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Women in History of Scots Descent
Mary Queen of Scots

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. When 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.

Lord Darnley

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.

David Riccio

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 strangulation.

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.

Mary's Capture

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 death.


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 (206849 bytes) Mary's Mount (268178 bytes)
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 both belong.

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,

Marie R."

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 that her 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.

Mary Queen of Scots

Thanks to Linda Bruce Caron for this story

Schiller and Mary Queen of Scots

This article is provided by Gabriele Roeder


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 violent passions".

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 everyone.)

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 Scots:

"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 arguments.

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 time.

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 countenance.

"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 reintroduce Catholicism.

"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 Elisabeth:

"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, cursing Elisabeth.

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 English king:

"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 the officer.

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 remains, desperate.

"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 Gabriele Roeder.

Maitland of Lethington and the Scotland of Mary Stuart
A History by John Skelton in two volumes (1887)
Volume 1  |  Volume 2

Return to Women in History of Scots Descent Index


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