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The Queen of Scots’s celebrated letter to Elizabeth, from Sheffield, 8th November, 1582., pp.348-360.

The Queen, said Blackwood, at the reported seizure of her son, by Lord Gowry, having received an intimation of her son’s captivity fell so sick, that she thought she should die; as the English physicians reported, she would, to their mistress; who wanted nothing better; having the son already in her power, or, which was the same, in the hands of people, who were devoted to her: With which the poor mother being greatly agitated, in her mind, after she had addressed her prayers to God, put her hand to the pen; thinking to obtain favour from, and to soften the heart of her cousin, by this address, which I have here subjoined:


Upon that which has come to my knowledge, of the last conspirators executed, in Scotland, against my poor child, having reason to fear the consequence of it, from the example of myself; I must employ the very small remainder of my life, and strength before my death, to discharge my heart to you fully, of my just, and, melancholy complaints: of which I desire, that this letter may serve you, as long as you live after me, for a perpetual testimony, and engraving upon your conscience; as much for my discharge to posterity, as to the shame, and confusion of all those, who, under your approbation, have so cruelly, and unworthily, treated me to this time, and reduced me to the extremity, in which I am. But, as their designs, practices, actions, and proceedings, though as detestable as they could have been, have always prevailed with you against my very just remonstrances, and sincere deportment; and as the power, which you have in your hands, has always been a reason for you among mankind; I will have recourse to the living God, our only judge, who has established us, equally, and immediately, under him, for the government of his people.

I will invoke him to the end of this my very pressing affliction, that he will return to you, and to me, (as he will do in his last judgment) the share of our merits, and demerits, one towards the other. And remember, madam, that to him we shall not be able to disguise any thing, by the paint and policy of the world; though mine enemies, under you, have been able, for a time, to cover their subtle inventions to men, perhaps to you.

In his name, and as before him sitting, between you, and me, I will remind you; that by the agents, spies, and secret messengers, sent in your name into Scotland, while I was there, my subjects were corrupted, and encouraged to rebel against me, to make attempts upon my person, and in one word, to speak, do, enterprise, and execute that, which has come to the said country, during my troubles Of which I will not at present specify other proof, than that, which I have gained of it, by the confession of one, who was afterwards, by his antient intelligencies, renewed the same practices against my son; and had not procured for all my traitourous and rebellious subjects, who took refuge with you, that aid, and support, which they have had, even since my detention on this side; without which support, I think the said traitours could not since have prevailed, nor afterwards have stood out so long, as they have done.

During my imprisonment at Lochleven, the late Trogmarton [Throkmorton] counselled me on your behalf, to sign that demission, which he advertised me would be presented to me; assuring me, that it could not be valid.And there was not afterwards a place in christendom, where it was held for valid, or maintained, except on this side; [where it was maintained] even to having assisted, with open force, the authors of it. In your conscience, madam, would you acknowledge an equal liberty, and power, in your subjects? Notwithstanding this, my authority has been, by my subjects, transferred to my son, when he was not capable of exercising it.

And since I was willing to assure it, lawfully, to him, he being of age to be assisted to his own advantage, it is suddenly ravished from him, and assigned over to two or three traitours; who having taken from him the effectiveness of it, will take from him, as they have from me, both the name, and the title of it, if he contradicts them in the manner he may, and perhaps his life, if God does not provide for his preservation.

When I was escaped from Lochleven, ready to give battle to my rebels; I remitted to you, by a gentleman, express, a diamond jewel, which I had formerly received as a token from you, and with assurance to be succoured by you against my rebels; and even that, on my retiring towards you, you would come to the very frontiers, in order to assist me; which had been confirmed to me by divers messengers.

This promise coming, and repeatedly, from your mouth (though I had found myself often abused by your ministers) made me place such affiance on the effectiveness of it; that, when my army was routed, I came directly to throw myself, into your arms, if I had been able to approach them. But while I was planning to set out and find you, there was I arrested on my way, surrounded with guards, secured in strong places, and at last reduced, all shame set aside, to the captivity, in which I remain, to this day, after a thousand deaths, which I have already suffered from it.

