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THE QUEEN OF SCOTS
HE councilor's words that Elizabeth was more queen
than woman were shown to be true whenever matters came
to the proof. She gave her favorite Leicester
everything that he asked save her own royal hand, but
on occasion she could be as severe with Leicester as if
he had been her enemy.
It was the custom for the general of an English army
to serve without salary and to contribute generously to
his own expenses and those of his troops. The general,
then, must be a rich man, and in order to have the most
perfect control over his soldiers he must be a man who
was known to be in the confidence of the queen. No one
was better qualified in these important respects to
lead an army than Leicester, and he was put at the head
of the forces that were sent to the aid of the Dutch
states then revolting against Philip. Their
 leader had been assassinated, and they asked to be
annexed to England. Elizabeth saw clearly that to grant
their request would bring on war with Spain at once,
and she refused. When Leicester was appointed
commander, she gave him the most positive orders to
accept no such position for her as ruler of the Low
Countries. News soon came that Leicester had been made
"Your Majesty," said her informer, "it is said that
Lord Leicester is shown great honor in the Low
"That is well," said the queen. "The commander of an
army should ever be treated with deference."
"The Dutch states prove by the respect given to Lord
Leicester what honor they would show to your Majesty if
you were with them."
"In what fashion do they show their respect?" asked the
queen so gently that Leicester's enemy took courage and
ventured to go a step further.
"He is called governor-general, and they say that men
kneel before him to kiss his hand, and that he has
already a court as brilliant as that of England."
 "Is that true?" asked Elizabeth with a feigned
indifference. "Do you know more of this court of his?"
"Little now, but there will be more and greater news,
for it is said that Lady Leicester is about to go to
Holland and that with her will go such a train of
ladies and gentlemen and such rich coaches, litters,
and sidesaddles, that your Majesty has none such in
Mary, Queen of Scots.
Then Elizabeth's wrath broke forth. "I will let the
upstart know," said she, "how easily the hand that has
exalted him can beat him down." She wrote an angry
letter to her absent favorite which said:—
"I have raised you from the dust and shown you favor
above all others, and I should never have imagined you
would dare to break my express commandment to accept
any such title."
It was a hard position for Burleigh, since he himself
and the rest of the council had wished Leicester to
accept the title and so force the queen to become
sovereign of the Dutch states, whether she would or
not. The queen's rage was visited upon even her old
friend and adviser, and to
Bur-  leigh himself she declared, "You are nothing but a
The great test of Elizabeth's character was soon to
come, for the year 1587 was at hand. Would she be woman
or queen? A stern question must be decided. Jesting
with Raleigh, exasperating King Philip, storming at
Leicester and then forgiving him, amusing herself with
Leicester's handsome stepson, the Earl of Essex,
bedecking herself in gorgeous attire that flashed with
jewels and gold, dreaming over new routes to India and
new English nations in Virginia—all these had to be put
away for the time. What should be the fate of the Queen
of Scots could no longer be left undecided.
Mary had been a captive in England for nearly eighteen
years, and those years had been almost as full of peril
to Elizabeth as to her prisoner. If Mary was dead, the
Catholics who were plotting against Elizabeth would
have no object in trying to take her life, for Mary's
son James was the next heir to the throne, and he was
as strong a Protestant as Elizabeth. On the other hand,
if Elizabeth were no longer alive, Mary would become
queen of England, and Protestants would
 be obliged to be loyal to her as their lawful
sovereign. They would be the more content knowing that
her Protestant son would succeed her. Thus, if either
Mary or Elizabeth were dead, England would be free from
the plots and conspiracies that had been revealed, one
after another, during the captivity of Mary.
At the discovery of each of these plots, Mary's
imprisonment became more rigorous. It was claimed that
she was at the bottom of every conspiracy.
"The Queen of Scots and her friends will yet have my
life," said Elizabeth, and she added jestingly to her
councilors, "I'll come back after I am dead and see her
make your heads fly."
