The Trial and Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

By 1586 Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I for almost two decades.

She’d lost her throne in 1657, having been forced to abdicate in favour of her baby. Then after fleeing Scotland for safety in England she’d been (at least in her mind) royally screwed over. Instead of helping Mary regain the Scottish throne, Elizabeth had her locked up.

Mary was a serious threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Viewed by Catholics as the true catholic ruler of England, there was many a plot to bump off Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

Thus, Mary was imprisoned. Spending year after year being dragged around England to be locked up in its various castles.

So you can see why, approaching her 20th year of imprisonment, Mary eagerly took part in plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Enter, The Babington Plot. Put together by young nobleman, Anthony Babington and priest, John Ballard (along with other conspirators) the plot was an incredibly convoluted scheme to:

  • Start a Spanish invasion
  • Kill Elizabeth I
  • Put Mary on the throne
  • Return England to Catholicism

Whilst locked away, Mary advised the plotters, both in terms of strategy and how to ensure she’d win the English throne. And naturally as the ‘rightful’ ruler of England Mary would be the one to sign off on the plot starting. Which she did, in July 1586.

Unfortunately for Mary, the plot had been infiltrated and Elizabeth I’s own spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham had been using the letters to entrap Mary and get her to call for Elizabeth’s murder. Which by signing off for the plot to go ahead, she’d done.

Everyone involved with The Babington Plot, including Mary, was duly arrested.

The Babington Plot postscript and its secret cypher

In September 1586 the first of the conspirators were executed, including ringleaders John Ballard and Anthony Babington. Onlookers said that by the time he arrived at the execution site, John Ballards limbs were barely in their sockets, as a result of the torture he’d undergone.

One at a time, the men were hung drawn and quartered. Forced to watch their fellows dismemberment before their own death. The executions were so brutal that a public outcry meant the other conspirators were just ‘hung until they were quite dead’ before being dismembered.

With that bloodbath over, the attention turned to Mary. What could be done with the traitorous Queen?

The idea of executing a Queen was very possible. After all, Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. But this wasn’t a outcome that Mary entertained.

In her mind she had been anointed by god to reign. That was something holy and untouchable. There was no law in the land that could hold jurisdiction over her, the only judgement she was accountable to was God’s.

However it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t God’s holy anointed Mary going on trial for treason, but (as the royal warrant for the trial put it) Mary, a mere woman who was:

‘Pretending title to this crown of this realm of England’

Mary’s trial hearing started on 14 October 1586. Though it operated as less of a trial and more of a really long argument between Mary and those convicting her.

To say Mary would have made an excellent lawyer would be an understatement. She rallied hard, with a stream of well thought out and articulated arguments. Always ready with something to fight the prosecutions threats and refusals to acknowledge her words.

Mary’s arguments included:

  • That she wasn’t an English subject and therefore couldn’t be held as an English traitor
  • She’d been denied legal counsel or the right to view evidence being bought against her
  • Did she mention, she was a Queen. Anointed by God. It would literally be a sin to kill her.

After Mary’s hearing was finished, the trial was adjourned to The Star Chamber, leaving Mary at Forgeringay Castle. Then on 25 October, the trial was completed…without anyone telling Mary.

The trials commissioners found Mary guilty of treason. And together with Parliament they urged Elizabeth to execute Mary as quickly as humanly possible.

BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.

Though there’d been a lot of bad blood between the pair of Queens, there had also been a kind of respect. They were so similar in so many ways. Cousins thrust into positions of power considered above their gender. No matter how begrudging, there was a bond there.

After Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley died in an incredibly suspicious explosion, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, urging her to distance herself from the scandalous tragedy, as:

‘I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you.”

But even more than the bond Elizabeth shared with Mary, she didn’t want to execute her because it set a deadly precedent. To lawfully kill a sovereign.

Elizabeth had hoped she’d be able to pardon her cousin. That Mary would beg for forgiveness. But none of that happened.

As pressure mounted from her councillors and parliament, Elizabeth had no choices left. On 1 February 1587 she signed Mary’s death warrant.

Elizabeth’s signature of Mary’s death warrant

With the warrant signed, Elizabeth’s councillors decided to carry out the execution immediately – without telling Elizabeth.

On the evening of 7 February, Mary was visited at her prison of Fotheringhay Castle and told she was to die the next morning.