I know that you will allege to me what passed between the late Duke Nortfolk [of Norfolk] and me. I maintain, that there was nothing in this to your prejudice, or against the publick good of this realm; and that the treaty was sanctioned with the advice, and signatures, of the first persons, who were then of your council, under the assurance of making it appear good to you.

How could such personages have undertaken the enterprise, of making you consent to a point, which should deprive you of life, of honour, and your crown; as you have shown yourself, persuaded, it would have done, to all the embassadours, and others, who speak to you, concerning me?

In the mean time my rebels perceiving, that their head-long course was carrying them much farther than they had thought before, and the truth being evidenced concerning the calumnies, that had been propagated of me at the conference, to which I submitted, in full assembly, of your deputies and mine, with others of the contrary party, in that country, in order to clear myself publickly of them; there were the principals, for having come to repentance, beseiged by your forces, in the castle of Edinbourgh, and one of the first among them poisoned, and the other most cruelly hanged; after I had two times made them lay down their arms at your request, in hopes of an agreement, which God knows, whether my enemies aimed at.

I have been, for a long time, trying, whether patience could soften the rigour, and ill treatment, which they have begun, for these ten years, peculiarly to make me suffer. And accommodating myself exactly to the order prescribed me, for my captivity in this house; as well in regard to the number, and quality of the attendants, which I retain, dismissing the others; as for my diet, and ordinary exercise, for my health; I am living, even as present, as quietly, and peaceably, as one much inferiour to myself, and more obliged, than with such treatment, I was to you, had been able to do; even to deprive myself, in order to take away all shadow of suspicion, and diffidence from you, of requiring to have some intelligence with my son, and my country, which is what, by no right, or reason, could be denied me, and principally with my child; whom, instead of this they endeavoured by every way to persuade against me, in order to weaken us by our divisions.

It was permitted me, you will say, to send one to visit him there, about three years ago. His captivity then at Sterling, under the tyranny of Morton, was the cause of it; and his liberty afterwards, of a refusal to make the like visit. All this year past, I have several times entered into divers overtures, for the establishment of a good amity between us, and a sure understanding between these two realms in future. To Chatsworth, about ten years ago, commissioners were sent me, for that purpose. A treaty has been held upon it with yourself, by my embassadours and those of France. I even myself made, concerning it, the last winter, all the advantageous overtures to Beal, that it was possible to make. What return have I had thence? My good intention has been despised, the sincerity of my actions has been neglected and calumniated, the state of my affairs has been traversed by delays, postponings, and other such like artifices. And, in conclusion, a worse and more unworthy treatment from day to day, any thing which I am compelled to do in order to deserve the contrary, my very long, useless and prejudicial patience, have reduced me so low; that mine enemies, in their habits of using me ill, think this day they have the right of prescription for treating me, not as a prisoner, which in reason I could not be, but as some slave, whose life and whose death, depend only upon their tyranny.

I cannot, madam, suffer it any longer; and I must in dying, discover the authors of my death, or, living, attempt, under your protection, to find an end to the cruelties, calumnies, and traitorous designs of my said enemies, in order to establish me in some little more repose for the remainder of my life. To take away the occasions pretended for all differences between us, clear yourself, if you please, of all which has been reported to you, concerning my actions; review the depositions of the strangers taken in Ireland; let those of the Jesuits last executed be represented to you; give liberty to those who would undertake to charge me publickly,and permit me to enter upon my defence: if any evil be found in me, let me suffer it, it shall be patiently when I shall know the occasion of it: if any good, suffer me not to be worse treated for it, with your very great commission before God and man.

The vilest criminals, that are in your prisons, born under your obedience, are admitted to their justification; and their accusers, and their accusations, are always declared to them. Why then shall not the same order have place, towards me a Sovereign Queen, your nearest relation and lawful heir? I think, that this last circumstance has hitherto been, on the side of my enemies, the principal cause of it, and of all their calumnies, to make their unjust pretensions slide between the two, by keeping us in division. But alas! they have now little reason and less need, to torment me more upon this account. For I protest to you upon mine honour, that I look this day for no kingdom, but that of my God; whom I see preparing me, for the better conclusion of all my afflictions and adversities past.

