MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, daughter of King James V of Scotland and his wife Mary of Lorraine (Mary of Guise), was born in December 1542, a few days before the death of her father, heart-broken by the disgrace of his arms at Solway Moss, where the disaffected nobles had declined to encounter an enemy of inferior force in the cause of a king whose systematic policy had been directed against the privileges of their order, and whose representative on the occasion was an unpopular favourite appointed general in defiance of their ill-will. On the 9th of September following the ceremony of coronation was duly performed upon the infant. A scheme for her betrothal to Edward, Prince of Wales, was defeated by the grasping greed of his father [King Henry VIII], whose obvious ambition to annex the crown of Scotland at once to that of England aroused instantly the general suspicion and indignation of Scottish patriotism.
In 1548 the queen of six years old was betrothed to the dauphin Francis, and set sail for France, where she arrived on the 15th of August. The society in which the child was thenceforward reared is known to readers of Brantôme as well as that of imperial Rome at its worst is known to readers of Suetonius or Petronius.... Debauchery of all kinds, and murder in all forms, were the daily matter of excitement or of jest to the brilliant circle which revolved around Queen Catherine de' Medici. After ten years' training under the tutelage of the woman whose main instrument of policy was the corruption of her own children, the queen of Scots, aged fifteen years and five months, was married to the eldest and feeblest of the brood on the 24th of April 1558.
On the 17th of November Elizabeth became queen of England, and the princes of Lorraine — Francis the great duke of Guise, and his brother the cardinal — induced their niece and her husband to assume, in addition to the arms of France and Scotland, the arms of a country over which they asserted the right of Mary Stuart to reign as legitimate heiress of Mary Tudor. Civil strife broke out in Scotland between John Knox and the queen-dowager — between the self-styled "congregation of the Lord" and the adherents of the regent, whose French troops repelled the combined forces of the Scotch and their English allies from the beleaguered walls of Leith, little more than a month before the death of their mistress in the castle of Edinburgh, on the l0th of June 1560. On the 25th of August, Protestantism was proclaimed and Catholicism suppressed in Scotland by a convention of states assembled without the assent of the absent queen. On the 5th of December Francis II died; in August 1561 his widow left France for Scotland, having been refused a safe-conduct by Elizabeth on the ground of her own previous refusal to ratify the treaty made with England by her commissioners in the same month of the preceding year. She arrived nevertheless in safety at Leith, escorted by three of her uncles of the house of Lorraine, and bringing in her train her future biographer, Brantome, and Chastelard, the first of all her voluntary victims.
On the 21st of August she first met the only man able to withstand her; and their first passage of arms left, as he has recorded, upon the mind of John Knox an ineffaceable impression of her "proud mind, crafty wit and indurate heart against God and His truth." And yet her acts of concession and conciliation were such as no fanatic on the opposite side could have approved. She assented, not only to the undisturbed maintenance of the new creed, but even to a scheme for the endowment of the Protestant ministry out of the confiscated lands of the Church. Her half-brother, Lord James Stuart, shared the duties of her chief counsellor with William Maitland of Lethington, the keenest and most liberal thinker in the country. By the influence of Lord James, in spite of the earnest opposition of Knox, permission was obtained for her to hear Mass celebrated in her private chapel - a licence to which, said the Reformer, he would have preferred the invasion of ten thousand Frenchmen.
Through all the first troubles of her reign the young queen steered her skilful and dauntless way with the tact of a woman and the courage of a man. An insurrection in the north, headed by the earl of Huntly under pretext of rescuing from justice the life which his son had forfeited by his share in a homicidal brawl, was crushed at a blow by the Lord James against whose life, as well as against his sister's liberty, the conspiracy of the Gordons had been aimed, and on whom, after the father had fallen in fight and the son had expiated his double offence on the scaffold, the leading rebel's earldom of Murray was conferred by the gratitude of the queen. Exactly four months after the battle of Corrichie, and the subsequent execution of a criminal whom she is said to have "loved entirely," had put an end to the first insurrection raised against her, Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard, who had returned to France with the other companions of her arrival, and in November 1562 had revisited Scotland, expiated with his head the offence or the misfortune of a second detection at night in her bed-chamber.
In the same month, twenty-five years afterwards, the execution of his mistress, according to the verdict of her contemporaries in France, avenged the blood of a lover who had died without uttering a word to realize the apprehension which (according to Knox) had before his trial impelled her to desire her brother "that, as he loved her, he would slay Chastelard, and let him never speak word." And in the same month, two years from the date of Chastelard's execution, her first step was unconsciously taken on the road to Fotheringhay, when she gave her heart at first sight to her kinsman Henry, Lord Darnley, son of Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, who had suffered an exile of twenty years in expiation of his intrigues with England, and had married the niece of King Henry VIII, daughter of his sister Margaret Tudor, the widow of James IV, by her second husband, the earl of Angus.
Queen Elizabeth, with the almost incredible want of tact or instinctive delicacy which distinguished Lord Robert Dudley, the widower if not the murderer of Amy Robsart; and she now protested against the project of marriage between Mary and Darnley. Mary who had already married her kinsman in secret at Stirling Castle with Catholic rites celebrated in the apartment of David Rizzio, her secretary for correspondence with France, assured the English ambassador, in reply to the protest of his mistress, that the marriage would not take place for three months, when a dispensation from the pope would allow the cousins to be publicly united without offence to the Church. On the 29th of July 1565 they were accordingly remarried at Holyrood.
The hapless and worthless bridegroom had already incurred the hatred of two powerful enemies, the earls of Morton and Glencairn; but the former of these took part with the queen against the forces raised by Murray, Glencairn and others, under the nominal leadership of Hamilton, duke of Chatelherault, on the double plea of danger to the new religion of the country, and of the illegal proceeding by which Darnley had been proclaimed king of Scots without the needful constitutional assent of the estates of the realm. Murray was cited to attend the "raid" or array levied by the king and queen, and was duly denounced by public blast of trumpet for his non-appearance. He entered Edinburgh with his forces, but failed to hold the town against the guns of the castle, and fell back upon Dumfries before the advance of the royal army, which was now joined by James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, on his return from a three years' outlawed exile in France. He had been accused in 1562 of a plot to seize the queen and put her into the keeping of the earl of Arran, whose pretensions to her hand ended only when his insanity could no longer be concealed. Another new adherent was the son of the late earl of Huntly, to whom the forfeited honours of his house were restored a few months before the marriage of his sister to Bothwell.
