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Mary, Queen of Scots - The Most Unfortunate of Queens Who Could Have Claimed Three Kingdoms (Part III, the Conclusion)

Updated on May 2, 2014
Mary, Queen of Scots(1542-1587)
Mary, Queen of Scots(1542-1587)

The Story to Date

In our last installment, Mary, Queen of Scots - The Most Unfortunate of Queens Who Could Have Claimed Three Kingdoms (Part II) we find that the Queen has escaped from Loch Leven Castle. The country people who became aware of their Queen cheered as she passed by. Supporters flocked to her as she and her advisors issued proclamations seeking their support as loyal subjects of Scotland. It is amazing to consider given the communications of the time that within days she had raised an army of 6,000.

Her army would only fight one battle, the Battle of Langside, which occurred on May 13th, 1568. At Langside, Queen Mary's adversary was her half-brother the Earl of Moray, who was regent for her infant son. One might consider this battle as being a grand family squabble. Moray was outnumbered but not out classed. Mary's army was ill-equipped and poorly organized. Mary's battle line broke and at one point in time she charged on to the battlefield to encourage her troops all to no avail.

The defeated Queen had no recourse but to flee the battlefield. She headed to southwestern Scotland where Catholic sympathies were still very high. She arrived at Terregles after a rough journey. It was here at Terregles Mary would make a fateful decision.

James Stewart, !st Earl of Moray

James Stewart (c. 1531/32 - 1570) was an illegitimate son of King James V, and served as Regent of Scotland for his nephew, the infant King James VI of Scotland, from 1567 until his assassination in 1570.
James Stewart (c. 1531/32 - 1570) was an illegitimate son of King James V, and served as Regent of Scotland for his nephew, the infant King James VI of Scotland, from 1567 until his assassination in 1570.

Mary's Decision to Flee to England

It is hard to fathom what possessed Mary Stuart to make such a decision. By all accounts including her own, it was her decision and hers alone. Some of her advisors recommended that she remain in Scotland and regroup or travel to France to rally support. Either course would have seemed more sensible to take. Was it perhaps she had placed too high a hope on an alliance with her cousin Queen Elizabeth or was she possibly considering her position as the strongest one of any who might claim be heir presumptive to the English crown would cause the English to embrace her?

In France, she had estates and a position as the dowager Queen. Also, she would have support there as a Catholic Queen fleeing a Protestant country. The French including her Guise family had a vested interest in seeing her returned to her position as the Scottish sovereign. Instead she chose an unknown course. In England, she had no estates and no official status. As far as family in England, there was Lady Lennox, mother of Mary's murdered husband, Henry, Lord Darnley. The fact that Mary was under suspicion of complicity in Henry's death had caused Lady Lennox to hate her. As far as what Queen Elizabeth's reaction to Mary's arrival in England was as yet unknown . Yes, they were related by blood, descendants of King Henry VII of England and his consort Margaret of York, but this also put them in a situation as potential rivals for England's crown. The instability of the religious climate and the fact that Elizabeth had no issue to inherit the throne would put Mary in a position where she might become involved in intrigues and plots against here cousin.

Although Mary had written to Elizabeth seeking her aid no answer had yet been received. Thus, without any assurance from Elizabeth of how she would be received, on Sunday, May 16th, 1568 sometime in the afternoon, Mary crossed Solway Firth into England.

Arrival in England

At about 7 o'clock in the evening after a four hour boat ride, Mary arrived in the small village of Workington. The next morning she was met by Deputy Governor Lowther who came with four hundred horsemen and was escorted to Carlisle Castle being held in protective custody.

Mary is described as being in a sorry state. She had chopped of her hair to avoid being recognized during her flight from Scotland. Here clothes were the clothes of a peasant and not those of a queen.


Solway Firth

Solway Firth, across these waters Queen Mary made the fateful entry into England.
Solway Firth, across these waters Queen Mary made the fateful entry into England.

Elizabeth's Reaction to These Events.

Mary's arrival in England was probably one of bafflement on the part of Elizabeth and her advisors. Elizabeth in her whole being was first and foremost the Queen, the anointed leader of her people who put her office above personal concerns. Mary presented a problem. England and Scotland had been warring on and off for years. James V, Mary's father died as a result of battling the English. Elizabeth was a Protestant monarch who was trying to take a middle ground in the turmoil caused by the rift in the Christian world, the Reformation. Mary had been in not much of a different situation in being a Catholic monarch in a country becoming predominantly Protestant. Elizabeth was also concerned about how Mary's captivity would impact her European alliances.


