TT: Mary — Imprisoned, Exiled, and Executed

Great News!  The Thursday Tangents have the honor of being on the final ballot for New Zealand’s 2014 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, in the Best Fan Writing category.  Needless to say, Alan and I are both quite pleased.

For the Wednesday Wandering this week, page back one for a look at the role of personality in writing. Now, without further delay, on to the tragic end of Mary Queen of Scots.

Ill Omens and Portents

Ill Omens and Portents

JANE: We’ve been having a lot of fun examining the colorful life of Mary Queen of Scots…  Sadly, we are about to arrive at its conclusion.  Ready?

ALAN: Yes, indeed.

JANE: After being held prisoner in Loch Leven Castle for some months, Mary, no longer queen of anything, escaped with the assistance of the Hamiltons, who believed that, even disgraced and dethroned, Mary still had political value.  They took her to Hamilton Palace and, again, an army was raised.

But Mary’s luck wasn’t in.  Again her army was defeated, this time by her own half-brother, Moray.

Desperate now, she crossed into England and, on May 1568, threw herself on the mercy of Queen Elizabeth.

ALAN: Unfortunately there wasn’t much mercy to be had.

JANE: Elizabeth’s informal motto was “Strike or be stricken.”  Mary may have forgotten that she was a threat the Elizabeth’s throne, but Elizabeth never did.  She immediately had the former queen of both Scotland and France imprisoned.

ALAN: Elizabeth had a formal motto as well. It appears on her coat of arms, Semper Eadem, which translates as Always the same. She was telling the world (against all the evidence!) that she would hold an even course in her whole life and all her actions.

JANE:  Very neat.  Sadly, both for herself and for Elizabeth’s desire for stability, Mary did not cease being a source of turmoil, both in Scotland and in England.

There were signs and omens that all was not well.  “In  this time, there was ane monstrous fish in Loch Fyne, havand greit ein in the heid thairof, and at sumtymis wald stand abune the watir as heich as the mast of ane schippe; and the said had upoun the heid thairof two crowins” (Diurnal of Occurents for 1570).

ALAN: Ah! They must have spotted the monster just as it was moving to its new home in Loch Ness.

JANE:  Precisely what I thought. There were other signs and portents but, even disregarding these, things did not go well in Scotland.  The first two regents for the very young King James VI, Moray (Mary’s half-brother) and Lennox were murdered.

Meanwhile, Mary’s supporters, calling themselves the Queen’s Lords, seized Edinburgh Castle and held it with military force.  Finally, in 1573, the current Regent, Morton – an avowed enemy of Mary – used heavy cannon, imported from England, to capture the castle.  However, Morton was overthrown in 1578, impeached, and executed.

Want to guess the charge?

ALAN: I don’t know. Treason perhaps?

JANE: The charge was that Morton had, fourteen years before, murdered Mary’s first husband, Lord Darnley!

ALAN: Oh, my goodness. That sad and sorry story never goes away, does it?

JANE: At this point, history in Scotland begins to leave Mary behind, so maybe we should return to her as she bides in durance not-so-vile in England.

ALAN: Elizabeth was less than thrilled to have a potential focal point of Catholic unrest in England. She used the doubts about Mary’s complicity in Darnley’s death as an excuse to keep Mary under very close watch in various stately homes and castles.

Mary was allowed her own domestic servants and it took 30 carts to carry her belongings from house to house. Her bed linen was changed every day and she had her own chefs to prepare the meals, which were served to her on silver plates.

Mary’s captivity was not onerous, but nevertheless it was very real.

JANE: I agree, gilded bars do not make a place any less a cage.  The woman who had been queen of two lands, married three times, and had borne a son, now lived on someone else’s sufferance.   Her son was lost to her.  Elizabeth refused to see her, knowing that it would be much harder to deal with Mary if she did.  Whatever else, Mary was apparently quite charismatic.

So Elizabeth settled for spies and ignored Mary’s pleas.

ALAN: One of Mary’s watchers was Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster. Mary was well aware that all the letters she wrote or received passed through Walsingham’s hands before they were delivered so she was careful to keep her correspondence innocuous. However, Walsingham set a trap. Towards the end of 1585, Mary was moved to Chartley Castle. She was misled into thinking that letters could be securely smuggled in and out of the castle in a beer keg. Walsingham intercepted all the “secure” letters, of course.

Mary soon made contact with Anthony Babington, the ringleader of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. Now the writing was on the wall.

JANE: And blood-stained writing it was indeed…   Long years of imprisonment were drawing to their end.

ALAN: Mary was moved to Fotheringay Castle and was put on trial for treason. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

Despite the sentence being passed, Elizabeth refused to sign the death warrant. She felt that the killing of a queen set an unfortunate precedent. She was afraid of the possible consequences to herself should Mary’s son, James, ally himself with the Catholic European powers and successfully invade England. However, she gave in to pressure and finally signed the warrant on 1st February 1587.

On the evening of 7 February 1587, at Fotheringay Castle, Mary was told she would be executed the next day.

JANE: I’ve heard that the execution itself was a mixture of farce and pity but, other than something about her dog being involved, I don’t know the details.

ALAN: It took two blows to sever her head from her body. The executioner held the head aloft declaring “God Save the Queen!”. But the auburn hair he was holding was a wig and Mary’s head fell to floor revealing her short, grey hair.

JANE: Oh!  Terrible!

ALAN: The queen’s dog, a small terrier, was hiding among her voluminous skirts. After the execution, it came out of hiding and snuggled up to Mary’s body, covering itself with her blood. It refused to leave her side. It was eventually forcibly removed and washed.

All Mary’s clothes, the block, and everything touched by her blood was burned so as frustrate the relic hunters.

JANE: Well…  At least they didn’t kill the dog and it got a bath.  Horrible, though.

ALAN: I don’t know if you know much about the English folk music scene, but in 1968, Sandy Denny wrote a hauntingly beautiful song about Mary’s life and death at Fotheringay castle. The song is called, quite simply, Fotheringay. I’ve listened to it countless times and it never fails to move me:

Tomorrow at this hour she will be far away
Much farther than these islands
Or the lonely Fotheringay

JANE: Yet, although later generations would pity her, her son James, now reigning in Scotland and with an eye on Elizabeth’s throne, sent only a formal protest – this despite the fact that his subjects, mellowed by nineteen years without the reality of Mary, were willing to go to war.

ALAN: Perhaps James knew that his day would come. As indeed it did.

JANE: Yes.  We’ve mentioned that, upon Elizabeth’s death, he became James I of England.  Now, although I’d like to return to the English monarchy at some future date, I want to talk trash.  Next time?


4 Responses to “TT: Mary — Imprisoned, Exiled, and Executed”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    Well, you don’t _have_ to leave the monarchy to talk trash. There’s no shortage of it littering the courtyards of England’s palaces 😉

    Which reminds me – Elisabeth was actually the last _English_ monarch, so if you go on, you’ll need to start talking about British ones.

  2. Paul Genesse Says:

    Congrats on the nomination! You totally deserve it for all the great information on this blog. Well done and great post once again.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Thanks, Paul. We’ve had a lot of fun. Even when we’re not talking specifically about SF/F, I think we embrace the spirit of the genres — sense of wonder, exploration of the alien, and a desire to see the world in new ways.

  3. Paul Says:

    I second Paul Genesse’s congratulations. That is wonderful news, that all this material has found an appreciation among those who offer awards.

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