‘Our fault were not shameful: you have promised to be mine and I yours; I believe the Queen of England and country should like of it.’
Mary Queen of Scots, to the Duke of Norfolk
As the last farcical acts of the conference of Westminster were taking place, preparations were already afoot in faraway Yorkshire to move Queen Mary to a more secure prison at Tutbury in Staffordshire. This time Mary could hardly persuade herself that she was no longer a prisoner, or that restoration to her throne was imminent, since the news that Moray had been allowed to return to Scotland unscathed represented an undeniable blight to even her most timid hopes. In December Mary had told Knollys that she would have to be ‘bound hand and foot’ rather than be removed from Bolton.1 In January Knollys was still her jailer, although arrangements were being made to hand the queen over to the earl of Shrewsbury, owner of a magnificent string of dwellings across the midlands of England; here it was felt that Mary could be contained in safety, equally distant from the London of her desire and the dangerously Catholic northern counties. In the meantime Knollys had his own troubles: his wife was sinking fast in the south, and died in the midst of all the commotion involved in the removal.
The journey itself, in icy winter weather through the north of England, was frightful. Lady Livingston fell ill en route and had to be left behind; two days later the queen herself also collapsed between Rotherham and Chesterfield, and the cortège had to be halted while she recovered. Then a message was received by Knollys to say that as Tutbury had not yet been made ready for the queen of Scots’ arrival, they would have to lodge temporarily at Shrewsbury’s own house at Sheffield. But before they could reach Sheffield, another bulletin arrived to say that since all the Sheffield hangings had already been sent to Tutbury, Sheffield itself was uninhabitable – so it was once more on to Tutbury.
This medieval castle, which Mary finally reached on 3rd February, 1569, was of all her many prisons the one she hated most. She always maintained afterwards that she had begun her true imprisonment there,2 and this in itself was sufficient reason to prejudice her against it; but Tutbury quickly added evil associations of its own to combine with her innate distaste. The castle, which was large enough to be more like a fortified town than a fortress, occupied a hill on the extreme edge of Staffordshire and Derbyshire from which the surrounding country could be easily surveyed. Although Plot in his History of Staffordshire written a hundred years later waxed eloquent on the subject of Tutbury’s view, comparing the castle to Acrocorinthus ‘the old Castle of Corinth whence Greece, Peloponnesus, the Ionian and Aegean seas were semel and simul at one view to be seen’, it is doubtful whether the weary royal party and the mourning Knollys would have appreciated the comparison when they finally arrived: for since the early sixteenth century, the structure originally built by John of Gaunt had been virtually falling down, and as a Dutch surveyor reported in 1559, ‘only indifferently repaired’,3 hence the powerful need to bring hangings and furnishings from Sheffield. Not only was Tutbury in many parts ruined (as the English government from the vantage point of London never seem to have realized), but it was also extremely damp, its magnificent view of the Midlands including a large marsh just underneath it from which malevolent fumes arose, unpleasant enough for anyone and especially so for a woman of Mary Stuart’s delicate health. Later on, when Mary had reason to know full well the evils of Tutbury, she wrote of its horrors in winter, and in particular of the ancient structure, mere wood and plaster, which admitted every draught – that ‘méchante vieille charpenterie’, as she put it, through which the wind whistled into every corner of her chamber. As for the view, Mary herself, in words very unlike the raptures of Plot, described Tutbury as sitting squarely on top of a mountain in the middle of a plain, as a result of which it was entirely exposed to all the winds and ‘injures’ of heaven.4
Nevertheless Mary had perforce to make the best of her new accommodation – her comfort not increased by the fact that her jailers had not even any money to provide for her, and Knollys wrote desperately to London for an immediate grant of £500, since they were destitute.5 She now made the acquaintance of George Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury, and his famous or infamous second wife, known to history as Bess of Hardwicke. Shrewsbury, who was to act as the queen’s jailer, with only short breaks, for the next fifteen and a half years, was a man of about forty. He himself was a Protestant although his father had been a fervent Catholic and he had many Catholic relations. He was immensely rich and possessed an enormous range of properties across the centre of England; but like many rich men he was obsessed with the need to preserve his inheritance, so that in the course of his wardship of Queen Mary, his letters to the English court began to sound like one long complaining account book of rising prices, servants’ keep and inadequate subsidies. But Shrewsbury had long proved his loyalty to Elizabeth, and his character, fussy and nervous, constantly worrying about the reactions of the central government to his behaviour or that of his prisoner, made him in many ways an ideal jailer, for a state captive. Despite these suitable attributes of a public servant, Shrewsbury was not a strong character; at the time when he took charge of Mary, he was totally dominated by the redoubtable Bess.
Bess was now forty-nine, eight years older than her husband, and over twenty years older than Mary. She had been married three times previously, and by her second husband Sir William Cavendish of Chatsworth had had eight children. It was no mere flight of fancy that led her third husband Sir William St Loe to address her in letters by the name of this Cavendish mansion, which she herself inherited – the salutation which he often used of ‘my honest sweet Chatsworth’ gives a more realistic indication of the attention which this remarkable lady bestowed upon material possessions than of her actual qualities of nature. Bess’s practical streak led her to marry off two of her Cavendish children, Henry and Mary, to Shrewsbury’s heir Gilbert Talbot and his daughter Grace, in order to preserve as much wealth as possible within the bounds of the family. She was also, in the words of Lodge, ‘a builder, a buyer and seller of estates, a money-lender, a farmer and a merchant of lead and coals and timber’.6 Apart from this financial acumen, in private life the ‘honest sweet Chatsworth’ occupied the role of a termagant, for as Lodge painted her, she was ‘a woman of masculine understanding and conduct, proud, furious, selfish and unfeeling’. In short, Bess was in character the exact opposite of her new charge, Mary Stuart, who was so feminine in both brain and intuition, and, if proud, was also full of generosity and feeling towards others.*
However, at first meeting, the queen and her new captors got on agreeably enough. The queen spoke ‘temperately’ to Shrewsbury, and Shrewsbury spoke ‘de belles paroles’ to her, as each graciously admitted. Mary was allowed to set up her cloth of state to which she attached such importance, and a certain Sir John Morton was introduced into her ménage,who was in fact a Catholic priest, a fact of which Shrewsbury was either ignorant or agreed to turn a blind eye; in any case Mary must have been pleased by the innovation. The queen and Bess were even described by the fond husband Shrewsbury as sitting peacefully together embroidering in Bess’s own chamber where, with Agnes Livingston and Mary Seton, they delighted in ‘devising’ fresh works to carry out. ‘They talk together of indifferent trifling matters,’ reported Shrewsbury happily, ‘without any sign of secret dealing or practice, I can assure you.’8 It was during this first visit to Tutbury and the early honeymoon period of Mary’s relations with Bess that much of the joint embroideries attributed to them, at Hardwicke Hall, Oxburgh Hall and elsewhere, must have been completed.
