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.

Eliza Leslie: The Most Influential Cookbook Writer of the 19th Century

American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
Wikimedia // Public Domain

If it wasn't for Eliza Leslie, American recipes might look very different. Leslie wrote the most popular cookbook of the 19th century, published a recipe widely credited as being the first for chocolate cake in the United States, and authored fiction for both adults and children. Her nine cookbooks—as well as her domestic management and etiquette guides—made a significant mark in American history and society, despite the fact that she never ran a kitchen of her own.

Early Dreams

Born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1787, to Robert and Lydia Leslie, Eliza was an intelligent child and a voracious reader. Her dream of becoming a writer was nurtured by her father, a prosperous watchmaker, inventor, and intellectual who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She once wrote that "the dream of my childhood [was] one day seeing my name in print."

Sadly, her father’s business failed around the turn of the 19th century and he died in 1803. The family took in boarders to make ends meet, and as the oldest of five, Leslie helped her mother in the kitchen. To gain culinary experience, she attended Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School in Philadelphia, the first school of its kind in the United States. Urged by her brother Thomas—and after fielding numerous requests for recipes from friends and family—she compiled her first book, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, in 1828. Notably, the book included the term cup cake, referring to Leslie's employment of a teacup as a measuring tool ("two large tea-cups full of molasses")—possibly the first-ever mention of a cup cake in print.

Seventy-Five Receipts was a hit, and was reprinted numerous times. Encouraged by this success—and by her publisher, Munroe & Francis—Leslie moved on to her true desire: writing fiction. She penned short stories and storybooks for young readers as well as adult fiction and won several awards for her efforts. One of her prize-winning short stories, the humorous "Mrs. Washington Potts," appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular 19th century magazine for which she also served as assistant editor. Leslie also contributed to Graham’s Magazine, the Saturday Gazette, and The Saturday Evening Post. At least one critic called her tales "perfect daguerreotypes of real life."

As much as Leslie loved writing fiction, however, it didn't always pay the bills. She wrote a second cookbook, Domestic French Cookery, in 1832, and achieved the pinnacle of her success in 1837 with Directions for Cookery. That work became the most beloved cookbook of the 1800s; it sold at least 150,000 copies and was republished 60 times by 1870. She offered pointers on procuring the best ingredients ("catfish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure food") and infused the book with wit. In a section discouraging the use of cold meat in soups, she wrote, "It is not true that French cooks have the art of producing excellent soups from cold scraps. There is much bad soup to be found in France, at inferior houses; but good French cooks are not, as is generally supposed, really in the practice of concocting any dishes out of the refuse of the table."

In The Taste of America, noted modern food historians John and Karen Hess called Directions for Cookery “one of the two best American cookbooks ever written," citing the book's precise directions, engaging tips, straightforward commentary, and diverse recipes—such as catfish soup and election cake—as the keys to its excellence.

Leslie is also credited with publishing America’s first printed recipe for chocolate cake, in her 1846 Lady’s Receipt Book. While chocolate had been used in baking in Europe as far back as the 1600s, Leslie’s recipe was probably obtained from a professional chef or pastry cook in Philadelphia. The recipe, which featured grated chocolate and a whole grated nutmeg, is quite different from most of today's chocolate cakes, with its strong overtones of spice and earthy, rather than sweet, flavors. (You can find the full recipe below.)

Later in life, while continuing to write cookbooks, Leslie edited The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present, which included early publications by Edgar Allan Poe. She also edited her own magazine of literature and fashion, Miss Leslie’s Magazine. She wrote only one novel, 1848's Amelia; Or a Young Lady’s Vicissitudes, but once said that if she was to start her literary career over, she would have only written novels.

A Uniquely American Voice

Historians have argued that Leslie was successful because she crafted recipes to appeal to the young country’s desire for upward mobility as well as a uniquely American identity. At the time she began writing, women primarily used British cookbooks; Leslie appealed to them with a distinctly American work. (She noted in the preface to Seventy-Five Receipts, "There is frequently much difficulty in following directions in English and French Cookery Books, not only from their want of explicitness, but from the difference in the fuel, fire-places, and cooking utensils. ... The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American.")

Leslie included regional American dishes in her books, promoted the use of quality ingredients, and was the first to (sometimes) organize recipes by including ingredients at the beginning of each recipe instead of using a narrative form, setting the tone for modern recipe writing. Her books were considered a treasure trove of knowledge for young pioneer women who, frequently separated from their families for the first time, often relied on Leslie's works for guidance.

Unmarried herself, Leslie never managed her own kitchen, and often had others testing recipes for her. She maintained strong ties with her erudite, sophisticated family, and lived for a time with her brother Thomas while he was attending West Point. Another brother, Charles Leslie, was a well-regarded painter in England; her sister Anna was also an artist, and sister Patty was married to a publisher who produced some of Leslie’s work. As she got older, Leslie lived for years in the United States Hotel in Philadelphia, where she was something of a celebrity for her wit and strong opinions.

Leslie died on January 1, 1858. Many of her recipes are still used today, but it's likely she’d be most pleased to know that many of her short stories are available online. Modern readers can appreciate the totality of her work: the fiction writing that was her passion, though for which she was lesser known, and her culinary writing, which guided generations.

Eliza Leslie's Recipe for Chocolate Cake

From The Lady's Receipt Book:

CHOCOLATE CAKE.—Scrape down three ounces of the best and purest chocolate, or prepared cocoa. Cut up, into a deep pan, three-quarters of a pound of fresh butter; add to it a pound of powdered loaf-sugar; and stir the butter and sugar together till very light and white. Have ready 14 ounces (two ounces less than a pound) of sifted flour; a powdered nutmeg; and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon—mixed together. Beat the whites of ten eggs till they stand alone; then the yolks till they are very thick and smooth. Then mix the yolks and whites gradually together, beating very hard when they are all mixed. Add the eggs, by degrees, to the beaten butter and sugar, in turn with the flour and the scraped chocolate,—a little at a time of each; also the spice. Stir the whole very hard. Put the mixture into a buttered tin pan with straight sides, and bake it at least four hours. If nothing is to be baked afterwards, let it remain in till the oven becomes cool. When cold, ice it.

11 Facts About Johann Sebastian Bach

Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. There's some disagreement about when he was actually born.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. He was at the center of a musical dynasty.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. He took a musical pilgrimage that puts every road trip to Woodstock to shame.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. He brawled with his students.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. He spent 30 days in jail for quitting his job.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. The Brandenburg Concertos were a failed job application.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. He wrote an amazing coffee jingle.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. If Bach challenged you to a keyboard duel, you were guaranteed to be embarrassed.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. Some of his music may have been composed to help with insomnia.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. A botched eye surgery blinded him.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. Nobody is 100 percent confident that Bach is buried in his grave.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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