Elizabeth I, Part 4: Mary Queen of Scots

Did Elizabeth have to sign Mary’s execution warrant? A tense time when Catholics were hatching assassination plots against Elizabeth. A brief biography of Mary included.

Young Mary, Queen of Scots

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and Mary

James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell


  1. She was born on 8 Dec 1542, to James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. Six days later she became the “infant queen.” When she was three, it was arranged that she should marry French king Henri II’s son Francis. She was sent to the French court of Henri II.
  2. On 24 Apr 1558 Mary and Francis were married at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. In 1559, Francis became Francis II, king of France, when his father died.
  3. However, Francis died on 5 Dec 1560, of an ear infection that caused an abscess in his brain.
  4. Mary returned to Scotland, establishing a beachhead for France on the Scottish-English border.
  5. Mary Stuart indeed had a right to the English throne if Elizabeth died childless. To many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate to begin with, so Mary was already the true queen of England. Mary was the direct descendant of Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII.
  6. Mary’s dissolute husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, murdered her private secretary and friend David Rizzio on 9 Mar 1566, in front of pregnant Mary.
  7. Darnley was also the grandson of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s older sister. He was descended directly from James II. Yes, Mary and he were cousins.
  8. Mary gave birth to James on 19 June 1566 at Edinburgh Castle. He will become James VI of Scotland (sixth king of the name James) and James I of England (first English king of that name). Rumor said he was the son of Rizzio.
  9. In Feb 1567, Mary took revenge and (probably) ordered Darnley to be murdered. He was convalescing from smallpox or syphilis at the former abbey Kirk O’Field. A violent explosion. Darnley was found dead in the garden, but he appeared to be strangled, and not to have died from the explosion.
  10. Mary and James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, were implicated and he was put on trial on 12 Apr, but he was quickly acquitted, probably because he rode to court with 4,000 retainers.
  11. After the trial she rode to Stirling Castle, where her son was kept, but the boy’s guardian, the earl of Mar, refused to give him up. He did not want to give him up to the man who murdered the boy’s father. She left without him. Three days later, Bothwell abducted her and “ravished” her at Holyrood Castle on 24 Apr. She remained at the castle for twelve days and made no attempt to escape. So how was this be a “ravishing”?
  12. After getting a divorce, he married Mary on 14 May 1567, in the Great Hall of Holyrood Palace. In a march through Edinburgh, the people were quiet and sullen. They felt sullied by the whole affair.
  13. Civil War broke out, as various Scottish lords turned against James Bothwell. The soldiers on Mary’s and James’s side gave up.
  14. She was arrested. Crowds lined the streets or road, yelling “Burn the whore! Drown her!” She was taken to Loch Leven Castle. She miscarried twins in July 1567. However, on 2 May 1568, she escaped, dressed in the simple garb of a servant.
  15. She was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne for her one-year-old son James on 24 July 1567. Her small Scottish army was defeated at Langdon Hill, outside Glasgow.
  16. She escaped to Carlisle Castle, England, and expected Elizabeth to help her regain her Scottish throne. All throughout the ordeal, Elizabeth had been shocked and ordered her to be arrested and set up a commission to investigate Darnley’s death.
  17. If she were found innocent, she could be restored to the throne. If she were found guilty, Elizabeth could not receive her. She was transferred to Bolton Castle, in North Yorkshire.
  18. Elizabeth sent Thomas Howard, the fourth duke of Norfolk, to investigate in Oct 1568. He had Catholic sympathies, so if he found her guilty, no one could claim unfairness. He did investigate, but he also talked a marrying Mary. He had been widowed three times at thirty-two years old. Any heir they had could claim the throne.
  19. Elizabeth heard about the duke’s plan to marry Mary and was furious. He denied it, for he had found out she was of bad character. He was imprisoned in the Tower, but released later, humiliated.
  20. The inquiry concluded they could not find Mary guilty. Now foreign powers were in favor of the union between the duke and Mary.
  21. Mary was moved to Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, where she was under comfortable house arrest.
  22. English Catholic lords now saw the dynastic solution: Mary and Norfolk should marry.
  23. This time the duke was put on trial on 16 Jan 1572 and convicted of plotting against the queen. Twice Elizabeth signed his death warrant, but she revoked them. She was in mental torment.
  24. On the third time she signed it without calling it back. The duke of Norfolk was beheaded on 2 June. He was attended by his tutor John Foxe, author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, who was grateful for his patronage. Apparently, Norfolk died a Protestant, though in the cause of a Catholic plot. Mary, Queen of Scots, burst into tears, when she heard the news.
  25. She was moved to Chartley Manor. Mary was kept under house arrest for the next eighteen years. She was implicated in the Babington assassination plot. A rich Catholic, Anthony Babington, promised Elizabeth would be assassinated by six fanatics, and Mary would be rescued. Coded letters went back and forth, and they were decoded.
  26. She finally said in one of them to go ahead and do it. Just be sure to rescue her. Francis Walsingham intercepted the letters (see below).
  27. An old rumor surfaced as to why Elizabeth did not marry. She had some sort of physical impediment that made it impossible for her to have sex, while Mary, of course, had James.
  28. In the 1580s, while in captivity, Mary confided in one of her guardians that Elizabeth’s sex drive was so insatiable that she seduced many men; she was a sexual predator. She had seduced the Duke of Anjou by her wearing nothing but a chemise and had kissed his envoy Simier. She laughed at her status as the Virgin Queen.
  29. Elizabeth dismissed the talk and powered up her Virgin Queen image to create a semi-divine image.
  30. Elizabeth very reluctantly signed her death warrant (but surely not for the insults). William Cecil was eager to carry it out and executed Mary on 8 Feb 1587 at Fotheringhay (or Fotheringay) Castle, Northamptonshire.
  31. Mary told her executioner: “You are about to end my troubles!” She removed her outer garments. She was wearing a deep red chemise, the liturgical color of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. It took two strokes of the axe to sever her head. She was forty-four years old. When the executioner picker up her head by her hair, it fell and rolled around because he hair was a wig.
  32. Reports say a lapdog fell from Mary’s clothing and slid in her blood. They washed it off and let it live.
  33. Bothwell had escaped to Denmark, where he was imprisoned and died, tied to a pillar in the dungeons of Dragsholm Castle, raving in madness, on 4 Apr 1578. His mummified body could still be seen until 1976.
  34. Supposedly Elizabeth changed her mind and recalled Cecil, but he ignored her and had Mary executed anyway. And supposedly Elizabeth was angry and displayed signs of grief when she heard reports that her cousin Mary was gone. Cecil was asked to leave her court. She froze him out of important decisions.
  35. However, if she really did regret her decision, then she did not allow a funeral befitting Mary’s royal status. Mary’s corpse lay rotting at the castle. The summer warmth made it stink. She was eventually buried in Petersborough Cathedral, where Catherine of Aragon was put to rest.
  36. It is at this point that Philip II intended to take revenge on Elizabeth. A certain man claiming the name Arthur Dudley was washed ashore on Spain’s coast and was brought to Philip. The newcomer claimed he was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley. He was said to be born in 1561, coinciding with the time when Elizabeth was ill with something or other that made her stomach swell. He was able to name a servant who whisked him away and raised him as his own. The servant confessed to his actions.
  37. However, there is no truth to the rumor, since royal babies were closely guarded, and there is no record of an urgent search for the baby (a “babyhunt,” not a manhunt). Royal babies simply are not spirited away in real life.
  38. The real revenge happened at the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Mary in captivity