Embroidery was to prove the great solace of Queen Mary’s long years of captivity. It was a taste she had already acquired as a young queen, and it has been seen that one of her first actions on Lochleven was to send for her sewing materials. Now, with all too ample leisure at her command, the taste was to become a passion and almost a mania. Pieces of embroidery, lovingly and hopefully done with her own hand as though the needle could pierce the stony heart where the pen could not, were to prove the basis of the gifts which Queen Mary sent to Queen Elizabeth; Norfolk was similarly honoured with an embroidered pillow. An inventory of her belongings six months before her death included many items of embroidery not yet finished, including bed hangings and chair covers, as though the captive had set herself the Penelope-like task of ornamenting every object in her daily life. Into her embroidery the queen put much of herself, including her love of literary devices and allusions, which she had first acquired at the French court, and which had led her during her first widowhood to adopt two anagrams of her own name as devices: TU AS MARTYRE and TU TE MARIERAS (both of which were in a manner of speaking prophetic). This enthusiasm for devices was also shared by Elizabethan society, having reached England from Italy, where it had been introduced by the French invasions at the beginning of the century;9 thus Mary’s passion was able to find an answering echo in the heart of Bess – she who was to have E S (Elizabeth Shrewsbury) so firmly carved round the pedestals of the new Chatsworth. But quite apart from the contemporary delight in such conceits, which today might be satisfied by the more mundane pursuits of crossword puzzles and acrostics, they seem to have appealed to the romantic streak in Queen Mary’s nature, a child-like love of intrigue and secrecy. This was a strain only encouraged by captivity and her attitude to codes, secret messages and the like can be compared to her love of emblems and devices; it is as though having been captured at the age of twenty-four, and cut off from outside society before she had fully reached maturity, Mary remained in some ways frozen in curiously youthful and even naïve attitudes.
In 1614 William Drummond of Hawthornden gave a full and marvelling description of the joint embroideries of Mary and Bess in a letter to Ben Jonson; these panels, which in most details can be equated with the hangings now at Oxburgh Hall,* contained a series of impresas, or allegorical pictures with text, in which the words expressed one part of the meaning, and the emblem another. One panel consisted of a lodestone turning towards a pole and the name MARIA STUART turning into the anagram SA VERTUE M’ATTIRE which Drummond preferred to the other anagram of her name VERITAS ARMATA. A phoenix in flames was said to be the emblem of Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise, and the words accompanying the device were that now famous motto of Mary Stuart: EN MA FIN MON COMMENCEMENT. About the same date Cecil’s emissary White noticed this motto also embroidered on Queen Mary’s cloth of state.†10 Some emblems referred to Queen Mary’s past – the crescent moon and the motto DONEC TOTUM IMPLEAT ORBEM for Henry II, the salamander for King Francis I. Others alluded more directly to Mary’s recent fortunes and her future hopes from Elizabeth – for example two women upon the wheels of fortune, one holding a lance, and the other a cornucopia with the motto FORTINAE COMITES. A lioness with a whelp and the motto UNUM QUIDEM SED LEONEM referred to Mary and her son James. At Oxburgh, one panel just below the centrepiece, which is yet another monogram of Mary Stuart, has a large monogram GEORGE ELIZABETH beneath a coronet, and is surrounded by the legend GEORGE ELIZABETH SHREWSBURY in full – representing a unity later to be crudely disrupted by the marital disputes of Mary’s jailers, just as the unity between Mary and Bess, embodied in these hangings, was also to be torn asunder by Bess’s venomous accusations. It seems also that Mary’s early French life was never to be forgotten: the cipher combining the Greek letter Phi and M – for Francis and Mary – which the queen had used on her own signet ring after her return to Scotland, is also to be found in the corner of at least four of the Oxburgh panels, yet it was now half a generation since the death of Francis.
In captivity Mary’s health was her most obvious problem, apart from her desire for freedom. It was often the old pain in her side which put a final end to a day’s embroidering. Her health was only worsened by the discomfort of Tutbury. In March Shrewsbury noted that she was once more severely ill from what he termed ‘grief of the spleen’ and which his doctor told him was‘obstructio splenis cum flatu hypochondriaco’; the queen’s symptoms were pains, said to be the result of ‘windy matter ascending to the head’ strong enough to make her faint.11 Even a move from odious Tutbury to the more salubrious Shrewsbury dwelling of Wingfield Manor did not effect the desired cure. At the end of April, the queen went into such a decline at hearing of the dreadful fates of some of her friends in Scotland that her whole face swelled up, and she sat weeping silently and uncontrollably at supper. By 12th May the queen was critically ill once more; at Chatsworth – ‘my wife’s house’, as Shrewsbury put it – where she was taken for the cleaning or ‘sweetening’ of Wingfield, she had to be seen by two doctors.12 As it happened Shrewsbury’s own health suffered that summer, for he had both gout and ‘the hot ague’, to the extent of announcing that he no longer wished to live; his physician Dr Francis was deeply concerned over the many hot choleric vapours which had apparently found their way up to the patient’s head from his stomach, when Shrewsbury took a fever after drinking too much cold water. But whereas Shrewsbury suffered occasionally from bouts of painful ill-health, Queen Mary’s health now became a chronic problem for her and her jailers, only exacerbated by the conditions of captivity, and there are few of her letters in the ensuing years which do not refer in some manner to the physical pain she had to endure.