The queen now appealed to France for aid; but Castelnau, the French ambassador, replied to her passionate pleading by sober and earnest advice to make peace with the malcontents. This counsel was rejected, and in October 1565 the queen marched an army of 18,000 men against them from Edinburgh; their forces dispersed in face of superior numbers, and Murray, on seeking shelter in England, was received with contumely by Elizabeth, whose half-hearted help had failed to support his enterprise, and whose intercession for his return found at first no favour with the queen of Scots. But the conduct of the besotted boy on whom at their marriage she had bestowed the title of king began at once to justify the enterprise and to play into the hands of all his enemies alike. His father set him on to demand the crown matrimonial, which would at least have assured to him the rank and station of independent royalty for life. Rizzio, hitherto his friend and advocate, induced the queen to reply by a reasonable refusal to this hazardous and audacious request.
Darnley at once threw himself into the arms of the party opposed to the policy of the queen and her secretary — a policy which at that moment was doubly and trebly calculated to exasperate the fears of the religious and the pride of the patriotic. Mary was invited if not induced by the king of Spain to join his league for the suppression of Protestantism; while the actual or prospective endowment of Rizzio with Morton's office of chancellor, and the projected attainder of Murray and his allies, combined to inflame at once the anger and the apprehension of the Protestant nobles. According to one account, Darnley privately assured his uncle George Douglas of his wife's infidelity; he had himself, if he might be believed, discovered the secretary in the queen's apartment at midnight, under circumstances yet more unequivocally compromising than those which had brought Chastelard to the scaffold. Another version of the pitiful history represents Douglas as infusing suspicion of Rizzio into the empty mind of his nephew, and thus winning his consent to a deed already designed by others.
A bond was drawn in which Darnley pledged himself to support the confederates who undertook to punish "certain privy persons" offensive to the state, "especially a strange Italian, called Davie"; another was subscribed by Darnley and the banished lords, then biding their time in Newcastle, which engaged him to procure their pardon and restoration, while pledging them to insure to him the enjoyment of the title he coveted, with the consequent security of an undisputed succession to the crown, despite the counter claims of the house of Hamilton, in case his wife should die without issue — a result which, intentionally or not, he and his fellow-conspirators did all that brutality could have suggested to accelerate and secure. On the 9th of March the palace of Holyrood was invested by a troop under the command of Morton, while Rizzio was dragged by force out of the queen's presence and slain without trial in the heat of the moment. The parliament was discharged by proclamation issued in the name of Darnley as king; and in the evening of the next day the banished lords, whom it was to have condemned to outlawry, returned to Edinburgh.
On the day following they were graciously received by the queen, who undertook to sign a bond for their security, but delayed the subscription till next morning under plea of sickness. During the night she escaped with Darnley, whom she had already seduced from the party of his accomplices, and arrived at Dunbar on the third morning after the slaughter of her favourite. From thence they returned to Edinburgh on the 28th of March, guarded by two thousand horsemen under the command of Bothwell, who had escaped from Holyrood on the night of the murder, to raise a force on the queen's behalf with his usual soldierly promptitude. The slayers of Rizzio fled to England, and were outlawed; Darnley was permitted to protest his innocence and denounce his accomplices; after which he became the scorn of all parties alike, and few men dared or cared to be seen in his company.
On the 19th of June a son was born to his wife, and in the face of his previous protestations he was induced to acknowledge himself the father. But, as Murray and his partisans returned to favour and influence no longer incompatible with that of Bothwell and Huntly, he grew desperate enough with terror to dream of escape to France. This design was at once frustrated by the queen's resolution. She summoned him to declare his reasons for it in presence of the French ambassador and an assembly of the nobles; she besought him for God's sake to speak out, and not spare her; and at last he left her presence with an avowal that he had nothing to allege. The favour shown to Bothwell had not yet given occasion for scandal, though his character as an adventurous libertine was as notable as his reputation for military hardihood; but as the summer advanced his insolence increased with his influence at court and the general aversion of his rivals. He was richly endowed by Mary from the greater and lesser spoils of the Church; and the three wardenships of the border, united for the first time in his person, gave the lord high admiral of Scotland a position of unequalled power.
In the gallant discharge of its duties he was dangerously wounded by a leading outlaw, whom he slew in single combat; and while yet confined to Hermitage Castle he received a visit of two hours from the queen, who rode thither from Jedburgh and back through 20 miles of the wild borderland where her person was in perpetual danger from the freebooters whom her father's policy had striven and had failed to extirpate. The result of this daring ride was a ten days' fever, after which she removed by short stages to Craigmillar, where a proposal for her divorce from Darnley was laid before her by Bothwell, Murray, Huntly, Argyle and Lethington, who was chosen spokesman for the rest. She assented on condition that the divorce could be lawfully effected without impeachment of her son's legitimacy; whereupon Lethington undertook in the name of all present that she should be rid of her husband without any prejudice to the child — at whose baptism a few days afterwards Bothwell took the place of the putative father, though Darnley was actually residing under the same roof, and it was not till after the ceremony that he was suddenly struck down by a sickness so violent as to excite suspicions of poison.
He was removed to Glasgow, and left for the time in charge of his father; but on the news of his progress towards recovery a bond was drawn up for execution of the sentence of death which had secretly been pronounced against the twice-turned traitor who had earned his doom at all hands alike. On the 22nd of the next month (Jan. 1567) the queen visited her husband at Glasgow and proposed to remove him to Craigmillar Castle, where he would have the benefit of medicinal baths; but instead of this resort he was conveyed on the last day of the month to the lonely and squalid shelter of the residence which was soon to be made memorable by his murder. Between the ruins of two sacred buildings, with the town-wall to the south and a suburban hamlet known to ill fame as the Thieves' Row to the north of it, a lodging was prepared for the titular king of Scotland, and fitted up with tapestries taken from the Gordons after the battle of Corrichie. On the evening of Sunday, the 9th of February, Mary took her last leave of the miserable boy who had so often and so mortally outraged her as consort and as queen. That night the whole city was shaken out of sleep by an explosion of gunpowder which shattered to fragments the building in which he should have slept and perished;and the next morning the bodies of Darnley and a page were found strangled in a garden adjoining it, whither they had apparently escaped over a wall, to be despatched by the hands of Bothwell's attendant confederates.
