Mary Queen of Scots, (Part Two)

The Coats of Arms for the British and Scottish Kingdoms

Part Two (The Great Escape or False Imprisonment)

Now, I have studied well how I can best compare
These prison walls, wherein I now reside, to name
The daily flow of hum-drum thoughts laid bare
Unto the lesser world beyond my fragile frame.
For though that world be populous, yet now
My mind seems all alone and sorely separate.
Now I’ll imagine these dual worlds doth show
As but two figments seeming less intemperate.
Through all those false perplexities by which we live
And foster all that weighs the heart and moral worth,
In my mind’s eye, with my soul’s breath to give;
I’ll take one lingering glance at my life’s dearth.
While some deserve and others might indeed presume
Yet none do foster me, who soldiers here disconsolate
Awaiting declaration and the axe again to loom
For my fate’s final toll and her most solemn oath to state:
Prepare yourself and then make ready for your darkest doom
To separate gross falsehood from that which has congealed
In time and what has grown askance in dread and gloom;
Within your liberties there hangs a common fate revealed.
For no man is above another, nor is free to exercise
His power and his influence without recourse to abiding law,
Or is a sovereign to himself, whose domain is a bed of lies
Whose legacy derives from blood in tooth and claw.
All that rancour and regret is but a shroud and this calumny
An all-devouring shame when all is done and said by me.
Therefore I will endure until the last breath doth expire
And sleep takes me forever from this world of mire.

Following on from my previous post on the Tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots where Mary escapes from Loch Leven Castle only to find herself incarcerated and facing trial in England.

Artist’s impression of Carlisle Castle

Elizabeth was now faced with yet another alarming dilemma involving her personally and her step-sister who was by now thinking and acting purely on the spur of the moment. If Mary was allowed free access to England there was the danger that Catholic support for her would produce civil war in England. Left to fend for herself chances were that either France or Spain would intervene by ship to the Scottish or British mainland, which would have been too close for comfort. While the option of a war with Scotland to restore her to the throne would also be expensive and counter-productive given her Catholic leanings and her unstable mental attitude. Elizabeth finally decided to detain Mary herself, her servants and household indefinitely for her own safety and await further developments and reactions in Scotland. Lord Scrope and Francis Knollys were engaged to imprison Mary at Carlisle Castle in early 1568. Furthermore, the Privy Council were already busy building a case against Mary for her indiscretions and possible secret motives and communications. Ostensibly, both Lord Burghley and Francis Walsingham were planning to incriminate Mary to the extent that Queen Elizabeth would forsake her, leaving the way open to her trial and potentially her execution. Mary was then relocated to Bolton Castle in Yorkshire and was appointed a lawyer, Lord Herries to represent her defence from any charges brought against her. The possibility of Mary returning to Scotland again was fast disappearing, furthermore she was obliged to renounce any claim whatsoever to the throne of England, abandon any future league with France, to wholeheartedly deny the Catholic Mass and in future enter into a league with England. Both William Cecil and Murray worked towards a viable resolution of Mary’s involvement in the murder of Darnley except that Murray withheld evidence of the “Casket Letters”, as a trump card should Mary attempt to return to Scotland. Attending and sitting on that council as chairman was the Duke of Norfolk who was advised by Sir Robert Dudley privately that the Duke should contemplate a “marriage” to Mary to which the Duke was cleverly beguiled, not fully realising its constitutional consequences. Another alternative suitor had been considered by Sir Francis Knollys namely, Sir George Carey, the son of Lord Hunsdon (candidates on the illegitimate line of succession).