It was at the end of February 1569 that Nicholas White, who was journeying to Ireland on Cecil’s behalf, broke his journey at Tutbury in order to report on the state of the Scottish queen. From his letter back to his master, it is clear that he found her as dangerously fascinating as had Knollys nine months earlier – although White, like Knox, had a rather less chivalrous reaction to the spectacle of her beguiling charms.13 He too observed that the queen spent much of her time embroidering, telling him that ‘all the day she wrought with her needle and that the diversity of colours made the time seem less tedious’. They also had a pleasantly intellectual discussion on the comparative artistic merits of carving, painting and embroidering, in the course of which Queen Mary expressed the view that painting was the most commendable of the three. At which White, who had already unpleasantly and most unfairly told Mary that she was responsible for the death of Lady Knollys by keeping Sir Francis away from her side (although there was surely nothing Mary would have liked better than for Knollys’s duties to have been ended by her own release), replied rudely that he had read that painting was a false truth – Veritas Falsa. Mary understandably drew the audience to a close at this brusqueness, and withdrew to her own room.
Nevertheless for all his churlishness – and he may have feared to be seduced by this famous basilisk – White fully took in the physical appearance of Mary, informing Cecil that he found her hair dark, although Knollys had warned him that she often wore false hair of different colours.* And the percipient White added: ‘She hath withal an alluring grace, a pretty Scotch accent, and a searching wit, clouded with mildness. Fame might move some to relieve her, and glory joined with gain might stir others to adventure much for her sake.’
White’s words concerning the inducements there would be to rescue Mary were prophetic. Indeed, already the thought of ‘glory joined with gain’ had led Norfolk to go forward in the negotiations to marry the Scottish queen, the project first mentioned to Mary before the York conference. Mary’s captivity in England had after all no legal basis, and even her abdication from the throne of Scotland had been made under duress, which robbed it of its validity; in the meantime her blood relationship to Queen Elizabeth, and her possible succession to the English throne – cast into further prominence by the death in 1568 of the unfortunate Lady Catherine Grey, the main Protestant Tudor candidate – made her a rich prize. Elizabeth’s disapproval was by no means a foregone conclusion: after all she herself had suggested Norfolk as a possible bridegroom for Mary before her marriage to Darnley. Under these circumstances the secret moves to marry Mary to Norfolk, and then presumably restore her to the throne of Scotland, neatly linked to a Protestant English bridegroom, proceeded apace. Maitland was involved, and shares with Mary’s envoy, John Leslie, bishop of Ross, the possible credit or discredit for having first initiated the plan; many of the Scots were said to look on the scheme with favour, and even Moray himself appeared to play along with the idea of the marriage for the time being, although he soon had an opportunity of publicly showing his strong disapproval of any notions of Mary’s restoration. Many of the English nobles, who themselves disliked the dominance of Cecil within the English Privy Council, and in addition felt that his foreign policy, so intensely hostile to Spain, was against England’s best commercial interests, saw in the elevation of Norfolk as Mary’s bridegroom a convenient way of dealing with Cecil’s rising influence. This particular question in English internal politics had been brought to a head in the winter of 1568–9 when Elizabeth confiscated three Spanish treasure ships at Cecil’s instigation, and to the violent disapproval of many others within the council.*
The actual part played by Queen Mary herself in all the cobwebs of intrigue and counter-intrigue which followed was negligible: considerations of Anglo-Spanish commercial rivalry became somehow enmeshed with rival considerations of Scottish internal politics; England’s foreign policy towards France and the attitude of the Pope towards Queen Elizabeth and the English Catholics were likewise issues which became firmly entangled in the simple topic of Mary’s marriage to Norfolk. Yet throughout all these negotiations, whether secret or open, Mary remained a comparatively isolated captive, and her personal role was therefore a minor one, except in so far as her mere existence made her, as Elizabeth angrily wrote at the end of it all, ‘the daughter of debate that eke discord doth sow’. But Mary could hardly be blamed for her mere existence, and as for her captivity, which made such an apple of discord in the centre of England, there was no one more anxious to end it than Mary herself. In all the first attempts or conspiracies to procure her release, Queen Mary adopted exactly the same attitude: since her imprisonment was illegal, she would consider herself free to try and achieve her liberty by any means in her power, as she had warned Knollys that she would in October 1568. As a ‘sovereign princess’ over whom Elizabeth had no jurisdiction, she never considered that any schemes, letters of instruction, however daring from the English point of view, could possibly be fairly held against her by English justice.
This was her personal point of view on the subject of escape. There were refinements to it: for example Queen Mary was strongly predisposed towards any scheme that sounded as if it might have the backing of a major power, and strongly disinclined to consider any hare-brained scheme which had exactly the opposite ring. At the head of her list of major powers who she thought might help her was still Elizabeth – whom Mary still hoped would achieve her restoration to Scotland in the end. Beyond that Philip of Spain was one possibility and Charles IX of France another. With the latter in mind she early established a code with which to correspond with the French ambassador in London, Mothe de la Fénelon. But Elizabeth was still, and continued to be so for the next three years at least, the person from whom Mary hoped for the most effective succour. It was the blood tie which joined them, which Mary always felt must surely in the end influence Elizabeth to assist her; and Elizabeth’s approval or disapproval, so far as she could guess at it, was something Mary always took into account in any project which was outlined to her. Mary was therefore a catalyst rather than the chief conspirator in the two plots which followed.