Upon a view which may be taken of Mary's conduct during the next three months depends the whole debateable question of her character. According to the professed champions of that character, this conduct was a tissue of such dastardly imbecility, such heartless irresolution and such brainless inconsistency as for ever to dispose of her time-honoured claim to the credit of intelligence and courage. It is certain that just three months and six days after the murder of her husband she became the wife of her husband's murderer. On the 11th of February she wrote to the bishop of Glasgow, her ambassador in France, a brief letter of simple eloquence, announcing her providential escape from a design upon her own as well as her husband's life. A reward of two thousand pounds was offered by proclamation for discovery of the murderer. Bothwell and others, his satellites or the queen's, were instantly placarded by name as the criminals. Voices were heard by night in the streets of Edinburgh calling down judgment on the assassins. Four days after the discovery of the bodies, Darnley was buried in the chapel of Holyrood with secrecy as remarkable as the solemnity with which Rizzio had been interred there less than a year before. On the Sunday following, Mary left Edinburgh for Seton Palace, 12 miles from the capital, where scandal asserted that she passed the time merrily in shooting-matches with Bothwell for her partner against Lords Seton and Huntly; other accounts represent Huntly and Bothwell as left at Holyrood in charge of the infant prince.
Gracefully and respectfully, with statesmanlike yet feminine dexterity, the demands of Darnley's father for justice on the murderers of his son were accepted and eluded by his daughter-in-law. Bothwell, with a troop of fifty men, rode through Edinburgh defiantly denouncing vengeance on his concealed accusers. As weeks elapsed without action on the part of the royal widow, while the cry of blood was up throughout the country, raising echoes from England and abroad, the murmur of accusation began to rise against her also. Murray, with his sister's ready permission, withdrew to France. Already the report was abroad that the queen was bent on marriage with Bothwell, whose last year's marriage with the sister of Huntly would be dissolved, and the assent of his wife's brother purchased by the restitution of his forfeited estates. According to the Memoirs of Sir James Melville, both Lord Herries and himself resolved to appeal to the queen in terms of bold and earnest remonstrance against so desperate and scandalous a design; Herries, having been met with assurances of its unreality and professions of astonishment at the suggestion, instantly fled from court; Melville, evading the danger of a merely personal protest without backers to support him, laid before Mary a letter from a loyal Scot long resident in England, which urged upon her consideration and her conscience the danger and disgrace of such a project yet more freely than Herries had ventured to do by word of mouth; but the sole result was that it needed all the queen's courage and resolution to rescue him from the violence of the man for whom, she was reported to have said, she cared not if she lost France, England and her own country, and would go with him to the world's end in a white petticoat before she would leave him.
On the 28th of March the privy council, in which Bothwell himself sat, appointed the 12th of April as the day of his trial, Lennox, instead of the crown, being named as the accuser, and cited by royal letters to appear at "the humble request and petition of the said Earl Bothwell," who, on the day of the trial, had 4000 armed men behind him in the streets, while the castle was also at his command. Under these arrangements it was not thought wonderful that Lennox discreetly declined the danger of attendance, even with 3000 men ready to follow him, at the risk of desperate street fighting. He pleaded sickness, asked for more time, and demanded that the accused, instead of enjoying special favour, should share the treatment of other suspected criminals. But, as no particle of evidence on his side was advanced, the protest of his representative was rejected, and Bothwell, acquitted in default of witnesses against him, was free to challenge any persistent accuser to the ancient ordeal of battle. His wealth and power were enlarged by gift of the parliament which met on the 14th and rose on the 19th of April — a date made notable by the subsequent supper at Ainslie's tavern, where Bothwell obtained the signatures of its leading members to a document affirming his innocence, and pledging the subscribers to maintain it against all challengers, to stand by him in all his quarrels and finally to promote by all means in their power the marriage by which they recommended the queen to reward his services and benefit the country.
On the second day following Mary went to visit her child at Stirling, where his guardian, the earl of Mar, refused to admit more than two women in her train. It was well known in Edinburgh that Bothwell had a body of men ready to intercept her on the way back, and carry her to Dunbar — not, as was naturally inferred, without good assurance of her consent. On the 24th of April, as she approached Edinburgh, Bothwell accordingly met her at the head of 800 spearmen, assured her (as she afterwards averred) that she was in the utmost peril, and escorted her, together with Huntly, Lethington and Melville, who were then in attendance, to Dunbar Castle. On the 3rd of May Lady Jane Gordon, who had become countess of Bothwell on the 22nd of February of the year preceding, obtained, on the ground of her husband's infidelities, a separation which, however, would not under the old laws of Catholic Scotland have left him free to marry again; on the 7th, accordingly, the necessary divorce was pronounced, after two days' session, by a clerical tribunal which ten days before had received from the queen a special commission to give judgment on a plea of somewhat apocryphal consanguinity alleged by Bothwell as the ground of an action for divorce against his wife. The fact was studiously evaded or concealed that a dispensation had been granted by the archbishop of St Andrews for this irregularity, which could only have arisen through some illicit connexion of the husband with a relative of the wife between whom and himself no affinity by blood or marriage could be proved.
On the day when the first or Protestant divorce was pronounced, Mary and Bothwell returned to Edinburgh with every prepared appearance of a peaceful triumph. Lest her captivity should have been held to invalidate the late legal proceedings in her name, proclamation was made of forgiveness accorded by the queen to her captor in consideration of his past and future services, and her intention was announced to reward them by further promotion; and on the same day (May 12), he was duly created duke of Orkney and Shetland. The duke, as a conscientious Protestant, refused to marry his mistress according to the rites of her Church, and she, the chosen champion of its cause, agreed to be married to him, not merely by a Protestant but by one who before his conversion had been a Catholic bishop, and should therefore have been more hateful and contemptible in her eyes than any ordinary heretic, had not religion as well as policy, faith as well as reason, been absorbed or superseded by some more mastering passion or emotion.