Her last hours were spent both in prayer and sorting out her affairs. Sleeping would be near impossible, thanks to the incessant loud hammering as the execution scaffold was hastily erected.

Early on the morning of 8 February, Mary serenely entered the castles great hall to face the scaffold. And after that everything turned into a shit show.

Mary bids her servants farewell in a 19th century re-imagining (which explains the sheer drama here)

To kick things off, Mary was curtly informed that she was to go to her death alone. This was a shock.

Traditionally women of Mary’s status were allowed their ladies around them on the scaffold. They not only gave one last herald of the condemneds status. But, perhaps more importantly, the women provided comfort before the ax fell and then shielded the broken body. Offering dignity in death by not subjecting the woman to being stripped by men for burial.

To be rejected this right at the last minute was a huge blow.

Though she maintained a calm exterior, Mary begged to be allowed her ladies. She was rejected, but refused to give up. Pleading for this, her final right.

Eventually the councillors gave in. On condition that Mary’s ladies didn’t loudly weep, wail, or generally erupt into female hysteria.

And so Mary climbed the stairs of the scaffold, her ladies in tow.

As Mary waited for the death sentence to be read out, a man burst forth from the crowd. Dr Fletcher, The Protestant Dean of Peterborough proclaimed that it wasn’t too late for Mary to save her soul and convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith.

Mary ignored his loud protestations and prayers, until eventually breaking and saying:

‘Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.’

In response, the Dean fell to his knees on the scaffolds stairs and started loudly praying at her. Mary politely turned away and began her own prayers.

Despite the Deans complete inability to read a room, Mary finished her prayers. With this over she stood, readying herself for this final act of ceremony.

She paid the executioner, forgiving him in advance for what he was about to do. Then Mary’s ladies helped her remove her black gown. Revealing a red petticoat with deep crimson sleeves.

This colour wasn’t a a random choice, but the red of catholic martyrdom. Mary was making a clear statement – she was anointed by God, to kill her was a sin and in death she would become a holy martyr.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, artist unknown

The wordless statement from Mary’s blood red petticoat rang throughout the great hall. Even as Mary was blindfolded, laid her head on the block and stretched her arms wide to signal the executioners axe.

The first blow hit the back of her head.

Accounts vary on if Mary cried out from the pain or remained silent. However as this was a chop wound (a mix of sharp force and blunt force trauma) its most likely that Mary felt excruciating pain for a few seconds, before losing consciousness.

The axes second blow hit her neck, severing it almost entirely. With one third chop needed to separate Mary’s head from her body.

The executioner then picked Mary’s head up by the hair, held it forth to the crowd and proclaimed

‘God save the Queen’

At which point, he lost grip on the head as Mary’s wig fell off, revealing her greying hair (something people were shocked about, despite the fact she was 44 and they’d just witnessed her bloody execution)

And with that macabre farce, the story of Mary Queen of Scots came to an end.

A 1791 deception of Mary Queen of Scots burial

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Choosing just one book on Mary Queen of Scots is impossible, so here are some of my favourites:

The Batshit and Fantastical Life of Hortense Mancini

From bedding Kings to fleeing countries dressed as a pistol wielding man. Duelling her lovers, drinking, dancing and above all fighting for her independence; the life on Hortense Mancini was to be blunt, fucking insane…so lets get to it:

Born into nobility on the 6th June 1646 in Rome, Hortense Mancini was the fourth of five sisters.

Their Mother a great beauty, their Father an aristocrat who practiced black magic (specialising in necromancy) and their Uncle was Cardinal Mazarin; both Cardinal and Chief Minister to Louis XIV (the real power behind the French throne) – it’s safe to say the sisters had a somewhat eclectic background.

But things didn’t stay nattily rosey for long; in 1650 tragedy struck when Hortense’s Father died suddenly.

Fortunately the situation was far from as black as it could have been and Hortense’s Mother made the canny choice of leaning on Uncle Cardinal Mazarin in the families hour of need.

Uncle Cardinal had a soft spot for his nieces; in particular the wild and witty Hortense and he soon invited them to stay at French Court, where he would see what he could do for the girls.

