THE Scotish Queen entered the fatal castle of Fortheringay, on the 25th of September 1586, as we have seen. She was already treated, as a criminal; while she only knew, that her secretaries had been arrested, and her most confidential papers carried away, by Elizabeth’s orders, for the guilty purpose of establishing obvious wrong.
The Scotish Queen had, scarcely, arrived, at Fotheringay, when Elizabeth wrote her a letter, which shows, at once, her coarse vulgarity, and domineering temper: She supposed the Scotish Queen, to be void of all conscience, in denying her privity, with the late attempts, notwithstanding the clearest proofs; informed her, that she had appointed commissioners, to charge her, personally, with her guilty conduct, and requiring her, to answer their charges. But, the two Queens acted upon quite different principles: Elizabeth thought of nothing, but her own state, and person: Mary felt, that she had been eighteen years a prisoner to her cousin’s criminal passions, without right, and without a cause. As to Elizabeth’s proofs, they might have been confuted. Mary’s guilt consisted, in continued endeavours to free herself, from a long imprisonment, which, from its commencement, was indefensible, even by Cecil’s ability: And being thus unjustifiable, Elizabeth acted wrong, and Mary acted right. Elizabeth, by inflicting such an imprisonment, avowed her hostility to Mary; while Mary, by that hostility, acquired a right to act with equal hostility against Elizabeth. When Mary denied her privity to any attempt on Elizabeth, she might act thus, without any bad faith, or illegitimate meaning. Even when Elizabeth brought her proofs, in a formal manner, against Mary, there were many who refused their assent, on account of the artifices, and knavery of those, who produced them. That forgeries had been committed, by Elizabeth’s instruments; and that Mary’s letters were forged, cannot well be doubted; as we have already seen.
Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Amias Paulet, and one Barker, a notary, on the 6th of October 1586, delivered Elizabeth’s letter to the Scotish Queen. When she had read this communication from Elizabeth, Mary said: She was sorry, that the Queen’s Majesty should be so ill informed against her, after all her offers of reconciliation, and service; that she would not prejudice her rank, and state, as a Queen, in which she was born, to answer as a subject, as she was commanded, or set so prejudicial a precedent to foreign princes; that she was ignorant of the English laws, and knew not who are her peers; that her papers had been taken from her, and nobody dares speak on her behalf: And she finally protested her innocence; and remitted her cause to the judgment of foreign princes. In the afternoon, however, she was asked, by Paulet, and Barker, if she would acknowledge her answers, which she confirmed, with this addition, that she denied, her ever being under the protection of the English laws, as stated in the Queen’s letter; but, on the contrary, had been detained, as a prisoner, ever since her arrival, in England. The Queen thus strengthened her answer, by an argument, which converted almost the whole charges against her into mere sophistry. If the protection, which the law affords, infers obedience, in return; what obedience is due, where there is no protection given! When the case of the Scotish Queen was, accurately, stated, it formed an anomaly, which was quite unprecedented, in any history, or in any law.
In order to carry Elizabeth’s design into effect, of convicting, criminally, her cousin, and heir presumptive, under the act of the 27th of her reign, a commission was directed to twenty-four of the nobility, of the privy counsellors, of the officers of state, of the chancellor, and the several chiefs of the law courts, who, in general, were men of great knowledge, though it must be acknowledged, that they were actuated, by a little too much zeal, and somewhat too much prejudice, against the calumniated Queen.
In the meantime, the opinions of lawyers, in several faculties, were taken, upon the legality of the proceeding against the Scotish Queen, who, generally, answered, in the affirmative, though their opinions have been questioned, in modern times, as founded upon very insufficient argument. The Judges were consulted, on this difficult case. Their opinion was given in this manner: 1. The facts, which were sufficiently proved against her, are treason, in a subject, wheresoever committed; 2dly. The same facts, if committed, by an alien, are treason; 3dly. The same facts are, also, treason, in the Scotish Queen; and if she be respected, as a private person, punishable, by the ordinary courts of law; and being respected, as a queen, it is thought, the meetest manner of trial, and proceeding against her, were by parliament; 4thly. There is not found any book case, judgment, or precedent, that she, or any other prince, likewise offending, hath been, or ought to be, for the dignity of their persons, exempted, from the general laws of treason, and the pains thereof. The opinion of the judges seems to have been, that the law of England instantly attached on the Scotish Queen, the moment, that she landed, in England; so as to prevent the Queen’s departure; so as to give Elizabeth every authority over Mary, without giving Mary any authority over Elizabeth. In fact, Elizabeth made Mary a prisoner, without having committed any offence against any law: But, could manifest wrong be defended, as positive right, by the law of England, or by any other law?