This passion or emotion, according to those who deny her attachment to Bothwell, was simply terror — the blind and irrational prostration of an abject spirit before the cruel force of circumstances and the crafty wickedness of men. Hitherto, according to all evidence, she had shown herself on all occasions, as on all subsequent occasions she indisputably showed herself, the most fearless, the most keen-sighted, the most ready-witted, the most high-gifted and high-spirited of women; gallant and generous, skilful and practical, never to be cowed by fortune, never to be cajoled by craft; neither more unselfish in her ends nor more unscrupulous in her practice than might have been expected from her training and her creed. But at the crowning moment of trial there are those who assert their belief that the woman who on her way to the field of Corrichie had uttered her wish to be a man, that she might know all the hardship and all the enjoyment of a soldier's life, riding forth "in jack and knapscull" — the woman who long afterwards was to hold her own for two days together without help of counsel against all the array of English law and English statesmanship, armed with irrefragable evidence and supported by the resentment of a nation — showed herself equally devoid of moral and of physical resolution; too senseless to realize the significance and too heartless to face the danger of a situation from which the simplest exercise of reason, principle or courage must have rescued the most unsuspicious and inexperienced of honest women who was not helplessly deficient in self-reliance and self-respect. The famous correspondence produced next year in evidence against her at the conference of York may have been, as her partisans affirm, so craftily garbled and falsified by interpolation, suppression, perversion, or absolute forgery as to be all but historically worthless. Its acceptance or its rejection does not in any degree whatever affect, for better or for worse, the rational estimate of her character. The problem presented by the simple existence of the facts just summed up remains in either case absolutely the same.
That the coarse and imperious nature of the hardy and able ruffian who had now become openly her master should no less openly have shown itself even in the first moments of their inauspicious union is what any bystander of common insight must inevitably have foreseen. Tears, dejection and passionate expressions of a despair "wishing only for death," bore fitful and variable witness to her first sense of a heavier yoke than yet had galled her spirit and her pride. At other times her affectionate gaiety would give evidence as trustworthy of a fearless and improvident satisfaction. They rode out in state together, and if he kept cap in hand as a subject she would snatch it from him and clap it on his head again; while in graver things she took all due or possible care to gratify his ambition, by the insertion of a clause in their contract of marriage which made their joint signature necessary to all documents of state issued under the sign-manual. She despatched to France a special envoy, the bishop of Dumblane, with instructions setting forth at length the unparalleled and hitherto ill-requited services and merits of Bothwell, and the necessity of compliance at once with his passion and with the unanimous counsel of the nation — a people who would endure the rule of no foreign consort, and whom none of their own countrymen were so competent to control, alike by wisdom and by valour, as the incomparable subject of her choice.
These personal merits and this political necessity were the only pleas advanced in a letter to her ambassador in England. But that neither plea would avail her for a moment in Scotland she had ominous evidence on the thirteenth day after her marriage, when no response was made to the usual form of proclamation for a raid or levy of forces under pretext of a campaign against the rievers of the border. On the 6th or 7th of June Mary and Bothwell took refuge in Borthwick Castle, twelve miles from the capital, where the fortress was in the keeping of an adherent whom the diplomacy of Sir James Melville had succeeded in detaching from his allegiance to Bothwell. The fugitives were pursued and beleaguered by the earl of Morton and Lord Hume, who declared their purpose to rescue the queen from the thraldom of her husband. He escaped, leaving her free to follow him or to join the party of her professed deliverers. But whatever cause she might have found since marriage to complain of his rigorous custody and domineering brutality was insufficient to break the ties by which he held her. Alone, in the disguise of a page, she slipped out of the castle at midnight, and rode off to meet him at a tower two miles distant, whence they fled together to Dunbar.
The confederate lords on entering Edinburgh were welcomed by the citizens, and after three hours' persuasion Lethington, who had now joined them, prevailed on the captain of the castle to deliver it also into their hands. Proclamations were issued in which the crime of Bothwell was denounced, and the disgrace of the country, the thraldom of the queen and the mortal peril of her infant son, were set forth as reasons for summoning all the lieges of the chief cities of Scotland to rise in arms on three hours' notice and join the forces assembled against the one common enemy. News of his approach reached them on the night of June 14, and they marched before dawn with 2200 men to meet him near Musselburgh. Mary meanwhile had passed from Dunbar to Haddington, and thence to Seton, where 1600 men rallied to her side. On the 15th of June, one month from their marriage day, the queen and Bothwell, at the head of a force of fairly equal numbers but visibly inferior discipline, met the army of the confederates at Carberry Hill, some six miles from Edinburgh.
Du Croc, the French ambassador, obtained permission through the influence of Maitland to convey to the queen the terms proposed by their leaders — that she and Bothwell should part, or that he should meet in single combat a champion chosen from among their number. Bothwell offered to meet any man of sufficient quality; Mary would not assent. As the afternoon wore on their force began to melt away by desertion and to break up for lack of discipline. Again the trial by single combat was proposed, and thrice the proposal fell through, owing to objections on this side or on that. At last it was agreed that the queen should yield herself prisoner, and Bothwell be allowed to retire in safety to Dunbar with the few followers who remained to him. Mary took leave of her first and last master with passionate anguish and many parting kisses; but in face of his enemies, and in hearing of the cries which burst from the ranks, demanding her death by fire as a murderess and harlot, the whole heroic and passionate spirit of the woman, represented by her admirers as a spiritless imbecile, flamed out in responsive threats to have all the men hanged and crucified, in whose power she now stood helpless and alone. She grasped the hand of Lord Lindsay as he rode beside her, and swore "by this hand" she would "have his head for this."
In Edinburgh she was received by a yelling mob, which flaunted before her at each turn a banner representing the corpse of Darnley with her child beside it invoking on his knees the retribution of divine justice. From the violence of a multitude in which women of the worst class were more furious than the men, she was sheltered in the house of the provost, where she repeatedly showed herself at the window, appealing aloud with dishevelled hair and dress to the mercy which no man could look upon her and refuse. At nine in the evening she was removed to Holyrood, and thence to the port of Leith, where she embarked under guard, with her attendants, for the island castle of Lochleven. On the l0th a silver casket containing letters and French verses, miscalled sonnets, in the handwriting of the queen, was taken from the person of a servant who had been sent by Bothwell to bring it from Edinburgh to Dunbar. Even in the existing versions of the letters, translated from the lost originals and retranslated from this translation of a text which was probably destroyed in 1603 by order of King James on his accession to the English throne — even in these possibly disfigured versions, the fiery pathos of passion, the fierce and piteous fluctuations of spirit between love and hate, hope and rage and jealousy, have an eloquence apparently beyond the imitation or invention of art (see Casket Letters1).