Treasons, Stratagems and Conspiracies

Mary as a prisoner at Bolton Castle

It is impossible to fully list or analyse in detail the depth of the intrigues, counter-plots and secret machinations that took place behind the scenes during this time, suffice to say that by October Murray decided to reveal the existence of the incriminating “Casket Letters” (which included a Book of Articles, the Lennox Papers and the depositions of known witnesses) as evidence since the progress of the council had slowed down to the extent that nothing had been or was likely to be decided positively on the matter. Mary was then moved to Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire as William Cecil, who recieved secret reports that the Duke of Norfolk was contemplating a marriage with Mary, feared another desperate attempt to rescue her. Meanwhile an adjudicating body of lords was set up to examine the case further and its implications in Scotland. It consisted of Sir Francis Bacon, the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Leicester, Lord Clinton, and Sir William Cecil. The Earl of Sussex, now based in York was appointed to negotiate with Scottish representatives in the case and relay reports back to the council and adjudicating body. On the 10th January he advised them that either Mary should be found guilty or the matter simply hushed-up in order to preserve and protect Mary’s honour. Mary was denied any attendance at the council or the adjudication so was not able to personally defend or represent herself, consequently the Scottish commissioners also removed themselves from the council. Indeed, she was even denied access to the newly revealed evidence although Queen Elizabeth advised Mary that if she should answer the charges laid against her she could have access to a copy of the casket letters and other evidence against her. Mary insisted that the letters contained mere slanders and false evidence “cooked up” by her enemies in Scotland and England, which was a fair and accurate summary of the “Casket Letters” themselves. The only option that Queen Elizabeth was prepared to envisage was that Mary should denounce her own personal claim to rule but be allowed to pass that onto her son, James. Meanwhile, Murray was engaged to return to Scotland with a loan of £5,000 to report back to the Scottish commission and help to slowly degrade and demolish what remained of the Marian support.

Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire as it stands today

It would appear that at this stage the Protestant Queen Elizabeth had finally triumphed over her rival sister but the implications of her decision or should we say “political tactics” over Mary’s future was to haunt her for a further nineteen years with Mary’s incarceration hanging in the balance like the sword of Damocles over Elizabeth’s reign. While Elizabeth remained without a husband and hence no heir of either sex to inherit her legacy, (or so it is ascertained by conventional historians) Mary, Queen of Scots had by sheer dint of resilience, perseverance and stubborn courage brought forth an heir in the form of James who was in the end destined to accede to the English throne. But the ongoing drama of foreign policy for Elizabeth was yet to play itself out with alarming consequences. While France had been by far the foremost and prominent enemy against England, they were now gradually being replaced by Spain, particularly in the Netherlands. To add fuel to the fire it was suggested that Elizabeth could contemplate a marriage with the Duke of Alencon, (the subject some say of the Shakespeare play “The Taming of a Shrew”). As already mentioned in one particular instance Mary was secretly approached by Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, the richest and most illustrious nobleman in England, with a proposal of marriage. The Italian financier Roberto Ridolfi was also involved (see below) but was persuaded by Francis Walsingham to become a double agent for the English crown. Mary was temporarily removed to Old Hall, Buxton in the vain hope that she would be distanced from the affairs of court but she continued her secret plots and was implicated by the machinations of the spy-master, Sir Francis Walsingham. Mary was finally tried for complicity and treason along with the Duke of Norfolk, Anthony Babington and Sir William Throckmorton who were all found guilty and Mary was executed at Fotheringay Castle near Peterborough in 1587. Elizabeth had delayed signing her half-sister’s death warrant allowing Lord Burghley and Francis Walsingham to act without her express permission and therefore maintained that she had not demanded Mary’s execution. Or as personified in the rhyme; “Mary, Mary, quite contrary how does your garden grow?” Mary’s letter to the Duke of Norfolk was produced as evidence in his trial: She writes:

“And for your lands, I hope they should not be lost, for
Being free and honourably bound together, you might make
Such good offers to the countries and the Queen of England,
As they should not refuse. You have promised to be mine and
I yours. I believe the Queen of England and the country
Should like of it…..If you think the danger great,
Do as you think best, and let me know
What you please I do; for I will ever be, for your sake,
Perpetual prisoner or put my life in peril for your
Well-being and mine…
I pray God preserve you and keep us both from deceitful friends.
Your own, Mary, faithful unto death, Queen of Scots.

Trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay Castle. On the 8th of December 1542 – 8 February 1587. She was sentenced to execution for her alleged role in the Babington Plot (a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I of England).

The Ridolfi Plot (1571)

The Ridolfi plot began the same year that many leading Puritans were attempting to persuade Queen Elizabeth to rid herself of the “Howard scourge”, that is Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk whose father, the Earl of Surrey had himself been executed for treason by Henry VIIIth. Howard was assisted at least in his public career by William Cecil in 1564 when he was enlisted on the Privy Council largely as a counter-weight to the extremes of Robert Dudley. The Earl of Leicester together with other liberal Protestant factions thought they might marry Howard off to Mary, Queen of Scots thereby neutralising the threat of her liaison with either a Spanish or French nobleman. However, this did not go down well with the Puritan factions who thought Howard, although the leading nobleman in England, as a threat to stability. At first the Duke of Norfolk was persuaded to support the Northern Earls’ rebellion but soon had second thoughts. William Cecil’s proposal inadvertently became intertwined with the revolt of the Northern Earls who expected a Catholic Spanish invasion organised by the Duke of Alba, governor of the Netherlands. John Hawkins uncovered the plot when in secret conversation with the Spanish ambassador, although the Grand Duke of Tuscany had also warned Elizabeth of the Vatican’s intentions.
Ridolfi’s messenger, Charles Baillie was arrested at Dover carrying compromising letters and was subsequently tortured until he revealed all the details known to him of the conspiracy. The financier of this plot, an Italian money-lender and banker who came to England, was also a paid informer for the French and Spanish courts and was in direct contact with the Pope’s officials. He was arrested by Francis Walsingham but later released due to lack of evidence, as it was suspected he might be the financier of a plot. He escaped into Europe and continued to campaign for an insurrection in England in order to re-instate Mary as Queen of England. The Spanish Ambassador was expelled from England in January 1571 threatening war. Shortly afterwards Pope Pius Vth issued a papal bull excommunicating Elizabeth and enlisting support to any Catholics prepared to depose her. It seems Mary admitted to dealings with Ridolfi but Elizabeth was reluctant to execute her half-sister even though she was a threat to her reign. Although Howard was arrested on September 7th 1571 then sent to the Tower. He was later executed for his involvement in conspiracy and rebellion on June 2, 1572.

The Throckmorton Affair (1583)

An artist’s impression of the Old Hall, Buxton where Mary was held prisoner

The Catholic counter-conspiracy was discovered by Francis Walsingham with the help of the spy “Henry Fagot” (alias Giordano Bruno) which implicated Francis Throckmorton and Henry Howard in an audacious plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth Ist. George Gifford, a Throckmorton on his mother’s side was the protagonist who first approached Mary Queen of Scots with a conspiracy which she refused at first, seeing it as an inverted plot to implicate her and have her beheaded for treason. The conspirators were actually in communication with Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador and conspired to overthrow the Queen with the financial assistance of the Duke of Guise and her half-sister Mary, Queen of Scots while she was herself imprisoned. George Gifford, a gentleman pensioner at court approached the Duke of Guise in Paris in 1583 arranging to shoot or stab the Queen while she was walking alone in her garden or while out horse-riding.

As it turned out George Gifford, who was well known to Sir Walter Raleigh, Walsingham and Christopher Hatton never made his attempt even though he might have been successful. Phillip, Earl of Arundel was also brought in for questioning, the Spanish Ambassador was dismissed and others suspected of aiding the conspirators were sought. Among those questioned about their involvement were the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland who were sent to the Tower for aiding the escape of Charles Arundel and Thomas Paget. Francis Throckmorton and Henry Howard were also arrested, imprisoned, tortured and then found guilty and so were finally executed. The ciphered messages were secretly smuggled in beer barrels but Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster knew about this and was able to intercept and read all the communication of their arrangements and intentions.

The Jesuit Conspiracy (Edmund Campion)

Engraving depicting the execution of Edmund Campion

Following the papal bull excommunicating Elizabeth Ist, numerous Catholic priests arrived from Europe from 1580 onwards and conspired to overthrow the Protestant Queen or undermine her authority in England. Apparently the Pope went further and said that anyone assassinating the Queen could do so with impunity. Campion had taken holy orders as deacon at an Anglican Church in 1568 then went to Ireland under the patronage of Henry and Phillip Sidney purporting to support Catholics there. He then fled to Douai where he attended a training college founded by William Allen. From there he went to Rome and joined the “Society of Jesus” founded by the Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola which was later known as the Jesuit Order. He then travelled to Austria, Moravia, and Prague to preach and finally returned again to Rome. Here it was decided that Father Edmund Campion, Gregory Martin and Robert Parsons of Jesuit persuasion were among those first missionaries who should augment and support those practising Catholics in Reformation England, who were from their point of view being persecuted and impeded in their faith. Often this meant the printing and dissemination of anti-Protestant pamphlets or those condemning Elizabeth’s reign. Those entering the Roman Catholic priesthood were often sent to Douai, France to train in counter-reformation, intellectually and politically. Cuthbert Mayne was one of the first to attend courses there after meeting Father Campion in Oxford while he was the chaplain of St. John’s College and a protégé of Robert Dudley. Mayne was caught and captured working undercover in Golden Manor, Cornwall. After a nationwide man-hunt Campion was discovered by Walsingham’s agent, George Eliot hiding in a secret space in a stairwell at Lyford Grange, Oxford along with two other priests. It was discovered that they had both attempted to re-introduce the system of pardons and indulgences with the use of an iconic emblem (Agnus Dei) a consecrated talisman of stone and silver. Campion maintained that he had no wish to interfere with English politics even though his tract “Campion’s Brag” was being disseminated in England. He produced a longer pamphlet entitled Decem Rationes, Ten Reasons against the Anglican Church.

Artist’s impression of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle

Rumour has it that even Queen Elizabeth was impressed by his scholarship and charismatic air but he was the tip of the iceberg where the Jesuit insurgency was concerned. When confronted by the Earl of Leicester he demanded a public debate to determine the issue. Meanwhile, Phillip of Spain had consolidated his empire by annexing Portugal and James VIth of Scotland was preoccupied with the Guise faction in France and the ongoing Wars of Religion in several regions of Europe. Elizabeth favoured Don Antonio’s cause to accede to the Portuguese throne although he too was an illegitimate heir. She built alliances in the Netherlands with the Duke of Anjou and invited the French court to send suitable suitors for her hand in marriage. The Statute of Recusancy drawn up in March 1581 proclaimed that any Catholic failing to attend an Anglican service would be subject to a fine of £20 a month, anyone participating in a Catholic Mass would be classed a traitor and suffer execution, and anyone making defamatory remarks against the Queen would be pilloried, their ears or tongue cut off and fined £200. A repeat of an offence would incur their immediate death. Even so no more than 250 Catholics were executed during a 20 year period of Queen Elizabeth’s entire reign of 44 years. Although many history books reveal Elizabeth as a tolerable monarch often quoting her famous phrase; “We have no intention of making windows into men’s souls”, the Edmund Campion affair illustrates how fearful and religiously intolerant she actually was of Catholicism. Edmund Campion did not relent at his trial maintaining his innocence to the end and denying the charge of treason. Even so he was brutally tortured in the Tower and was sent to Tyburn on the 1st of December and executed for his treasonable and anti-Protestant stance.

The Babington Plot (1586)

