Mary, the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, was born in Linlithgow, Scotland, in 1542. Her father died a few days later and she was immediately made queen of Scotland. James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, was appointed regent. However, his proposal to marry Mary to Edward, son of Henry VIII, was rejected by the Scottish parliament. (1)
Mary was now sent to France where she lived with the family of King Henri II. She was given a French education and on 4th April 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bequeathing Scotland and her claim to England to the French crown if she died without issue. Three weeks later she married the king's eldest son, François. (2) Although omitted from the will of Henry VIII, she was one of the heiresses to the English crown. Henri believed that the marriage could result in a controlling interest in the combined realms of England and Scotland. (3)
On 17th November 1558, Henry VIII's elder daughter, Queen Mary I died. She was succeeded by her sister, Elizabeth. In the opinion of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary Stuart, as the senior descendant of Henry VIII's elder sister, was the rightful queen of England. Henri II of France proclaimed his eldest son and daughter-in-law king and queen of England, and in France the royal arms of England were quartered with those of Francis and Mary. (4)
Mary received a very good education in France and was taught French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek and was described at the time as both beautiful and clever. Although she caught smallpox as a child it did leave scars on her face. King Henri claimed "from the very first day they met, my son and she got on as well together as if they had known each other for a long time". They made a strange couple. Francis was very short and Mary was to grow to a height of 5 feet 11 inches. (5)
On 10th July 1559, King Henri was killed by Gabriel Montgomery during a tournament. Mary's fifteen year old husband became king of France. This development caused concern in England and urged on by William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth ordered an English fleet to cut the sea link between Scotland and France. She also issued instructions for assembling an army and after they invaded in the early months of 1560, negotiations between the countries took place. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed in July, both France and England agreed to withdraw their forces from Scotland and leave the religious question to be settled by the Scottish Parliament. The body met in August and imposed the Reformation upon Scotland and the celebration of mass was forbidden. (6)
The following year François developed a middle ear infection which led to an abscess in his brain. He died on 5th December 1560. His mother, Catherine de Medici, became regent for his ten-year-old brother Charles IX, who inherited the French throne. She spent her period of strict mourning with her grandmother Antoinette. In January 1561, attempts were made to arrange a marriage with Don Carlos, eldest son of Philip II, but in April this was blocked by her mother-in-law.
John Leslie invited Mary to return to Scotland to restore Catholicism to the country. He promised that George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly, would raise 20,000 men to help her gain power. Lord James Stewart, Mary's illegitimate half-brother and one of the protestant leaders, promised her that she could retain a private Catholic mass if she were to work with the regime. Mary accepted Lord James's offer and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, as lord high admiral, went to France to escort her home. She arrived at Leith on 19th August 1561. Five days later she heard mass in her chapel at Holyroodhouse, protected by Lord James from the threats of more militant protestants encouraged by John Knox. She governed with the aid of her privy council, that included Lord James and William Maitland. (7)
Soon after arriving in Scotland. Mary sent Maitland, her Secretary of State, to England to ask Elizabeth for the succession. Elizabeth told him that she knew no better right than Mary's, but that she did not want to nominate a successor because it would undermine her own position. Guided by Maitland, Mary presented her demands to Elizabeth as a simple clarification of the Treaty of Edinburgh. She would renounce the English throne in return for a clear promise of the succession.
In March, 1563, William Maitland met with Queen Elizabeth to discuss the situation in Scotland. Elizabeth believed that Mary, Queen of Scots, posed a threat to her throne. She argued that it would be a good idea if Mary could be persuaded to marry Robert Dudley. He was, she said, a model of everything that was manly, noble and fine. "Maitland, presumely not sure if Elizabeth was joking or not, responded that, as Robert was so much to her taste, the Scottish Queen could not deprive Elizabeth of such a jewel; she should marry Robert herself." Elizabeth was indeed serious and sent Thomas Randolph, the English Ambassador to Scotland, to discuss the matter with Mary. He passed on Elizabeth's own thoughts that "being determined to end her life in virginity, she wished that the queen her sister should marry him." (8)
