Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

The Long Captivity

Hamilton, which had been thus far the queen's place of rendezvous, was a palace rather than a castle, and therefore not a place of defense. It was situated, as has been already stated, on the River Clyde, above  Glasgow; that is, toward the southeast of it, the River Clyde flowing toward the northwest. The Castle of Dumbarton, which has already been mentioned as the place from which Mary embarked for France in her early childhood, was below Glasgow, on the northern shore of the river. It stands there still in good repair, and is well garrisoned; it crowns a rock which rises abruptly from the midst of a comparatively level country smiling with villages and cultivated fields, and frowns sternly upon the peaceful steamers and merchant ships which are continually gliding along under its guns, up and down the Clyde.

Queen Mary concluded to move forward to Dumbarton, it being a place of greater safety than Hamilton. Murray gathered his forces to intercept her march. The two armies met near Glasgow, as the queen was moving westward, down the river. There was a piece of rising ground between them, which each party was eager to ascend before the other should reach it. The leader of the forces on Murray's side ordered every horseman to take up a foot-soldier behind him, and ride with all speed to the top of the hill. By this means the great body of Murray's troops were put in possession of the vantage ground. The queen's forces took post on another rising ground, less favorable, at a little distance. The place was called Langside. A cannonading was soon commenced, and a general battle ensued. Mary watched the progress of it with intense emotions. Her forces began soon to give way, and before many hours they were retreating in all directions, the whole country being soon covered with the awful spectacles which are afforded by one terrified and panic-stricken army flying before the furious and triumphant rage of another. Mary gazed on the scene in an agony of grief and despair.

A few faithful friends kept near her side, and told her that she must hurry away. They turned to the southward, and rode away from the ground. They pressed on as rapidly as possible toward the southern coast, thinking that the only safety for Mary now was for her to make her escape from the country altogether, and go either to England or to France, in hopes of obtaining foreign aid to enable her to recover her throne. They at length reached the sea-coast. Mary was received into an abbey called Dundrennan, not far from the English frontier. Here she remained, with a few nobles and a small body of attendants, for two days, spending the time in anxious consultations to determine what should be done. Mary herself was in favor of going to England, and appealing to Elizabeth for protection and help. Her friends and advisers, knowing Elizabeth perhaps better than Mary did, recommended that she should sail for France, in hopes of awakening sympathy there. But Mary, as we might naturally have expected, considering the circumstances under which she left that country, found herself extremely unwilling to go there as a fugitive and a suppliant. It was decided, finally, to go to England.

The nearest stronghold in England was Carlisle Castle, which was not very far from the frontier. The boundary between the two kingdoms is formed here by the Solway Frith, a broad arm of the sea. Dundrennan Abbey, to which Mary had retreated, was near the town of Kirkcudbright, which is, of course, on the northern side of the Frith; it is also near the sea. Carlisle is further up the Frith, near where the River Solway empties into it, and is twenty or thirty miles from the shore.

Mary sent a messenger to the governor of the castle at Carlisle to inquire whether he would receive and protect her. She could not, however, wait for an answer to this message, as the country was all in commotion, and she was exposed to an attack at any time from Murray's forces, in which case, even it they should not succeed in taking her captive, they might effectually cut off her retreat from Scottish ground. She accordingly determined to proceed immediately, and receive the answer from the governor of the castle on the way. She set out on the 16th of May. Eighteen or twenty persons constituted her train. This was all that remained to her of her army of six thousand men. She proceeded to the shore. They provided a fishing-boat for the voyage, furnishing it as comfortably for her as circumstances would admit. She embarked, and sailed along the coast, eastward, up the Frith, for about eighteen miles, gazing mournfully upon the receding shore of her native land—receding, in fact, now from her view forever. They landed at the most convenient port for reaching Carlisle, intending to take the remainder of the journey by land.

In the mean time, the messenger, on his arrival at Carlisle, found that the governor had gone to London. His second in rank, whom he had left in command, immediately sent off an express after him to inform him of the event. The name of this lieutenant-governor was Lowther. Lowther did all in Mary's favor that it was in his power to do. He directed the messenger to inform her that he had sent to London for instructions from Elizabeth, but that, in the mean time, she would be a welcome guest in his castle, and that he would defend her there from all her enemies. He then sent around to all the nobles and men of distinction in the neighborhood, informing them of the arrival of the distinguished visitor, and having assembled them, they proceeded together toward the coast to meet and receive the unhappy fugitive with the honors becoming her rank, though such honors must have seemed little else than a mockery in her present condition.