When the Scotish Queen arrived, within the realm of England, some of the ablest statesmen of England gave it, as their opinions, in writing, that she could not be detained, unless she were disgraced, in the eye of the world, – by calumny. And Sir Francis Knollys, the first warden of Mary, complained to Elizabeth, that the responsibility of carrying the Scotish Queen, a prisoner, from Carlisle to Bolton castle, had been, improperly, cast upon him. This complaint brought out Mr. Secretary Cecil, who was bred a lawyer, and was a very able statesman, with his reasons, “to prove the justice of the Queen’s Majesty, in detaining the Scotish Queen.” 1st. She is a lawful prisoner, by good treaties: But, he did not quote treaties, which did not exist: 2dly. She may not depart, until she have satisfied the wrong, that she hath done the Queen’s Majesty, in openly claiming the crown, and not making just recompense: The wrong was committed, by Henry II. as Elizabeth claimed openly to be King of France, by ordering the Dauphin, and Mary, his wife, who were under age, and under his authority, to assume the titles of England: But, when the Queen of Scots became a free person, by being a widow, she disavowed this pretension, and declared, that she had no claim to the crown of England, during Elizabeth’s life: The Scotish Queen, therefore, made just recompense to Elizabeth, by her disavowal, and disclaimer. 3dly. The Queen’s Majesty’s superiority over the crown of Scotland. This, only, showed Cecil’s ignorance, however wise, he affected to be: For, Acts of Parliament had been passed, in England, confirming the treaty of Northampton, which acknowledged the independence of Scotland, and those acts remained in force: 4thly. The Queen’s Majesty was bound, in consequence, to answer the petitions of her subjects, in matters of blood, upon her subjects: This supposed the feudal superiority of England over Scotland; and this being renounced, by existing Acts of Parliament, this argument of Cecil is absurd. Such were the reasons of a very able statesman, and jurist, for Elizabeth’s right, of imprisoning Mary, which were so groundless, and irrational, coming from such a man, they only evinced, that no valid reason could be given, for the right of Elizabeth to detain the Scotish Queen, as a prisoner.
If Elizabeth had no right to imprison Mary, whence did the Queen of England, who was the fountain of justice, and of law, derive authority, to legislate, for the Queen of Scots, and to adjudge an equal sovereign, whom she had no right to restrain. Knollys, the first warden of Mary, provided horsemen, whom he armed with pistols, and to whom he gave orders, to fire upon the Scotish Queen, if she attempted to make her escape. Shrewsbury, who was the jailor of the same Queen, for more than a dozen years, talked very authoritatively of putting her to death, if any attempt were made, to carry her away. They derived their authority, as well as their instructions, from Elizabeth, which were drawn by Cecil, who must have considered the Scotish Queen as a prisoner of war; as they treated her as such, without avowing it. This brings us to the opinion of Zouch, the civilian, in the subsequent century, who maintained, that no sovereign can be tried in the courts of any other sovereign, though the resident sovereign, may, upon cause given, be proceeded against, as a sovereign at war. We may now perceive, that Elizabeth, when she came to the last great act, but one, of taking Mary’s life, was still at a loss, with the help of her lawyers, and her statesmen, to determine, by what law, and right, she could put to death the object of her jealousy, and her hate. From the moment, that Elizabeth imprisoned the Queen of Scots, without right, Elizabeth’s whole conduct to the object of her hatred, throughout eighteen years, was a continued wrong: If this were true; then had the Scotish Queen rights, correlative to that wrong, which were winked out of sight, and were thereby violated.
Those commissioners, without entering into questions of moral fitness, or right, naturally, acted under the recent power, which had been given, by Elizabeth, under the act of Parliament. They met, on the 11th of October 1586, at Fotheringay castle, where the Scotish Queen was then confined.
Meantime, on the 12th of October 1586, Burghley wrote, and circulated among the commissioners, and others, “A note of the indignities, and wrongs, done and offered, by the Queen of Scots, to the Queen’s Majesty;” forgetting, at the same time, to mention the indignities and wrongs, done, and committed, by the Queen’s Majesty to the Scotish Queen. In private litigations, to solicit judges is held to be infamous. Here was an extraordinary court assembled, for trying a woman, and a queen, for her life. And it was, at this moment, that Burghley chose to produce his note of wrongs, and injuries, done, and committed, by the Scotish Queen, before she came into England, before she had left France. In this manner did Burghley, who was one of the commissioners, show his own impartiality, and promote the impartiality of others. It required not this document to evince, that Elizabeth’s whole proceedings, on this trial of a cousin, for her life, were an illegitimate tissue of wrong and injury to a captive Queen.
In the afternoon, came to her some of the commissioners, with men, learned in the civil, and canon law: And the lord chancellor justified their authority, by their patent, and commission; and showed, that neither her imprisonment, nor her prerogative of royal majesty, could exempt her, from answering, in this kingdom; and with fair words advised her, to hear what should be objected against her; otherwise, by authority of the law, they would proceed against her, though she were absent. To all this, the Queen answered, “that she was no subject, and rather would die a thousand deaths, than acknowledge herself a subject; considering that, by such an acknowledgment, she should wrong the sublimity of royal majesty, and withal confess herself, to be bound, by all the laws of England, even in matter of religion. Nevertheless, she was ready to answer all things, in a free and full Parliament: As for this meeting, it was, for aught she knew, devised against her, being already condemned, and forejudged to die, purposely, to give some colour of a just proceeding: She warned them, therefore, to look to their consciences, and to remember, that the theatre of the world is much wider than England.” Then, she began to complain of the injuries done her: But, the lord treasurer, interrupting her, began to reckon up Elizabeth’s kindnesses towards her: When she seemed to make little account of what he had thus said, as well she might, from the recollection of so many years of wrong, and injury, the commissioners departed.
The commissioners now sent her the contents of the commission, that she might see how reasonably they intended to proceed: She did not object to the commissioners, but to the law, on which their power was founded; as it was unjust; being made, purposely, against her; and was without example, and was such, as she would not submit to. After many scruples and objections, she still refused to appear before the commissioners, as she would not own herself a subject to the crown of England. Sir Christopher Hatton, at length, induced the Queen to depart, from her firmness, by desiring her, to lay aside her claim of privilege, which was now of no use to her, and shew your innocence, by appearing to your trial; least by avoiding trial, you draw upon yourself a suspicion, and stain your reputation with a blot: She yielded at last, says Camden, but with much ado, and ill will, lest she should seem, as she said, to derogate from her predecessors or successors; but, was very desirous to clear herself, from crimes objected to her; being persuaded, by Hatton’s reasons.
The court, at length assembled; and the Scotish Queen took her seat: The chancellor now made her a short speech; importing that the Queen’s majesty had appointed these commissioners to hear matters, which might be objected against her, and how she could, by clearing herself, make her innocence appear to the world. The Queen now rising up said, that she came into England to move the aid, which had been promised her; and yet had been, ever since, detained in prison: She, thereupon, entered her protest; and added, that she now appeared, personally, to refute the crimes objected against her; and hereof she prayed her own attendants to bear witness. The chancellor, in reply, insisted, that her protestation was vain: For, whoever, of what place, quality, or degree soever, he be, should offend against the laws of England, was subject to the same laws. The Queen, on the contrary, insisted, that since she had never been protected, by the law, whatever her good sister had said, and as she was a sovereign Queen, who came, quietly, into England, for a peaceable object; so ought she not to be tried, by a law, made after the event, with an insidious view to her. Here, then, is the difference of argumentation, between the lawyers, and the Queen, upon an unprecedented, and difficult question, which has induced intelligent men to say, that the public execution of the sentence, which was pronounced, by the commissioners, under such an act of Parliament, can only be regarded, as a legal murder.
The lawyers now proceeded, to allege, and prove, their several points, to endeavour, by illegitimate proofs, to ascertain her concernment, in the late conspiracy; and thus to infer her guilt. The Queen defended herself with dignity of manner, presence of mind, and vigour of intellect: When we recollect the artifices of the prosecutors, their counterfeits, their briberies; and compare them with her strong denials, her ingenious expositions, and satisfactory deductions, it is not easy to believe, that she had any purpose to affect Elizabeth’s life, though the Scotish Queen had, no doubt, intrigued with foreign powers, perhaps, domestic faction, to relieve her, from an imprisonment, which was unjust, in the origin, and odious, continuance. The court, at length, adjourned to the 25th of October; when the commissioners were to meet, in the star chamber.
Meantime, the Scotish Queen’s bodily complaints returned upon her, and she remained, generally, in bed, throughout the month of October, though she seemed not to be much moved, by those solemn proceedings, which had her life, for their end.
The commissioners assembling, accordingly, in the star chamber, pronounced an unanimous judgment against the Scotish Queen, which, at last, is full of the most egregious sophistry. This sentence, says Camden, which depended, wholly, upon the credit of her secretaries, and they not being brought face to face, according to the act of Parliament, begot much talk, and various discourses among the people: I have seen, he adds, Naue’s apology to King James, in 1605, wherein he solemnly excused himself, that he was neither the author, nor the revealer, of the design, and that he had stoutly opposed the principal articles of accusation against his mistress, which appeareth not by the proceedings. The same day, the commissioners, and the judges, published a declaration, that this sentence did nothing derogate, from King James’s title, and honour, but that he was, in the same place, and right, as if such a sentence had never been pronounced. It should seem, then, that it was the Scotish Queen, alone, who was thus to be sacrificed to the guilty passions of Elizabeth.
The Parliament assembled a few days after. The Estates confirmed the sentence against the Scotish Queen: And unanimously, besought the Queen, for the preservation of the true religion, the security of the realm, the Queen’s own safety, and the safety of themselves, and their posterity, that the sentence against the Queen of Scots might be published. They called to her remembrance how fearful the examples of God’s vengeance were upon King Saul, for sparing Agag, and upon king Aham, for sparing the life of Benhadad. Elizabeth sent them a sermon, in answer; and prayed them to find out some other expedient, for sparing the Queen of Scots’s life, and providing for her own security. They could find no other expedient, than the immediate death of the Scotish Queen. Elizabeth sent them additional reasons, for her own doubts, and scruples; and desired them, for the present, to content themselves, “with an answer, without an answer:” If I should say, I will not do what you request, I might say, perhaps, more than I intend: and if I should say, I will do it, I might plunge myself into as bad inconveniences, as you endeavour to preserve me from. This contrariety, between those, who had too much religion, and those, who had too little, certainly shows a strange state of the manners, and conditions of persons, in that reformed age. Of the gross affectations, and dissimulation of Elizabeth, there can be no doubt.
The Parliament had been, scarcely, prorogued, when Lord Buckhurst, and Beal, the clerk of the Privy Council, were sent to the Queen of Scots, to inform her, that sentence of death was pronounced upon her, which the Parliament had approved: She was, also, told, by those messengers, that while she lived, the religion of England could not be safe: And she was warned to prepare herself, for her mortal change, by expiation, and repentance. These messages were probably sent, upon Elizabeth’s avowed principle, that Mary’s head should never rest. But, she was disappointed: Mary, only, rejoiced, and thanked God, that she was thus taken to be an instrument, for re-establishing religion, in this island. She desired what has seldom been refused to less considerable personages, to have a priest of her own religion, to perform to her the last offices of religion: But, the same zeal, which dictated those unworthy proceedings, denied her this request. If we were to compare the state of the two Queens, at that interesting moment, we should see Elizabeth full of fears, and agitation; and Mary, equally resigned, and firm.
