On May 16 1568 the catholic regnant Scottish queen Mary Stuart arrived in England. She had been deposed, marginalised and effectively disowned by the protestant establishment in Scotland, where her young son James VI, aged 13 in 1569, was now a minority king.
Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, and therefore had a strong claim to the crown of England, the strongest after Elizabeth’s in fact, and the stronger of the two for those who regarded Elizabeth’s dubious legitimacy as the child of Anne Boleyn sufficient to bar her from the throne. Mary made her ambitions quite clear by proudly quartering the English coat of arms with her own when she learned of Mary Tudor’s death in 1558. A later report has her joining a group discussing a portrait of Elizabeth. Was it a good likeness of the queen of England? “Nay, it is not like her, for I am the Queen of England,” Mary replied.
Mary’s arrival in England created a problem for Elizabeth’s government. As the Spanish ambassador astutely observed the following week:
They must be somewhat embarrassed… although these people are glad enough to have her in their hands, they have many things to consider. If they keep her as if in prison, it will probably scandalise all neighbouring princes, and if she remain free and able to communicate with her friends, great suspicions will be aroused.
The English chose scandal and prison; but the government also explored ways of peacefully restoring Mary to Scotland that would also bind her politically to England. One possible solution was for Mary to marry an English nobleman. Elizabeth, once apparently a supporter of such a strategy, now forbade it: it gave Mary too great a purchase on the English throne. Which was no doubt one of the attractions for Mary, and she found the ideal candidate, certainly in his own mind, in the shape of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk.