There has always been a fascination about
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Her life has been romanticized in novels and in the movies.
However, the story of Mary is a great tragedy in history.
Mary was a very high-spirited, impulsive, highly-sexed woman and a devout Catholic in the
bargain. There were bound to be problems when she returned to Scotland during a period of
austerity in religion.
Mary was a baby when she was crowned at Stirling Castle, the only legitimate child of
James V who died immediately after her birth. Not only was she Queen of Scotland, but as
the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, she was in line for the throne of England after the
children of Henry VIII. Mary was supposed to marry Henry VIII's son, Edward. How
history would have been changed if that had happened. By proposing marriage with his
son, his interference in Scottish politics could be taken as a benevolent interest.
However, there were Catholics who were opposed to such a marriage and Henry overplayed his
hand and made demands to which Mary of Guise, Mary's mother, who was acting as regent,
could not acquiesce so they took the little Queen to Stirling Castle. Henry then began his
"rough wooing" of Mary by invading Scotland. He sent an army north and they
burned Edinburgh and the abbeys in the Borders. These terrible brutal attacks gave Mary of
Guise and Cardinal Beaton an
opportunity to gain control. The effect of his actions was to alienate the hearts of
many Scotsmen."Scotland might have come to England as a bride, but as a bondswoman she would never
come." English aggression drove Scotland into the arms of the French.
Mary was sent to France at the age of five for her safety. Accompanying her were
four Scottish noblewomen, the four Marys, and they were educated at the French Court with
the little Queen. Mary was brought up at the French court as a Catholic and developed into
a very accomplished and beautiful young woman, almost 6 feet tall, with beautiful red
hair. At the age of 15 she was married to the dauphin, Francis, the son of Henri II of
France, her childhood playmate. She was very fond of white and
wore white for her wedding, although it was regarded as the color of mourning. Upon his
death, she became Queen Consort of France.
A few months after she went to France, Henry VIII's daughter, Bloody Mary Tudor died
childless and the English throne passed to Elizabeth, the Queen of Scot's cousin.
Because of her marriage to the Daphne, the Catholics believed that Mary Stuart had a
better claim to the English throne and the King of France declared that his
daughter-in-law was the rightful queen of England. Elizabeth was furious about the
French's putting forth a claim for Mary as the rightful Queen of England. Elizabeth was
very jealous of Mary's beauty and feared greatly for her throne. Roman Catholics had never
recognized the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and so for many, Mary was
more than the true heiress to the English Crown, she was the Queen of England.
Mary became the Queen of France when Henri died in 1559 and the Daphne assumed the throne.
Secret treaties were signed stating that if Mary should die without heirs, that the throne
of Scotland would be conveyed to the French. The Guises were now in a very solid position
of power. The following year her mother, Mary of Guise, died after having been the regent
of Scotland for six years. The King of
France died leaving Mary a widow at the age of 19. Upon her mother's death,
she decided to assume her place as Queen of Scotland and returned there in 1561.
Return to Scotland
When she returned to Scotland Elizabeth declined to give her a safe conduct across the
North Sea because Mary had refused to ratify the Treaty of Leith. She felt that it was
worded in such a manner that she must abandon the claim to England forever. Was she to lay
claim to the English throne or was she to abandon her immediate claim and gain recognition
as the accepted successor of Elizabeth, if
Elizabeth should die without heirs? She decided to play a middle road for the time being.
she returned to Scotland, she refused to accept the invitation of the Earl of Huntly to
land in the northeast and make herself a Catholic Queen with the aid of the Clan Gordon.
In fact, she forbade her entourage and lieges to do anything against the form of religion
which was "public and standing" upon her arrival. This was the first
religious toleration in Great Britain.
She was given a grand welcome by the people when she landed in Leith port by Edinburgh.
The people were charmed by her courtesy, beauty and winning mannerisms. However, by now,
Scotland had been reformed by Knox into a Protestant nation and soon the people began to
fear the very Catholic Mary, her friends and the Catholicism she brought from France with
her. Mary soon ran afoul of Knox and his reformation.
An unmarried queen was a great asset for any country. There was talk of Mary
marrying the Archduke Charles, Charles IX of France, the Duke of Guise or Don Carlos, the
son of Philip II and even of a Protestant suitor, Leicaster or Eric of Sweden. Mary tried
to arrange a match which would have the approval of Elizabeth since Mary was trying to
remain in good graces with Elizabeth so she would name Mary as her heir. It soon became
apparent that Elizabeth would oppose most any match. Therefore, Mary herself chose her
cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, son of the fourth Earl of Lennox. Darnley was also a
contender for the English throne and a Catholic. Mary was very much taken by his fine
figure and they fell in love and were married without waiting for a dispensation from Rome
(they were first cousins) or for Elizabeth's approval. Mary possibly was a virgin when she
met Darnley, even though she had been married to the King of France. Undoubtedly,
there was a strong sexual attraction to him. Darnley was a very ambitious young man,
not too bright, and wanted to rule the country not as
the consort of the Queen but as the King in his own right. He proved to be arrogant, ill
behaved, faithless and untrustworthy. Mary by now was pregnant with the child who would
eventually become James VI of Scotland. Because Darnley had proved such a disappointment
to her, she turned her attentions and affection to an Italian singer, David Riccio, whom
she made her secretary.
Mary and Riccio shared a close friendship, which angered Darnley, being a jealous person.
I don't think that Mary and Riccio ever had an intimate relationship but were close as
only good friends can be. It has been advanced that Riccio was a spy of the Pope. Not too
much is known about him other than he was a musician and before long was supplanting
Darnley in counsel and in companionship. One night, Darnley, in a drunken rage,
invaded Mary's apartments where she was having a supper party. Darnley and his men dragged
poor Riccio out into the hallway and stabbed him to death before the shocked and horrified
Queen's eyes. Not long after this, Mary and Darnley reconciled. I personally believe that
this was merely artifice on Mary's part to make Darnley assured of his position in her
life until she could find a way to rid herself of him.
Shortly after the birth of Mary's son, Darnley was killed in an explosion at his home. He
had escaped the explosion that destroyed the house he was living in but was found with his
page dead a short distance from the house. It was rumored, and is probably true, that he
was killed by James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. It was found that Darnley had died by
The Earl of Bothwell
Mary married the Earl three months later. This was one of Mary's biggest mistakes. It
proved to be a political tragedy for her. Bothwell seems to have had a strong influence on
Mary. She always
seemed in need of a strong man for counsel. As a child she could trust and relied upon her
French relatives for advice. Bothwell persuaded her that if she returned to Edinburgh from
Stirling where she
had had her baby, her life would be in danger. She went with him to Dunbar Castle where
Bothwell could protect her. There are some who believe that Mary was forced to marry
Bothwell because of their conspiracy to murder Darnley. However, it is more likely that
she was attracted to Bothwell and his strength which was in such opposition to Darnley's
weaknesses. Mary may have felt that getting rid of Darnley would be approved by Parliament
since she could not divorce him lest her son be jeopardized. Bothwell was brought to trial
for the murder of Darnley but he was acquitted and obtained a recommendation by some of
the nobles that he should marry Mary. Bothwell had been married only a
short time to another woman whom he divorced in order to marry Mary. They were married at
Holyroodhouse in a Protestant ceremony after he had been created the Duke of Orkney.
Scotland was shocked, more by the fact of the marriage than by the murder of Darnley. A
great deal of deceit revolved around Mary and she had many enemies. Many of the nobles
opposed her marriage to Bothwell and they rose against her and Bothwell. A Protestant army
of 3000 men led by the Earl of Morton, met them at Carberry Hill and after six hours of
fighting, Mary persuaded Bothwell to leave the
field. She surrendered herself and was taken to Lochleven Castle. She soon realized the
seriousness of her predicament as she was forced to ride among the rebels without food or
rest and with no attendants. When she arrived in Edinburgh she was met with
jeers from the crowd and cries of burn the whore. Death by burning was the fate of a woman
who murdered her husband. She was confined in a small room in the Provost's house. The mob
outside continued to call for her death. Fearing for her life, the nobles moved her to
Holyrood by using the "blue blanket," the fighting flag of the crafts community
of Edinburgh to shield her from the mob. Still the danger was so great that she was moved
once again to Loch Leven. Here she miscarried twins by Bothwell and was forced to abdicate
in favor of
her young son who was hastily crowned at Stirling. She saw her son for the last time when
he was ten months old.
Bothwell escaped to Norway, was arrested by the King of Denmark and held captive until his
The Earl of Moray, a strong Protestant, and Mary's once beloved and later discredited
half-brother, was made Regent for James VI. When Mary escaped from Loch Leven Castle the
Earl gathered an army together to go after her. Many nobles swore their allegiance to Mary
and met with Moray in battle just outside of Glasgow. The battle lasted less than an hour
and was won decisively by Moray. Mary now feared that she would fall into the hands of her
enemy and against the advice of the nobles who had supported her she escaped to England
and to what she thought would be the protection of one queen for another.
Mary was accused many times of plotting against Elizabeth. Elizabeth professed
impartiality, requesting evidence of Mary's treason and then upon being given the Casket
Letters, which may have been forged to begin with, refused to rule for either side. In
truth, she was afraid of Mary whose position as legitimate Roman Catholic Queen of England
became more dangerous to Elizabeth, especially after
her own excommunication. In 1572 she secretly proposed to send Mary back to Scotland to be
murdered but this plan did not come to fruition. Though Elizabeth had been named Godmother
to Mary's son, they never met face to face. Even today, they are both buried at
Westminster Abbey separated so that they can not see each other.
Elizabeth had her put under house arrest for the remaining 19 years of her life. Elizabeth
felt it would be better to keep her a prisoner than to let her return to Scotland where
more plots could be hatched and where her presence could provoke a civil war. During her
captivity, Mary encouraged many plots to free her and to put her on the English and
Scottish thrones. For her involvement in these plots, and the fear
Elizabeth had of one of them succeeding, Elizabeth signed the warrant for Mary's execution
and she was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.
Mary's Mount is on the top of Carberry Hill, which is about 1 1/2 miles south of
Musselburgh, between the two villages of Whitecraig and Elphinstone, just of the B6414 road (and hidden in the
forest), in East Lothian. Pictures kindly provided by Mark Greig
Mary's final letter to Elizabeth expressed her
final requests, which would never be granted.
"Now having been informed, on your part, of the sentence passed in the last session
of your Parliament, and admonished by Lord Beale to prepare myself for the end of my long
and weary pilgrimage, I prayed them to return my thanks to you for such agreeable
intelligence, and to ask you to grant some things for the relief of my conscience.
I will not accuse any person but sincerely pardon every one, as I desire others, and
above, all God, to pardon me. And since I know that your heart, more than that of any
other, ought to be touched by the honour or dishonour of your own blood, and of a Queen
the daughter of a king, I require you, Madam, for the same of Jesus, that after my enemies
have satisfied their black thirst for my innocent blood, you will permit my poor
disconsolate servants to remove my corpse, that it may be buried in holy ground, with my
ancestors in France, especially the late Queen my mother, since in Scotland the remains of
the Kings my predecessors have been outraged, and the churches torn down and profaned.
As I shall suffer in this country, I shall not be allowed a place near your ancestors, who
are also mine, and persons of my religion think much of being interred in consecrated
earth. I trust you will not refuse this last request I have preferred to you, and allow,
at least, free sepulture to this body when the soul shall be separated from it, which
never could obtain, while united, liberty to dwell in peace.
Dreading the secret tyranny of some of those to whom you have abandoned me, I entreat you
to prevent me from being dispatched secretly, without your knowledge, not from fear of the
pain, which I am ready to suffer, but on account of the reports they would circulate after
my death. It is therefore that I desire my servants to remain witnesses and attestators of
my end my faith in my Saviour, and obedience to His church. This I require of you in the
name of Jesus Christ in respect to our consanguinity, for the sake of King Henry VII, your
great-grandfather and mine, for the dignity we have both held, and for the sex to which we
I beseech the God of mercy and justice to enlighten you with his holy Spirit, and to give
e the grace to die in perfect charity, as I endeavour to do, pardoning my death to all
those who have either caused or cooperated in it; and this will be my prayer to the end.
Accuse me not of presumption if, leaving this world and preparing myself for a better, I
remind you will one day to give account of your charge in like manner as those who
preceded you in it, and that my blood and the misery of my country will be remembered,
wherefore from the earliest dawn of your comprehension we ought to dispose our minds to
make things temporal yield to those of eternity.
Your sister and cousin wrongfully a prisoner,
Her last letter to Henri III shows her state of mind knowing that she was to be executed.
"Monsieur mon beau - frere, estant par la permission de Dieu (she wrote in French as
that was preferred by her).
Royal brother, having by God's will for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of
the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years. I have
finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which
they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to
recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to
make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your
kingdom where I had honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.
Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a
criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of
everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate
servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that
I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The
Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English throne are the two
issues on which I am condemned.
The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to
my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg your most Christian Majesty, my
brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now
of your goodness on all these points; firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate
servants the wages due to them - this is a burden on my conscience that only you can
relieve; further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title
Most Christian Queen of France, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions.
I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness,
trusting you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your
loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feelings for you. Give
instructions if it please you, that for my soul's sake part of what you owe me should be
paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I
die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.
Wednesday at two in the morning,
Your most moving and most true sister,
Marie R. Queen of Scotland."
It was a cold and bitter winter's day when Mary, with dignity intact as always, was led to
the block. She wore her customary black cloak with a white veil over her head. When she
reached the block, she dropped her cloak and revealed a crimson dress. Her last words
were, -Into thy hands, O, Lord, I commend my spirit.- it took three strokes of the axe to
sever Mary's head. True or not, the story is that
when her head toppled, her body began to move, frightening everyone present. It was found
little dog had been hidden in her dress. All that Mary took with her to her execution,
crucifix, writing book, then her bloodstained clothes and even the block were burned.
There were to be no relics. When the executioner held up Mary's severed head the wig that
she wore fell off and she was an old woman, white of hair and partially bald.
Her wishes were not granted. Instead of being buried in France as she wished she was
buried in England. Her death passed without incident from the Scottish people who were too
busy with other troubles to give more than a passing thought to the Queen who had caused
so much controversy in their country.
Bruce Caron for this story
Schiller and Mary Queen of Scots
This article is provided by
Mary Queen of Scots – Retelling of Schiller's play
Virtuous murderess and seduced adulteress, great in the
moment of her death - that is how the German author Friedrich Schiller
(1759-1805) portrays the heroine in his play Maria Stuart (first
staged 1800 in Weimar). The play is still popular in Germay. Therfore, the
picture of Mary Queen of Scots as guilty but repentant, romantic in her
great final scene and acceptance of death is still alive in Germany.
Already in the first act Mary confesses herself guilty of
murder ("I knew about it. I let it happen / And beguilingly coaxed him into
the net") and adultery ("His [Bothwells'] arts were none / But his male
force and my own frailty"), repeated before the execution ("The king, my
husband, I had murdered / And gave my hand to my seducer"). But
nevertheless, she is condemned innocently, because the reason given for the
death sentence is her participation in the conspiracy of Babington, and that
is unjust since she was not involved in it. In the final scene she forgives
Elisabeth and wishes her well ("Tell her, my death in heart I do forgive her
/ God may protect her and happy be her reign"). This noble attitude is what
Schiller called "a noble soul" (eine schöne Seele): in face of death she
integrates external beauty, moral greatness and internal strength. That is
part of a philosophical-artistical concept Schiller had developed together
with his friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (essay: About Grace and
Dignity - Über Anmut und Würde, 1793). Nevertheless, the genesis of the
play was hard work for Schiller as he several times states in his letters to
Goethe "My Mary will not stir any softer emotion. She does not feel, nor
will she evoke tenderness, her destiny is only to suffer and to rouse
Schillers play encompasses the last two days of the life
of Mary. (Im my opinion that is a good way to present her as the suffering
heroine, not as woman actually doing things that would not be approved by
Presentation of the play:
A room in the Castle of Fotheringhay. Mary's nurse,
Hannah Kennedy has a dialogue with the master of the guards, Paulet, who
conficscates jewelry and letters. He argues about the danger Mary still
presents to the English throne by her various attempts to escape (conspirations
of Babington, Parry, and Norfolk). Only her dead will put an end to young
men sacrifiying themselves to rescue her. She came to England as a murderess
"Abandoned by her people, denied the throne
That she dishonoured by ignoble deed."
Had she but signed the treaty of Edinburgh things would
never have gone that far. Mary enters. She is not at all upset to be
bereaved of her jewelry
"Hannah, calm thee, these trinklets
Do dot make a queen. Basely one can treat us,
But never submit us to humiliation."
She only begs the letter Paulet found to be delivered to
queen Elisabeth. In this letter Mary asks for a personal meeting between
them both. And she wants to make her testament. That Paulet allows but he
denies her a priest of her own Catholic religion. When Mary is alone with
her nurse she confesses that she feels guilty of the mureder of Darnley
"I knew about it. I let it happen
And beguilingly coaxed him into the net."
and her succombing to the seductions of Bothwell
"... His arts were none
But his male force and my own frailty."
Hannah tries to calm her, arguing that Darnley had
provoked Mary by his assasinating Rizzio, that she had no chance to
withstand Bothwell. Nevertheless, Mary is oppressed by a feeling of guilt.
Enter Mortimer, Paulet's nephew (not a historical
figure). It turns out that this apparently staunch Puritan has secretly
converted to the Catholic faith and has put up another conspiration to free
Mary - long description of the beauty of a Catholic mass compared to the
frugal Protestant churches. Mary warns him and reminds him of the fate of
others that in vain tried to save her. Since he insists, Mortimer shall
contact the Earl of Leicester and deliver her portrait to him.
Enter Lord Cecil Burleigh. He tells Mary that because she
has willingly made her statement before the 42 judges she now shall accept
the judgment. Mary tells him something about this made up legal court
"I am not a citizen of this realm
A free queen of a foreign state I am. [...]
Kings only are my peers. [...]
This worthy noblemen I see, in rash decision
Changing conviction, changing faith
Four times in four reigns of diffrent kings."
And they are Protestants aswell as traditional enemies of
"The English never can be just
Against a man from Scotland, that's well known.
Therefore it is a habit from our fathers' time
That never shall a English man against a Scot
And ne'er a Scot against the English may bear witness
Before a court of law."
Mary admits that she wanted to unite Scotland and England
like her ancestor Richmond had bound the two Roses together after a long
war. She never wanted to kindle the flame of civil war and it was not her
fault that conspiracies in her favour gave such an appearance. She turns
down some more of Burleighs accusations and ends in telling him that she
came to England not with the sword but as an exiled asking for hospitality
and was imprisoned and put to trial instead. If Elisabeth was going to
execute her, well, she may do so but she shall not call justice what is
simply the abuse of power. In that way she cuts off all of Burleigh's
Next scene: Burleigh tries to coax Paulet into solving
the problem "Mary" in a discreet way but Paulet refuses. He is a watchful
guardian but not an assasin and he will make sure that noone else gets that
sort of idea, either. If Mary is to be executed, be it upon the scaffold.
Elisabeth in conversation with the French ambassador
Count Aubespine. Plans to marry her to the son of the French king. She does
not really want to give up her liberty in marriage
"My wish and my renown has always be do die
Unmarried, as a virgin queen.
[...] A queen
Should be freed from this one aim of nature
That makes the one half of all mankind
A slave to the other."
That one is an emancipated lass. But her subjects want
her to produce a heir. So she makes a sort of semi-concession to the
ambassador as it is her usual tactic. (I wonder whether this trait of her
character, common to the descriptions by Schiller and Stefan Zweig, was
really the character of queen Elisabeth or whether it is one of the things
that tend to stick to a person during historiography, one writer copying it
from the other.)
Next scene: Elisabeth, Leicester, Burleigh, Lord Talbot
of Shrewsbury. Burleigh wants Elisabeth to sign the death warrant of Mary,
since the judges have found her to be guilty of treason. Hey, you will have
the Catholics back, if you don't. Talbot argues that the execution would be
an unjust mean to free the country from fear of a Mary-party in England. You
have a free will of your own, he says, demonstrate this by not succumbing to
the urges of the people who want to see the Scottish queen executed.
"Not severity did God put into the heart
Of women - and those who gave the power of this realm
To women likewise as to men, they show
That rigidity is not the virtue that shall guide
The kings who govern over this realm."
Nice argument, but it does not impress the queen. Talbot
continues: The life Mary had led, the way she grew up, her good looks, made
her easily succumb to temptations. Her, Elisabeth's, youth had been very
different, she had learnt to govern her feelings, to consider her deeds.
Elisabeth is not amused to hear about the beauty of another women. Leicester
uses this argument to trick her into that personal meeting which Mary so
strongly desires. Elisabeth could easily convince herself that Mary was not
half as beautiful as her if she only would meet her and have a look.
Mortimer enters and delivers the letter Paulet had taken from Mary. Against
her will, the queen is moved by the pleas of Mary. She sends the lords away
"Be thee gone My lords. We will find a way
To properly unite what grace may ask,
What necessesity will demand of our deeds."
[A little history lesson: in former times, and that is
valid for the reign of Elisabeth, to see the face of the king or queen
according to old customs meant grace for the accused and condemned. So when
Elisabeth concedes to see Mary she cannot but pardon her, that is the reason
for her being so indecisive about it.]
Next scene: Mortimer and Elisabeth. Mortimer plays up to
her, giving the impression of a devote Puritan that would do what his uncle
denied: to put a strange substance into Mary's food to solve the problem for
good. Next Mortimer meets with Leicester who complains about the fickleness
of women. He had made love to Elisabeth in hope to get the throne together
with her hand and now she is turning her fancy to this French fellow. His
real love has always been Mary - despite his apperance to be one of her
judges - there had been marriage plans long ago. And Lizzy is such a
whimsical woman. No, he is going to devote himself to the liberation of Mary
and then he can marry her. But still he remains cautious whereas Mortimer
wants to break up the door of Mary's prison, and to kill Elisabeth to
eliminate a candidate to the English throne.