The intercession of L’Aubespine, the French ambassador, interposed some delay, in the publication of the sentence: But, on the 4th of December 1586, through the solicitation of some courtiers, the sentence was proclaimed throughout the realm: In this proclamation, Elizabeth acted up to her true character, by seriously protesting, that this avowal of the sentence was extorted from her, to her great grief, by necessity, and the prayers of her people; yet, as we learn, from Camden, there were some, who supposed this conduct of Elizabeth, to be mere artifice, as well as affectation. The character of that Queen was made up of artifice, and affectation: and she, only, laboured, in her vocation, when she acted, with artifice, and affectation, throughout the sad catastrophe of the Queen of Scots’s demise.
The publication of this sentence of death being made known to the Queen of Scots, far from being dismayed, with a steady countenance, and uplifted hands, she gave thanks to God, for her speedy relief. And, though Paulet, with the harshness of his nature, divested her of all the badges of royalty, and treated her as a woman of the meanest condition; yet, she endured it, with her usual patience, and accustomed dignity. Having with some difficulty obtained leave of him to write, she, by a letter, to Elizabeth of the 19th December, endeavoured to clear herself of all hostility, and of malice against her; thanking God, for this condemnation, who was now pleased to put an end to her lamentable pilgrimage: And she prayed Elizabeth, that she might owe her requested favours to herself: First, that when her adversaries were glutted with her blood, her body might be conveyed, by her servants, to be buried, in France, where her mother rested in peace: Secondly, in regard she feared the secret tyranny of some, that she might not be put to death, in secret, without Elizabeth’s knowledge; but in the sight of her servants, and others, who might give testimony of her faith, of her christian departure, to prevent those false reports, with which her adversaries might load her memory: Thirdly, she asked, that her servants might freely depart whither they pleased, and enjoy those legacies, which she had bequeathed them, by her testament: All those requests she made, in the name of Christ, by their near kindred, by the soul, and memory of Henry VII. their common progenitor, and by the royal dignity which she had borne. Lastly, she earnestly entreated an answer, in her own hand; in order, that she might see, that she had not asked those last favours, in vain. Whether this letter reached Elizabeth’s hands, Camden doubts: But, that those requests were ever granted, there cannot be a doubt. About this transaction, there were infinite discourses, at that time, according to the affections, and dispositions, of men: The hard fate of Mary, and the habitual dissimulation of Elizabeth, will interest the passions of mankind, while the history of both shall remain.
Meantime, Henry III. of France, as well by himself, as by his several ambassadors, made the most sincere, and powerful efforts, to save Mary, from the axe of Elizabeth. The Scotish King, who was now twenty, actuated, as well by the constant entreaties of Coursellis, the French ambassador, as by his natural affections, interested himself warmly, for his mother, who had never injured him. But the agents, whom he employed, only betrayed both. What could be expected, from Archibald Douglas, Morton’s agent, in his father’s murder, and the master of Gray, a man of utter profligacy, who whispered in Elizabeth’s ear, mortua non mordet, a dead woman bites not.
Elizabeth, who was naturally slow, as well as capricious, in her resolutions, began, at this late day, to consider, whether it were better to put Mary to death, or to spare her. She feared, what would happen then to her person, and thereafter, to her reputation, if she should put her to death: New phantoms rose up before her guilty eyes, from the Scotish King, who would, on his mother’s death, be brought a step nearer to her throne. On the contrary, the courtiers, continually, suggested reasons to her, for carrying into execution the sentence of the law. The French King, also, interposed vigorously, in favour of the Scotish Queen, by sending Mons. Bellievre, for that purpose, who suggested, and gave in, very elaborate reasons, in support of his master’s affectionate interposition. These reasons were as elaborately answered, with the help of Burghley. When arguments failed, the French ambassador leidger L’Aubespine, entered into concerts, for taking off Elizabeth; but, he being discovered, he was sent for, and charged with this dangerous practice; but, denying it, he was warned how he acted contrary to his duty, as an ambassador. This plot induced the enemies of the Scotish Queen, to frighten Elizabeth, with false rumours, which were propagated, throughout the realm. Elizabeth wondered that, of all the associators, for the safety of her person, none of them would dispatch the Scotish Queen: No one would commit such an act; as no one could trust Elizabeth. She was, at the first of February 1589, driven, to direct her Secretaries, Walsingham, and Davison, to urge Paulet, and Drury, to assassinate the Queen of Scots. But, these wardens of the attainted Queen, however puritanic, and strict, were too circumspect to adopt a suggestion, which had they effected, had ruined themselves, their families, and their fame for ever. For Elizabeth, according to her guilty policy, would instantly have charged them, as murderers, and as such, would have sacrificed them, to save herself, who had gone full far enough, in baseness, when she directed a woman, a relation, and a queen, to be assassinated. But, she did go farther, in such iniquity. Her attempt on Paulet, and Drury, having failed, by their refusal, to commit an aggravated murder, rumours were spread, that London was fired, and the Queen of Scots escaped; precepts of hue and cry were sent to the several towns, to retake the fugitive: As the facts are true, the question arises, why such rumours should have been propagated, but to terrify the people, who might form a tumult, and in the midst of their terror, and agitation, might lay their bloody hands upon the Scotish Queen, infirm, as she was. But, this artifice, also, failing, Elizabeth still delayed the execution of that detested object, in the hope, that time, and chance, might supply some man-killer to perform the guilty deed.
