Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott


It was said in the last chapter that Mary loved her husband, infirm and feeble as he was both in body and in mind. This love was probably the effect, quite as much as it was the cause, of the kindness which she showed him. As we are very apt to hate those whom we have injured, so we almost instinctively love those who have in any way become the objects of our kindness and care. If any wife, therefore, wishes for the pleasure of loving her husband, or which is, perhaps, a better supposition, if any husband desires the happiness of loving his wife, conscious that it is a pleasure which he does not now enjoy, let him commence by making her the object of his kind attentions and care, and love will spring up in the heart as a consequence of the kind of action of which it is more commonly the cause.

About a year passed away, when at length another great celebration took place in Paris, to honor the marriages of some other members of King Henry's family. One of them was Francis's oldest sister. A grand tournament was arranged on this occasion too. The place for this tournament was where the great street of St. Antoine now lies, and which may be found on any map of Paris. A very large concourse of kings and nobles from all the courts of Europe were present. King Henry, magnificently dressed, and mounted on a superb war-horse, was a very prominent figure in all the parades of the occasion, though the actual contests and trials of skill which took place were between younger princes and knights King Henry and the ladies being generally only spectators and judges. He, however, took a part himself on one or two occasions, and received great applause.

At last, at the end of the third day, just as the tournament was to be closed, King Henry was riding around, the field, greatly excited with the pride and pleasure which so magnificent a spectacle was calculated to awaken, when he saw two lances still remaining which had not been broken. The idea immediately seized him of making one more exhibition of his own power and dexterity in such contests. He took one of the lances, and, directing a high officer who was riding near him to take the other, he challenged him to a trial of skill. The name of this officer was Montgomery. Montgomery at first declined, being unwilling to contend with his king. The king insisted. Queen Catharine begged that he would not contend again. Accidents sometimes happened, she knew, in these rough encounters; and, at any rate, it terrified her to see her husband exposed to such dangers. The other lords and ladies, and Francis and Queen Mary particularly, joined in these expostulations. But Henry was inflexible. There was no danger, and, smiling at their fears, he commanded Montgomery to arm himself with his lance and take his position.

The spectators looked on in breathless silence. The two horsemen rode toward each other, each pressing his horse forward to his utmost speed, and as they passed, each aimed his lance at the head and breast of the other. It was customary on such occasions to wear a helmet, with a part called a vizor in front, which could be raised on ordinary occasions, or let down in moments of danger like this, to cover and protect the eyes. Of course this part of the armor was weaker than the rest, and it happened that Montgomery's lance struck here—was shivered—and a splinter of it penetrated the vizor and inflicted a wound upon Henry, on the head, just over the eye. Henry's horse went on. The spectators observed that the rider reeled and trembled in his seat. The whole assembly were in consternation. The excitement of pride and pleasure was every where turned into extreme anxiety and alarm.

They flocked about Henry's horse, and helped the king to dismount. He said it was nothing. They took off his helmet, and found large drops of blood issuing from the wound. They bore him to his palace. He had the magnanimity to say that Montgomery must not be blamed for this result, as he was himself responsible for it entirely. He lingered eleven days, and then died. This was in July, 1559.

One of the marriages which this unfortunate tournament had been intended to celebrate, that of Elizabeth, the king's daughter, had already taken place, having been performed a day or two before the king was wounded; and it was decided, after Henry was wounded, that the other must proceed, as there were great reasons of state against any postponement of it. This second marriage was that of Margaret, his sister. The ceremony in her case was performed in a silent and private manner, at night, by torchlight, in the chapel of the palace, while her father was dying. The services were interrupted by her sobs and tears.

Notwithstanding the mental and bodily feebleness which seemed to characterize the dauphin, Mary's husband, who now, by the death of his father, became King of France, the event of his accession to the throne seemed to awaken his energies, and arouse him to animation and effort. He was sick himself, and in his bed, in a palace called the Tournelles, when some officers of state were ushered into his apartment, and, kneeling before him, saluted him as king. This was the first announcement of his father's death. He sprang from his bed, exclaiming at once that he was well. It is one of the sad consequences of hereditary greatness and power that a son must sometimes rejoice at the death of his father.