Another meeting between Leicester and Elisabeth. He
repeats his attempt to coax her into meeting Mary, and is successful this
Mary in the garden of Fotheringhay Castle. For the fisrt
time since long she is allowed to breathe the fresh air. Memories of days
long past when she was merrily hunting in the Highland mountains. Paulet
enters and tells her that she is to meet queen Elisabeth. Mary is very
worried about this sudden chance, feels not prepared for it. She is afraid
that she will give way to her bitter feelings towards Elisabeth
"Too severely I have been hurt, too great the offense;
Oh, never will there be a reconciliation."
Shrewsbury tries to calm her, she should be submissive
and appeal to Elisabeth's generosity. In the following it comes to the
unhistorical but dramatically very effective scene of the meeting between
both women. Marys suspicions seem to become true:
"No heart is to be felt in these proud traits."
Elisabeth, too, finds her expectations quite met up by reality:
"Who was it to announce an unhappy one,
Suppressed by shame. A proud one I do find
Whom misfortunes never have humiliated."
Nevertheless, Mary kneels before Elisabeth and also tries
to bow verbally. Her faults were mostly the result of her youth and
inexperience, of giving away too much to her feelings. But she has learned
her lesson. She admits that her opponent is the victor, but now she should
extend her hand to rise from the deep fall. Elisabeth gives a harsh answer,
you are at the place where you belong. Mary fights hard to keep her
"See, I will call it destiny what came between us,
Your are not guilty, nor am I. A ghost arose,
Unholy from an abyss, to saw distraction, to kindle hartred
That in early years already grew in our hearts. [...]
That is the malediction of the kings
That if they are enemies they tear
The world apart in hatred once set free
And send the furies of war to innocent people.
- But now, no stranger is between us."
Elisabeth replies that not destiny was the cause of the
quarrel but Marys aspiration to the English throne and her attempts to
"The Church herself separates all bonds of duty,
Sacred is to her the murder of kings, the break of faith,
I only do what your priests teach."
(Schiller was Protestant!)
When accused of attempted murder by participating in the
Babington conspiracy Mary denies it. And why did not Elisabeth declare her
her heiress, she would have found a friend in her. Her friends are to be
found outside England in the Catholic countries, is the reply. Mary finally
gives up even the demand of succession to the throne:
"Greatness does no longer tempt me. You have achieved
Your aim. I am the shadow only that is left of Mary,
Broken is my courage by the long emprisonment.
You have done the uttermost, destroyed me in my bloom.
Make an end now, sister, speak the noble word
That sets me free."
More pleas from her side. More haughtiness from
"Is there an end to your intriguing?. No murderer
Is left to risk his life? No adventurer to play the knight
And fight for you. [...]
Is that the charming beauty, Leicester,
That no man can see unpunished, that no wife
Can measure her own beauty with.
By Jove, it is an easily achieved renown
To be a famous beauty, for it means
To be a beauty seducing every man."
That is too much for Mary, she gives it back:
"I failed as human, as young being
Power seduced me, I never did
Make a secret of it. False pretense
I scourned with royal honesty
The worst the world knows of me, and I can say
That I am better than my reputation.
Woe to you when from your deeds
The cape of honesty is drawn
With which you shelter your own lust.
Not honesty did you inherit from your mother,
Too well it's known what were the virtues
That made Anne Boleyn to enter the scaffold. [...]
Dishonoured is the throne of England,
The noble British folk betrayed
By the scheming of a cunning maid.
If justice reigned it was you
To lie before me, for I am your queen."
With this, Elisabeth storms out of the scene. Mary
rejoices, she has lowered her rival before the eyes of her lover, she has
had one moment of revenge and triumph after a long time of suffering.
Mary and Mortimer: It turns out in their dialogue that
Mortimer sees much more the woman than the queen in her. He tries to make
clear to her that she would not find a way to rescue by too-careful
Leicester. Mortimer unravels a conspiracy that would make her escape
possible. Elisabeth shall be assassinated and than the way to the throne
will be free for Mary. She is shocked. More innocent blood sacrificed for
her sake, more young men endangering themselves for her freedom. She doesn't
want that any more. And she definitely does not want to be regarded as a
woman submitting to carnal desires any longer. When Mortimer tries to
embrace her, she pushes him off.
Paulet enters, announcing the assassination of Elisabeth
and guides Mary back into her prison. But it turns out that the attempt
failed, Lord Shrewsbury had saved the queen.