Mary’s new potential bridegroom, Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk, now a man of thirty-three and a widower, was not an especially glamorous figure by any standards: an anonymous admirer described him in 1569 as being ‘no carpet knight … no dancer or lover knight’, while going on to boast that he came of the race of Howards who could never be made to hide their face from the enemy.14 Mary never actually met him, and most of her information on the subject of his personal attractions seems to have come from his sister Lady Scrope in whose charge she had been placed at Carlisle, and with whom Mary had become extremely friendly.* In spite of being no carpet knight, Norfolk had other more solid qualities to commend him: he came of ancient lineage (he was in fact the only duke in England) and was a territorial magnate on a grand scale, who was able to tell Elizabeth that he was ‘as good a prince in his bowling-alley at Norwich’ as Mary would have seen in the midst of her own country of Scotland.15 He was also an experienced administrator, who had been English lieutenant-general in the north from 1559 to 1560, before becoming chief commissioner at York. Mary’s part in the marriage negotiations – conducted in strict secrecy from Queen Elizabeth whose temper on the subject of any marriage, and especially royal ones, was notoriously uncertain – was confined to writing a series of affectionate and even loving letters to Norfolk; yet since she had never met their object, these letters belonged very much to the world of pen-friendship and dreams rather than to that of reality. He was now to Mary ‘my Norfolk’, to whom she emphasized her unhappiness and the desire for liberty. ‘My Norfolk’, she wrote charmingly on occasion, ‘you bid me command you, that would be beside my duty many ways, but pray you I will, that you counsel me not to take patiently my great griefs. …’16 She also underlined the fidelity she would show to him: ‘I trust none that shall say I ever mind to leave you,’ she wrote, ‘nor to anything that may displease you, for I have determined never to offend you, but remain yours. I think all well bestowed for your friendly dealings with me, all undeserved.’ The famous pillow which Leslie later revealed Mary had sent to Norfolk was embroidered with the motto VIRESCIT IN VULNERE VULTUS, and the arms of Scotland, to signify Mary’s courage. Norfolk himself sent Mary a fine diamond, which was brought to her by Lord Boyd, and Mary prettily vowed in a letter of thanks to keep it hung round her neck unseen ‘until I give it again to the owner of it and me both’.17
Yet it is clear that despite these affectionate demonstrations, in the Norfolk negotiations Mary was very much following the line of conduct presented to her by her advisers, rather than leading them forward; this was in part due to her captivity, and the conditions which made her dependent on the reports of others to estimate any other situation. It was also due to her natural suspicion of the whole state of marriage which had brought her into such a parlous condition at the time of her marriage to Bothwell. She had believed Bothwell to be the choice of her nobles and he had turned out to be their bane; she had believed Darnley to be the choice of Elizabeth, but she had been rewarded for marrying him by the virulent fury of the English queen. It was hardly surprising that she greeted the first approaches over the Norfolk match with considerable doubts. When she finally gave her consent, it was on the strict understanding that Elizabeth’s approval would be secured: ‘she wished them first and foremost to get the Queen’s assent, lest the matter might turn to her hurt and the Duke’s whereof she had had experience before in her marriage with Lord Darnley contracted without her (Elizabeth’s) assent.’18
But Mary managed to convince herself in her prison, or was persuaded by John Leslie, bishop of Ross, that Elizabeth did approve these negotiations, or would approve them when she was informed. As late as January 1570 (when she had had considerable evidence to the contrary), she wrote confidently to Norfolk that their marriage would be generally approved: ‘Our fault were not shameful: you have promised to be mine, and I yours; I believe the Queen of England and country should like of it.’19 In the following August Leslie told the Spanish ambassador that Mary had been much importuned over the marriage, but had been driven to it by necessity, since she believed Elizabeth wanted her to marry an Englishman. Therefore, despite Mary’s formalized sentimental attitude to Norfolk, her wearing of the diamond which he sent to her, for which Mary sent in exchange a miniature of herself set in gold, it is evident that Mary was seeking an honourable exit from her cage approved by Elizabeth rather than involvement in a life-and-death conspiracy.
In the summer of 1569 Elizabeth showed further encouraging signs of favour to Mary by testing out a series of restoration proposals with the Scots. There were three possibilities: that Mary might ratify her abdication, and live in England; that Mary and James should rule jointly; and, thirdly, that Mary should be restored with certain religious guarantees, and a promise for the security of Moray. The English nobles and Leslie also secretly imagined that the Norfolk marriage would fit neatly into this third solution, the only one, as Leslie proclaimed, which would be tolerable to his mistress. Already in the previous October Mary had expressed herself willing to be divorced from Bothwell, and messengers had been sent to him in Denmark to sign the necessary documents. Now, with a view to proving that there had been no marriage, emissaries were sent to Rome to institute a suit of nullity on two grounds: firstly, it was said that Bothwell had never been properly divorced from Jean Gordon, so that Bothwell could not have rightly married Mary; secondly, it was suggested that Bothwell had used force to effect his marriage to Mary, which was in itself a cause of nullity. In June 1569 Lord Boyd was given authority by Mary to treat with Moray on the subject, and a written mandate to apply for the divorce.20Such negotiations made it clear not only that passion for Bothwell had well and truly waned – if indeed it had ever existed – but also that Mary was prepared to suit her marital situation to anything which she imagined might lead to her restoration in Scotland.
These restoration proposals, to which Elizabeth herself seems to have been genuinely well-disposed, were turned down by the Scots themselves, led by Moray, at the Perth convention at the end of July, when the idea of Mary’s return was rejected by forty votes to nine; among the nine who voted for Mary’s return on certain conditions were Atholl, Huntly, Balfour and Maitland. Six weeks later Moray’s position was made still more secure when Queen Elizabeth discovered the Norfolk marriage plot. Her rage was extreme. Mary found herself moved back to the hated Tutbury, and given an additional jailer in the shape of Huntingdon, the man whom she particularly disliked and even feared because she always believed his own pretensions to the English throne (he had Plantagenet blood) might lead him to do away with her. Her suite was cut down, and Elizabeth angrily ordered that Mary should neither give nor receive messages to the outside world; Mary complained to Elizabeth that her rooms had been roughly searched by men armed with pistols. Norfolk was imprisoned in the Tower. Elizabeth even turned, through his servant John Wood, on Moray, amazed to discover that he too had apparently been favourable to the notion; but Moray quickly informed Elizabeth’s Governor Hunsdon at Kelso that he had never done more than tell Norfolk that if Bothwell were dead or Mary divorced, and if Elizabeth agreed to the match, then he would approve.*
The northern rising in November, under the Catholic earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, did nothing to improve Queen Mary’s lot. This rising, ill-prepared and ill-organized, was more in the nature of a separatist movement on the part of northern Catholics than a revolt on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Mary herself disapproved of it, not only on the grounds that she hated violence and wished to avoid the risk of the slaughter of innocent people, but also on the very sensible grounds that she did not believe it would do her cause any good, since the moment was hardly ripe for such a demonstration. Leslie later testified that she had asked him to try and get Northumberland to stop or stay the rising. Yet whatever her own wishes, a Catholic queen was the inevitable rallying-point for such an enterprise. Mary was hastily taken to Coventry for the time being in order to be geographically still further away from the rebels; here she had to be temporarily lodged in an inn, since Coventry Castle had been uninhabited since the Wars of the Roses and was therefore destitute of furniture – the government in London being as usual in ignorance of conditions in the Midlands. The idea of the inn infuriated Elizabeth when she learned of it, since she thought it implied too much dangerous social life for the queen of Scots. Mary was then removed to a house in the centre of the town;† here she in turn was annoyed to hear that Huntingdon, her jailer, had been listening to some sermons containing ‘lewd preachings’ against her, which she herself understandably refused to attend. Yet the see-saw nature of English noble attitudes and alliances at this time may be judged by the fact that Huntingdon now took the opportunity to press the suit of his own brother-in- law, Leicester – Mary’s former suitor Robert Dudley under a new name – on the grounds that Queen Elizabeth was now considering the duke of Anjou as a husband, which left Leicester free for Mary; Mary, reporting this back indignantly to Norfolk, said that Huntingdon’s next proposal was that his own claims to the throne of England should be recognized in return as being next to those of Mary and James.23
In the meantime events in troubled Scotland were about to take another dramatic turn: on 11th January, 1570, the regent Moray fell dead, struck down by the bullets of an assassin in the main street at Linlithgow; the story that he fell a victim to the vengeance of a poor man whose wife he had driven out into the snow, to meet her death, has long since been exploded. In fact his assassin was a Hamilton, and the Hamilton archbishop of St Andrews had at least foreknowledge of the plot. The death of Moray drew to an end the career of one who had aimed high: it will never be known exactly how high, or whether the pretensions by which his enemies accused him of aiming at the throne itself had any substance.* Mary certainly came to believe that he had aimed at the throne, and paid his assassin a pension. At all events, under Moray’s brief regency Scotland had not more, but much less stability than in the early years of Mary’s rule, and there was nothing in his conduct of affairs to justify his ejection of his sister from the throne on administrative grounds. It was no coincidence that he was struck down by a Hamilton, a member of a rival family: Scotland was by now, and continued to be throughout the minority of James, a hotbed of warring factions; Scots with long memories might have looked back to the minority of James’s mother Mary and seen that little outward progress had been made.