Elizabeth now became much more miserable than Mary, the hated object of her guilty purpose, who submitted to her hard fortune, with the dignity of a queen, and the resignation of a martyr. On the contrary, Elizabeth was distracted with the most perplexing thoughts, which so troubled her shattered resolution, that she gave herself wholly up to solitariness; sat often mute; and frequently sighing, muttered to herself “aut fer, aut feri,” either bear with her, or strike her; out of I know not what emblem, saith Camden, “Nè feriari feri,” strike, lest thou be stricken. What is this, but a description of frenzy. We may say with SHAKSPEARE,
“Upon her eye-balls murd’rous tyranny
Sat, in grim majesty, to fright the world.”
How Elizabeth was relieved from her misery; and how Mary was brought under the axe of the law, we may learn the genuine, and historical fact, from Secretary Davison’s apology, to Secretary Walsingham; which shows, distinctly, how Elizabeth was freed, from her phrenetic humour; and how the warrant, for the execution of the Scotish Queen, was sent, from Whitehall, without her knowledge.
“The Queen, after the departure of the French, and Scotish ambassador, of her own motion, commanded me, to deliver the warrant, for executing the sentence against the Queen of Scots: When I had delivered it, she signed it, readily, with her own hand: When she had so done, she commanded it, to be sealed, with the great seal of England; and, in a jesting manner, said, Go, tell all this to Walsingham, who is now sick, although, I fear me, he will die, for sorrow, when he hears it. She added, also, the reasons of her deferring it so long; namely, lest she might seem, to have been violently, or maliciously, drawn thereto, whereas, in the meantime, she was not ignorant how necessary it was. Moreover, she blamed Paulet and Drury, that they had not eased her of this care, and wished, that Walsingham would feel their pulses, touching this matter. The next day, after it [the warrant] was passed under the great seal, she commanded me, by Killegrew, that it should not be done; and when I informed her, that it was done, already, she found fault, with such great haste, telling me that, in the judgment of some wise men, another course might be taken. I answered, that course was always safest, and best, which was most just. But, fearing lest she would lay the fault upon me, as she had laid the putting to death of the Duke of Norfolk upon the lord Burghley, I acquainted Hatton, with the whole matter; protesting that, I would not plunge myself any deeper, in so great a business. He, presently, imparted it to the Lord Burghley, and the Lord Burghley to the rest of the council; who all consented, to have the execution hastened, and every one of them vowed, to bear an equal share, in the blame, and sent Beal away with the warrant, and letters. The third day after, when, by a dream, which she told of the Queen of Scots’s death, I perceived, that she wavered in her resolution, I asked her, whether she had changed her mind. She answered, No; but another course might have been devised: And, withal she asked me, whether I had received any answer, from Paulet; whose letter, when I showed it her, wherein he flatly refused to undertake that, which stood not with honour, and justice; she waxing angry, accused him, and others, who had bound themselves, by the association, of perjury, and breach of their vow, as those, who had promised great matters, for their prince’s safety, but would perform nothing. Yet, there are, said she, who will do it [murder Mary] for my sake. But, I showed her, how dishonourable, and unjust a thing this would be; and withal, into how great danger she would bring Paulet, and Drury, by it: For, if she approved the fact, she would draw upon herself, both danger, and dishonour, not without the note of injustice; and if she disallowed it, she would utterly undo men of great desert, and their whole posterity. And, afterwards, she gave me a light check, the same day, that the Queen of Scots was not executed; because she was not yet put to death.”
Such was Davison’s account of this transaction, which evinces the baseness of Elizabeth, the zeal of Burghley, the unfaithfulness of the council, and the execution of the Queen of Scots, by juggle, rather than, by fairness, by apparent warrant, rather than, by real authority. The warrant, and other documents, which were sent to Fotheringay, for the execution of such a personage, were formal, and legitimate; but they wanted the life, and soul, of such proceedings; in wanting the final assent of the Queen’s majesty. When common criminals, who are adjudged, to lose their lives, by public execution, are executed, without the final direction of the supreme magistrate, what was the guilt? and where was the responsibility? Burghley was the guilty agent; and Elizabeth was the odious magistrate, who, by dissimulation, introduced illegality, where every point ought to be the most precise, and every command the most legal. “Dissimulation,” said BACON, Lord Verulam, “is but a faint kind of policy; for it asketh a strong wit, and a strong heart, to know when to tell the truth, and to do it;” But, the irresolution of Elizabeth denuded her even of that sort of dissimulation, which would have enabled her, to exercise this faint kind of policy; as she knew not, when, on any occasion, to tell truth, and to do it, according to political justice, and moral equity.
The Privy Council, learning, that the warrant, for the execution of the Scotish Queen was signed, by the Queen’s Majesty, and sealed; and Burghley urging the danger of delay, immediately sent down Beal, their clerk, with the warrant, and authority, to the Earls of Shrewsbury, Kent, Derby, Cumberland, and others, to see her executed, according to law. The council thus acted upon the principle of the difficulty of fixing Elizabeth’s resolution, taking upon themselves the responsibility of acting, without authority, in a case so important.
