The Stuarts, whose name can also be spelled Stewart, ruled Scotland for almost 350 years. Their royal line began when King Robert II came to the Scottish throne in 1371. He was the son of Walter, High Steward of Scotland by Walter’s wife Marjorie. She was the daughter of Robert the Bruce, known as the Hero King, who defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Despite thus asserting Scotland’s status as an independent country. Scotland and England remained enemies for centuries to come.
Mary, Queen of Scots and the Change from Stewart to Stuart
One strand of the ongoing conflict between Scotland and England was Scotland’s “Auld Alliance” with France. Mary, Queen of Scots, daughter of James V of Scotland and his French wife, Marie de Guise-Lorraine, was sent to France as a child for safety. She grew up at the French court, speaking French as her first language. It is believed to have been Mary who altered the spelling from Stewart to Stuart. Since the French language did not include the letter w, this made her name easier to pronounce for her French friends and relatives.
The Scottish Royal House Comes to the British Throne
More peaceful ways were sought of ending the ongoing warfare between Scotland and England, including marriage between the royal houses of each country. As a result of the consequent intertwining of the two families, when Elizabeth I of England died in 1603, the only possible successor was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. King James VI of Scotland thus became also King James I of England, Wales and Ireland.
The Scottish Royal House Loses the British Throne
James VI and I’s son, Charles I, fought Parliament and Oliver Cromwell in a power struggle which led to the English Civil War and to Charles being beheaded in 1649. His son Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. Although Charles II had many mistresses and several illegitimate children, he had no legal heirs. He was succeeded by his brother James, who then became King James VII and II.
As a devout Catholic, James was not popular in a strongly Protestant country. Like his father Charles I, James was also reluctant to rule with Parliament as a constitutional monarch. This led to him being deposed.
The Last Stuart to Occupy the British Throne
King James VII and II was deposed in 1688, in what its supporters called the Glorious Revolution. He was succeeded by his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange, who ruled jointly with his wife, James’ daughter Mary. They in turn were succeeded by Mary’s sister Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714. She endured multiple pregnancies but none of her children survived her. Anne was the last Stuart to wear the British crown.
In so doing, she fulfilled a prophecy made by Mary, Queen of Scots’ father, James V. On his deathbed when told of the birth of his daughter, he is said to have remarked: “It cam’ wi’ a lass, and it’ll gang wi’ a lass.” He meant of course that the crown had come with a girl – Robert the Bruce’s daughter, Marjorie, and believed that it would also go with a girl.
When Queen Anne died, a German cousin several times removed, Protestant and willing to rule with Parliament, was invited to take over. The Elector of Hanover became George I and founder of the modern House of Windsor. Represented today by Queen Elizabeth, this continues to be the ruling royal house of the United Kingdom.