Walsingham, one of Elizabeth's ministers, had been most
watchful of these plots. His spies were ever on the
lookout, and in the summer of 1586 he found sure proof
of a conspiracy to take the life of the queen. Was Mary
connected with this plot? Sworn testimony declared that
she was. Her papers were seized, and among them were
found letters from many leading nobles of England
expressing sympathy in her troubles. Mary was at once
removed to Fotheringay Castle, where
 she was much more closely guarded than ever before.
Thirty-six commissioners were appointed to try her on
the charge of plotting against the life of the English
queen. She was cited to appear before them.
"That will I never do," she declared. "I have a right
to be tried by my peers. I am a queen, and only
sovereigns are my peers, but I will defend myself
before the queen of England and her council or even
before the English Parliament."
Then a letter was given her from Elizabeth which read:—
"You have attempted to take my life and to bring my
kingdom to destruction by bloodshed. I have never
proceeded so harshly against you, but have protected
and maintained you like myself. It is my will that you
answer the nobles and peers of the kingdom as if I were
myself present. Act plainly, without reserve, and you
will sooner be able to obtain favor from me."
"Is it wise to make these refusals?" asked one of her
friends. "You are in the power of the English queen, is
it not better to rouse her no further by hopeless
 "True, it is hopeless," answered Mary, "it is all
hopeless. I am a sovereign kept here unlawfully as a
prisoner by the royal cousin to whom I fled for help in
my trouble. Her laws have not protected me, why then
must I be sentenced under them?"
"The court is convened," said the commissioners, "and
if you refuse to appear, you will be at once declared
guilty without a trial. Queen Elizabeth has said many
times that nothing would please her so much as to have
proof of your innocence. Is it wise to refuse to give
Finally Mary yielded. Her trial would not be legal
to-day, for she was allowed no counsel, she was not
even permitted to see her own papers or to hear and
question those persons who testified against her, but
it was according to the laws of the time, and she was
tried with no greater severity than was shown to all
prisoners accused of treason.
"Your letters prove that you have allowed your
correspondents to address you as queen of England,"
declared the crown lawyers, "that you have tried to
induce King Philip to invade our
 country, and that you have been knowing to the late
plot to assassinate the lawful queen of the realm."
"With the plot against the life of my cousin Elizabeth
I had nothing to do," declared Mary. "That I have
sought to gain my freedom by the aid of my friends I do
not deny. My lords, I am unjustly and cruelly deprived
of my liberty. Do you blame me for trying by every
means in my power to recover it? Could anyone do
So the charges and the denials went on, and when the
trial was over, the judges left Fotheringay Castle.
Again they met, and everyone voted that Mary was guilty
of high treason in plotting against the life of the
English queen. She was sentenced to death. This was the
report made to Parliament, and that body solemnly
agreed to the verdict. It was proclaimed in London, and
the whole city gave itself up to rejoicing. Bells were
rung, bonfires blazed in every square, shouts of joy
and psalms of thanksgiving resounded throughout the
"Think you that the queen will ever carry out the
sentence?" asked one Londoner of another.
 "It is many years," was the reply, "that the hand of
Elizabeth alone has saved the life of the Scotch queen.
Parliament decreed her death fifteen years ago and
they say that Elizabeth was the angriest woman in
England. 'Would you have me put to death the bird that,
to escape the hawk, has fled to me for protection?
I'll never sign such a bill,' and she never did."
"The constant dropping of water will wear away stone,"
said the first, "and yet I hear that she has sent a
message to Parliament commanding them to find some
"Until the axe falls, nothing will persuade me that the
child of Henry VIII. will consent to see the blood of
one of her own proud race flow at the hand of the
executioner," declared the second, "and what is more,
she will not do a deed that will arouse the scorn and
hatred of Europe. Mary's head is safe."
"Not so fast, my friend. Who are the supporters of
Mary? Who is the 'Europe' whose scorn will check the
pen of Elizabeth when she is about to sign the death
"Philip, the Pope, the king of France, and
 Mary's own son James. They are a powerful company."