Queen Elizabeth wanted Dudley to marry Mary because she thought she could control him. (9) Mary agreed to the idea but Randolph had more difficulty persuading Dudley. He still had hopes of marrying Elizabeth, and feared that if he agreed to accept Randolph's suggestion, she would turn on him for betraying her. Randolph reported back to Elizabeth, "Now that I have got this Queen's goodwill to marry where I would have her, I cannot get the man to take her for whom I was a suitor." (10)
Mary met Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, on Saturday 17th February 1565, at Wemyss Castle in Scotland. Both Mary and Henry were grandchildren of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England, and the widow of James IV, king of Scots. Soon afterwards, arrangements were made for the two to marry. Queen Elizabeth was totally against the match because it would unite two claims on the throne. Any children of the marriage would inherit an even stronger, combined claim. At first Elizabeth was confident that she would block it because Darnley was an English subject, and his parents were her dependants with lands in England. (11) However, they married at Holyrood Palace on 29th July 1565, even though both were Catholic and a papal dispensation for the marriage of first cousins had not been obtained. (12)
Mary's marriage to a leading Catholic resulted in Mary's half-brother, James Stewart, the Earl of Moray, to join with other Protestant lords in open rebellion. Mary and her forces and Moray and the rebellious lords roamed around Scotland without ever engaging in direct combat. Mary's numbers were boosted by the return of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, from exile in France. Mary's forces were greatly superior, and unable to obtain sufficient support, Moray left Scotland for asylum in England. (13)
Mary became pregnant. However, the marriage was not a happy one. According to Elizabeth Jenkins: "Marriage with a Queen and one of the most beautiful of women had been too much for Darnley's weak head. His brainless arrogance had been so much increased that he did not treat even his wife with courtesy. Mary's passion was soon extinct, and her coldness and dislike roused him to the fatuous self-assertion that had been fostered by his mother." (14)
Darnley became jealous of David Rizzio, who had replaced him as her most important political advisor. According to his biographer, Rosalind K. Marshall "he was an ugly little man, full of his own importance, with an expensive taste in clothes... but Mary evidently felt that she could trust him. As her secretary he was constantly in her company... At the same time he did everything he could to enhance his own position, and the courtiers soon came to realize that if they wished for favours, they would have to bribe Seigneur Davie, as he was known." (15)
Thomas Randolph, the English Ambassador to Scotland, reported to William Cecil that Rizzio was a growing influence on Mary. It was decided to spread rumours that Riccio was having an affair with the Queen of Scots. It was even suggested that Rizzio was the real father of Mary's unborn child. (16) Darnley decided to join forces with a group of protestant lords who shared a dislike of Rizzio.
On 9th March 1566, about seven o'clock in the evening, Mary was at supper with Riccio in the little room adjoining her bedchamber at Holyroodhouse. "Suddenly Darnley marched in, sat down beside Mary, and put an arm round her waist, chatting to her with unaccustomed geniality. She had scarcely replied when the startling figure of Patrick Ruthven, Lord Ruthven, appeared in the doorway, deathly pale and wearing full armour... The queen rose to her feet in alarm. Terrified, Riccio darted behind her, to cower in the window embrasure, clinging to the pleats of her gown. The royal attendants sprang forward to take Ruthven, but he pulled out a pistol and waved them back. At the same moment the earl of Morton's men rushed into the supper chamber, the table was overturned... While Andrew Ker of Fawdonside held his pistol to the queen's side, George Douglas, Darnley's uncle, snatched Darnley's dagger from his belt and stabbed Riccio. According to Mary's own description of events, this first blow was struck over her shoulder... On Darnley's orders his body, with fifty-six stab wounds, was hurled down the main staircase, dragged into the porter's lodge, and thrown across a coffer where the porter's servant stripped him of his fine clothes." (17)
It is claimed that when Mary was told the news that Riccio was dead, she apparently dried her eyes and said "No more tears now. I will think upon revenge". Riccio was buried hastily in a cemetery outside Holyrood Abbey. However, later, Mary had his body exhumed and placed in the royal vault in the abbey. She then appointed his young brother Joseph Riccio to take his place as her French secretary.