It was Francis's duty to repair at once to the royal palace of the Louvre, with Mary, who was now Queen of France as well as of Scotland, to receive the homage of the various estates of the realm. Catharine was, of course, now queen dowager. Mary, the child whom she had so long looked upon with feelings of jealousy and envy was, from this time, to take her place as queen. It was very humiliating to Catharine to assume the position of a second and an inferior in the presence of one whom she had so long been accustomed to direct and to command. She yielded, however, with a good grace, though she seemed dejected and sad. As they were leaving the Tournelles, she stopped to let Mary go before her, saying, "Pass on, madame; it is your turn to take precedence now." Mary went before her, but she stopped in her turn, with a sweetness of disposition so characteristic of her, to let Queen Catharine enter first into the carriage which awaited them at the door.

Francis, though only sixteen, was entitled to assume the government himself. He went to Rheims, a town northeast of Paris, where is an abbey, which is the ancient place of coronation for the kings of France. Here he was crowned. He appointed his ministers, and evinced, in his management and in his measures, more energy and decision than it was supposed he possessed. He himself and Mary were now, together, on the summit of earthly grandeur. They had many political troubles and cares which can not be related here, but Mary's life was comparatively peaceful and happy, the pleasures which she enjoyed being greatly enhanced by the mutual affection which existed between herself and her husband.

Though he was small in stature, and very unprepossessing in appearance and manners, Francis still evinced in his government a considerable degree of good judgment and of energy. His health, however, gradually declined. He spent much of his time in traveling, and was often dejected and depressed. One circumstance made him feel very unhappy. The people of many of the villages through which he passed, being in those days very ignorant and superstitious, got a rumor into circulation that the king's malady was such that he could only be cured by being bathed in the blood of young children. They imagined that he was traveling to obtain such a bath; and, wherever he came, the people fled, mothers eagerly carrying off their children from this impending danger. The king did not understand the cause  of his being thus shunned. They concealed it from him, knowing that it would give him pain. He knew only the fact, and it made him very sad to find himself the object of this mysterious and unaccountable aversion.

In the mean time, while these occurrences had been taking place in France, Mary's mother, the queen dowager of Scotland, had been made queen regent of Scotland after her return from France; but she experienced infinite trouble and difficulty in managing the affairs of the country. The Protestant party became very strong, and took up arms against her government. The English sent them aid. She, on the other hand, with the Catholic interest to support her, defended her power as well as she could, and called for help from France to sustain her. And thus the country which she was so ambitious to govern was involved by her management in the calamities and sorrows of civil war.

In the midst of this contest she died. During her last sickness she sent for some of the leaders of the Protestant party, and did all that she could to soothe and conciliate their minds. She mourned the calamities and sufferings which the civil war had brought upon the country, and urged the Protestants to do all in their power, after her death, to heal these dissensions and restore peace. She also exhorted them to remember their obligations of loyalty and obedience to their absent queen, and to sustain and strengthen her government by every means in their power. She died, and after her death the war was brought to a close by a treaty of peace, in which the French and English governments joined with the government of Scotland to settle the points in dispute, and immediately afterward the troops of both these nations were withdrawn. The death of the queen regent was supposed to have been caused by the pressure of anxiety which the cares of her government imposed. Her body was carried home to France, and interred in the royal abbey at Rheims.

The death of Mary's mother took place in the summer of 1560. The next December Mary was destined to meet with a much heavier affliction. Her husband, King Francis, in addition to other complaints, had been suffering for some time from pain and disease in the ear. One day, when he was preparing to go out hunting, he was suddenly seized with a fainting fit, and was soon found to be in great danger. He continued some days very ill. He was convinced himself that he could not recover, and began to make arrangements for his approaching end. As he drew near to the close of his life, he was more and more deeply impressed with a sense of Mary's kindness and love. He mourned very much his approaching separation from her. He sent for his mother, Queen Catharine, to come to his bedside, and begged that she would treat Mary kindly, for his sake, after he was gone.

Mary was overwhelmed with grief at the approaching death of her husband. She knew at once what a great change it would make in her condition. She would lose immediately her rank and station. Queen Catharine would again come into power, as queen regent, during the minority of the next heir. All her friends of the family of Guise, would be removed from office, and she herself would become a mere guest and stranger in the land of which she had been the queen. But nothing could arrest the progress of the disease under which her husband was sinking. He died, leaving Mary a disconsolate widow of seventeen.