Cardinal_Mazarin
Cardinal Mazarin

The Mancini sisters took the streets of Paris by storm; very much the 17th century Kardashians; they were olive skinned, beautiful and very scandalous. They even had their own name ‘The Mazarinettes’ (that’s some top 17th century branding there, Kris Jenner would be proud)

With the attention of French society gossip mills focused on The Mazarinettes, it’s hardly surprising that when Uncle Cardinal announced his plans to arrange fabulously powerful and rich marriages for his nieces; the Mazarinettes became hot property.

Now the most eligable prospects in the European marriage market, everyone wanted a piece of Laure, Olympe, Marie, Hortense and Marie Anne.

Marie, Olympe, Hortense
Marie, Olympe and Hortense

The Mazarinettes had their pick of European nobility; Marie even became the lover of Louis XIV! Then Charles ll, party lover extraordinaire and future King of England, rocked up at French court.

Currently in exile from England, Charles quickly fell for fun loving Hortense. The pair seemed like two halves of one hedonistic whole; Charles proposed and promised to make the teenage Hortense England’s Queen (should his exile end…)

But Uncle Cardinal was having none of it. He was not about to set up his favourite niece with a galavanting eccentric Englishman with no fortune and only a title to his name (a title, btw, that was both now worthless and liable to one day get him killed) so Charles was sent packing

Charles ll
When Charles did become King, Uncle Cardinal offered 5 million for Hortense’s hand. Charles declined

Soon the Mancini sisters started to be married off to Princes, Generals and Dukes but Uncle Cardinal wanted something extra special for his favourite niece.

In fact this would be his dying wish and on his deathbed Cardinal Mazarin left Hortense his fortune and finalised her marriage to the richest man in Europe.

At the age of 15 Hortense was now one of Europes wealthiest women.

money
-maybe not a totally historically accurate gif interpretation… –

This all sounds great. Until you realise that the richest man in Europe was the literal worst.

Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye
Presenting the incredibly sexy Armand-Charles de la Prote

Hortense’s husband to be, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye (say that three times fast) was a religious nut, which is bad, but this guy took zealous dickery to a whole new level.

He worried that the sight of milkmaids milking cows would be so lustful and sinful to passing men that he ordered that any milkmaids in his service have thier teeth knocked out, so their smiles would no longer pose the threat of starting some kind of dairy based sexual riot.

what the dick?
Yup, don’t look for the logic here

Upon marrying Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye –from now on just Armand, because I’m not typing that all out again- 15 year old Hortense quickly realised that he was a monumental bell end.

Aside from his zealous nature, he was jealous and prone to angry and violent outbursts. He covered any nude paintings of men in the house so Hortense wouldn’t be tempted by lustful thoughts, burst into her room at night to check for hidden lovers and forced her to spend days praying away her sins.

This wasn’t Hortenses’ style.

If her husband wouldn’t let her be around men then that was fine; she could be flexible.

And so, soon into her marriage Hortense starting seeing another young woman; Sidonie de Courcelles.

Unsurprisingly Armand wasn’t happy when he discovered the affair. And so he packed the two girls off to a Convent.

Yup…That’s right. He sent them away. Far away. Together. This man is a genius.

OBVIOUSLY the girls continued their affair and weren’t overly fussed about their punishment.

They spent their days at the Convent playing pranks on the nuns, pouring ink in the holy water and attempting escape by fleeing up the chimney.

It was basically St Trinians but with more sex and pissed off nuns (actually, how has this not been made into a film?) Soon the nuns had enough and sent the pair back to Armand and the affair fizzled out.

boo.gif
Fucking fun wrecking Armand

Somehow in their seven years of tumultuous marriage Hortense and Armand had 4 children (no I don’t know either) But the children weren’t enough to keep Hortense tied to Armand.

She decided to leave her husband, which in the 17th century meant that she would lose her children. The price of Hortenses freedom was high, but one she would be willing to pay if it meant escaping Armand for good.

After several foiled attempts (which led to Armand imprisoning her in the family home) Hortense left her husband on 13 June 1668. She rode out the gates on horseback, dressed as a man and quickly fled France for the safety of her sister Marie’s home in Rome.