The death of Moray meant the search for a new regent, to whom most parties would agree. It was not until the summer that the choice finally fell upon James’s grandfather, Lennon, largely as a result of the favour of Elizabeth, who supported him as being a likely tool for English policy. In the meantime Mary herself made frantic efforts to maintain some sort of maternal contact with her little boy, now three and a half. Just before Moray’s death she sent him a little pony of his own, and a saddle, with a pathetic little note to accompany them: ‘Dear Son, I send three bearers to see you and bring me word how ye do, and to remember you that ye have in me a loving mother that wishes you to learn in time to love know and fear God.’ Mary wrote in vain, for neither her letter nor her presents were allowed by Elizabeth to pass to Scotland, to the son who could not remember Mary; and James himself, far from being taught to remember his duty ‘anent her that has born you in her sides’ as his mother hopefully put it, was being instructed by George Buchanan and others that his mother had cold-bloodedly murdered his father to marry her lover. These teachings did not augur well for Mary’s future relationship with James.
In the summer of 1570 there was some scheme promoted by Elizabeth for bringing James to England (that old desire of the English to acquire a Scottish princeling); the Scots never agreed to it, but Mary was enthusiastic at the opportunity of bringing her child a little nearer. She swallowed her pride and even contacted her former mother-in-law and established enemy, Lady Lennox, on the subject, seeking her grandmotherly advice about James. ‘I have born him and God Knoweth with what danger to him and to me both, and of you he is descended, so I mean not to forget my duty to you,’ she wrote. But this scheme came to nothing. In the autumn of 1571 Mary was still pleading with Elizabeth to let her correspond with her son, or at least find out how he was faring, in her own words, from the point of view of a ‘desolate mother whose solitary child has been torn from her arms’.25
In May 1570 Mary was once more taken back to Chatsworth, and here a fantastic plot was hatched on the part of some romantic local squires to rescue her. At the time of the northern rising, Mary had been offered a possible chance of escape by Leonard Dacres, Northumberland’s cousin, and had refused the bait, because she felt herself committed to Norfolk and her plans in that direction; Norfolk had pointed out that an escape would ruin everything, and leave no chance of Elizabeth’s approval. By May the papal bullRegnans in Excelsis, which had been promulgated by Pope Pius Vin Rome in February, had reached England, and had been posted up on the door of the bishop of London by a Catholic hand. This bull was to have an enormous effect on Mary’s future, since it formally excommunicated Elizabeth and declared that her Catholic subjects were released from their loyalty to her. But at Chatsworth this summer Mary still remained damping towards the ardour of her supporters who wished to compass her escape.
The fabric of the plot was revealed in the examinations of those involved after they had been arrested; it seemed the protagonists were Sir Thomas Gerard, a local Catholic squire (father of the future Jesuit missionary John Gerard), two brothers, Francis and George Rolleston, one John Hall and two Lancashire magnates, the brothers Sir Thomas Stanley and Sir Edward Stanley. But the most searching cross-examinations could never make the actual practical details of the plot amount to very much, and Sir Edward Stanley strongly denied that he had had any effective part in it, giving the ingenious excuse that he had been away in the north at the time courting a Mrs Strickland. Gerard’s idea was that the queen of Scots having escaped from Chatsworth should be shipped away to the Isle of Man by the good offices of Thomas Stanley; but he put his finger on the main trouble with any private rescue plot to do with Mary Stuart during all her years of captivity when he said that he had ‘feared to make any man privy thereof for danger of discovery, and unless many were made privy, the thing could not be done’.26
Finally Hall and Rolleston did manage to have a cloak-and-dagger meeting with the master of Mary’s household, John Beaton, on the high moor above Chatsworth at the conspiratorial if chilly hour of 5 a.m. Beaton told them he would have to consult the queen herself, but he could give them in advance her general answer to such proposals: ‘So would she wish that no man should go about that matter, unless they were assured to put her in surety.’ The plot was finally betrayed by George Rolleston, and Thomas Gerard was arrested and spent two years in the Tower. Francis Rolleston in his examination showed how frail the structure of conspiracy had been when he said that Chatsworth had been chosen as a good escaping ground because the queen could be carried off as she took the air on the moors, but it was never decided what to do with her next ‘because the matter never grew to any determination or likelihood’ since everyone had been in doubt of everyone else.27 Hall’s examination was especially significant on the subject of Mary’s attitude to the whole project: Beaton had thought that the escape should take place at night, despite the fact that the queen’s servants were then locked into rooms, but he admitted that Mary herself remained distinctly unenthusiastic since ‘she nothing doubted but that the Queen’s Majesty [Elizabeth] at the request of the Kings of Spain and France would restore her to her former dignity hereafter, the which she rather minded to expect, than to adventure upon a mere uncertainty, by such means to work her own delivery which might if the matter miscarried turn her to confusion and all her partakers’.28
This was a commendably prudent reaction. Beaton was never able to be arraigned for his part in the conspiracy since by the time it was uncovered he was dead, and buried (a sad expatriate Scot but a loyal servant) in the parish church at Edensor, close by Chatsworth. Mary’s words showed that her eyes were sternly fixed on where the power lay, on the help of monarchs, not a handful of local lords, whose number of horsemen varied from 100 to 200 to ‘a few’, and at times apparently intended to ship her beyond the seas and at other times imagined ‘they might keep her in some secret place undiscovered, if she could not have ready passage’. She showed no more interest when there was an attempt to revive the plot the next year. Mary was by now a woman of nearly thirty, on the verge of middle-age by the standards of the time; the old impetuosity of her youth was gone. She was chronically sick, alone in a country she did not know; it was a different matter to elude the bars of her own palace of Holyrood and ride to Dunbar through her own kingdom of Scotland, than to travel in disguise through unknown England, a foreign queen among foreigners. Under the circumstances Mary preferred to pin her hopes to more substantial targets.