Mary now joined forces with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. She pardoned Lord Moray and the other exiles, and the people involved in the assassination of David Rizzio fled to England. Mary was now back in charge. In April 1566, Mary took up residence in Edinburgh Castle in order to await her child's birth, and on 19th June, after a difficult labour, Prince James was born. Queen Elizabeth was furious when a poet based in Paris, described James as prince of Scotland, England, France, and Ireland. (18)
After the birth of their son the couple lived apart. Lord Darnley was taken ill (officially with smallpox, possibly in fact with syphilis) and was convalescing in a house called Kirk o' Field. Mary visited him daily, so that it appeared a reconciliation was in progress. In the early hours of the morning on 10th February, 1567, an explosion devastated the house, and Darnley was found dead in the garden. There were no visible marks of strangulation or violence on the body and so it was suggested that he had been smothered. Rumours began to circulate that Bothwell and his friends had arranged his death. Elizabeth wrote to Mary: "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought." (19)
One of Mary's biographer's, Julian Goodare, claims that the murder was an "abiding historical whodunnit, generating a mass of contradictory evidence, and with a large cast of suspects since almost everyone had a motive to kill him." He points out that historians are divided about Mary's involvement in the killing. "The extreme anti-Mary case is that from late 1566 onwards she was conducting an illicit love affair with Bothwell, with whom she planned the murder. The extreme pro-Mary case is that she was wholly innocent, knowing nothing of the business. In between these two extremes, it has been argued that she was aware in general terms of plots against her husband, and perhaps encouraged them." (20)
According to the depositions of four of Bothwell's retainers, he had been responsible for placing the gunpowder in Darnley's lodgings and had returned at the last moment to make sure that the fuse was lit. According to his biographer, that there is little doubt that Bothwell played a principal part in the murder. (21) Mary's critics point out that she made no attempt to investigate the crime. When urged to do so by Darnley's father, she replied that Parliament would meet in the spring and they would look into the matter. Meanwhile she gave Darnley's clothes to Bothwell. The trial of Bothwell took place on 12th April, 1567. Bothwell's men, estimated at 4,000, thronged the streets surrounding the court-house. Witnesses were too frightened to appear and after a seven-hour trial, he was found not guilty. A week later, Bothwell managed to convince more than two dozen lords and bishops to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his aim to marry Mary. (22)
On 24th April, 1567, Mary was abducted by Lord Bothwell and taken to Dunbar Castle. According to James Melville, who was in the castle at the time, later wrote that Bothwell "had ravished her and lain with her against her will". However, most historians do not believe that she was raped and argue that the abduction was arranged by Mary. Bothwell divorced his wife, Jean Gordon, and on 15th May, he married Mary at a protestant ceremony. (23)
People were shocked that Mary could marry a man accused of murdering her husband. Murder placards began appearing in Edinburgh, accusing both Mary and Bothwell of Darnley's death. Several showed the queen as a mermaid, the symbol for a prostitute. Her senior advisors in Scotland claimed that that they were unable to see the queen without Bothwell being present, and alleging that he was virtually keeping her prisoner. Rumours circulated that Mary was bitterly unhappy, repelled by her new husband's boorish behaviour, and overcome with remorse at having contracted a protestant marriage. (24)
Twenty-six Scottish peers, turned against Mary and Bothwell, raising an army against them. Mary and Bothwell confronted the lords at Carberry Hill on 15th June, 1567. Clearly outnumbered, Mary and Bothwell surrendered. Bothwell was driven into exile and Mary was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. While in captivity Mary miscarried twins. Her captors discussed several options: "conditional restoration; enforced abdication and exile; enforced abdication, trial for murder, and life imprisonment; enforced abdication, trial for murder, and execution". (25) On 24th July she was presented with deeds of abdication, telling her that she would be killed if she did not sign. She eventually agreed to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son James. Mary's illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was made regent. (26)
The Earl of Moray had no desire to keep the 24-year-old queen in prison for the rest of her life. On 2nd May 1568, she escaped from Lochleven Castle. She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men but was defeated at the Battle of Langside on 13 May. Three days later she crossed the Solway Firth in a fishing boat and landed at Workington. On 18 May, local officials took her into protective custody at Carlisle Castle. (27)
Queen Elizabeth was in a difficut position. She did not want the Catholic claimant to the English throne living in the country. At the same time she could not use her military forces to reimpose Mary's rule on the protestant Scots; nor could she allow Mary to take refuge in France and Spain, where she would be used as a "valuable pawn in the power game against England". There was no alternative but to keep the Queen of Scots in honourable captivity and in 1569 she was sent to Tutbury Castle under the guardianship of the George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. (28) Mary was permitted her own domestic staff and her chambers were decorated with fine tapestries and carpets. (29)
Roberto di Ridolfi, an Italian banker living in London, became a strong supporter of Mary. By the late 1560s Ridolfi's commercial interests had been eclipsed by politics, and he soon became obsessed with returning England to the Catholic fold by means of foreign assistance. He developed contacts by supplying information to the French and Spanish ambassadors in London. He became an official agent when he accepted money for his efforts. In 1566 Ridolfi became a secret envoy for Pope Pius V. He asked Ridolfi to distribute 12,000 crowns to those in the northern regions opposing the rule of Queen Elizabeth.
