Elizabeth I of England, Fotheringhay, Fotheringhay Castle, James I of England, James VI of Scotland, James VI-I of Scotland and England, Kingdom of England, Kingdom of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Mary I of Scotland
Mary I, Queen of Scots (December 8, 1542 – February 8, 1587), reigned over Scotland from December 8, 1542 to July 24, 1567.
Mary was born on December 8, 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, to King James V and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. She was said to have been born prematurely and was the only legitimate child of James’ to survive him. She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England, as her paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor, was Henry VIII’s sister. On December 14, six days after her birth, she became Queen of Scotland when her father died, perhaps from the effects of a nervous collapse following the Battle of Solway Moss or from drinking contaminated water while on campaign.
She spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents, and in 1558, she married the Dauphin of France, François. Mary was queen consort of France from his accession in 1559 until his death in December 1560. Widowed, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith on August 9, 1561. Four years later, she married her half-cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and in June 1566 they had a son, James, who became King James VI of Scotland in 1567 after his mother’s abdication and King James I of England in 1603, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, uniting the two realms in personal union.
After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southward seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary had once claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North. Perceiving Mary as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in various castles and manor houses in the interior of England.
In May 1569, Elizabeth attempted to mediate the restoration of Mary in return for guarantees of the Protestant religion, but a convention held at Perth rejected the deal overwhelmingly. The Duke of Norfolk continued to scheme for a marriage with Mary, and Elizabeth imprisoned him in the Tower of London between October 1569 and August 1570. Early the following year, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray (illegitimate son of James V of Scotland) was assassinated. His death coincided with a rebellion in the North of England, led by Catholic earls, which persuaded Elizabeth that Mary was a threat. English troops intervened in the Scottish civil war, consolidating the power of the anti-Marian forces. Elizabeth’s principal secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, watched Mary carefully with the aid of spies placed in her household.
In 1584, Mary proposed an “association” with her son, James. She announced that she was ready to stay in England, to renounce the Pope’s bull of excommunication, and to retire, abandoning her pretensions to the English Crown. She also offered to join an offensive league against France. For Scotland, she proposed a general amnesty, agreed that James should marry with Elizabeth’s knowledge, and agreed that there should be no change in religion. Her only condition was the immediate alleviation of the conditions of her captivity. James went along with the idea for a while but then rejected it and signed an alliance treaty with Elizabeth, abandoning his mother. Elizabeth also rejected the association, because she did not trust Mary to cease plotting against her during the negotiations.
In February 1585, William Parry was convicted of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth, without Mary’s knowledge, although her agent Thomas Morgan was implicated. In April, Mary was placed in the stricter custody of Sir Amias Paulet, and at Christmas she was moved to a moated manor house at
On August 11, 1586, after being implicated in the Babington Plot, Mary was arrested while out riding and taken to Tixall. In a successful attempt to entrap her, Walsingham had deliberately arranged for Mary’s letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. She was moved to Fotheringhay Castle in a four-day journey ending on September 25, and in October was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety before a court of 36 noblemen, including Cecil, Shrewsbury, and Walsingham.
Mary was convicted on October 25, and sentenced to death with only one commissioner, Lord Zouche, expressing any form of dissent. Nevertheless, Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, even in the face of pressure from the English Parliament to carry out the sentence. She was concerned that the killing of a queen set a discreditable precedent and was fearful of the consequences especially if, in retaliation, Mary’s son, James, formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England.
On February 1, 1587, Elizabeth signed the death warrant, and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. On February 3, ten members of the Privy Council of England, having been summoned by Cecil without Elizabeth’s knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once.
At Fotheringhay, on the evening of February 7, 1587, Mary was told she was to be executed the next morning. She spent the last hours of her life in prayer, distributing her belongings to her household, and writing her will and a letter to the King Henri III of France.
On February 8, Her servants, Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle, and the executioners helped Mary remove her outer garments, revealing a velvet petticoat and a pair of sleeves in crimson brown, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church.
She was blindfolded by Kennedy with a white veil embroidered in gold, knelt down on the cushion in front of the block, on which she 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”).
Mary was not beheaded with a single strike. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed the neck, except for a small bit of sinew, which the executioner cut through using the axe. Afterwards, he held her head aloft and declared, “God save the Queen.” At that moment, the auburn tresses in his hand turned out to be a wig and the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had very short, grey hair. Cecil’s nephew, who was present at the execution, reported to his uncle that after her death “Her lips stirred up and down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off” and that a small dog owned by the queen emerged from hiding among her skirts.
When the news of the execution reached Elizabeth, she became indignant and asserted that Davison had disobeyed her instructions not to part with the warrant and that the Privy Council had acted without her authority. Elizabeth’s vacillation and deliberately vague instructions gave her plausible deniability to attempt to avoid the direct stain of Mary’s blood. Davison was arrested, thrown into the Tower of London, and found guilty of misprision. He was released nineteen months later after Cecil and Walsingham interceded on his behalf.
Mary’s request to be buried in France was refused by Elizabeth. Her body was embalmed and left in a secure lead coffin until her burial, in a Protestant service, at Peterborough Cathedral in late July 1587. Her entrails, removed as part of the embalming process, were buried secretly within Fotheringhay Castle. Her body was exhumed in 1612, when her son, King James VI-I of Scotland and England ordered that she be reinterred in Westminster Abbey in a chapel opposite the tomb of Elizabeth.
In 1867, her tomb was opened in an attempt to ascertain the resting place of James I; he was ultimately found with Henry VII, but many of her other descendants, including Elizabeth of Bohemia, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the children of Anne, Queen of Great Britain, were interred in her vault.