Three days after this discovery Lord Lindsay, Lord Ruthven and Sir Robert Melville were despatched to Lochleven, there to obtain the queen's signature to an act of abdication in favour of her son, and another appointing Murray regent during his minority. She submitted, and a commission of regency was established till the return from France of Murray, who, on the 15th of August, arrived at Lochleven with Morton and Athole. According to his own account, the expostulations as to her past conduct which preceded his admonitions for the future were received with tears, confessions and attempts at extenuation or excuse; but when they parted next day on good terms she had regained her usual spirits. Nor from that day forward had they reason to sink again, in spite of the close keeping in which she was held, with the daughters of the house for bedfellows.
Their mother and the regent's, her father's former mistress, was herself not impervious to her prisoner's lifelong power of seduction and subjugation. Her son George Douglas fell inevitably under the charm. A rumour transmitted to England went so far as to assert that she had proposed him to their common half-brother Murray as a fourth husband for herself; a later tradition represented her as the mother of a child by him. A third report, at least as improbable as either, asserted that a daughter of Mary and Bothwell, born about this time, lived to be a nun in France. It is certain that the necessary removal of George Douglas from Lochleven enabled him to devise a method of escape for the prisoner on the 25th of March, 1568, which was frustrated by detection of her white hands under the disguise of a laundress. But a younger member of the household, Willie Douglas, aged eighteen, whose devotion was afterwards remembered and his safety cared for by Mary at a time of utmost risk and perplexity to herself, succeeded on the 2nd of May in assisting her to escape by a postern gate to the lake-side, and thence in a boat to the mainland, where George Douglas, Lord Seton and others were awaiting her. Thence they rode to Seton's castle of Niddry, and next day to Hamilton palace, round which an army of 6000 men was soon assembled, and whither the new French ambassador to Scotland hastened to pay his duty.
The queen's abdication was revoked, messengers were despatched to the English and French courts, and word was sent to Murray at Glasgow that he must resign the regency, and should be pardoned in common with all offenders against the queen. But on the day when Mary arrived at Hamilton, Murray had summoned to Glasgow the feudatories of the Crown to take arms against the insurgent enemies of the infant king. Elizabeth sent conditional offers of help to her kinswoman, provided she would accept of English intervention and abstain from seeking foreign assistance; but the messenger came too late. Mary's followers had failed to retake Dunbar Castle from the regent, and made for Dumbarton instead, marching two miles south of Glasgow, by the village of Langside. Here Murray, with 4500 men, under leaders of high distinction, met the 6000 of the queen's army, whose ablest man, Herries, was as much distrusted by Mary as by every one else, while the Hamiltons could only be trusted to think of their own interests, and were suspected of treasonable designs on all who stood between their house and the monarchy. On the 13th of May the battle or skirmish of Langside determined the result of the campaign in three-quarters of an hour. Kirkaldy of Grange, who commanded the regent's cavalry, seized and kept the place of vantage from the beginning, and at the first sign of wavering on the other side shattered at a single charge the forces of the queen with a loss of one man to three hundred.
Mary fled 60 miles from the field of her last battle before she halted at Sanquhar, and for three days of flight, according to her own account, had to sleep on the hard ground, live on oatmeal and sour milk, and fare at night like the owls, in hunger, cold and fear. On the third day from the rout of Langside she crossed the Solway and landed at Workington in Cumberland, May 16, 1568. On the 10th, Lord Scrope and Sir Francis Knollys were sent from court to carry messages and letters of comfort from Elizabeth to Mary at Carlisle. On the 25th of June Knollys wrote to Cecil at once the best description and the noblest panegyric extant of the queen of Scots — enlarging, with a brave man's sympathy, on her indifference to form and ceremony, her daring grace and openness of manner, her frank display of a great desire to be avenged of her enemies, her readiness to expose herself to all perils in hope of victory, her delight to hear of hardihood and courage, commending by name all her enemies of approved valour, sparing no cowardice in her friends, but above all things a thirst for victory by any means at any price, so that for its sake pain and peril seemed pleasant to her, and wealth and all things, if compared with it, contemptible and vile.
What was to be done with such a princess, whether she were to be nourished in one's bosom, above all whether it could be advisable or safe to try any diplomatic tricks upon such a lady, Knollys left for the minister to judge. It is remarkable that he should not have discovered in her the qualities so obvious to modern champions of her character - easiness, gullibility, incurable innocence and invincible ignorance of evil, incapacity to suspect or resent anything, readiness to believe and forgive all things. On the 15th of July, after various delays interposed by her reluctance to leave the neighbourhood of the border, where on her arrival she had received the welcome and the homage of the leading Catholic houses of Northumberland and Cumberland, she was removed to Bolton Castle in North Yorkshire. During her residence here a conference was held at York between her own and Elizabeth's commissioners and those appointed to represent her son as a king of Scots. These latter, of whom Murray himself was the chief, privately laid before the English commissioners the contents of the famous casket. On the 24th of October the place of the conference was shifted from York to London, where the inquiry was to be held before Queen Elizabeth in council.
Mary was already aware that the chief of the English commissioners, the duke of Norfolk, was secretly an aspirant to the peril of her hand; and on the 21st of October she gave the first sign of assent to the suggestion of a divorce from Bothwell. On the 26th of October the charge of complicity in the murder of Darnley was distinctly brought forward against her in spite of Norfolk's reluctance and Murray's previous hesitation. Elizabeth, by the mouth of her chief justice, formally rebuked the audacity of the subjects who durst bring such a charge against their sovereign, and challenged them to advance their proofs. They complied by the production of an indictment under five heads, supported by the necessary evidence of documents. The number of English commissioners was increased, and they were bound to preserve secrecy as to the matters revealed. Further evidence was supplied by Thomas Crawford, a retainer of the house of Lennox, tallying so exactly with the text of the casket letters as to have been cited in proof that the latter must needs be a forgery.