Back to the court and its scheming. Burleigh tells the
French ambassador to leave England since the would-be-murderer was a subject
of the French king. Of course, there will be no more negotiations about a
marriage with the French heir. And he tells Leicester that he has found out
that it was him who brought about the meeting that ended in a humiliation of
the queen. Leicester is desperate. Things get worse when Mortimer announces
that a letter from Leicester to Mary has been found by Burleigh and is now
in the hands of the queen. But when he introduces Leicester into the plot of
the conspiration the latter calls the guards. Mortimer kills himself,
Elisabeth is beyond herself. The man whom she loves, whom
she has given more power than anyone else, has betrayed her to side with
Mary. Mary will be executed, yes! Burleigh is only too glad about that but
then Leicester forces his entry. When confronted with the offensive letter
he makes up a pretty story about playing the faithful friend to Mary only to
better discover her secrets. Somewhat sneeringly he tells Burleigh that this
Mortimer, in whom the queen had put her trust, was in reality the inititator
of the conspiracy and in league with the murderer.
Elisabeth hesitatingly regards the death warrant when
Shrewsbury comes in and once more tries to convince her not to sign it.
Truly, the people were asking for Mary's death now, but would she be
executed they afterwards would rather remember the granddaughter of an
"Now every man in Britain hates the feared one
But will revenge her, when she is no more.
No longer enemy of faith she'll be
But granddaughter of their ancient kings,
Victim of harted and of jealousy they will regard her
And mourn the fate of the unhappy queen."
Elisabeth hesitates again. Had only the dagger of the
murderer hit her fatally. She will renounce Majesty and leave the decision
about the future queen to the people. Burleigh comes up with the strongest
argument, with Mary Catholicism would return to England and Elisabeth was
responsible for the souls of her subjects. She wants to be alone.
"The one is not yet king who must secure
The favour of the world. Only who never needs applause
For his deeds, only he will truly be a king."
She doesn't want to be a tyrant and misuse law, but she
is in a weak position towards other countries, and the blame of being a
bastard still lingers. And the cause of all this is
" ....Maria Stuart,
Thy very name is every fate that falls upon me.
If she is erased from the land of the living
Than I will be free as the air in high mountains. [...]
A bastard I'm to you - Miserable one,
I am as long as you have breath to speak.
The doubts about my royal birth
They'll cede the moment you are quiet.
As soon there is no other choice to all the British folk
I will be born in unblemish'd wedlock bed."
Elisabeth has signed the death warrant and gives it to
the officer Davison with very indecisive directions about what to do with
it. Davison is in a desperate situation not knowing whether he shall execute
the order or whether he shall keep the paper until he receives a more clear
direction. That moment Burleigh enters and filches the death warrant from
An attempt by Mortimer's friends to assassinate Elisabeth
has failed, Mortimer is dead and Leicester again in the favour of the queen.
Only, she has ordered him to be present at Mary's execution that will take
place in the final act of the play:
In the prison vault. Mary has got some of the beautiful
things back that surrounded her in better days, and a last meeting with some
of her former ladies-in-waiting is permitted. Also returned from exile is
her lord chamberlain Melville. He and her nurse Hannah Kennedy try to
comfort each other. Hannah tells that Mary had been shown the scaffold but
bore the view with great calmness. She did not weep for her own fate but for
that of the others, like Mortimer and his father Paulet.
Mary enters. Why are you weeping? You should rejoice with
me that I finally will be free, that I can be a queen until my very last
moment. Her death will undo all sins and wrongdoings of her life. She
adresses Melville and asks him to give her greetings to the king of France
and the pope. Her servants shall leave England. Then she takes leave of the
ladies and remains alone with Melville. One thing still worries her: she
cannot make her peace with God since a priest of her own religion is denied
her. Heart-moving description of the beauty of a Catholic mass. [It makes
me wonder since Schiller was a stout Protestant.] Melville comforts her,
she should trust in God Almighty. Mary seems to understand:
".... thus the redeemer says:
Where two are gathered in MY name,
There I will be present among them.
What is it that in truce ordains a priest?
His pure heart and unblemished life.
Thus you will be a priest to me - though unordained;
A messenger of God, to bring me peace.
To you I will my last confession make,
Your word my salvation shall pronounce."
But there is more to it. It turns out that Melville has
got ordained as priest, that he has brought with him a host, consecrated by
the pope himself. Now follows the - unhistorical -scene that provoked a
pretty scandal when it first was staged. Schiller had to alter it, but I
will give the original.