This will be to you [a monition] to discharge your conscience towards my child, as to what belongs to him on this point after my death; and in the mean time not to let prevail to his prejudice, the continual practices and secret conspiracies, which our enemies in this realm are making daily for the advancement of their said pretensions; labouring on the other side with our traitorous subjects in Scotland, by all the means which they can, to hasten his ruin; of which I do not demand other better verification, than the charges given to your last deputies sent into Scotland, and what the said deputies have seditiously practised there, as I believe, without your knowledge, but with good and sufficient solicitation of the earl my good neighbour at York.

And on this point, madam, by what right can it be maintained, that I the mother of my child, am totally prohibited, not only from assisting him in the necessity so urgent in which he is, but also from having any intelligence of his state? who can bring him more carefulness, duty, and sincerity, than I? to whom can he be more near? At the least, if sending to him to provide for his preservation, as the Earl of Cheresbury [Shrewsbury] made me lately understand that you did, you had pleased to take my advice in the matter; you would have interposed with a better face, as I think,and with more obligingness to me. But consider what you leave me to think, when forgetting so suddenly the offence which you pretended to have taken against my son, at the time I was requesting you that we should send together to him; you have despatched one to the place where he was a prisoner, not only without giving me advice of it, but debarring me at the very time from all liberty, that by no way whatever I might have any news of him.

And if the intention of those, who have procured on your part this so prompt a visit of my son, had been for his preservation, and the repose of the country; they needed not to have been so careful in concealing it from me, as a matter in which I should not have been willing to concur with you. By this means they have lost you the good-will, which I should have had for you. And, to talk to you more plainly upon the point, I pray you not to employ there any more such means or such persons. For, although I hold the Lord de Kerri [Cary, Lord Hunsdon] too sensible of the rank from which he is sprung, to engage his honour in a villainous act; he has had for an assistant a sworn partizan of the Earl of Huntingdon’s, by whose bad offices an action as bad has nearly succeeded to a similar effect. I shall be contented then, only at your not permitting my son to receive any injury from this country (which is all that I have ever required of your before, even when an army was sent to the borders, to prevent justice from being done to that detestable Morton;) and that none of your subjects directly or indirectly intermeddle any more in the affairs of Scotland, unless it is with my knowledge, to whom all cognizance of these things belongs, or with the assistance of some one on the part of the most Christian King, my good brother; whom, as our principal ally, I desire to make privy to the whole of this cause, because of the little credit that he can have with the traitours, who detain my son at present.

In the mean time, I declare with all openness to you, that I hold this last conspiracy and innovation, for pure treason against the life of my son, the good of his affairs, and that of the country; and that while he shall be in the state, in which I understand he is, I shall esteem no word, writing or other act, that comes from him, or is passed under his name, as proceeding from his free and voluntary disposition, but only from the said conspirators, who, at the price of his life, are making him to serve as a masque to them.

But, madam, with all this freedom of speech, which I can forsee, will in some sort displease you, though it be the truth itself; you will find it more strange, I assure myself, that I come now to importune you again with a request of much greater importance, and yet very easy for you to grant, and release to me. This is, that having not been able hitherto, by accommodating myself patiently so long a time to the rigorous treatment of this captivity, and carrying myself sincerely in all things, yea, even to the least, that could concern you a very little, to gain myself some assurance of my entire affection towards you; all my hope being taken away by it, of being better treated, for the very short time, which remains to me of life; I supplicate you, at once to permit me to withdraw myself out of your realm, into some place of repose; to search out some comfort for my poor body, so wearied as it is with continual sorrows: and with liberty of my conscience to prepare my soul for God, who is calling for it daily.

Believe, Madam, and the physicians, whom you sent me this last summer, are able sufficiently to judge the same; that I am not for a long continuance, so as to give you any foundation of jealousy or distrust of me. And, notwithstanding this, take of me such assurances and conditions, just and reasonable, as you shall choose. The greatest power rests always on your side, to make me keep them; though for nothing whatever would I wish to break them. You have had sufficient experience of my observance of my simple promises, and sometimes to my prejudice; as I showed you upon this very point,about two years ago. Recollect, if you please, what I then wrote you; and you will not know how to bind my heart to you so much, as by kindness, though you keep for ever my poor body languishing between four walls; those of my rank, and nature, not leaving themselves to be gained, or forced, by any rigour.