Sir Francis Walsingham, became suspicious of Ridolfi and in October 1569 he brought him in for questioning. He also carried out a search of his house but nothing incriminating was found and he was released in January 1570. Ridolfi's biographer, L. E. Hunt, has suggested he may have become a double-agent during this period: "The leniency of his treatment at the hands of Elizabeth and her ministers has caused some scholars to suggest that during his house arrest Ridolfi was successfully ‘turned’ by Walsingham into a double agent who subsequently worked for, and not against, the Elizabethan government." (30)
Ridolfi now attempted to develop a close relationship with John Leslie, Bishop of Ross and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, a cousin to the queen and the highest ranking peer in England. Mary Queen of Scots encouraged Norfolk to join the plot by writing to him on 31st January 1571 suggesting marriage. Robert Hutchinson, the author of Elizabeth's Spy Master (2006) has commented: "One can imagine Norfolk's incredulous expression when he read her wholly unrealistic letter, its contents, if not the stuff of daydreams, certainly of rampant self-deception." (31)
According to Norfolk's biographer, Michael A. Graves: "An extensive, overmanned, and vulnerable conspiratorial network, including the servants of the principal participants, planned the release of the Scottish queen, her marriage to the duke, and, with Spanish military assistance, Elizabeth's removal in favour of Mary and the restoration of Catholicism in England. The success of the plan required Norfolk's approval and involvement. An initial approach by the bishop of Ross, forwarding ciphered letters from Mary, failed to secure his support. However, Norfolk reluctantly agreed to meet Ridolfi, as a result of which he gave verbal approval to the request for Spanish military assistance." (32)
Roberto di Ridolfi eventually convinced Howard to sign a declaration stating that he was a Catholic and, if backed by Spanish forces, was willing to lead a revolt. "The plan, later to be known as the Ridolfi plot, was soon in place: a Catholic rising was to free Mary and then, with zealous Catholics as well as Spanish forces joining en route, bring her to London, where the queen of Scots would supplant Elizabeth. The English queen's ultimate fate was purposely left unclear for the benefit of those with tender consciences. Mary would then secure her throne by marrying Norfolk." (33)
Ridolfi received through Ross a paper of detailed instructions agreed on by Norfolk and Mary. This empowered him to ask the Duke of Alva for guns, ammunition, armour and money, and 10,000 men, of whom 4,000, it was suggested, might make a diversion in Ireland. Ridolfi went to Brussels, where he discussed the plan with Alva. He then wrote to Philip II warning against a serious war against England: "But if the Queen of England should die, either a natural or any other death" then he should consider sending troops to put Mary on the vacant throne. (34) The Ridolfi Plot was ill conceived in the extreme and has been called "one of the more brainless conspiracies" of the sixteenth century (35).
It would seem that Francis Walsingham and William Cecil became aware of the Ridolfi Plot and they "grasped the opportunity to remove Norfolk, once and forever, from the political scene". (36) A servant of Mary Stuart and the bishop of Ross named Charles Bailly had been arrested upon his arrival at Dover on 12th April, 1571. A search of his baggage revealed that Bailly was carrying banned books as well as ciphered correspondence about the plot between Thomas Howard and his brother-in-law John Lumley. Bailly was taken to the Tower and tortured on the rack, and the information obtained from him led to the arrest of the Bishop of Ross and the Duke of Norfolk. (37)
Walsingham also arrested two of of Norfolk's secretaries, who were carrying £600 in gold to Mary's Scottish supporters. (38) At the sight of the rack Robert Higford told all he knew. The second secretary, William Barker, refused to confess and he was tortured. While on the rack his resolution failed and he revealed that secret documents were hidden in the tiles of the roof of one of the houses owned by Norfolk. In the hiding-place Walsingham found a complete collection of the papers connected with Ridolfi's mission, and nineteen letters to Norfolk from the Queen of Scots and the Bishop of Ross. (39)
On 7th September, 1571, Thomas Howard was taken to the Tower of London. He eventually admitted a degree of involvement in the transmission of money and correspondence to Mary's Scottish supporters. He was brought to trial in Westminster Hall on 16th January 1572. His request for legal counsel was disallowed on the grounds that it was not permissible in cases of high treason. The charge was that he practised to deprive the queen of her crown and life and thereby "to alter the whole state of government of this realm"; that he had succoured the English rebels who fled after the failed northern rising of 1569; and that he had given assistance to the queen's Scottish enemies. (40)
It has been claimed that a "state trial of the sixteenth century was little more than a public justification of a verdict that had already been reached". (41) The government case was supported with documentary proof, the written confessions of the bishop of Ross, his servant Bailly, the duke's secretaries, and other servants, and his own admissions. It is claimed that "Norfolk assumed an air of aristocratic disdain in his responses to the mounting evidence against him". This was "reinforced by what appeared to be a disbelief that the greatest noble in the land, scion of an ancient family, could be treated in this way". He was also dismissive of the evidence against him because of the inferiority of those who provided it. At its end he was convicted of high treason, condemned to death, and returned to the Tower to await execution. (42)
Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to authorize the execution of the Duke of Norfolk. Warrants were repeatedly signed and then cancelled. Meanwhile he wrote letters to her, in which he still endeavoured to persuade her of his loyalty, and to his children. He wrote: "Beware of the court, except it be to do your prince service, and that as near as you can in the meanest degree; for place hath no certainty, either a man by following thereof hath too much to worldly pomp, which in the end throws him down headlong, or else he lieth there unsatisfied." (43)
Elizabeth eventually agreed to execute Norfolk but at the last moment she changed her mind. William Cecil complained to Francis Walsingham: "The Queen's Majesty hath always been a merciful lady and by mercy she hath taken more harm than by justice, and yet she thinks she is more beloved in doing herself harm." (44) On 8th February, 1572, Cecil wrote to Walsingham: "I cannot write what is the inward stay of the Duke of Norfolk's death; but suddenly on Sunday late in the night, the Queen's Majesty sent for me and entered into a great misliking that the Duke should die the next day; and she would have a new warrant made that night for the sheriffs to forbear until they should hear further." (45)
On 8th May, 1572, Parliament assembled in an attempt to force Queen Elizabeth to act against those involved in the plot against her. Michael A. Graves points out that Elizabeth finally yielded to pressure, perhaps in the hope that, by "sacrificing Thomas Howard to the wolves, she could spare a fellow queen". Elizabeth refused to take action against Mary but agreed that Norfolk would be executed on 2nd June, 1572, on Tower Hill. (46)
Elizabeth Jenkins, the author of Elizabeth the Great (1958) has argued: "Since she came to the throne, Elizabeth had ordered no execution by beheading. After fourteen years of disuse, the scaffold on Tower Hill was falling to pieces, and it was necessary to put up another. The Duke's letters to his children, his letters to the Queen, his perfect dignity and courage at his death, made his end moving in the extreme, and he could at least be said that no sovereign had ever put a subject to death after more leniency or with greater unwillingness." (47)
Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's Principal Secretary, became convinced that King Phillip II of Spain, who had been Queen Mary's husband, wanted to make England a Catholic country. He therefore set up a network of spies and agents to prevent this from happening. One of the men who Walsingham was very concerned about was Francis Throckmorton, one of England's most prominent Catholics. In April 1583 Walsingham received a report from Henry Fagot, his agent inside the French embassy, that Throckmorton had dined with the ambassador. A month later Fagot wrote again with the information that "the chief agents for the Queen of Scots are Throckmorton and Lord Henry Howard". (48)
In November 1583, Walsingham ordered the arrest of Throckmorton in his London home. He just had time to destroy a letter he was in the act of writing to Mary, but among his seized papers was a list of the names of "certain Catholic noblemen and gentlemen" and also details of harbours "suitable for landing foreign forces". At first Throckmorton denied they were his, saying they must have been planted by the government searchers. He later admitted that they had been given to him by a man named Nutby who had recently left the country. (49)
Walsingham had Throckmorton put on the rack. During the first two sessions he courageously refused to talk. He managed to smuggle a message out to Bernardino Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, written in cipher on the back of a playing card, saying he would die a thousand deaths before he betrayed his friends. However, on the third occasion he admitted that Mary Queen of Scots was aware of the plot against Elizabeth. He also confessed that Mendoza was involved in the plot. When he finished his confession he rose from a seat beside the rack and exclaimed: "Now I have betrayed her who was dearest to me in this world." Now, he said, he wanted nothing but death. (50) Throckmorton's confession meant that Walsingham now knew that it was the Spanish rather than the French ambassador who had been abusing his diplomatic privileges.
At his trial Francis Throckmorton attempted to retract his confession claiming that "the rack had forced him to say something to ease the torment". Throckmorton was executed at Tyburn on 10th July 1584 and was reported to have died "very stubbornly", refusing to ask for the Queen Elizabeth's forgiveness. (51)
In October 1585, Gilbert Gifford went to Paris, where he got in touch with Thomas Morgan, an agent of Mary Queen of Scots. In December he crossed over to England, landing at the port of Rye. Walsingham, had a spy in the camp of Morgan, and on his arrival he was arrested. It is claimed that Gifford told Wasingham: "I have heard of the work you do and I want to serve you. I have no scruples and no fear of danger. Whatever you order me to do I will accomplish." Gifford's biographer, Alison Plowden, has argued: "Gifford may or may not have already been employed by Walsingham's secret service, but from this point there can be no doubt about his double dealing." (52)
Gifford was released and immediately approached the French Embassy in London. He told them that he had several letters for Mary. (At that time she was being held at Chartley Castle. Gifford was told that if they forwarded the letters by the formal route, Mary would never see them. Gifford then suggested that he would try to find a way of smuggling the letters into Chartley Castle. With the help of Walsingham he arranged with the man who provided Chartley Castle with beer, to smuggle the letters to Mary. The letters were wrapped in leather and hidden inside a hollow bung used to seal a barrel of beer. The brewer delivered the barrel to Chartley Castle and one of her servants would open the bung and take the contents to Mary. The same process was used to send messages to Mary's supporters. (53)