Mary kneels before Melville, he makes the sign of the
cross over her and asks her confession. Mary admits unforgiving hatred
against Elisabeth, she admits unlicensed love to Bothwell, she admits her
share in the murder of Darnley. And deeply she regrets. His bloody shadow
still haunts her although she had got absolution for it. Is this all you
have to tell me, Melville asks. Mary confirms it. Melville is upset:
"To your God you hide the crime
For which on earth you are condemned?
You do not speak of the bloody part
You had in the conspiracy of Babington,
Of high treason you inflamed in Parry?
Death in this world you'll have for this,
Do you want to suffer death also in Eternity?"
Mary insists that she has used all legal methods and the
help of friends to gain her liberty but that she never has plotted against
the life of Elisabeth.
"So you will mount the scaffold
Convincéd of your innocence?"
"God dignifies me, by this undeserved death
To atone for the early bloodshed I committed."
Melville blesses her and announces by his power to free
and to bind her to be absolved from all her sins and offers her the host
"Take this, it is the body that hath died for you". Then he offers her the
chalice with the wine:
"Take this, it is the blood that was shed for you.
Take this. The pope himself shows you this grace.
In death you shall partake in the highest right
Of kings, the one that equals you to priests."
Mary drinks and remains kneeling until Burleigh enters.
Burleigh enters and demands whether Mary had a last wish
to be granted. She wants her will to be obeyed and Hannah to escort her to
the scaffold. And she asks the forgiving of Paulet for having bereaved him
of his son. She forgives Elisabeth:
"Tell her, my death in heart I do forgive her,
God may protect her, and happy be her reign."
(Remember what I said at the beginning of the retelling
of the play about the "noble soul" so important in Schiller's philosophy.)
"Bobbing Robbie" Leicester enters. Mary addresses him:
You kept your promise that I should leave this prison at your side and thus
I may do now. I would have loved you. Be happy if you can
"A tender loving heart you have dismissed
And betrayed, to win a proud one.
Kneel down before Elisabeth, the queen!
And may not your reward turn into punishment.
Farewell, nothing more is left on earth for me."
Kissing the holy cross she leaves the room. Leicester
"And I still live; I still can bear to live!
Will not this roof hurl its weight upon me!
Will no abyss open to receive
This most unfortunate being! What have I lost,
What moonlit pearl I've cast away,
What heavenly hapiness I have thrown forth!"
And so on. In vain he tries to go near and observe Mary's
execution. He tells what he can hear and imagine. [I] That's a typical
theatre feature: because it was forbidden to show things like an execution -
or a battle - according to the rules of the classical drama, it had to be
done indirectly by the so-called teichoskopía "look over the wall". It
nevertheless gives the scene a "dramatical presence" (1).[/I]
Next scene: Elisabeth alone, in distress. What has
happened to Mary? Then Shrewsbury enters and tells her that Mary's Scottish
servant, Curl, a major witness against her, has confessed that he was misled
by the belief to save his queen to give false witness. Different letters to
Babington than the ones shown to him he had written. Well, Lizzy is fast on
her feet: the exmination shall be renewed, grace God, there is still time to
do so. When at that moment Davison enters she claims the execution order
from him and when it turns out that he has given it to Burleigh, Elisbath
makes him responsible for any consequences. And that is the point where I
really dislike her, to save her own reputation she makes a subordinate the
scapegoat (well, that's called politics).
Next enters Burleigh and announces the death of Mary.
"Long live my royal Lady,
And may all enemies of this blessed island
End as the Stuart did."
[I] The "messenger's account" is another technique to
tell actions that might not be shown on stage. This abstention form
dramatical actions has its reason in the importance of the INNER life of the
persons on which the classical drama concentrates (1).[/I]
Elisabeth takes another step to save her reputation.
Since Burleigh had got the death warrant from Davison and not from her, he
had acted upon his own behalf and therefore will be exiled. She asks
Shrewsbury to be her First Counsellor, but he reclines, he will leave the
court that has become too "subtle" for him.
He will leave her, he, who has saved her life?
"I have done but little;
That what was noble in your soul
I could not save. Live and reign in happiness.
Your enemy is dead. Nothing from now on
You have to fear, nothing to respect."
When Elisabeth finally asks to call Leicester, she is
informed that he has left for France.
(1) Volker Klotz. Geschlossene und offene Form im Drama.
München 1969 (10th revised ed. 1980)
Translation of the
quotations above are by
Maitland of Lethington and
the Scotland of Mary Stuart
A History by John Skelton in two volumes (1887)
Volume 1 |