Mary was received at the castle as an honored guest. It is, however, a curious circumstance, that, in respect to the reception of princes and queens in royal castles, there is little or no distinction between the ceremonies which mark the honored guest and those, which attend the helpless captive. Mary had a great many friends at first, who came out of Scotland to visit her. The authorities ordered repairs to be commenced upon the castle, to fit it more suitably for so distinguished an inmate, and, in consequence of the making of these repairs, they found it inconvenient to admit visitors. Of course, Mary, being a mere guest, could not complain. She wanted to take a walk beyond the limits of the castle, upon a green to which there was access through a postern gate. Certainly the governor made no objection to such a walk, but sent twenty or thirty armed men to accompany her. They might be considered either as an honorary escort, or as a guard to watch her movements, to prevent her escape, and to secure her return. At one time she proposed to go a hunting. They allowed her to go, properly attended. On her, return, however, the officer reported to his superior that she was so admirable in her horsemanship, and could ride with so much fearlessness and speed, that he thought it might be possible for a body of her friends to come and carry her off, on some such occasion, back across the frontier. So they determined to tell Mary, when she wished to hunt again, that they thought it not safe for her to go out on such excursions, as her enemies  might make a sudden invasion and carry her away. The precautions would be just the same to protect Mary from her enemies as to keep her from her friends.

Elizabeth sent her captive cousin very kind and condoling messages, dispatching, however, by the same messenger stringent orders to the commander of the castle to be sure and keep her safely. Mary asked for an interview with Elizabeth. Elizabeth's officers replied that she could not properly admit Mary to a personal interview until she had been, in some way or other, cleared of the suspicion which attached to her in respect to the murder of Darnley. They proposed, moreover, that Mary should consent to have that question examined before some sort of court which Elizabeth might constitute for this purpose. Now it is a special point of honor among all sovereign kings and queens, throughout the civilized world, that they can, technically, do no wrong; that they can not in any way be brought to trial; and especially that they can not be, by any means or in any way, amenable to each other. Mary refused to acknowledge any English jurisdiction whatever in respect to any charges brought against her, a sovereign queen of Scotland.

Elizabeth removed her prisoner to another castle further from the frontier than Carlisle, in order to place her in a situation where she would be more safe from her enemies. It was not convenient to lodge so many of her attendants at these new quarters as in the other fortress, and several were dismissed. Additional obstructions were thrown in the way, of her seeing friends and visitors from Scotland. Mary found her situation growing every day more and more helpless and desolate. Elizabeth urged continually upon her the necessity of having the points at issue between herself and Murray examined by a commissioner, artfully putting it on the ground, not of a trial of Mary, but a calling of Murray to account, by Mary, for his usurpation. At last, harassed and worn down, and finding no ray of hope coming to her from any quarter, she consented. Elizabeth constituted such a court, which was to meet at York, a large and ancient city in the north of England. Murray was to appear there in person, with other lords associated with him. Mary appointed commissioners to appear for her; and the two parties went into court, each thinking that it was the other which was accused and on trial.

The court assembled, and, after being opened with great parade and ceremony, commenced the investigation of the questions at issue, which led, of course, to endless criminations and recriminations, the ground covering the whole history of Mary's career in Scotland. They went on for some weeks in this hopeless labyrinth, until, at length, Murray produced the famous letters alleged to have been written by Mary to Bothwell before Darnley's murder, as a part of the evidence, and charged Mary, on the strength of this evidence, with having been an abettor in the murder. Elizabeth, finding that the affair was becoming, as in fact she wished it to become, more and more involved, and wishing to get Mary more and more entangled in it, and to draw her still further into her power, ordered the conference, as the court was called, to be adjourned to London. Here things took such a turn that Mary complained that she was herself treated in so unjust a manner, and Murray and his cause were allowed so many unfair advantages, that she could not allow the discussion on her part to continue. The conference was accordingly broken up, each party charging the other with being the cause of the interruption.

Murray returned to Scotland to resume his government there. Mary was held a closer captive than ever. She sent to Elizabeth asking her to remove these restraints, and allow her to depart either to her own country or to France. Elizabeth replied that she could not, considering all the circumstances of the case, allow her to leave England; but that, if she would give up all claims to the government of Scotland to her son, the young prince, she might remain in peace in England. Mary replied that she would suffer death a thousand times rather than dishonor herself in the eyes of the world by abandoning, in such a way, her rights as a sovereign. The last words which she, should speak, she said, should be those of the Queen of Scotland.