Elizabeth’s reply to Parliament to execute Mary

Death Warrant


Henry VII: First Tudor King

Henry VIII, Part 1: Early Life and Divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII, Part 2: Marriages after His Divorce

Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies

Henry VIII, Part 4: International Policies

Henry VIII, Part 5: Personal Life, Death, and Conclusions

Edward VI: the Boy King

(Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days: she was not a Tudor)

Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen

Elizabeth, Part 1: Early Years

Elizabeth, Part 2: Sibling Rivalry with Queen Mary

Elizabeth I, Part 3: The Coronation

Elizabeth I, Part 4: Mary Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I, Part 5: Reformation and International Policies

Elizabeth I, Part 6: Personal Life

Elizabeth I, Part 7: Her Male Favorites

Elizabeth I, Part 8: Summary and Death


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Stephen Alford, Edward VI: The Last Boy King, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).

Tracy Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secret’s of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty (New York: Grover P, 2016).

—, Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen (Bantam 2009).

Gerald Bray, ed. Documents of the English Reformation, (Fortress, 1994)

Helen Castor, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (Harper Collins, 2011).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

Susan Doran, Elizabeth I and Her Circle (Oxford UP, 2015).

—, Elizabeth I and Foreign, 1558-1603 (Routledge, 2000).

—, Elizabeth and Religion, 1558-1603 (Routledge 1993).

J.. D. Douglas, “Elizabethan Settlement (1559,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

John Edwards, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (New Haven, Yale UP, 2011).

—, Mary I: The Daughter of Time, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2016).

John Guy, Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).

—, Elizabeth: The Later Years (Penguin, 2016)

Christopher Haigh, Elizabeth I: Profiles in Power, 2nd ed. (Pearson Education, 1998).

Judith John, A Dark History: Tudors: Murder, Adultery, Incest, Witchcraft, Wars, Religious Persecution, Piracy (Metro, 2014).

Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, edited by George Bernard and Penry Williams, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999).

David Loades, Elizabeth I (New York: Hambledon, 2006).

—, Chronicle of the Tudor Queens (Sutton 2002).

Stephen J. Lee, The Reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603 (Routledge 2007).

G.. J. Meyer, The Tudors: The Most Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty (Bantam, 2011).

P.. W. Petty, “Elizabeth I (1533-1603),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

J.. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1997).

Ian Sellers, “Uniformity, Acts of,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (New York: Harper Collins, 2001 [in England in 2000]).

Anna Whitelock, Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court (Bloomsbury 2013).

John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History from Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: the Rise and the Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual and Political Context, vol. 2, (Zondervan, 2013).

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