Your prison without any right and just foundation, has already destroyed my body; of which you will shortly have the  end, if it continues there a little longer; and my enemies will not have much time, for glutting their cruelties on me; nothing remains of me, but the soul, which all your power cannot make captive. Give it then room for aspiring a little more freely after its salvation; which alone it seeks for at this day, more than any grandeur of this world. It seems to me, that it cannot be to you any great satisfaction, honour, and advantage, for mine enemies to trample my life under foot, till they have stifled me in your presence. Whereas, if in this extremity, however late it be, you release me out of their hands, you will bind me greatly to you,and bind all those, who belong to me, particularly my poor child; whom you will perhaps make sure to yourself by it.

I will not cease to importune you with this request, until it be granted me. And, on this account, I pray you to let me understand your intention; having, in order to comply with you, waited even to the present day for two years, to renew my urgency for it; for which the miserable state of my health presses me more, than you can think. In the mean time provide, if you please, for the bettering of my treatment on this side, that I may not suffer any longer; and remit me not to the discretion of any other whatever, but your own self, from whom alone (as I wrote to you lately) I wish for the future to hold all the good and the evil, which I shall receive in your country. Do me this favour, to let me have your intention in writing, or the embassador of France, for me. For to tie me up to what the Earl of Scherusbery [Shrewsbury], or others, shall speak, or write about it, on your behalf; I have too much experience, to be able to put any assurance in it; the least point, which they shall capriciously fancy, being sufficient, to innovate the whole from one day to another.

Besides this, the last time that I wrote to those of your council, you made me understand, that I ought not to address myself to them, but to you alone (and so to extend their credit and authority only to de me hurt, could not be reasonable; as has happened in this last limitation; in which, against your intention, I have been treated with much indignity.) This gives me every occasion for doubting, that some of my enemies in your said council may have procured it with a design, of keeping others of the said council from being made privy to my just complaints; lest the others should see perhaps their companions, adhere to their wicked attempts upon my life; of which, if they should have any knowledge, they would oppose them, for the sake of your honour, and of their duty towards you.

Two things I have principally to require at the close: the one, that, near as I am to going out of this world, I may have with me, for my consolation, some honourable churchman; to remind me daily of the course, which I have to finish, and teach me how to complete it according to my religion, in which I am firmly resolved to live and to die.

This is a last duty, which cannot be denied to the most mean and miserable person that lives: It is a liberty, which you grant to all the foreign embassadours; as also all other Catholic Kings give to your embassadours; the exercise of their religion. And even I myself have not hitherto forced my own subjects, to any thing contrary to their religion; though I had all power and authority over them. And that I in this extremity should be deprived of such freedom, you cannot with justice require. What advantage will redound to you, when you shall deny it to me? I hope that God will excuse me, if, oppressed by you in this manner, I do not render to him any duty, but what I shall be permitted to do in my heart. But you will set a very bad example to the other princes of christendom, to act towards their subjects with the same rigour, that you shall show to me, a Sovereign Queen, and your nearest relation; which I am, and will  be, as long as I live, in despite of mine enemies.

I would not now importune you concerning the augmentation of my household; of which for the time that I see remaining me to live in this world, I will not have so much care. I require then from you, only two women of the chamber, to assist me, during my sickness; attesting to you before God, that they are very necessary to me, now I shall be a poor creature among this simple people. Grant these to me for the honour of God; and show, in this instance, that mine enemies have not so much credit with you against me, as to exercise their vengeance and cruelty, in a point of so little consequence, and depending upon a simple office of humanity.

I will come now to that, with which the earl of Scherusbery [Shrewsbury] has charged me, if such a one as he can charge me; which is this; that contrary to my promise made to Beal, and without your knowledge, I have been negotiating with my son, to yield to him my title to the crown of Scotland; when I had obliged myself not to proceed in it but with your advice, by one of my servants, who should be directed by one of yours in their common journey thither. These are, I think, the very words of the said count.