Sadly Marie’s place wasn’t the safe house Hortense was hoping her; as Marie was deathly afraid her husband was trying to poison her (I’m not saying that Uncle Cardinal was shit at picking spouses but…) so the sisters fled to France where Marie’s former lover Louis XIV announced that both women were now under his protection.

marie-and-hortense-mancini-2.jpg
Marie and Hortense

Things were looking up. Louis XIV gave Hortense a hefty pension, which allowed her the unusual freedom of becoming an independent woman. She set up house in France and transformed her new home into a haven for artists, philosophers and great minds of the time.

Hortense also picked up a lover, The Duke of Savoy , who helped Hortense fight of her husbands many demands for her return.

Sadly all good things must come to an end; the Duke died and Armand finally managed to get his hands on her assets; freezing all her finances (including her pension from Louis XIV) until she agreed to come back to him.

fuck
Fucking Armand! 

But Hortense wasn’t going to back down that easily.

She headed to England; agreeing to work with England’s ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu on his plan to de-seat one of the English Kings mistresses, Louise de Kerouaille.

Thats right, after turning down his proposal, Hortense was now travelling to England to become Charles ll’s new mistress. You can’t deny Hortense had moxy.

Hortense battled treacherous roads, icy weather and a near shipwreck on her journey from France to England. But she refused to give in and return to her husband, set on forging her own path and getting back the independence she had lost in France.

Hortense arrived at English Court in 1675 dressed as a pistol wielding man (naturally) and Charles ll fell for his old love once more; Hortense became a royal mistress.

hortensemancinijacobferdinandvoet1675
You can tell because her boobs out

Her partying, drinking and general debauchery rivalled Charles. Luckily Hortense’s love of sword fighting and horse riding helped ensure this her lifestyle didn’t have too much of an effect on her appearances.

Naturally the other women in Charles life started to grow concerned about Hortense; she could be a real threat to their positions.

But Hortense didn’t want to be like his other mistresses, she wasn’t a Nell Gwynn; she couldn’t dedicate her whole life to Charles. She escaped one man that wanted to rule over her and she sure as shit wasn’t go back there.

Hortense wanted to live as she choose; to drink, dance and take as many lovers as she could!

And so she did.

She lived independently yet remained a mistress. Charles loved Hortense for who she was and so he turned a blind eye to her refusal to call him ‘your majesty’ and made an exception for her long list of lovers; that is until Hortense pushed things too far by sleeping with both Charles and his daughter…

oh snap.gif
Not at the same time. But still. 

Anne, Countess of Sussex was Charles daughter with one of his first mistresses, Barbara Castlemaine.

Anne was 15 and unhappily married when she met Hortense (now in her early 30’s) the two became firm friends, which quickly progressed to much more (wink).

The women attempted to keep the affair relatively quiet, but the court rumour mills intrest peaked.

Then things really hit the front page when Hortense and Anne publicly duelled in St James Park, in their nightgowns, with a group of men looking on.

Anne’s husband was furious and she was sent away from court where desperate and lovelorn she took to her bed for days, a miniature of Hortense pressed close to her chest.

Charles ll wasn’t best pleased with Hortense, but with the affair over he cooled down.

…..Until Hortense took on another lover, this one the Prince de Monaco.

Sleeping with his daughter was one thing, but sleeping with another royal was a step too far for Charles. He put a stop to their affair and stripped Hortense of her royal pension for several days.

Thats right, days, I know, I don’t know how she coped either.

crying

Charles and Hortense remained friends. And with her pension back in place Hortense lived more than comfortably in Chelsea, her home once more a salon for artist, poets and great minds.

Then in 1685 Charles ll died suddenly.

Hortense maintained her place at court, remaining good friends with England’s new King, James ll, but with her protector now gone there was nothing stopping Armand from forcing his errant wife home.

And so in 1689 Armand took his case to court. The law was on his side and demanded that Hortense return to Italy and Armand. But she refused.

This time though Hortense’s fighting spirit failed her. With the stress of Armand’s continued efforts to force her back, as well as her years of drinking and gambling starting to take effect, Hortense found herself in spiralling debt.

She maintained her refusal though, retiring to the English countryside, where she died in 1699.

But thats not the end of the Hortense’s story…

Because Armand was still alive. 

That’s right, Armand had plans for Hortense, even in death.

dog.gif
Yeah, Armand be crazy. 

Armand traveled to England, where he bought Hortense’s body from her creditors.

He then proceeded to take Hortense with him wherever he went, with her body propped up in his carriage.

Because Armand was (and will always be) the literal worst.

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