In March 1586, Anthony Babington and six friends gathered in The Plough, an inn outside Temple Bar, where they discussed the possibility of freeing Mary, assassinating Elizabeth, and inciting a rebellion supported by an invasion from abroad. With his spy network, it was not long before Walsingham discovered the existence of the Babington Plot. To make sure he obtained a conviction he arranged for Gifford to visit Babington on 6th July. Gifford told Babington that he had heard about the plot from Thomas Morgan in France and was willing to arrange for him to send messages to Mary via his brewer friend. (54)
However, Babington did not fully trust Gifford and enciphered his letter. Babington used a very complex cipher that consisted of 23 symbols that were to be substituted for the letters of the alphabet (excluding j. v and w), along with 35 symbols representing words or phrases. In addition, there were four nulls and a symbol which signified that the next symbol represents a double letter. It would seem that the French Embassy had already arranged for Mary to receive a copy of the necessary codebook. (55)
Gilbert Gifford took the sealed letter to Francis Walsingham. He employed counterfeiters, who would then break the seal on the letter, make a copy, and then reseal the original letter with an identical stamp before handing it back to Gifford. The apparently untouched letter could then be delivered to Mary or her correspondents, who remained oblivious to what was going on. (56)
The copy was then taken to Thomas Phelippes. The copy was then taken to Thomas Phelippes. "In the ciphers used by Mary and her correspondents the letters of each word were encrypted using a system of substitutes or symbols which required for their decoding the construction of a parallel alphabet of letters. To establish such cipher keys Phelippes employed frequency analysis in which individual letters were identified in the order of those most commonly used in English and the less frequent substitutes deduced in the manner of a modern crossword puzzle." (57) Eventually he was able to break the code used by Babington. The message clearly proposed the assassination of Elizabeth.
Walsingham now had the information needed to arrest Babington. However, his main target was Mary and he therefore allowed the conspiracy to continue. On 17th July she replied to Babington. The message was passed to Phelippes. As he had already broken the code he had little difficulty in translating the message that gave her approval to the assassination of Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots wrote: "When all is ready, the six gentlemen must be set to work, and you will provide that on their design being accomplished, I may be myself rescued from this place." (58)
Walsingham now had enough evidence to arrest Mary and Babington. However, to destroy the conspiracy completely, he needed the names of all those involved. He ordered Phelippes to forge a postscript to Mary's letter, which would entice Babington to name the other men involved in the plot. "I would be glad to know the names and qualities of the six gentleman which are to accomplish the designment; for it may be that I shall be able, upon knowledge of the parties, to give you some further advice necessary to be followed therein, as also from time to time particularly how you proceed."
Simon Singh, the author of The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) has pointed out: "The cipher of Mary Queen of Scots clearly demonstrates that a weak encryption can be worse than no encryption at all. Both Mary and Babington wrote explicitly about their intentions because they believed that their communications were secure, whereas if they had been communicating openly they would have referred to their plan in a more discreet manner. Furthermore, their faith in their cipher made them particularly vulnerable to accepting Phelippes's forgery. Sender and receiver often have such confidence in the strength of their cipher that they consider it impossible for the enemy to mimic the cipher and insert forged text. The correct use of a strong cipher is a clear boon to sender and receiver, but the misuse of a weak cipher can generate a very false sense of security." (59)
Francis Walsingham allowed the letters to continue to be sent because he wanted to discover who else was involved in this plot to overthrow Elizabeth. Eventually, on 25th June 1586, Mary wrote a letter to Anthony Babington. In his reply, Babington told Mary that he and a group of six friends were planning to murder Elizabeth. Babington discovered that Walsingham was aware of the plot and went into hiding. He hid with some companions in St John's Wood, but was eventually caught at the house of the Jerome Bellamy family in Harrow. (60) On hearing the news of his arrest the government of the city put on a show of public loyalty, witnessing "her public joy by ringing of bells, making of bonfires, and singing of psalms". (61)
Babington home was searched for documents that would provide evidence against him. When interviewed, Babington, who was not tortured, made a confession in which he admitted that Mary had written a letter supporting the plot. At his trial, Babington and his twelve confederates were found guilty and sentenced to hanging and quartering. "The horrors of semi-strangulation and of being split open alive for the heart and intestines to be wrenched out were regarded, like those of being burned to death, as awful but in the accepted order of things." (62)
Gallows were set up near St Giles-in-the-Field and the first seven conspirators, led by Babington, were executed on 20th September 1586. Babington's last words were “Spare me Lord Jesus”. Another conspirator, Chidiock Tichborne, made a long speech where he blamed Babington "for drawing him in". (63) The men "were hanged only for a short time, cut down while they were still alive, and then castrated and disembowelled".