"Are they? Philip is really almost at war with us now,
but it is not in Mary's interest. The Pope cares
nothing about putting a Catholic woman of forty-four on
the throne when in a few years she will be succeeded by
a Protestant son. The king of France can do nothing for
her but plead, for if he strikes one blow at England,
it is a blow in favor of Spain."
"Her own son—"
"Has made a treaty with Elizabeth. He will do anything
to make sure of the English throne, and indeed, can he
be blamed for lack of affection when he knows that his
mother planned to leave her claim not to him but to
Elizabeth was most unwilling that Mary should be put to
death. Her ministers were eager for the execution, for
it was their business to secure the peace of England
and the welfare of their queen. They believed that only
Mary's death would bring this about. Then, too, as
Elizabeth had said jestingly, if Mary were once on the
throne, she would "make their heads fly." Surely they
had a right to care for their own
 safety, they reasoned. Elizabeth could not bear the
thought that a princess of the Tudor blood should die
on the scaffold. She was always careless of her
personal danger, and she knew that the death of Mary
would be ascribed to her own fear or jealousy. It is no
wonder that she hesitated.
"What shall we do," queried the ministers. "Elizabeth
must be induced to sign the death warrant, of course,
but who will order it carried out?"
"The queen will never do such a thing," said one.
"We must do it ourselves," said another. "There are ten
of us, and ten cannot well be made to suffer for
carrying out a written order of the queen's."
For many weeks Elizabeth hesitated. She often sat
buried in deep thought. "Shall I bear with her or smite
her?" the ladies of the bed-chamber heard her say to
herself. At last she bade the secretary Davison bring
her the warrant.
"What have you in your hand?" she asked as he entered
"Sundry papers that await your Majesty's
 signature," answered Davison. Elizabeth took up her pen
and signed the warrant. Then she pushed it away from
her and it fell upon the floor.
Elizabeth signing the death warrant of Mary Stuart.—
From painting by Liezen-Mayer.
"Are you not heartily sorry to see this done?" she
"I should be far from rejoicing in any one's calamity,"
replied Davison, "but the life of the Queen of Scots is
so great a threat to the life of your Majesty that not
to sign the paper would be a wrong to your whole realm
as much as to yourself."
"I have done all that either law or reason could
require of me," said the queen, "and now let me hear
Davison reported the scene to the council.
"She means the deed to be done," said one, "but she has
given no orders to carry out the warrant."
"That is her way of dealing with her sea-captains,"
said another. "Does she not provide them with ships and
guns and soldiers, and does she not most willingly take
a share of Spanish gold? But if a commander gets into
trouble with Spain, she will say, 'Did I not give
orders to do no harm to my good friend Philip?' "
 "Then must all ten of us give the final order," said
another. This was done. The warrant and the letter
commanding the execution were sent.
About a week after the signing of the warrant, bonfires
blazed and bells rang.
"The bells ring as merrily as if there were some good
news," said the queen.
"Why is it?"
"It is because of the death of the Queen of Scots," was
the answer. Elizabeth said not a word. A day or two
later she was told that Mary had been executed at
Fotheringay Castle. She turned pale, she burst into
tears, she stormed at her councilors. "Never shall your
crime be pardoned," she raged. "You well knew that I
did not mean my kinswoman to be put to death. You have
dared to usurp my authority, and you are worse traitors
than my poor cousin. As for you, Burleigh, do you never
dare show yourself in my presence again. I have made
you and I can unmake you. That fellow Davison knew that
I did not mean the warrant to be carried out. Take him
to the Tower."
"He is very ill, your Majesty," said one.
"Then take his illness with him, for into the Tower he
 "Your Majesty," pleaded the councilors, "if your
secretary Davison is imprisoned, the lords of your
council will be regarded as plotters and murderers."
"What is that to me?" cried Elizabeth. "They who murder
must expect to be called murderers."
