There is still another parallel which may be found. Each of these women was reputed to be exquisitely beautiful; yet each fell short of beauty’s highest standards. They are alike remembered in song and story because of qualities that are far more powerful than any physical charm can be. They impressed the imagination of their own contemporaries just as they had impressed the imagination of all succeeding ages, by reason of a strange and irresistible fascination which no one could explain, but which very few could experience and resist.
Mary Stuart was born six days before her father’s death, and when the kingdom which was her heritage seemed to be almost in its death-throes. James V. of Scotland, half Stuart and half Tudor, was no ordinary monarch. As a mere boy he had burst the bonds with which a regency had bound him, and he had ruled the wild Scotland of the sixteenth century. He was brave and crafty, keen in statesmanship, and dissolute in pleasure.
His first wife had given him no heirs; so at her death he sought out a princess whom he pursued all the more ardently because she was also courted by the burly Henry VIII. of England. This girl was Marie of Lorraine, daughter of the Duc de Guise. She was fit to be the mother of a lion’s brood, for she was above six feet in height and of proportions so ample as to excite the admiration of the royal voluptuary who sat upon the throne of England.
“I am big,” said he, “and I want a wife who is as big as I am.”
But James of Scotland wooed in person, and not by embassies, and he triumphantly carried off his strapping princess. Henry of England gnawed his beard in vain; and, though in time he found consolation in another woman’s arms, he viewed James not only as a public but as a private enemy.
There was war between the two countries. First the Scots repelled an English army; but soon they were themselves disgracefully defeated at Solway Moss by a force much their inferior in numbers. The shame of it broke King James’s heart. As he was galloping from the battle-field the news was brought him that his wife had given birth to a daughter. He took little notice of the message; and in a few days he had died, moaning with his last breath the mysterious words:
“It came with a lass—with a lass it will go!”
The child who was born at this ill-omened crisis was Mary Stuart, who within a week became, in her own right, Queen of Scotland. Her mother acted as regent of the kingdom. Henry of England demanded that the infant girl should be betrothed to his young son, Prince Edward, who afterward reigned as Edward VI., though he died while still a boy. The proposal was rejected, and the war between England and Scotland went on its bloody course; but meanwhile the little queen was sent to France, her mother’s home, so that she might be trained in accomplishments which were rare in Scotland.