The other seven were brought to the scaffold the next day and suffered the same death, "but, more favourably, by the Queens commandment, who detested the former cruelty" They hung until they were dead and only then suffered the barbarity of castration and disembowelling. The last to suffer was Jerome Bellamy, who was found guilty of hiding Babington and the others at his family's house in Harrow. His brother cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. (64)
Mary's trial took place at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire on 14th October 1586. A commission of thirty-four, consisting of councillors, peers and judges, was convened. She was charged with being an accessory to the attempted murder of Elizabeth. At first she refused to attend the trial unless it were understood that she did so, not as a criminal and not as one subject to English jurisdiction. Elizabeth was furious and wrote to Mary stating: "You have in various ways and manners attempted to take my life and to bring my kingdom to destruction by bloodshed.... These treasons will be proved to you and all made manifest. It is my will that you answer the nobles and peers of the kingdom as if I were myself present... Act plainly without reserve and you will the sooner be able to obtain favour of me." (65)
During the trial Mary Stuart accused Walsingham of engineering her destruction by falsifying evidence. He rose to his feet and denied this: "I call God to witness that as a private person I have done nothing unbeseeming an honest man, nor, as I bear the place of a public man, have I done anything unworthy of my place. I confess that being very careful for the safety of the queen and the realm, I have curiously searched out all the practices against the same." (66)
Julian Goodare has argued that the plot was a frame-up: "A channel of communication with Mary was arranged, with packets of coded letters hidden in beer barrels; unknown to the plotters, Walsingham saw all Mary's correspondence. The plot was thus a frame-up, a point of which Mary's defenders sometimes complain. It is not, however, obvious that the English government was obliged to nip the plot in the bud to prevent Mary from incriminating herself. The frame-up was directed almost as much against Elizabeth as against Mary." (67)
The trial was moved to Westminster Palace on 25th October, where the 42-man commission, including Walsingham, found Mary guilty of plotting Elizabeth's assassination. As Walsingham had expected, Elizabeth proved reluctant to execute her rival and prevented a public verdict being decided after the trial. Christopher Morris, the author of The Tudors (1955) has argued that Elizabeth feared that Mary's execution might precipitate the rebellion or invasion which everybody feared. "To kill Mary was also foreign to Elizabeth's accustomed clemency and to her native fear of drastic action." (68)
Parliament petitioned for Mary's execution. Elizabeth hesitated and as always she hoped to shift the responsibility for action on to others and "hinted that Mary's murder would not be displeasing to her". (69) However, her government ministers refused to take action until he had written instructions from Elizabeth. On 19th December 1586, Mary wrote a long letter to Elizabeth arguing that she had been unjustly condemned by those who had no jurisdiction over her, and that she had "a constant resolution to suffer death for upholding the obedience and authority of the apostolical Roman church." (70)
Parliament devised two bills: one to execute Mary for high treason, the other to say she was incapable of succession to the English throne. The first of these she rejected and the second she promised to consider. William Cecil told Walsingham that the House of Commons and the House of Lords were both determined on the only sensible course "but in the highest person, such slowness... such stay in resolution." Elizabeth stated to Walsingham and Cecil "Can I put to death the bird that, to escape the pursuit of the hawk, has fled to my feet for protection? Honour and conscience forbid!"
Elizabeth Jenkins, the author of Elizabeth the Great (1958) has pointed out that she had ordered no execution by beheading since that of Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, in 1572: "Since she came to the throne, Elizabeth had ordered no execution by beheading. After fourteen years of disuse, the scaffold on Tower Hill was falling to pieces, and it was necessary to put up another. The Duke's letters to his children, his letters to the Queen, his perfect dignity and courage at his death, made his end moving in the extreme, and he could at least be said that no sovereign had ever put a subject to death after more leniency or with greater unwillingness." (71)
On 1st February 1587, Elizabeth finally signed the long-prepared warrant authorizing Mary's execution. She gave it to William Davison, Walsingham's recently appointed colleague as principal secretary, with vague and contradictory instructions. She also told Davison to get Walsingham to write to Amyas Paulet asking him to assassinate Mary. Paulet replied that he would not "make so foul shipwreck of his conscience as to shed blood without law or warrant". However, it has been argued that Paulet refused, either on principle or fearing that an assassin would become a scapegoat. "The episode reveals much about Elizabeth: most relevantly, it shows that she was no longer aiming to keep Mary alive, merely to preserve her own reputation. Elizabeth was genuinely distraught by the execution; her claim that it had been against her wishes was not strictly true, but may be understandable when it is recalled how long and how hard she had resisted the pressure for it." (72)
Davidson took the execution warrant and on 3rd February, he convened a meeting of the leading councillors. William Cecil urged its immediate implementation without further reference to the queen. However, on 5th February she called in Davidson. According to Davidson, smiling, she told him she had dreamed the night before that Mary Stuart was executed, and this had put her "into such a passion with him". Davidson asked her if she still wanted to warrant to be executed. "Yes, by God," she answered, she did mean it, but she thought it should have been managed so that the whole responsibility did not fall upon herself. (73)
Mary was informed on the evening of 7th February that she was to be executed the following day. She reacted by claiming that she was being condemned for her religion. She mounted the scaffold in the great hall of Fotheringhay, attended by two of her women servants, Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle. The two executioners knelt before her and asked forgiveness. She replied, "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles." (74)
Mary's last words were "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit". 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. He held her head aloft by the hair and declared, "God save the Queen." As he did so the head fell to the ground, revealing that Mary had been wearing a wig had actually had a very short, grey hair. (75)
According to the account written by Robert Wynkfield: "Then one of the executioners, pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her cloths, which could not be gotten forth by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or washed clean, and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the hall, except the sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her." (76)
Suspicious as this was, her behaviour atter the murder was aamning. That Bothwell had procured it was universally accepted; Mary took no steps to have the crime investigated, and when urged to do so by the wretched father, she replied that Parliament would meet in the spring and they would look into the matter. Meanwhile she gave Darnley's rich clothes to Bothwell. The tailor who altered them was heard to say, this was right enough: the victim's garments were always the hangman's perquisite.