Elizabeth, on the close of the evidence, invited Mary to reply to the proofs alleged before she could be admitted to her presence; but Mary simply desired her commissioners to withdraw from the conference. She declined with scorn the proposal made by Elizabeth through Knollys, that she should sign a second abdication in favour of her son. On the l0th of January, 1569, the judgment given at the conference acquitted Murray and his adherents of rebellion, while affirming that nothing had been proved against Mary — a verdict accepted by Murray as equivalent to a practical recognition of his office as regent for the infant king. This position he was not long to hold; and the fierce exultation of Mary at the news of his murder gave to those who believed in her complicity with the murderer, on whom a pension was bestowed by her unblushing gratitude, fresh reason to fear, if her liberty of correspondence and intrigue were not restrained, the likelihood of a similar fate for Elizabeth. On the 26th of January 1569 she had been removed from Bolton Castle to Tutbury in Staffordshire, where proposals were conveyed to her, at the instigation of Leicester, for a marriage with the duke of Norfolk, to which she gave a graciously conditional assent; but the discovery of these proposals consigned Norfolk to the Tower, and on the outbreak of an insurrection in the north Mary, by Lord Hunsdon's advice, was again removed to Coventry, when a body of her intending deliverers was within a day's ride of Tutbury. On the 23rd of January following Murray was assassinated; and a second northern insurrection was crushed in a single sharp fight by Lord Hunsdon.
In October Cecil had an interview with Mary at Chatsworth, when the conditions of her possible restoration to the throne in compliance with French demands were debated at length. The queen of Scots, with dauntless dignity, refused to yield the castles of Edinburgh and Dumbarton into English keeping, or to deliver up her fugitive English partisans then in Scotland; upon other points they came to terms, and the articles were signed the 16th of October. On the same day Mary wrote to Elizabeth, requesting with graceful earnestness the favour of an interview which might reassure her against the suggestion that this treaty was a mere pretence. On the 28th of November she was removed to Sheffield Castle, where she remained for the next fourteeen years in charge of the earl of Shrewsbury. The detection of a plot, in which Norfolk was implicated, for the invasion of England by Spain on behalf of Mary, who was then to take him as the fourth and most contemptible of her husbands, made necessary the reduction of her household and the stricter confinement of her person. On the 28th of May 1572 a demand from both houses of parliament for her execution as well as Norfolk's was generously rejected by Elizabeth; but after the punishment of the traitorous pretender to her hand, on whom she had lavished many eloquent letters of affectionate protestation, she fell into "a passion of sickness" which convinced her honest keeper of her genuine grief for the ducal caitiff.
A treaty projected on the news of the massacre of St Bartholomew, by which Mary should be sent back to Scotland for immediate execution, was broken off by the death of the earl of Mar, who had succeeded Lennox as regent; nor was it found possible to come to acceptable terms on a like understanding with his successor Morton, who in 1577 sent a proposal to Mary for her restoration, which she declined, in suspicion of a plot laid to entrap her by the policy of Sir Francis Walsingham, the most unscrupulously patriotic of her English enemies, who four years afterwards sent word to Scotland that the execution of Morton, so long the ally of England, would be answered by the execution of Mary. But on that occasion Elizabeth again refused her assent either to the trial of Mary or to her transference from Sheffield to the Tower. In 1581 Mary accepted the advice of Catherine de' Medici and Henry III that she should allow her son's title to reign as king of Scotland conjointly with herself when released and restored to a share of the throne. This plan was but part of a scheme including the invasion of England by her kinsman the duke of Guise, who was to land in the north and raise a Scottish army to place the released prisoner of Sheffield beside her son on the throne of Elizabeth. After the overthrow of the Scottish accomplices in this notable project, Mary poured forth upon Elizabeth a torrent of pathetic and eloquent reproach for the many wrongs she had suffered at the hands of her hostess, and pledged her honour to the assurance that she now aspired to no kingdom but that of heaven.
In the spring of 1583 she retained enough of this saintly resignation to ask for nothing but liberty, without a share in the government of Scotland; but Lord Burghley not unreasonably preferred, if feasible, to reconcile the alliance of her son with the detention of his mother. In 1584 the long-suffering earl of Shrewsbury was relieved of his fourteen years' charge through the involuntary good offices of his wife [Bess of Hardwick], whose daughter by her first husband had married a brother of Darnley; and their orphan child Arabella, born in England, of royal descent on the father's side, was now, in the hopeful view of her grandmother, a more plausible claimant than the king or queen of Scots to the inheritance of the English throne. In December 1583 Mary had laid before the French ambassador her first complaint of the slanders spread by Lady Shrewsbury and her sons, who were ultimately compelled to confess the falsehood of their imputations on the queen of Scots and her keeper. It was probably at the time when a desire for revenge on her calumniatress made her think the opportunity good and safe for discharge of such a two-edged dart at the countess and the queen that Mary wrote, but abstained from despatching, the famous and terrible letter in which, with many gracious excuses and professions of regret and attachment, she transmits to Elizabeth a full and vivid report of the hideous gossip retailed by Bess of Hardwick regarding her character and person at a time when the reporter of these abominations was on friendly terms with her husband's royal charge.
In the autumn of 1584 she was removed to Wingfield Manor under charge of Sir Ralph Sadler and John Somers, who accompanied her also on her next removal to Tutbury in January 1585. A letter received by her in that cold, dark and unhealthy castle, of which fifteen years before she had made painful and malodorous experience, assured her that her son would acknowledge her only as queen-mother, and provoked at once the threat of a parent's curse and an application to Elizabeth for sympathy. In April 1585 Sir Amyas Paulet was appointed to the office of which Sadler, accused of careless indulgence, had requested to be relieved; and on Christmas Eve she was removed from the hateful shelter of Tutbury to the castle of Chartley in the same county. Her correspondence in cipher from thence with her English agents abroad, intercepted by Walsingham and deciphered by his secretary, gave eager encouragement to the design for a Spanish invasion of England under the prince of Parma, an enterprise in which she would do her utmost to make her son take part, and in case of his refusal would induce the Catholic nobles of Scotland to betray him into the hands of Philip, from whose tutelage he should be released only on her demand, or if after her death he should wish to return, nor then unless he had become a Catholic.