In August 1570 Norfolk was released from the Tower. His release proved the signal for a further and much wider conspiracy, in which he was once more involved, under the inspiration of an Italian banker based in London, named Roberto Ridolfi. The Ridolfi plot, as opposed to the earlier plan, which merely proposed marrying Norfolk to Mary, had distinctly dangerous objectives if its widest aspects were taken seriously. Ridolfi himself was a man with an Italian love of intrigue but unfortunately with little of the Italian Renaissance skill at diplomacy; he understood little of the workings of the English mind, or indeed the workings of England itself. His aim was apparently to secure an invasion of England from the Netherlands by Philip II’s general there, the duke of Alva, which invasion was to be supplemented by a rising of native Catholics within England. This combination of invaders and internal rebels would free Mary and, having seized Elizabeth, place Mary on the throne of England, side by side with her consort Norfolk. These were rash and treasonable schemes indeed. There were many difficulties in the way of their being carried out – the principal one being, as Philip II was quick to notice, that there was no proof that there would be another Catholic rising within England. Yet Philip stipulated that there should be no Spanish invasion until the English themselves had risen. In the meantime Alva formed the lowest opinion of Ridolfi, whom he termed a gran parlaquina or chatterbox, and a lightweight; as late as September 1571 he wrote to Philip from the Netherlands with a sarcastic lack of respect for Ridolfi’s ability to carry out any sort of practical scheme, that even if Philip and Elizabeth jointly agreed to the invasions it still would not be sure that Ridolfi would be able to carry it through! Alva also analysed with terrible correctness the danger, to both Norfolk and the queen of Scots, if such a scheme was discovered or miscarried: either or both might lose their lives.29
Mary’s attitude to, and personal involvement in, Ridolfi’s schemes is open to question. She had not lost interest in Elizabeth’s projects for her restoration to Scotland, which still dragged on. In October 1570, Cecil and Mildmay paid Mary a personal visit at Sheffield Castle, possibly spurred on by the king of France’s representations to Elizabeth on the subject of Mary. They put before Mary a long list of articles proposing an alliance between herself and Elizabeth. Many of these articles reiterated the familiar English position since the abortive Treaty of Edinburgh: Mary was to give up her unlawful claims to the English throne. In addition Mary was to give up bargaining over her remarriage without Elizabeth’s consent, and the question of James coming to England as a hostage if Mary was restored to Scotland was officially incorporated. In the course of their discussion, Cecil showed himself not immune to the famous charm of the queen of Scots: in a memoir of 1569 he had already referred to ‘her cunning and sugared entertainment of all men’, whereby she won many to her cause; now a personal experience of this sweetness led him to agree with Maitland: ‘The Queen of Scots was of a clement and gentle nature, and was disposed to be governed by counsel of them in whom she reposed her trust.’ Leslie, who reported this favourable verdict, even thought that Cecil had promised to bring Mary at last into Elizabeth’s presence. Yet nothing concrete ever actually happened as a result of these articles, and by the spring of 1571 Mary was writing wearily to Sussex that she seemed to have been looking for a happy resolution to her affairs for so long ‘which has been so many times delayed for every light matter that did occur, that we are for our own part in doubt if finally there shall be any good succeed unto us therein’.30
It is possible that under these circumstances of three years’ onerous English captivity, Mary did allow herself to be persuaded to write the incriminating instructions and letters to Ridolfi quoted against her at Norfolk’s trial. The original of the credentials said to be given to Ridolfi by Mary and Norfolk have mysteriously disappeared.* In these instructions Mary wrote wildly concerning the miserable state of England, the cruelty of her own position, the persecutions of the Catholics, the fact that Huntingdon and Hertford (Catherine Grey’s son) were threatening her rights to the English throne, the need for the Pope to press ahead with her nullity suit, and how she intended to send James to Spain to marry him to a Spanish princess. Norfolk was described as being the head of the enterprise, and a keen guardian of the rights of the Catholics. All practical details were to be left to him; furthermore Mary castigated the French who had, she said, done absolutely nothing to help her.31 However, the evidence of Mary’s other letters, written at the same time to Mothe de la Fénelon, the French ambassador, show that she was, to say the least of it, trying to keep all the options open. She had, for example, far from given up all hopes of French assistance and in October twice approached the ambassador begging him to continue to help her and to interest the king and queen of France in her cause ‘because she had no means to help herself’.32 Nor had Mary in any way despaired of Elizabeth’s assistance: for at the same moment as her approaches to Mothe de la Fénelon, Mary was writing to the English queen, stating the full confidence she felt in Elizabeth, and her desire to have her (Mary’s) succession rights discussed in the English Parliament.33Subsequently Mary did admit to having given some sort of financial commission to Ridolfi, but she always denied that it had been anything so specific and dangerous to England as Cecil suggested.
