The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Posted By on February 8, 2010

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

On this day in history, the 8th February 1587, Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringhay Castle without the knowledge of Queen Elizabeth I, although she had signed the death warrant.

Mary Stuart’s death was the result of the Catholic Mary being implicated in plots to overthrow and assassinate Elizabeth I, plots such as the Ridolfi Plot and the Babington Plot. Although the Babington plot had been uncovered in summer 1586 and Mary had been under house arrest for many years, Elizabeth I could not bring herself to sign the death warrant until February 1587 and then she she claimed that she had not wanted it acted upon.

Why the “dilly-dallying” and indecision? After all, you can imagine her father, Henry VIII, taking Mary’s head off after the first plot! Well, it was because Mary was Elizabeth’s own flesh and blood, being the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, but it was also because Mary was a monarch. Elizabeth believed, like many monarchs before her, that Kings and Queens were divinely appointed by God and it was against everything she believed in to take the life of a fellow sovereign.

This was brought home to me by last night’s episode of the BBC TV series “The Seven Ages of Britain” where David Dimbleby looked at The Wilton Diptych (see below), a beautiful painting of King Richard II kneeling before the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.

In this diptych of two painted panels, King Richard II is flanked by St Edmund, St Edward the Confessor and St John the Baptist and is receiving a gift from Christ, the gift of the standard/pennant of England. What you can’t see clearly in the painting below is that the angels are all wearing Richard’s badge or emblem, the white hart, and that the orb set at the top of the standard (above the flag) contains an image of an island with a white castle, the island of England. This diptych shows Richard’s belief in his divine right to rule England, his belief that he was God’s chosen ruler. This was something that Elizabeth believed too and she would have believed that Mary was also divinely appointed by God, hence her dilemma, her inability to make a decision about Mary’s fate.

The Wilton Diptych

The Wilton Diptych

You can read more about the Babington Plot, Mary’s fall, Elizabeth’s dilemma and Mary’s trial and execution, in:-

Over at The Elizabeth Files.

Page from the Bury Bible

Page from the Bury Bible

The Seven Ages of Britain

This wonderful series is on the UK’s BBC One on Sunday nights and you can also catch up with it on BBC iPlayer or buy “The Seven Ages of Britain”, written by David Dimbleby. The first episode was “The Age of Conquest” and looked at Britain, through its art and treasure, from the Roman Invasion up to the Norman Invasion. Last night’s episode, “The Age of Worship” examined Medieval Britain, from the murder of Thomas Beckett in 1170 to the death of Richard II in 1400.

Highlights of last night’s epsiode were the Wilton Diptych, the beautifully illuminated Bury Bible, seeing the only surviving medieval crown (the one that belonged to Anne of Bohemia, Richard’s wife) and also the bit when David Dimbleby was in Canterbury Cathedral looking at the candle on the floor which marked the spot where Thomas Becket’s huge and ornate shrine had once stood, before it was destroyed by Henry VIII. Methinks that Henry VIII was responsible for a huge amount of history and art being destroyed!

Upcoming episodes are:-

  • Age of Power 1509-1609 – The 100 years between Henry VIII’s accession to the throne and the first performance of William Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII” – a must-see episode for Tudor fans!
  • Age of Revolution 1603-1708 – Civil War, a reinvented monarchy and scientific revolution.
  • Age of Money 1700-1805 – Commerce, the emergence of the middle class and a golden age of painting.
  • Age of Empire 1770-1911 – Exploration (Captain Cook and William Penn), the British Empire, India and the Victorian African campaigns.
  • Age of Ambition 1914-Now – The First World War, a change in values, democratisation of culture and art becoming a form of self-expression.
The only remaining Medieval Crown (1370-80)

The only remaining Medieval Crown (1370-80)

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