Years in Captivity

Mary would spend the rest of her life in captivity. The places chosen for her to stay were not close enough to either London or Scotland. It seems that her cousin could not make a decision about Mary's fate. This state of limbo into which Mary was put was an odd one. Considering her upbringing one could say she was imprisoned. Her communication with the outside world was virtually cut off except for letters which she had become somewhat adept at smuggling out of the residences she would occupy. She would never see her infant son again in those nineteen years.

She had been a very active woman both mentally and physically up until May of 1568. Close confinement did not suit her well and she was frequently ill.

What can be said of those nineteen years in captivity all was not bad which varied with who her jailer was and the quality of the accommodations where she was installed. She did not travel lightly. By one account it took thirty carts to move her personal possessions and her personal attendants at one point numbered 30 or more. Her food was prepared by her personal chef and was served on silver platters. Servants would change her bed sheets daily. She was occasionally allowed to travel and spent a number of summers at Buxton , famous for its geothermal springs.


Politics Kept Her a Prisoner

Initially. the reason for her being kept a prisoner was the issue of whether or not she had conspired in the death of her husband, Lord Darnley. That also was the initial for Elizabeth keeping her away from her court. It is believed that Elizabeth at the time would have preferred her to return to Scotland rather than having her in England, as a problem, or France, where she might be able to raise and army and become a threat to Elizabeth.

The idea of a trial for Mary in respect to the Darnley murder was problematic . One needs to be tried by a jury of one's peers. There are no peers to a sovereign and initially Mary refused to event discuss the possibility. A court of sorts, a commission was convened in January 1569 where the famous "casket letters", letters allegedly written by Mary and containing proof that she was involved in the plot to assassinate Darnley. There were accusations and denials on boths side of the issue. This commission reached no verdict.

Through the years there would be rumors and plots against Elizabeth and the English Parliament passed laws that anyone involved in any attempt on her life would be executed.. Some of these plots may have been known by Mary. On 11 August 1586, Mary who had been implicated what was called the Babington Plot, was arrested while out riding. To entrap Mary, Elizabeth's advisors deliberately arranged for Mary's letters to be smuggled out. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. In October was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen's Safety. Spirited Mary denied the charges drew attention to the facts that she was denied the opportunity to review the evidence, had no legal counsel, and that as a foreign anointed queen she had never been an English subject could not be convicted of treason. She was found guilty and sentenced to death.


Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) sometimes called "The Virgin Queen", "Gloriana" or "Good Queen Bess", Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. She would be succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Elizabeth I (1533-1603) sometimes called "The Virgin Queen", "Gloriana" or "Good Queen Bess", Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. She would be succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Elizabeth's Dilemma

Elizabeth understood she had a problem. Regardless of the circumstances, if the execution was carried out she was creating a dangerous precedence, executing an anointed and sovereign prince.

She vacillated over the next several months as her advisors kept reminding her that she needed to sign the death warrant. She simply could not do it. She even went so far as to try to entice Mary's jailer to "shorten Mary's life". On February 1, 1587, Elizabeth signed the death warrant. Later she would claim that she had specifically stated that the warrant was not to be used and that Mary's execution was not her fault. Her private secretary would become the scapegoat and be imprisoned for his mistake.


The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

On February 8, 1587 at the age of 44 was executed for plotting against her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire
On February 8, 1587 at the age of 44 was executed for plotting against her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire

Mary, Queen of Scots Regal to the Very End

When told that she would be executed on the next day, February 8th, 1587, she spent her remaining hours in prayer, writing her will, and distributing her personal possessions to her staff.

On the day of the execution when the executioners helped Mary to remove her outer garments, she was seen to be wearing a velvet petticoat and a pair of sleeves in crimson, the liturgical color of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. She was blindfolded with a white veil embroidered in gold, knelt in front of the execution block, positioned her head, and stretched out her arms. Her last words were, "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum" ("Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit").

Queen Mary had become a martyr. All that was associated with her execution was burned lest anything touched with her blood should become a holy relic. Embalmed but not buried for months, Mary's body would later be moved to Westminster Abbey, the site of coronations of all the future British monarchs. Her mortal remains are interred in a chapel opposite that of Elizabeth.

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