The main architect of this unrealistic conspiracy, on Mary’s side, other than the serpentine Ridolfi and the irresolute Norfolk, was Mary’s envoy Leslie. Mary Stuart like most human beings was inclined to trust increasingly those whom she had trusted for a long time. Since the bishop of Ross first came to France in the spring of 1561 – when he incidentally propounded the foolish scheme for a northern Scottish invasion which Mary wisely rejected – Leslie had been an assiduous if not especially tactful servant of the queen; although he had managed to have good relations with both Darnley and Bothwell. As Mary’s ambassador in England after her imprisonment, he was certainly in a position of enormous difficulty: the point has been well made that he was expected to act as the ‘representative of a foreign ruler powerless to protect her servants but strong enough to attract discontented elements’,34 but Leslie was endowed with an unfortunate combination of energy and application – unfortunate in the sense that he lacked the essential finessewhich would have enabled him to judge not only the right action to take on Mary’s behalf but also the right time to do it. His anonymous publication in London in 1569 of the Defence of the Honour of Queen Mary, which asserted her old rights to the succession, was scarcely diplomatic when the favour of Elizabeth, so famously touchy on this particular subject, was all-important to Mary.
For all his erudition, which enabled him to write his long history of Scotland during this vital period of his stay in England, as Mary’s ambassador, Leslie never quite appreciated the point which Alva quickly perceived: a plot in favour of Mary which miscarried could be far more dangerous than no plot at all. He was also, like his mistress in certain moods, a man of impulse with a quick rash temper. Yet Mary had perforce to put enormous faith in the bishop and his summing-up of situations, as well as in his capacity to amplify her own written communications by personal interviews. Many of Mary’s letters at this period ended by promising that the bishop of Ross will further enlighten the recipient. It was unfortunate under the circumstances that by March 1571 Leslie, Mary and Norfolk were all cut off from each other, with the dubious Ridolfi acting as a go-between. Mary deeply regretted the loss of Leslie’s news bulletins, which she regarded as her window on the outside world: by the summer, the lack of ‘the daily intelligence she was wont to receive from the bishop’ was mentioned as being the thing which troubled her most.35
If the incriminating documents are genuine, it is possible that Mary gained such a falsely rosy picture of the situation that she allowed herself to be committed on paper to an extremely hazardous venture. Such a false picture would not necessarily have been painted on purpose by Leslie to confuse Mary: it is more than likely that Leslie himself was also bewildered and muddled in his intrigues. He was not after all able to confront Mary face to face to discuss the situation verbally; dependence had to be made on letters, and letters could all too easily be intercepted. Although Maitland’s son later made harsh comments on Leslie’s character, and accused him of aiming at his own glory, and the enrichment of his bastard offspring, the situation was wide open for Cecil if he wished to lure the intriguers to their downfall by misrepresenting what each had said to the other; with Mary in prison, cut off from her servant, Leslie showed himself at first to be impetuous and later cowardly; but these qualities did not necessarily make him a villain.
News of what was afoot began to trickle through to the English government in the late spring. Elizabeth received a private warning from the grand duke of Tuscany, who had learnt only too easily of Ridolfi’s hazardous plans. Finally and most disastrously, a certain Charles Bailly was arrested at Dover with a whole packet of books and letters sent from Ridolfi to Leslie. The connection of Leslie and Ridolfi was a fatal one for Mary, because Leslie in turn led directly to the Scottish queen, whose official envoy he was. The next step was to uncover Norfolk’s association with the whole plot, which proved easy enough when Norfolk was found to be sending money to Queen Mary’s supporters in Scotland. On 7th September Norfolk was arrested once more and placed in the Tower. More harmful still was the arrest of Leslie himself, for he produced a series of most damaging confessions, under threat of torture, which mentioned not only the foreign troops which were going to be imported into England, but also the use of papal money in the affair, some of which had been sent to the Marians in Scotland.
On 3rd November Leslie attributed the rising in the north to continuous communication between Mary and Norfolk, and between Norfolk and the northern earls – an injurious if inaccurate diagnosis. On 8th November his interrogator, Dr Wilson, the Master of Requests, described to Cecil how Leslie had said that Mary was not fit for any husband, for she had first poisoned Francis, then consented to the murder of Darnley, and thirdly matched with the murderer Bothwell, and after that she had brought Bothwell to Carberry Hill in the hopes that he would be killed in his turn; now she was pretending marriage with the duke of Norfolk, whom Leslie believed would not have survived long in the embraces of this female Bluebeard. Such confessions, however much promoted by physical fear, hardly pointed to Leslie as a stable and loyal servant. Even Wilson, shocked at this manifestation of what he took to be Scottish ingratitude, exclaimed: ‘Lord what a people are these, what a Queen, what an Ambassador.’36 But Leslie through all his tribulations did not lack self-confidence. On 8th November, the very day on which Leslie had outlined Queen Mary’s marital career in such amazing terms, he wrote to her himself and said that he had been forced to confess everything since her letters had been produced in front of the Privy Council; nevertheless he could not help discerning the hand of providence in the discovery of the ‘design’, since Mary and her friends would be taught a sharp lesson against seeking relief by such means in the future!37 This egregious commentary on the outcome of the Ridolfi plot did not prevent Leslie from urging Mary to use all means in her power to get him released, and at the least to help him financially.
In January 1572 the duke of Norfolk was tried for high treason. Shrewsbury was specially imported from the Midlands to take part in the trial as one of the judges, leaving Sir Ralph Sadler temporarily in charge of Queen Mary. Norfolk was condemned, and finally executed in the following June. When Queen Mary heard of the execution of ‘her Norfolk’, she cried bitterly and kept to her room. Bess, finding her prisoner ‘all bewept and mourning’, asked her rather tactlessly what ailed her. Mary replied with some dignity that she was sure Bess knew what the cause of her grief was, and would sympathize with her in it; as for herself, she feared lest anything she herself had written to Norfolk might have brought him to such a pass. To these modest apprehensions, Bess replied ungraciously that nothing Mary had written could have done either good or harm, since Norfolk had been tried by a fair committee of his peers – including, of course, Shrewsbury.
Despite the snub administered by Bess, Mary had by her mere existence led Norfolk to conspiracy and death; in the same way Norfolk’s trial and execution, and the revelations of the Ridolfi plot, were of acute relevance to Mary’s position in England. It was not so much that she had lost a suitor – for there were many suitors in Europe of varying eligibility – as that her character in the eyes of the English nobility and the English Parliament now underwent a change. Popular opinion has a loud voice but a short memory. The circumstances of her arrival, now four years away, were quite forgotten in the tide of popular hatred which spread against her – this ‘monstrous dragon’ as one Member of Parliament termed her. Mary was now seen as a foreign-born Catholic spider, sitting in the centre of England spinning her webs in order to depose the English Protestant queen. The fact that she was an isolated prisoner with very little money was ignored in the light of the dangerous possibilities which the Ridolfi plot seemed to expose. It was at this point that Elizabeth herself seized her pen and wrote the famous lines on the subject of Mary, the ‘daughter of debate’, which ended:
No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port;
Our realm it brooks no stranger’s force,
let them elsewhere resort
Our rusty sword, with rest, shall first his edge employ
To poll their tops that seek such change,
and gape for joy.
