The Execution of Mary Queen of Scotts

Nae's Nest —  February 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

The Examination of Mary Queen of Scots

Edited by Maggie Pierce Secara


Mary, Queen of ScotsThese texts are transcribed (with updated spelling and paragraphing) from the History of the Life of Mary Queen of Scots, printed in 1681, microfilmed in 1976 and stored at Ann Arbor, MI. As far as we can tell, it is otherwise unpublished. The text appears to be in part drawn from Camden’s Annals and the relevant calendar of state papers, which provides a more complete transcript of the trial and narrative of the execution. The History also includes a rather long introduction; I have chosen to give you just the letters and other documents, and spared you the polemic. (It also includes the trials of the Duke of Norfolk and Philip, Earl of Arundel, which I may get to at another time.)

Why 1681? The publication a hundred years after the events was evidently prompted by the political issues of the late 17th century, when serious pressure was being brought on King Charles II to prohibit his brother, the crypto-Catholic Duke of York (eventually James II), from inheriting the throne. In this interest, mining relatively recent history for examples of Catholic perfidy produced numerous popular—and best selling—books and pamphlets. The History is one of those books.

Given these circumstances, it should come as no surprise to the reader that the tone of these documents and reports is neither romantic, as in the Victorian mode, nor what we might call balanced reporting. The documents are nevertheless fascinating as a look at both familiar events and the world that reported them.

For a complete timeline of Mary’s life and death, you may want to look at

For a more complete collection of the Scottish queen’s letters, you may be interested in Agnes Strickland’s 1842 work, Letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, and documents connected with her personal history, available at Google Books

For the modern views on Mary, see (among others):

  • Jane Dunn, Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
  • Antonia Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, Delacorte Press, New York, 1969.

The Examination of Mary Queen of Scots [PDF]

On Wednesday the 8th of February, 1586.  There assembled a the Castle of Fotheringay the Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, with diverse knights and gentlemen, justices of the peace in the counties there.  and about eight of the clock, the earls and the sheriff of the shire went up to the Scottish queen, whom they found praying on her knees with her gentlewomen and men; and the sheriff reminded her the time was at hand, she rose up and said she was ready.

Then she was led by the arms from her chamber into the Chamber of Presence where, with great
many exhortations to fear God and live in obedience, kissing her women, and giving her hand to her
men to kiss, praying them all not to sorrow but to rejoice, and pray for her, she was brought down the
stairs by two soldiers.
And being below and looking back, she said she was evilly attended, and besought the Lords that she
might, for [her] womanhood’s sake, have two of her women to wait upon her.
They said they [her women] were only withheld, for that it was feared by their passionate crying
they would much disquiet her spirit and disturb the execution. Then she said, I will promise for them
they will do neither. So two whom she wished were brought in to her.
Then she spake much to Melvin, her man, and charged him as he would answer before God, to
deliver her speeches and messages to her son, in such sort as she did deliver them. All which tended
to will him to govern wisely, and in the fear of God; to take heed to whom he betook his chiefest
trust; and not to give occasions to be evil thought on by the Queen of England, her good sister; and to
certify to him that she died a true Scot, true French, and true Catholic.
And about 10 of the clock, she was brought into the great hall, where in the midst of the hall and
against the chimney (in which was a great fire) was a scaffold set up of two foot high and twelve foot
broad, having two steps to come up. About the scaffold went a rail, half a yard high round, covered
with black cotton; so was her stool, the boards, and the block, and a pillow to kneel upon.
There did sit upon the scaffold the two earls—the sheriff stood—and the two executioners.
When they were placed, Mr [Robert] Beale, Clerk of the Council, did read her Majesty’s commission
aforesaid, under the great seal. After which, the Dean of Peterborough, by direction of the lords being
provided, began to speak unto her, for her better preparation to die as a penitent Christian in the true
faith of Christ.
But when he began his exhortation, she stayed him immediately, refusing to hear him, and said she
had nothing to do with him, nor he with her, for she was settled in the Roman Catholic faith, which
she would die in.
Then the earl of Kent willed Mr Dean to pray for her, that if it might stand with God’s will, she
might have her heart lightened with the true knowledge of God, and die therein. Which was
pronounced by him accordingly, and followed of the beholders.
All which while she, having a crucifix of white bone between her hands, prayed in Latin, very loud.
Prayer being ended, she kneeled down, and prayed to this effect: for Christ’s afflicted Church and end
of their troubles, for her son, for the Queen’s majesty that she might prosper and serve God. And

confessed that she hoped to be saved only by the blood of Jesus Christ, at the foot of whose Crucifix
she would shed her blood. And that God would avert his plagues from this island. That God would
give her grace and forgiveness of her sins.Then she rose up and was by both the executioners disrobed. She said she was not wont to be undressed by 

such grooms, and desired to have two of her
gentlewomen to disrobe her; the which was granted, and
being stripped into her petticoat; which being done, she
kissed her women and willed them not to cry for her, but
to rejoice; and lifted up her hand and blessed them and
also her men, not standing far off.
The she kneeled down most resolutely, without all fear
of death; and after one of her women had knit [tied] a
kerchief before her eyes, she spake aloud the psalm in
Latin: In te Domine confido, non confundor in eternum. [In
thee, O Lord, do I trust, let me never be confounded.]
Justitia tua libera me.
Then lay she down and stretched out her body and her
neck upon the block. She cried: In manus tuus Domine &c.
[Lord, into thy hands, etc.], and so she received two

The people cried: God save the queen, and so perish all papists and Her Majesty’s enemies. All things were taken from the executioners [who were] not suffered to have so much as the aprons, before they were washed. The blood, the clothes, and whatsoever was bloodied was burned in the fire made in the chimney in the hall, and by the scaffold.  The 1681 story stops here. As most people know, this is not where it usually ends. Like Camden’s account, but unlike some others, this narrative does not describe the executioner holding up the head with the wig coming away in his hands, or the lips continuing to move, or anything about a little dog. It’s actually pretty spare, and may only have been included because the story needed an end. Perhaps such details would have risked creating sympathy for the Scottish queen, and that was not, as we know, the intention of this publication.

From History of the Life of Mary Queen of Scots, 1681

I came across this while surfing the web. I download the PDF Ebook. It is free and is only about 30 pages long. I shared the execution with you, however I included the link above should you want to read the entire story. – xxo Renee

Nae's Nest


I find myself "Dancing With Cancer", problem is...I can't dance. I stumble, bumble, and get pulled along. To keep my sanity, (humor me), I write short stories, a journal, musings and poetry....just about anything goes.

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