Engraving to illustrate the conspirators in the Babington plot

Another plot was being hatched by Phillip of Spain and the Vatican to assassinate the Protestant Queen Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. This would coincide with a Spanish invasion of England assisted by the Guise faction in France. The chief conspirator on English soil was Sir Anthony Babington (1561-1586) a young Catholic nobleman although supported by Don Bernadino de Mendoza in Paris and King Phillip 2nd of Spain in Madrid. Mary’s imprisonment after her abdication from the Scottish throne was the responsibility of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a loyal Protestant but in 1580 Mary was transferred to the custody of Sir Amias Paulet at Chartley Hall, Staffordshire. Considering the outcome of the Throckmorton Affair (see above) Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council devised a “Bond of Association” that was signed by those aristocrats who were in direct or indirect succession to the throne to pledge their undying loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. Thereby anyone found guilty of infringing this special bond for any reason, including her half-sister Mary, would automatically face investigation and if found guilty ultimately execution.
In 1585 a Catholic exile, Gilbert Gifford was intercepted at Rye, in Sussex by Walsingham’s agents and when interrogated he confessed to being involved in a Catholic plot against Elizabeth. Walsingham then offered to spare his life if he would work as a double agent and Gifford naturally agreed. The plot as such had two principal origins, one from Spain, the another a home-spun plot by Morgan and Charles Paget to muster support for the assassination of the Queen. John Ballard, a Jesuit priest enlisted the support of John Savage, an ex-soldier who was already involved in a separate plot to kill the Queen and secured the assurance of Sir Anthony Babington of support from the Northern Earls should a Spanish or French invasion be required. Unfortunately for the conspirators Francis Walsingham was well acquainted with every aspect of this conspiracy through his ciphered intercepts with Mary and his numerous agents (Gilbert Gifford and Robert Poley) at home and abroad.

Engraving depicting the execution of the Duke of Monmouth

Moreover, Walsingham required definite proof of Babington’s supporters and Mary’s consent to the plot in order to determine the extent of their involvement. The intercepted letters to Mary were deciphered and copied with an addition asking for the names of the conspirators. This vital piece of information did not arrive on time but other parties must have confessed the names of the conspirators to Walsingham. Mary’s secretaries, Claude Nau de la Boisseliere and Gilbert Curle were arrested and interrogated in August 1586. Likewise the conspirators Babington, Ballard, Chidiok Tichbourne, Sir Thomas Salisbury, Robert Barnwell, John Savage and Henry Dunn together with their accomplices Edward Habington, Charles Tilney, Edward Jones, John Charnock, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy and Robert Gage were all tried and executed on September 20th. This was probably the most gruesome and barbaric series of executions to ever take place in England. The horror of being hung until nearly dead, being disembowelled, having one’s tongue cut out, genitals or heart removed and then finally being quartered and decapitated must have been truly shocking. Such was this horrific spectacle that after the first series of executions Queen Elizabeth ordered the remainder of conspirators just to be hung until dead and then have them disembowelled.


An illustration from the time depicting the public execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle

By comparison with the life, marriage, betrayal and tragic death in a car accident, the tragedy of Diana, Princess of Wales pales into insignificance. In all Mary was imprisoned firstly in Loch Leven Castle, then having escaped her abductors was placed in the safety of Carlisle Castle, then relocated to Bolton Castle in Yorkshire later being enclosed under close guard at Tutbury Castle and Chartley Hall, Staffordshire then moved to the Old Hall at Buxton before being transferred to Fotheringay Castle where she was to endure her brutal public execution. To conclude therefore, Mary’s imprisonment in England was essentially the major cause or catalyst for the Northern Rebellion, which led to numerous executions of the Northern Earls and their supporters and the main cause of the Spanish Armada sent by Philip IInd of Spain to avenge the execution of a Catholic monarch by a Protestant Queen. Her secret proposal of marriage to the Duke of Norfolk was also the cause of his trial and execution for treason. All this the Queen of Scotland had endured as well as the death of three husbands; the first, Francis IInd of France died from an abscess that infected his brain, her second husband, Lord Darnley was himself murdered, presumably by her third husband Lord Bothwell, who himself eventually died of insanity in Denmark. She had also been forced to witness the brutal assassination of her secretary, David Riccio at the behest of Lord Darnley. She was then forced to abdicate as Queen of Scotland and abandon her only child, James VIth. Having escaped proverbially from the fire she then found herself in the frying pan and was incarcerated for the remainder of her life, and there being falsely accused of treason, subject to extreme scrutiny and eventually tried, found guilty and then publicly executed.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows:


Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

In the early part of my career I have worked extensively in media, the arts and theatre as an innovator and environmental conservationist and much later took on a role as an investigative journalist and commentator on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.

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