Elizabeth therefore considered that she had no alternative left but to keep Mary a prisoner. She accordingly retained her for some time in confinement, but she soon found that such a charge was a serious incumbrance to her, and one not unattended with danger. The disaffected in her own realm were beginning to form plots, and to consider whether they could not, in some way or other, make use of Mary's claims to the English crown to aid them. Finally, Elizabeth came to the conclusion, when she had become a little satiated with the feeling, at first so delightful, of having Mary in her power, that, after all, it would be quite as convenient to have her imprisoned in Scotland, and she opened a negotiation with Murray for delivering Mary into his hands. He was, on his part, to agree to save her life, and to keep her a close prisoner, and he was to deliver hostages to Elizabeth as security for the fulfillment of these obligations.

Various difficulties, however, occurred in the way of the accomplishment of these plans, and before the arrangement was finally completed, it was cut suddenly short by Murray's miserable end. One of the Hamiltons, who had been with Mary at Langside, was taken prisoner after the battle. Murray, who, of course, as the legally constituted regent in the name of James, considered himself as representing the royal authority of the kingdom, regarded these prisoners as rebels taken in the act of insurrection against their sovereign. They were condemned to death, but finally were pardoned at the place of execution. Their estates were, however, confiscated, and given, to the followers and favorites of Murray.

One of these men, in taking possession of house of Hamilton, with a cruel brutality characteristic of the times, turned Hamilton's family out abruptly in a cold night—perhaps exasperated by resistance which he may have encountered. The wife of Hamilton, it is said, was sent out naked; but the expression means, probably, very insufficiently clothed for such an exposure. At any rate, the unhappy outcast wandered about, half frantic with anger and terror, until, before morning, she was wholly frantic and insane. To have such a calamity brought upon him in consequence merely of his fidelity to his queen, was, as the bereaved and wretched husband thought, an injury not to be borne. He considered Murray the responsible author of these miseries, and silently and calmly resolved on a terrible revenge.

Murray was making a progress through the country, traveling in state with a great retinue, and was to pass through Linlithgow. There is a town of that name close by the palace. Hamilton provided himself with a room in one of the houses on the principal street, through which he knew that Murray must pass. He had a fleet horse ready for him at the back door. The front door was barricaded. There was a sort of balcony or gallery projecting toward the street, with a window in it. He stationed himself here, having carefully taken every precaution to prevent his being seen from the street, or overheard in his movements. Murray lodged in the town during the night, and Hamilton posted himself in his ambuscade the next morning, armed with a gun.

The town was thronged, and Murray, on issuing from his lodging, escorted by his cavalcade, found the streets crowded with spectators. He made his way slowly, on account of the throng. When he arrived at the proper point, Hamilton took his aim in a cool and deliberate manner, screened from observation by black cloths with which he had darkened his hiding-place. He fired. The ball passed through the body of the regent, and thence, descending as it went, killed a horse on the other side of him. Murray fell. There was a universal outcry of surprise and fear. They made an onset upon the house from which the shot had been fired. The door was strongly barricaded. Before they could get the means to force an entrance, Hamilton was on his horse and far away. The regent was carried to his lodgings, and died that night.

Murray was Queen Mary's half brother, and the connection of his fortunes with hers, considered in respect to its intimacy and the length of its duration, was, on the whole, greater than that of any other individual. He may be said to have governed Scotland, in reality, during the whole of Mary's nominal reign, first as her minister and friend, and afterward as her competitor and foe. He was, at any rate during most of her life, her nearest relative and her most constant companion, and Mary mourned his death with many tears.

There was a great nobleman in England, named the Duke of Norfolk, who had vast estates, and was regarded as the greatest subject in the realm. He was a Catholic. Among the other countless schemes and plots to which Mary's presence in England gave rise, he formed a plan of marrying her, and, through her claim to the crown and by the help of the Catholics, to overturn the government of Elizabeth. He entered into negotiations with Mary, and she consented to become his wife, without, however, as she says, being a party to his political schemes. His plots were discovered; he was imprisoned, tried, and beheaded. Mary was accused of sharing the guilt of his treason. She denied this. She was not very vigorously proceeded against, but she suffered in the event of the affair another sad disappointment of her hopes of liberty, and her confinement became more strict and absolute than ever.

Still she had quite a numerous retinue of attendants. Many of her former friends were allowed to continue with her. Jane Kennedy, who had escaped with her from Loch Leven, remained in her service. She was removed from castle to castle, at Elizabeth's orders, to diminish the probability of the forming and maturing of plans of escape. She amused herself sometimes in embroidery and similar pursuits, and sometimes she pined and languished under the pressure of her sorrows and woes. Sixteen or eighteen years passed away in this manner. She was almost forgotten. Very exciting public events were taking place in England and in Scotland, and the name of the poor captive queen at length seemed to pass from men's minds, except so far as it was whispered secretly in plots and intrigues.