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A Trio of 1987's Memorable Dates With Destiny

March 22, 1987|FRANCES SHEMANSKI | Shemanski, a New York free-lance writer, is the author of "A Guide to Fairs and Festivals in the United States" and "A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals" (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.). She also compiles the monthly world calendar for the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers across the country. and

An execution, a city's founding and the celebration of the U.S. Constitution are three of the top events being commemorated in travel this year.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, occurred 400 years ago. It is being observed throughout Scotland with a variety of special tours, events, exhibits, festivals and pageantry.

Mary, Queen of Scots, immortalized in books, plays and films, continues to be an enigma. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an innocent victim of circumstances? Though she was beheaded by the order of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary continues to be a popular romantic-tragic personality.

Mary's life is like a soap opera, with plots, counterplots, murders, three husbands, so-called lovers, kidnapings and short-lived flights to freedom. It's a story that will be told over and over again through reenactments of her dramatic short life. She was only 44 when her head rolled from the executioner's block.

Anniversary events began in February when a wreath was placed on Mary's tomb in London's Westminster Abbey. Events will continue to the end of the year. Most of the events will center in and around Edinburgh.

Keyed to Her Cult Image

This spring an exhibit of Mary in white mourning and a sculpture of her will be displayed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, while summer exhibits will be keyed to Mary's cult image of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Video presentations and displays at the John Knox House in Edinburgh will attempt to show the bitterness between a tolerant, Catholic, French-educated queen and her staunch Protestant adversary, Knox. His statue stands in the nearby High Kirk (Church) of St. Giles, where he openly condemned Mary.

Mary was raised a Roman Catholic and in 1547 was sent to France, where eventually she married her first husband, Francois, the dauphin, later King of France. When Francois died in 1560, Mary returned to Scotland to find Knox and other Protestant reformers gaining strength, resulting in great conflicts between his followers and hers, the Highlanders.

Mary's second husband was the handsome Henry, Lord Darnley, who was murdered. Allegations were made against Mary and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who stood trial but was acquitted. Rumor still persists that Mary was willingly abducted by the earl, who became her third husband. He divorced his wife to marry Mary outside the Catholic church, giving more ammunition to the Protestant reformers.

The overambitious Bothwell was strongly opposed by a confederation of lords, and defeated by a royal army at Carberry Hill. He fled to Denmark, where he died years later, insane.

His defeat also was the beginning of the end for Mary, who was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle, still reached today by ferry. She escaped with the help of a young page, Willie Douglas, and managed to muster an army, which was defeated at Langside, near Glasgow, by the Earl of Moray's army.

Slammed in the Slammer

Mary fled to England to seek help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, who promptly imprisoned her in Fortheringly Castle, Northamptonshire, for 20 years. Mary was executed at the castle, which was destroyed by her son, James VI of Scotland when he succeeded Elizabeth to become James I of England.

Only a grassy mound marks the castle site, but at the nearby Talbot Hotel in Oundle is the castle's oak staircase down which Mary walked to her execution.

When in power, Mary traveled extensively throughout Scotland. Special tours tracing her travels are being featured this year. Some of the better-known castles where Mary stayed include Glamis Castle, linked with Shakespeare's "Macbeth," Blair Castle, childhood home of today's Queen Mother, and Falkland Castle, where Mary's father died.

A journey in 1563 is part of a special exhibit at Inveraray Castle that includes tapestries, porcelain, furniture and paintings. The exhibit will be featured from April through October. Inveraray Castle, complete with towers and turrets, is the home of the Duke of Argyll, head of clan Campbell.

Mary's death mask is being exhibited at Lennoxlove east of Edinburgh. Also being shown is her famous silver casket, a betrothal gift from her French husband, Francis II, and said to have held damaging correspondence between Mary and the Earl of Bothwell about Darnley's murder.

Lennoxlove was the home of Mary's second secretary, William Maitland. Mary's Italian secretary, Rizzo, was apparently murdered by Mary's second husband, Darnley, who eventually was done in himself.

Festivals, pageants and some medieval banquets will all be keyed to Mary, who was described in a poem by Boris Pasternak as the queen who is still "the talk of time."

Berlin Beckons

At the time of Mary's execution, Berlin was 350 years old, having evolved from twin towns going southwest to northeast and intersected by the Spree River, favorable conditions for colonization. The two communities merged, and by the end of the 14th Century were prosperous.

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