As soon as the earls came to Fotheringay, on the 7th of February; imparting the matter to Paulet, and Drury, they came to the Queen of Scots; informed her of the cause of their coming; read to her the warrant; and admonished her, to prepare for death, on the morrow. The Queen, though somewhat surprised, undauntedly said, with a composed spirit, “I did not think, that the Queen my sister, would have consented to my death, who am not subject to her laws; but, seeing her pleasure is so, death shall be to me most welcome; neither is that soul worthy of the high and everlasting joys above, whose body cannot endure the stroke of the executioner.” She now prayed them, that she might have conference with her almoner, her confessor, and her master of household, Melville. The earls flatly refused her confessor, and recommended to her the Dean of Peterborough; whom she refusing, the Earl of Kent, turning towards her, said, with heat, “your life will be the death of our religion, as contrariwise, your death will be the life of it.” Such was the charity of Kent, whatever might be his religion! Mention being made of Babington, she constantly, denied his conspiracy, to have been, at all, known to her, and the revenge of her wrong, she left to God. Then enquiring what was become of Naue, and Curl; she asked, whether it were ever heard of before, that servants were suborned, and accepted, for witnesses, against their master’s life.
When the earls were departed, she commanded supper to be hastened, that she might the better dispose of her concernments. She supped sparingly, as her manner was. Being at supper, and spying her servants, both men, and women, weeping, she comforted them, with great magnanimity; and bade them leave mourning, and rather rejoice, that she was now to depart out of a world of miseries. Turning to Burgoin, her physician, she asked him, if he did not now find the force of truth to be great. They say, quoth she, that I must die, because I have plotted against the Queen’s life; yet, the Earl of Kent tells me, that there is no other cause of my death., but that they are afraid of their religion, because of me: Neither hath my offence against the Queen, but their fear, because of me, drawn this end upon me; while some under colour of religion, aim at their own advantages. Towards the end of supper, she drank to all her servants, who pledged her, in order, upon their knees; mingling tears with their wine, and begging pardon of her, for their neglect of duty; as she, also, did of them. After supper, she perused her will; read over the inventory of her goods, and jewels, and wrote down the names of those, to whom she bequeathed each particular. To some she distributed money, with her own hand. To her confessor, she wrote a letter; begging that he would, in his prayers, make intercession for her with God. She wrote letters of recommendation, for her servants, to the King of France, and the Duke of Guise. At her wonted time, she went to bed; slept some hours; and then awaking, she spent the rest of the night in prayer.
The morning of the 8th of February, 1587, being come, she dressed herself, as gorgeously, as she was wont to do, on festival days; and calling her servants together, she commanded her will to be read; and prayed them, to take their legacies, in good part, for her ability would not extend to greater matters. Then fixing her mind wholly upon God, in her oratory, with sighs, and prayers, she begged his divine grace, and favour, till the sheriff, Andrews, came to acquaint her, that she must now appear, in the last scene of her devious life. She came out, with state, countenance, and presence, says Camden, majestically composed, with a cheerful look, and a matron-like habit; with her head covered with a veil, which hung down to the ground; with her prayer book, beads, hanging at her girdle; and carrying a crucifix of ivory in her hands. In the porch, she was received, by the earls, and other noblemen, where Melvill, her servant, falling upon his knees, and pouring forth his tears, bewailed his hard hap, that he was to carry into Scotland the woful tidings of the unhappy fate of his lady, and mistress. She thus comforted him: “Lament not, but rather rejoice; thou shalt, by and by, see Mary Steuart, freed from all her cares. Tell them, that I die constant, in my religion, and firm, in my fidelity, towards Scotland, and France. God forgive them, that have thirsted after my blood, as harts do after the fountain. Thou, oh God, who art truth itself, and perfectly, and truly understandeth the inward thoughts of my heart, knoweth how greatly I have desired, that the kingdoms of Scotland, and England might be united into one. Commend me to my son; and assure him, that I have done nothing, which may be prejudicial to the kingdom; admonish him to hold in amity with the Queen of England; and see thou do him faithful service.”
And now the tears trickling down, she bade Melvill, several times, farewel, who wept, as fast as she. Then, turning to the earls, she prayed them, that her servants might be civily dealt withal; that they might enjoy the legacies, which she had bequeathed them; that they might stand by her, at her death, and might be sent back into their own country, with letters of safe conduct. The former request they granted: But, that they should stand by her at her death, the Earl of Kent showed himself somewhat unwilling, fearing some superstition. Fear it not, said she, these harmless souls desire only to take their last farewel of me. I know, my sister, Elizabeth, would not have denied me so small a matter, that my women should be then present, were it but for the honour of the female sex. I am her near kinswoman, descended, from Henry VII., Queen dowager of France, and anointed Queen of Scots.