But even these patriotic and maternal schemes to consign her child and re-consign the kingdom to the keeping of the Inquisition, incarnate in the widower of Mary Tudor, were superseded by the attraction of a conspiracy against the throne and life of Elizabeth. Anthony Babington, in his boyhood a ward of Shrewsbury, resident in the household at Sheffield Castle, and thus subjected to the charm before which so many victims had already fallen, was now induced to undertake the deliverance of the queen of Scots by the murder of the queen of England. It is maintained by those admirers of Mary who assume her to have been an almost absolute imbecile, gifted with the power of imposing herself on the world as a woman of unsurpassed ability, that, while cognisant of the plot for her deliverance by English rebels and an invading army of foreign auxiliaries, she might have been innocently unconscious that this conspiracy involved the simultaneous assassination of Elizabeth. In the conduct and detection of her correspondence with Babington, traitor was played off against traitor, and spies were utilized against assassins, with as little scruple as could be required or expected in the diplomacy of the time. As in the case of the casket letters, it is alleged that forgery was employed to interpolate sufficient evidence of Mary's complicity in a design of which it is thought credible that she was kept in ignorance by the traitors and murderers who had enrolled themselves in her service — that one who pensioned the actual murderer of Murray and a would-be murderer of Elizabeth was incapable of approving what her keen and practised intelligence was too blunt and torpid to anticipate as inevitable and inseparable from the general design.
In August the conspirators were netted, and Mary was arrested at the gate of Tixall Park, whither Paulet had taken her under pretence of a hunting party. At Tixall she was detained till her papers at Chartley had undergone thorough research. That she was at length taken in her own toils even such a dullard as her admirers depict her could not have failed to understand; that she was no such dastard as to desire or deserve such defenders the whole brief course of her remaining life bore consistent and irrefragable witness. Her first thought on her return to Chartley was one of loyal gratitude and womanly sympathy. She cheered the wife of her English secretary, now under arrest, with promises to answer for her husband to all accusations brought against him, took her new-born child from the mother's arms, and in default of clergy baptized it, to Paulet's Puritanic horror, with her own hands by her own name.
The next or the twin-born impulse of her indomitable nature was, as usual in all times of danger, one of passionate and high-spirited defiance on discovering the seizure of her papers. A fortnight afterwards her keys and her money were confiscated, while she, bedridden and unable to move her hand, could only ply the terrible weapon of her bitter and fiery tongue. Her secretaries were examined in London, and one of them gave evidence that she had first heard of the conspiracy by letter from Babington, of whose design against the life of Elizabeth she thought it best to take no notice in her reply, though she did not hold herself bound to reveal it. On the 25th of September she was removed to the strong castle of Fotheringay in Northamptonshire. On the 6th of October she was desired by letter from Elizabeth to answer the charges brought against her before certain of the chief English nobles appointed to sit in commission on the cause. In spite of her first refusal to submit, she was induced by the arguments of the vice-chamberlain, Sir Christopher Hatton to appear before this tribunal on condition that her protest should be registered against the legality of its jurisdiction over a sovereign, the next heir of the English crown.
On the 14th and 15th of October 1586 the trial was held in the hall of Fotheringay Castle. Alone, "without one counsellor on her side among so many," Mary conducted the whole of her own defence with courage incomparable and unsurpassable ability. Pathos and indignation, subtlety and simplicity, personal appeal and political reasoning, were the alternate weapons with which she fought against all odds of evidence or inference, and disputed step by step every inch of debatable ground. She repeatedly insisted on the production of proof in her own handwriting as to her complicity with the project of the assassins who had expiated their crime on the l0th and 21st of the month preceding. When the charge was shifted to the question of her intrigues with Spain, she took her stand resolutely on her own right to convey whatever right she possessed, though now no kingdom was left her for disposal, to whomsoever she might choose.
One single slip she made in the whole course of her defence; but none could have been more unluckily characteristic and significant. When Burghley brought against her the unanswerable charge of having at that moment in her service, and in receipt of an annual pension, the instigator of a previous attempt on the life of Elizabeth, she had the unwary audacity to cite in her justification the pensions allowed by Elizabeth to her adversaries in Scotland, and especially to her son. It is remarkable that just two months later, in a conversation with her keepers, she again made use of the same extraordinary argument in reply to the same inevitable imputation, and would not be brought to admit that the two cases were other than parallel. But except for this single instance of oversight or perversity her defence was throughout a masterpiece of indomitable ingenuity, of delicate and steadfast courage, of womanly dignity and genius. Finally she demanded, as she had demanded before, a trial either before the estates of the realm lawfully assembled or else before the queen in council. So closed the second day of the trial; and before the next day's work could begin a note of two or three lines hastily written at midnight informed the commissioners that Elizabeth had suddenly determined to adjourn the expected judgment and transfer the place of it to the Star-chamber.
Here, on the 25th of October, the commissioners again met; and one of them alone, Lord Zouch, dissented from the verdict by which Mary was found guilty of having, since the 1st of June preceding, compassed and imagined divers matters tending to the destruction of Elizabeth. This verdict was conveyed to her, about three weeks later, by Lord Buckhurst and Robert Beale, clerk of the privy council. At the intimation that her life was an impediment to the security of the received religion, "she seemed with a certain unwonted alacrity to triumph, giving God thanks, and rejoicing in her heart that she was held to be an instrument" for the restoration of her own faith. This note of exultation as in martyrdom was maintained with unflinching courage to the last. She wrote to Elizabeth and the duke of Guise two letters of almost matchless eloquence and pathos, admirable especially for their loyal and grateful remembrance of all her faithful servants. Between the date of these letters and the day of her execution wellnigh three months of suspense elapsed.
Elizabeth, fearless almost to a fault in face of physical danger, constant in her confidence even after discovery of her narrow escape from the poisoned bullets of household conspirators, was cowardly even to a crime in face of subtler and more complicated peril. She rejected with resolute dignity the intercession of French envoys for the life of the queen-dowager of France; she allowed the sentence of death to be proclaimed and welcomed with bonfires and bellringing throughout the length of England; she yielded a respite of twelve days to the pleading of the French ambassador, and had a charge trumped up against him of participation in a conspiracy against her life; at length, on the 1st of February 1587, she signed the death-warrant, and then made her secretaries write word to Paulet of her displeasure that in all this time he should not of himself have found out some way to shorten the life of his prisoner, as in duty bound by his oath, and thus relieve her singularly tender conscience from the guilt of bloodshed.
