth served as the godmother to Mary's son, James VI. Elizabeth sent a proxy to the christening, and like her reluctance to meet Mary in person, Elizabeth only ever corresponded by letter with James VI.

The birth of James did eventually solve the ongoing issue of succession for both countries. Though Elizabeth insisted on keeping Mary under house arrest when she fled the uprisings in Scotland and sought solace in England (Mary was also forced to abdicate her throne to a then 13-month-old James), she did eventually name James as her successor. Upon Elizabeth's death in 1603, he became James VI and I—the sixth of Scotland and first of England—and the first monarch to jointly rule the sovereign states (known as the Union of the Crowns).

10. Her pet terrier was hiding under her skirts at her execution.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Much has been made of the botched beheading at Mary's execution. After 18-some years of living under house arrest in England (and as an ongoing, living threat to Elizabeth's crown), Mary was convicted of conspiring to kill her cousin. On February 8, 1587, at age 44, she approached the block, "cast off her black gown to reveal a red dress underneath, the shade of Catholic martyrdom," and had her neck hacked at least three times by the fumbling executioner, who then dropped her head when he grabbed it by the wig.

But as devastating as that entire episode was for everyone in attendance, what happened next made an awful situation even worse. Mary's pet terrier "had hidden itself in the folds of her petticoat and sneaked onto stage," according to Guy. "When detected, it ran about wailing miserably and lay down in the widening pool of blood between her severed head and shoulders."

11. Mary, Queen of Scots is buried at Westminster Abbey, right next to Elizabeth I.

Though they never met in person, despite all their correspondence, Mary and Elizabeth's tombs are side by side in Westminster Abbey's Lady Chapel. Following Mary's execution, Elizabeth ignored her request to be buried in France and had her interred at Peterborough Cathedral in a Protestant ceremony. Twenty-five years later, in 1621, Mary's son James VI and I had her reinterred at Westminster. And though her tomb is next to her rival cousin's, they are separated by a nave—even in death, their crypts aren't quite in view of each other.

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinese New Year

iStock.com/aluxum
iStock.com/aluxum

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning January 25 in 2020, China will welcome the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. Chinese New Year was originally meant to scare off a monster.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock.com/jjMiller11

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A lot of families use Chinese New Year as motivation to clean the house.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock.com/PRImageFactory

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. Chinese New Year will prompt billions of trips.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock.com/MongkolChuewong

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. Chinese New Year involves a lot of superstitions.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. Some people rent boyfriends or girlfriends for Chinese New Year to soothe their parents.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock.com/RichVintage

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. Red envelopes are everywhere during Chinese New Year.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock.com/Creative-Family

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. Chinese New Year can create record levels of smog.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock.com/lusea

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. Black clothes are a bad omen during Chinese New Year.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock.com/lusea

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. Chinese New Year leads to planes being stuffed full of cherries.

Bowl of cherries
iStock.com/CatLane

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand. In 2017, Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. Panda Express is hoping Chinese New Year will catch on in America.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

20 Memorable Virginia Woolf Quotes

Getty Images
Getty Images

Born on January 25, 1882, Virginia Woolf was a true writer’s writer. With flowing prose and a courageous pen, she dissected every topic from the idiocy of warfare to the joys of sex. We've picked 20 lines that rank among her all-time best—which is no easy feat.

1. On recorded history

“Nothing has really happened until it has been described.”

— Said to a young acquaintance,Nigel Nicholson, who later became a successful publisher, memoirist, and politician

2. On writing about nature

“Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.”

— From her 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography

3. On translating comedy

“Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.”

—From the essay collectionThe Common Reader, First Series (1925)

4. On time

“Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

5. On being an honest writer

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”

From The Moment and Other Essays (1947)

6. On sexism

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

7. On writing fiction

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

—From her seminal 1929 essay “A Room of One’s Own”

8. On questioning the status quo

“Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilisation’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them?”

— From her anti-war essay “Three Guineas” (1938)

9. On fashion

“There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

10. On food

virginia woolf

A photo of author Virginia Woolf, who was famous for writing To The Lighthouse and Orlando.

George Charles Beresford, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

— From “A Room of One’s Own”

11. On getting older

“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.”

—From her diary (entry dated October 2, 1932)

12. On artistic integrity

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.”

— From “A Room of One’s Own”

13. On the universe

“When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?”

—From the novel Night and Day (1919)

14. On personal growth

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”

—From her 1931 novel The Waves

15. On society

“At one and the same time, therefore, society is everything and society is nothing. Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

16. On evaluating literature

“The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities… into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none.”

—From The Common Reader, Second Series (1935)

17. On passion

“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately; fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to have—positively—a rush of friendship for stones and grasses, as if humanity were over, and as for men and women, let them go hang—there is no getting over the fact that this desire seizes us pretty often.”

—From the novel Jacob’s Room (1922)

18. On the past

“Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title.”

—From Jacob’s Room

19. On words

“Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.

“Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Anthony and Cleopatra, poems lovelier than the 'Ode to a Nightingale,' novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.”

—From “Craftsmanship,” a BBC radio address Woolf delivered on April 20, 1937 (listen to a portion of it here)

20. On life and its interruptions

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”

— From her diary (entry dated February 17, 1922)

bonus: a common misquote

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

These wise words are often mistakenly cited as Woolf’s. In reality, another writer came along and gave them to her—57 years after she died! Here’s what went down: In 1998, author Michael Cunningham released his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours. This story includes a fictionalized version of Virginia Woolf, who delivers the above line.

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