When she had said thus much, and turned herself aside, it was at last, granted, that such of her servants, as she should name, should be present with her. She named Melvill, Burgoin, her physician, her apothecary, her surgeon, two women servants, and others; Melvill bore up her train: So, the gentlemen, the two earls, and the sheriff, going before her, she came to the scaffold, which was built at the upper end of the hall; on which was placed a chair, a cushion, and a block, all covered with black cloth. As soon as she was sat down; and silence commanded; Beal read the warrant: She heard it attentively, yet, as if her thoughts were taken up, with somewhat else. Then Fletcher, the Dean of Peterborough, began a long speech to her, concerning the condition of her life passed, present, and to come. She interrupted him once, or twice, as he was speaking; and prayed him not to trouble himself; protesting that she was firmly fixed, in the ancient Catholic religion, and for it, was ready to shed her blood. When he earnestly persuaded her, to true repentance, and to put her whole trust in Christ, by an assured faith; she answered, that in that religion, she was born, bred, and was ready to die. The earls said, they would pray for her, to whom she said, that she would give them hearty thanks, if they would pray with her; but, to join, continued she, in prayer, with you, who are of another profession, would be in me, a heinous sin. Then, they appointed the dean to pray; with whom, while the multitude, that stood round, were praying, she fell down on her knees, and holding the crucifix before her, in her hands, prayed in Latin, with her servants, out of the Office of the blessed Virgin Mary.
After the dean had ceased, she, in English words, recommended the church, her son, and Queen Elizabeth, to God; beseeching him to turn away his wrath, from this island; and professing that she reposed her hope of salvation in the blood of Christ; lifting up the crucifix, she called upon the celestial choir of saints, to make intercession to him, for her; she forgave all her enemies, and kissing the crucifix, and signing herself, with the cross, she said, “as thy arms, oh Christ, were spread out upon the cross, so receive me, with the stretched out arms, of thy mercy, and forgive my sins.” Then the executioners asked her forgiveness, which she granted them. And when her women servants had taken off her upper garments, lamenting the while, she kissed them, and signing them, with the cross, bade them, with a cheerful countenance, forbear their womanish lamentations; For, now, said she, shall I rest from all my sorrows. In like manner, turning to her men servants who, also wept, she signed them, likewise, with the cross; and smiling, bade them farewel: And, now, having covered her face, with a linen hankerchief, and laying herself down on the block, she repeated, from the Psalm, In thee, oh Lord, do I trust, let me never be confounded. Then stretching out her body, and repeating many times, into thy hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit, her head was stricken off, at two strokes: The dean crying out, so let Queen Elizabeth’s enemies perish; the Earl of Kent, answering Amen: the multitude, meanwhile, sighing, and sorrowing. A circumstance occurred, which added, greatly, to the interest of this affecting scene: When they were about to remove the body of the unfortunate queen, her little dog, which had followed her to the scaffold unobserved, amidst more striking objects, was found under her clothes, which could not be gotton forth, but by force, and afterwards would not depart, from her dead corpse, but went, and laid down, between her head, and shoulders, a thing diligently noted. While fidelity shall be considered as a virtue, this remarkable instance of affectionate attachment will be regarded with satisfaction.
We have thus beheld how Queen Mary could die: Let us now see how Queen Elizabeth could live. It was a singular trait of Elizabeth’s character, that the life, or death, of the Scotish Queen, made her, equally, miserable. As soon as the report of the execution of Mary was brought to her, says Camden, she broke out into indignation, her countenance changed, her speech faultered, and through excessive sorrow, or dissimulation, she gave herself up to passionate grief; shedding abundance of tears, and putting herself into mourning. Her council, she sharply rebuked; commanding them, out of her sight, and causing them to be examined. She banished from court, lord Burghley, who took it exceedingly to heart; as if he had not been the principal instrument, in the Scotish Queen’s execution: He professed his ignorance of Elizabeth’s private mind; and when he knew it, confessed his sorrow. He thought the Queen was too severe, for what he had, ignorantly, done. He endeavoured to obtain access to his old, and cankered mistress, to show his innocence, and to ask forgiveness; but, without success. He now wrote her several letters, of explanation, and apology, with no better success: and he merits some praise, while he justified himself, that he pleaded strenuously, for Secretary Davison, a man of great talents, as well as integrity. Some weeks after, Burghley was admitted to his first audience, after this exclusion, from the Queen’s presence, when she wanted his advice, concerning the Low Countries. But, being in her presence, says Strype, she fell foul upon him, for the late grudge: whereupon, he went again into great discontent, and absented himself from court. Burghley had, by his practices, merited greater punishment: For, it was he, who fed the rancour of Elizabeth against Mary, for assuming the style, and title of the English crown, when she was under age, and under coverture, under the direction of Henry II.; which was less ideal, and offensive, than Elizabeth’s claim of being King of France, in the face of the fundamental laws: And the minister, who encourages religious zeal, and political fanaticism, must be responsible, for his folly. Very different was the unfortunate case of Secretary Davison, who had acted, as an able, and honest statesman; yet, was he carried into the star chamber, where he was fined 10,000l. imprisoned, and undone.
Elizabeth, amidst her agitations, either feigned, or real, seems to have forgotten, that the Queen of Scots remained unburied. Her body, indeed, had been embalmed, by the care of Andrews, the Sheriff; and placed in a leaden coffin, by order of Walsingham, till the ministers could obtain the final determination of Elizabeth, whether to comply with the late Queen’s desire; to be buried with her mother, in France; or where, or how, was to be disposed of a royal personage, who had once been the admiration of Europe. At the end of six months, Mary, the late Queen of Scots was, at length, interred, with a royal funeral, in the cathedral church of Peterborough, on Tuesday the 1st of August 1587, opposite to the grave of Queen Catherine. Shortly after this interment, there was a tablet hung against the wall, above her grave, which contained a lapidary inscription, from the pen of [Adam] Blackwood, and has been translated into Camden’s life of Elizabeth, in such English, as so inflated an inscription allowed. This tablet was not long after removed, by whatever hand; yet her royal ensigns of a helmet, sword, and scutcheon, as they hung high, remained to the year 1646, when they were involved, in the storms of fanaticism, which then fell upon this church, and its monuments.