The news of the murder reached London on February 17. Elizabeth sent Lady Howard and Lady Cecil to the Tower to break the news to Lady Lennox. The poor woman fell into such paroxysms of grief that the two ladies were alarmed; on their report, the Queen sent Dr. Huick to her. The news of conspiracy and murder against so near a neighbour at first caused a general panic; Elizabeth had the locks changed on the doors of her Privy Chamber and bedchamber.
The next reports said that after one week's retirement for mourning the Queen of Scots had announced that her health was suffering from confmement, and she had gone to a house-party at Lord Seton's castle, where the guests included Bothwell. When Elizabeth heard this, she was momentarily startled out of herself: she could not credit such idiocy; she declared it could not be true! But it was true.
The whole course of Mary's doings caused Elizabeth a painful agitation of mingled feelings. Jealous, frightened as she was of Mary's power, she was not prepared to see it thrown away by actions which discredited monarchy and seemed likely, by plunging Scotland into civil war, either to encourage rebellion or to bring in the French. Elizabeth was Mary's enemy, but she was by no means incapable of sympathy with her. When she heard how Rizzio was murdered, she exclaimed before she could stop herself, that had she been in Mary's place, she would have stabbed Darnley with his own dagger.
We... will undertake the delivery of your royal persons from the hands of your enemies... For the dispatch of the usurper (Elizabeth)... six noble gentlemen, who, for the zeal they have to the Catholic cause... will undertake that tragical execution.
When all is ready, the six gentlemen must be set to work, and.... when it is accomplished, I may be in some way got away from here... then we will await foreign assistance.
There is a letter from the Scottish Queen, that hath wrought tears... the delay (in executing Mary) is too dangerous.
While Mary was in England, plot after plot was made against Elizabeth by Mary's friends, and by men who looked to her as their rightful queen. Whether Mary knew of these plots is uncertain... Letters were found... but there were many who said then, and many who still believe, that these letters were forgeries - that is to say, that they were written by Mary's enemies for the purpose of making people believe she was guilty.
Her prayers being ended, the executioners, kneeling, desired her Grace to forgive them her death: who answered, 'I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.' Then they, with her two women, helping her up, began to disrobe her of her apparel: then she, laying her crucifix upon the stool, one of the executioners took from her neck the Agnus Dei , which she, laying hands off it, gave to one of her women, and told the executioner, he should be answered money for it. Then she suffered them, with her two women, to disrobe her of her chain of pomander beads and all other apparel most willingly, and with joy rather than sorrow, helped to make unready herself, putting on a pair of sleeves with her own hands which they had pulled off, and that with some haste, as if she had longed to be gone.
All this time they were pulling off her apparel, she never changed her countenance, but with smiling cheer she uttered these words,'that she never had such grooms to make her unready, and that she never put off her clothes before such a company.'
Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin. She, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, ' Ne crie vous, j'ay prome pour vous ', and so crossing and kissing them, bad them pray for her and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress's troubles.
Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell, and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.
This done, one of the women have a Corpus Christi cloth lapped up three-corner-ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots' face, and pinned it fast to the caule of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, In Te Domine confido, non confundar in eternam , etc. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which, holding there still, had been cut off had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms cried, In manus tuas, Domine , etc., three or four times. Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen . Then, her dress of lawn [i.e. wig] from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and a down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.
Then Mr. Dean [Dr. Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough] said with a loud voice, 'So perish all the Queen's enemies', and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, 'Such end of all the Queen's and the Gospel's enemies.'
Then one of the executioners, pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her cloths, which could not be gotten forth by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or washed clean, and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the hall, except the sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her.