But although Elizabeth’s sword, rusty or otherwise, did eventually and reluctantly poll the top of Norfolk in June, despite the most ferocious baying for blood on the part of her faithful Commons, Elizabeth refused to consider the execution of Mary. In mid-June the English commissioners Shrewsbury, Delawarr and Sadler visited Mary at Sheffield and solemnly accused her of her heinous part in the Ridolfi plot as well as a list of other crimes: of having taken up arms against England, approving the papal bull of ex-communication of Elizabeth (Regnans in Excelsis), and actually claiming the crown of England. To all these charges Mary replied firmly that as a sovereign princess she could not recognize their jurisdiction over her; she requested to appear before the English Parliament to justify herself, and once more demanded to be taken into the presence of Elizabeth. In detailed answer to the charges, the queen freely admitted that she had written to the king of France, the king of Spain and the pope and others asking for help, in order to be set at liberty and restored to her own country. She admitted the original offence of bearing the English title, when she had been a girl of seventeen, but denied ever bearing it since the death of Francis, over eleven years ago, which was correct. Over the Norfolk marriage, she reiterated her genuine belief that the match had been to the general liking of England. She admitted having given a commission to Ridolfi but said that it had been of a financial nature, and strongly denied any more compromising schemes with the Italian.’38
Despite the Scottish queen’s dignity, it was the will of Queen Elizabeth, not the answers of Queen Mary, which stayed the hand of the Commons against her in the summer of 1572. Elizabeth personally prevented the Commons from passing a bill of attainder on the Scottish queen; instead a bill was passed merely depriving Mary of her right to succeed to the English throne, and declaring her liable to a trial by peers (peers of the English realm, rather than her own peers, or equals, who would be sovereigns), should she be discovered plotting again. Most unfortunately the publication of the papal bull, Regnans in Excelsis, although not sought by Mary, and not even intended by Pius V to assist her personally, since he disapproved of her marriage to Bothwell, had begun the process of presenting her as a foreign traitor in their midst to English patriots. The massacre of the Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24th August, 1572, at the hands of the French Catholics, led by the Guises, although once again hardly any fault of the prisoner of Sheffield Castle, only increased Mary’s unpopularity in England. ‘All men now cry out of [against] your prisoner,’ wrote Cecil ominously to Shrewsbury. But Elizabeth would not allow this tide of xenophobia to sweep away her ‘good sister and cousin’, in spite of all the revelations of Ridolfi.
In the strange tortuous map of Mary’s relations with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s with Mary, Mary’s feelings are much better charted than those of Elizabeth, since she gave many open declarations on the subject. But just as Elizabeth’s incarceration of Mary on evidence she herself declared to be insufficient is greatly to her discredit, her preservation of Mary Stuart’s life in 1572 by personal intervention must be allowed to be to her credit. Elizabeth, like Mary, had a constitutional dislike of spilling blood. Perhaps both of them were reacting against their blood-thirsty Tudor ancestors. Elizabeth was also conscious that Mary was by now by far her closest adult relation, since the sons of the dead Catherine Grey were still boys, and James was not only a mere child, but a child in control of the Scots; Elizabeth may have had some reluctance to abandon her kingdom to the care of young children (which had proved so fatal in the case of Scotland) if the assassin should find her as he had found Moray. Most of all, however, she was aware that Mary like herself was a sovereign princess: the death of one princess might strike at them all.
Too little is known of Elizabeth’s inner feelings for Mary, since the English queen had learnt in childhood to hide all inner feelings, those dangerous traitors, within the breast. That closeness which two queens and near cousins should feel for each other, so often chanted by Mary, may have found more echoes in Elizabeth’s heart than she ever admitted. In the meantime this merciful strain, this sneaking affection, could not fail to be noticed by Elizabeth’s advisers: the point was taken that if ever the execution of Mary Stuart was to be secured,
Elizabeth would have to be thoroughly convinced that her good sister had repaid her clemency with flagrant and harmful ingratitude.
* A letter from Bess in the unpublished Bagot papers illustrates her attitude to those who stood in the way of her schemes: an elderly widow who is failing to agree to some project which is to Bess’s advantage (but not her own) is described as ‘behaving very badly’.7
* See Embroideries by Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Talbot at Oxburgh Hall, by Francis de Zulueta, for a discussion of the authenticity of these tapestries. Also English Secular Embroidery, by M. S. Jourdain, for a further discussion of Queen Mary’s embroideries. † These famous words have always been taken to refer to Queen Mary’s religious beliefs and the victory of the soul after death; but if Drummond is correct in reporting that they were attached to the emblem of Mary of Guise, they originally had the more philo-progenitive meaning that in the end of the mother was the beginning of the child.
* White may have been deceived by false hair in this instance. Mary in youth had light red-golden hair. Although hair darkens with age, it could never have reached a really black tint naturally.
* These ships, however, continued to be held, and were not in fact released till 1572.
* It is sometimes suggested that Mary and Norfolk did meet briefly while she was at Carlisle, staying with his sister. But there is no proof of this, and if so, it is strange that neither of them ever referred to the incident in their correspondence. Certainly, Norfolk himself was always emphatic that he had never met Mary.
* It is difficult to believe that Moray ever really countenanced the match, which would have been dangerous to his prospects. Moray’s biographer, Lee, suggests that all along Moray relied on Elizabeth to prevent the marriage once she heard of it – as indeed she did.21
† Local legends suggest that she was kept in the upper room of the building known as ‘Caesar’s Tower’ (now rebuilt) which adjoined St Mary’s Hall.22
* A popular rhyme current at the time of the conference of Westminster suggested that Moray was a traitor trying to seize the Scottish crown on the pretence of his mother’s lawful marriage.24
* See Francis Edwards, Dangerous Queen, London 1964, and The Marvellous Chance, London 1968, for a detailed consideration of the validity of the various documents in these intrigues.