Meanwhile, the Scotish King was not easy, when he learned, that the guilty axe of Elizabeth hung over his mother’s head, by the slender thread of that Queen’s duplicity. He was surrounded by Scotish traitors, and by English spies, when not yet one and twenty. And he was thus induced to think, that Elizabeth, in deciding the fate of a hated rival, would regard his feelings, more than her own sensations of dread, and hatred. While the fate of his mother was yet suspended, the ministers of Edinburgh, on his application, refused, to pray for her, according to their usual contempt, in that age for gospel charity. From this denial, he probably saw, what he had to trust to, if he were to give greater vent to his revenge, than his policy; and he, certainly, felt his own imbecility, amid such a collision of parties, and prostitution of principles. On the 6th of December, two days, after the proclamation of his mother’s condemnation, he dispatched a numerous deputation of ambassadors, “to endeavour to stop the proceedings against the Queen, his mother.”
A month almost elapsed, after the event, before King James, distinctly, knew, that his mother had died by a stroke of Elizabeth’s vengeance, with a resolution worthy of her rank, with an affectionate remembrance of him, and with a just regard to her native kingdom. Elizabeth, meanwhile, wrote him a soothing, but fallacious letter, by Robert Cary, her kinsman; wherein she wished the King of Scots, to understand, that this lamentable accident had happened, contrary to her intention. Of Elizabeth’s real design, there can be no doubt: We see but too plainly, that her object was to cause the Queen of Scots to be, privately, assassinated, rather than publicly executed, in Davison’s narrative, and still more, in the letter of her two secretaries, Walsingham and Davison, to Paulet and Drury, urging them to perform the guilty deed. The King refused to receive her envoy, which indicated, that he disbelieved her gross simulation, as did her own ministers, and the civilized world. She sent, however, the sentence against Davison, which was only an aggravation of her guilt; and what was of more importance, as it was of more use, she communicated to the King, the opinion of the judges; affirming that the sentence against his mother would not prejudice his title to the succession, which awaited him. But, above all a letter, which Walsingham wrote to Maitland, the King’s principal minister, containing the wisest suggestions of policy, had the greatest influence, in calming the natural irritation of an irascible people; other motives had some effect; Edinburgh, and the southern shires of Scotland, swarmed with English spies, and emissaries, while Lord Scroope drew together a body of troops on the south western border. On the other hand, Henry III. reprobated the cruelty of Elizabeth towards the Scotish Queen; commended the King’s affectionate efforts, in favour of his mother; and urged the King, with assurances of support, to avenge the odious conduct of the one Queen, and the hard fate of the other.
There continued, for some time, a considerable fermentation, at Edinburgh, owing to those causes, as well as to the natural feelings of the people. Even so judicious a character, as the lord justice clerk, gave it as his opinion, that the King, and the whole nation, were touched, in their honours, which they ought to vindicate, let the consequences be what they would, unless satisfaction came first from England. In the Scotish Parliament of July 1587, some sharp speeches were made to the king concerning the death of the queen, his mother. These speeches touched the feelings of the privy counsellors of England, who complained, through the Scots ambassador to the King, who gave them a satisfactory explanation, as to himself though they remained dissatisfied with the chancellor, and the lords. Maitland, the chancellor, the brother of the late secretary, who was, certainly, the ablest, and honestest statesman, in Scotland, probably acted a part: He was too wise a person, to allow his passion to overrule his policy: And his real object, probably, was, to obtain from Elizabeth’s government, a considerable subsidy, for the King, who, however, but very ill supported his minister’s intentions.
King James, who was now upwards of one and twenty, liked amusement better than business. And though he felt sharply the death of his mother, when brought simply under his consideration: yet, a very little reflection made him feel his weakness. He seems to have drawn up, with his own hand, a paper of reasons why “he was unable to revenge the heinous murder, committed against his dearest mother, by the old enemies of my progenitors, realme, and nation: First, in respect of my tender youth, not trained up, in dexterity of arms, either to withstand injury, or to conquer my own right; being at all time bygone detained in captivity: Next, my excessive want, being obliged to live, from hand to hand; having sufficient patrimony, and casualty, without any thing in store. Then, the divers factions of spiritual, and temporal estates; every one regarding himself, and not me.” The King’s reasons are quite satisfactory; but, another reason, which, arising from natural temperament, pressed still more forcibly upon him, through life; like his mother, and perhaps his whole family, he could not act, however well informed. In the subsequent year, Elizabeth sent the aged Walsingham to Edinburgh; in order to discover, and report to her, what kind of prince King James really, was: On every topick, which Walsingham could touch upon, the King, who had much knowledge, and an excellent memory, talked so plausibly, that he imposed upon that experienced statesman. King James lived to have as great an ascendency, in the court of Elizabeth, as she had long practised, in Scotland; and to influence her principal minister, who deluded his aged mistress, for the interest, and quiet of both. He acceded, as quietly, to the throne of England, as if his succession had been settled, by Act of Parliament.
16 thoughts on “From Mary’s Removal to Fotheringay, till her Death., pp.304-328.”