Paulet, with loyal and regretful indignation, declined the disgrace proposed to him in a suggestion "to shed blood without law or warrant"; and on the 7th of February the earls of Shrewsbury and Kent arrived at Fotheringay with the commission of the council for execution of the sentence given against his prisoner. Mary received the announcement with majestic tranquillity, expressing in dignified terms her readiness to die, her consciousness that she was a martyr for her religion, and her total ignorance of any conspiracy against the life of Elizabeth. At night she took a graceful and affectionate leave of her attendants, distributed among them her money and jewels, wrote out in full the various legacies to be conveyed by her will, and charged her apothecary Gorion with her last messages for the king of Spain. In these messages the whole nature of the woman was revealed. Not a single friend, not a single enemy, was forgotten; the slightest service, the slightest wrong, had its place assigned in her faithful and implacable memory for retribution or reward.
Forgiveness of injuries was as alien from her fierce and loyal spirit as forgetfulness of benefits; the destruction of England and its liberties by Spanish invasion and conquest was the strongest aspiration of her parting soul. At eight next morning she entered the hall of execution, having taken leave of the weeping envoy from Scotland, to whom she gave a brief message for her son; took her seat on the scaffold, listened with an air of even cheerful unconcern to the reading of her sentence, solemnly declared her innocence of the charge conveyed in it and her consolation in the prospect of ultimate justice, rejected the professional services of Richard Fletcher, dean of Peterborough, lifted up her voice in Latin against his in English prayer, and when he and his fellow-worshippers had fallen duly silent prayed aloud for the prosperity of her own church, for Elizabeth, for her son, and for all the enemies whom she had commended overnight to the notice of the Spanish invader; then, with no less courage than had marked every hour and every action of her life, received the stroke of death from the wavering hand of the headsman.
Mary Stuart was in many respects the creature of her age, of her creed, and of her station; but the noblest and most noteworthy qualities of her nature were independent of rank, opinion or time. Even the detractors who defend her conduct on the plea that she was a dastard and a dupe are compelled in the same breath to retract this implied reproach, and to admit, with illogical acclamation and incongruous applause, that the world never saw more splendid courage at the service of more brilliant intelligence, that a braver if not "a rarer spirit never did steer humanity." A kinder or more faithful friend, a deadlier or more dangerous enemy, it would be impossible to dread or to desire. Passion alone could shake the double fortress of her impregnable heart and ever-active brain. The passion of love, after very sufficient experience, she apparently and naturally outlived; the passion of hatred and revenge was as inextinguishable in her inmost nature as the emotion of loyalty and gratitude. Of repentance it would seem that she knew as little as of fear, having been trained from her infancy in a religion where the Decalogue was supplanted by the Creed. Adept as she was in the most exquisite delicacy of dissimulation, the most salient note of her original disposition was daring rather than subtlety.
Beside or behind the voluptuous or intellectual attractions of beauty and culture, she had about her the fresher charm of a fearless and frank simplicity, a genuine and enduring pleasure in small and harmless things no less than in such as were neither. In 1562 she amused herself for some days by living "with her little troop" in the house of a burgess of St Andrews "like a burgess's wife," assuring the English ambassador that he should not find the queen there, "nor I know not myself where she is become." From Sheffield Lodge, twelve years later, she applied to the archbishop of Glasgow and the cardinal of Guise for some pretty little dogs, to be sent her in baskets very warmly packed, "for besides reading and working, I take pleasure only in all the little animals that I can get." No lapse of reconciling time, no extent of comparative indulgence, could break her in to resignation, submission, or toleration of even partial restraint. Three months after the massacre of St Bartholomew had caused some additional restrictions to be placed upon her freedom of action, Shrewsbury writes to Burghley that "rather than continue this imprisonment she sticks not to say she will give her body, her son, and country for liberty"; nor did she ever show any excess of regard for any of the three.
For her own freedom of will and of way, of passion and of action, she cared much; for her creed she cared something; for her country she cared less than nothing. She would have flung Scotland with England into the hell fire of Spanish Catholicism rather than forgo the faintest chance of personal revenge. Her profession of a desire to be instructed in the doctrines of Anglican Protestantism was so transparently a pious fraud as rather to afford confirmation than to arouse suspicion of her fidelity to the teaching of her church. Elizabeth, so shamefully her inferior in personal loyalty, fidelity and gratitude, was as clearly her superior on the one all-important point of patriotism. The saving salt of Elizabeth's character, with all its wellnigh incredible mixture of heroism and egotism, meanness and magnificence, was simply this, that, overmuch as she loved herself, she did yet love England better. Her best though not her only fine qualities were national and political, the high public virtues of a good public servant; in the private and personal qualities which attract and attach a friend to his friend and a follower to his leader, no man or woman was ever more constant and more eminent than Mary Queen of Scots.
(Algernon Charles Swinburne)
1. It is to be observed that the above conclusion as to the authenticity of
the Casket Letters is the same as that arrived at upon different grounds
by the most recent research on the subject. - Ed. E. B.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. "Mary Queen of Scots."
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed., vol. XVII.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 824-6.
Other Local Resources:
Books for further study:
Dunne, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens.
Vintage Pub, 2005.
Fiennes, Mark and Susan Watson. Mary Queen of Scots.
London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.
Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. (Repr.)
New York: Delta, 1993.
George, Margaret. Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles.
London: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Guy, John. Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
Lewis, Jayne Elizabeth. The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
MacRobert, A. E. Mary Queen of Scots and the Casket Letters.
London: I. B. Tauris, 2002.
Plowden, Alison. Two Queens in One Isle: The Deadly Relationship of
Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots .
London: Sutton Publishing, 1999.
Strickland, Agnes. Letters of Mary, Queen of Scots. Vol II.
London: Henry Coburn, 1845. At Google Books.
Walton, Kristen P. Catholic Queen, Protestant Patriarchy:
Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Politics of Gender and Religion.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Weir, Alison. Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
New York: Random House, 2004.
Mary, Queen of Scots on the Web:
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