Davison was imprisoned for some time and was fined so
heavily that he was reduced to poverty. Elizabeth sent
a copy of his sentence to King James and also a letter
telling him that the execution of his mother was a
"miserable accident." James was easily comforted. He
had been taught to look upon her as a shame and
disgrace to himself. If she had not been the murderer
of his father, she had, at least, married the murderer,
and within three months after the commission of the
crime. He was lawful heir to the throne of England, but
he knew that she had done all that lay in her power to
deprive him of his birthright. He wrote an earnest
letter to Elizabeth in the attempt to save his mother's
life, but it was soon followed by a sort of apology and
an intimation that all would be well if she would
formally recognize him as her successor.
 It is probable that there will always be two opinions
in regard to the justice of Mary's execution.
"She fled to England for refuge," says one, "and should
have been set free."
"To set her free would have been to deliver her up to
the foes who would have taken her life," says the
other, "or else to the friends who would have made war
"A prisoner cannot be blamed for seeking liberty."
"But one may be justly punished for plotting treason."
"Mary was not a subject of the queen of England."
"He who commits treason is punished whether he is a
subject or not."
"The testimony against her was false."
"It was sworn to by solemn oath. There was no other
means of discovering the truth."
As to Elizabeth's real share in the execution of Mary
there is quite as much difference of opinion.
"Because of her fear and jealousy she put to death the
cousin to whom she had given every
 reason to expect protection," say the partisans of
"It shows little of either fear or jealousy to let her
live for fifteen years," retort the supporters of
"At least she signed the warrant with her own hand."
"Even a Tudor queen was not free to follow her own
will. The English council had urged the deed for many
"Secretary Davison declared that she wished the warrant
"Davison told four different stories, and no one of
them agreed with Elizabeth's version of the scene. Who
shall tell where truth lies?"
"The warrant would have been worthless without her
"Walsingham's private secretary confessed many years
afterwards that he forged the name at his master's
"Then why did she not deny the signature?"
"To whom? To James she did deny it as far as she dared.
She wrote him that the execution was a 'miserable
accident.' To her council she made no denial because
the forger was the tool of
 the council, and had but carried out their will.
Elizabeth could storm at her councilors, but, Tudor as
she was, she had not the power to oppose their united
determination." So the discussion has gone on for
three hundred years.
The surest way for a wrongdoer to have his crimes
forgotten and forgiven is to meet with dignity and
resignation the death that his deeds have made his
lawful punishment. Whether Mary deserved this penalty
or not, her calmness on the scaffold and her gentle
submission to the death from which there was no escape
have won friends and admirers for her even among the
sternest critics of her life and her acts.
Mary Stuart receiving her death sentence.—
From painting by Carl Piloty.
When the time was come for her execution, she went
quietly to the hall of Fotheringay Castle, supported by
two attendants, while a third bore her train. With a
calm and cheerful face she stepped upon the low
platform where lay the block. Platform, railing, block,
and a low stool were heavily draped with black. She
seated herself on the stool. On her right sat the two
nobles to whom the charge of her execution had been
committed, on her left stood the sheriff, and in front
of her the two executioners, while around
 the railing stood many knights and other gentlemen who
had come to see her die. Her robes belonged to the
executioners, and when they began to remove her gown,
as the custom was, she smiled and said she had never
before been disrobed by such grooms. She had begged
that some of her women might be with her to the last,
and when they could no longer control themselves but
began to weep and lament, she kissed them and said
gently, "Do not weep, my friends, I have promised that
you will not. Rejoice, for you will soon see an end of
all your mistress's troubles." She repeated a Latin
prayer, and then an English prayer for the church, for
her son James, and for Queen Elizabeth, "that she might
prosper and serve God aright." Her women pinned a linen
cloth over her face. She knelt down upon the cushion
and laid her head upon the block. "Into thy hands, O
Lord, I commend my spirit," she cried, and so died Mary
Stuart, Queen of Scotland and heir to the throne of
Last moment of Mary, Queen of Scots.—
From painting by an unknown artist.