I will tell you upon this, Madam, that Beal has not ever had a simple and absolute promise of me: but indeed overtures conditional, to which I cannot remain bound, in the fashion, in which the business is, unless the conditions, which I annexed to it, might be previously executed; about which, so far is he from being satisfied, that on the contrary, I have never had any answer from him, or heard mention of it since on his side. And on this account I remember very well, that the Earl of Scherusbery [Shrewsbury], about last Easter, wanting to draw from me a new confirmation of what I had spoken to the said Beal; I replied to him very fully, that it was only in case the said conditions might be granted, and consequently effectuated, to me. The one and the other are yet living to testify this to you, if they will tell the truth about it. Then seeing that no answer was made me; but, on the contrary, that by delays and neglects mine enemies continued  more licentiously than ever their practices, formed since the residence of the said Beal with me, in order to traverse my just intentions in Scotland, so as the effects have been well witnessed there; and that, by this means, the door remained open to the ruin of my son and of myself, by express letters, as well to you as to your council, from all that I had treated upon with the said Beal.

I made you fully privy to what monsieur, the King, and madame, the Queen, had written to me, with their own hands, upon this business; and I asked your advice upon it, which is yet to come, with which it was in truth my intention to proceed, if you had given it me in time, and you had permitted me to send to my son; assisting me in the overtures, which I had proposed to you, in order to establish between the two realms a good amity and perfect intelligence for the future. But, to bind myself, nakedly, to follow your advice, before I knew what it would be, and, for the journey of our servants, to put mine under the direction of yours, even in my own country; I was never yet so simple, as to think of it.

Now I refer to your consideration, if you knew of the false game, which mine enemies on this side have played me in Scotland, to reduce things to the point, at which they stand; which of us has proceeded with the greatest sincerity. God judge between them and me, and avert from this isle the just punishment of their demerits.

Send back again at once the intelligence, which my traitorous subjects of Scotland can have given you. You will find, and I will maintain it before all the christian princes, that no one thing whatever has there passed on my side, to your prejudice, or against the good and repose of this realm; which I affect not less than any counsellor, or subject that you have, having more interest in it than any of them.

There was a negotiation, for gratifying my son with the title, and name of King; and for making sure, as well the said title to him, as all impunity to the rebels for their offences past; and for replacing every thing in repose and tranquillity for the future, without any innovation of any thing whatever.

Was this to take away the crown from my son? Mine enemies, as I believe, wished not at all that the crown should be made sure to him; and on that account are very content that he should keep it by the unlawful violence of some traitours, enemies, from all antiquity, to all our family. Was this then to seek for justice upon the past offences of the said traitours, which my clemency has always surpassed?

But an evil conscience cannot ever be assured, carrying continually its fear in its very great trouble within itself. Was it to wish a change in the repose of the country; to procure it by a mild pardon of every thing past, and a general reconciliation between all our subjects? – This is the point, which our enemies on this side fear, as much show as they make of desiring it. What prejudice would be done to you by this? Mark then, and verify, if you please, by what other point: I will answer to it upon mine honour.

Ah! Will you, madam, let yourself to be so blind to the artifices of mine enemies, as to establish after you, and perhaps against yourself, their unjust pretensions to this crown; will you suffer them in your life time, and look at them, while they are ruining, and so cruelly destroying, those who concern you so near both in heart and blood? What advantage and honour can you hope for, in suffering them to keep us, my son, and me, so long separated, and him and me from you.

Resume the ancient pledges of your good nature; bind your relations to yourself; give me the satisfaction before I die, that seeing all matters happily settled again between us, my soul, when delivered from this body, may not be constrained to display its lamentations before God, for the wrong, which you have suffered to be done me here below; but rather, that being happily united to you, it may quit this captivity, to set forward towards him, whom I pray, to inspire you happily upon my very just and more than reasonable complaints and grievances.

At Sheffield, this 8th of November, one thousand five hundred eighty-two.

Your very disconsolate, nearest relation,

and affectionate cousin,


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