The historians of those days say that Queen Catharine was much pleased at the death of Francis her son. It restored her to rank and power. Mary was again beneath her, and in some degree subject to her will. All Mary's friends were removed from their high stations, and others, hostile to her family, were put into their places. Mary soon found herself unhappy at court, and she accordingly removed to a castle at a considerable distance from Paris to the west, near the city of Orleans. The people of Scotland wished her to return to her native land. Both the great parties sent embassadors to her to ask her to return, each of them urging her to adopt such measures on her arrival in Scotland as should favor their cause. Queen Catharine, too, who was still jealous of Mary's influence, and of the admiration and love which her beauty and the loveliness of her character inspired, intimated to her that perhaps it would be better for her now to leave France and return to her own land.

Mary was very unwilling to go. She loved France. She knew very little of Scotland. She was very young when she left it, and the few recollections which she had of the country were confined to the lonely island of Inchmahome and the Castle of Stirling. Scotland was in a cold and inhospitable climate, accessible only through stormy and dangerous seas, and it seemed to her that going there was going into exile. Besides, she dreaded to undertake personally to administer a government whose cares and anxieties had been so great as to carry her mother to the grave.

Mary, however, found that it was in vain for her to resist the influences which pressed upon her the necessity of returning to her native land. She wandered about during the spring and summer after her husband's death, spending her time in various palaces and abbeys, and at length she began to prepare for her return to Scotland. The same gentleness and loveliness of character which she had exhibited in her prosperous fortunes, shone still more conspicuously now in her hours of sorrow. Sometimes she appeared in public, in certain ceremonies of state. She was then dressed in mourning—in white—according to the custom in royal families in those days, her dark hair covered by a delicate crape veil. Her beauty, softened and chastened by her sorrows, made a strong impression upon all who saw her.

She appeared so frequently, and attracted so much attention in her white mourning, that she began to be known among the people as the White Queen. Every body wanted to see her. They admired her beauty; they were impressed with the romantic interest of her history; they pitied her sorrows. She mourned her husband's death with deep and unaffected grief. She invented a device and motto for a seal, appropriate to the occasion: it was a figure of the liquorice-tree, every part of which is useless except the root, which, of course, lies beneath the surface of the earth. Underneath was the inscription, in Latin, My treasure is in the ground. The expression is much more beautiful in teh Latin than can be expressed in any English words.

Mary did not, however, give herself up to sullen and idle grief, but employed herself in various studies and pursuits, in order to soothe and solace her grief by useful occupation. She read Latin authors; she studied poetry; she composed. She paid much attention to music, and charmed those who were in her company by the sweet tones of her voice and her skillful performance upon an instrument. The historians even record a description of the fascinating effect produced by the graceful movements of her beautiful hand. Whatever she did or said seemed to carry with it an inexpressible charm.

Before she set out on her return to Scotland, she went to pay a visit to her grandmother, the same lady whom her mother had gone to see in her castle, ten years before, on her return to Scotland after her visit to Mary. During this ten years the unhappy mourner had made no change in respect to her symbols of grief. The apartments of her palace were still hung with black. Her countenance wore the same expression of austerity and woe. Her attendants were trained to pay to her every mark of the most profound deference in all their approaches to her. No sounds of gayety or pleasure were to be heard, but a profound stillness and solemnity reigned continually throughout the gloomy mansion.

Not long before the arrangements were completed for Mary's return to Scotland, she revisited Paris, where she was received with great marks of attention and honor. She was now eighteen or nineteen years of age, in the bloom of her beauty, and the monarch of a powerful kingdom, to which she was about to return, and many of the young princes of Europe began to aspire to the honor of her hand. Through these and other influences, she was the object of much attention; while, on the other hand, Queen Catharine, and the party in power at the French court, were envious and jealous of her popularity, and did a great deal to mortify and vex her.

The enemy, however, whom Mary had most to fear, was her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England. Queen Elizabeth was a maiden lady, now nearly thirty years of age. She was in all respects extremely different from Mary. She was a zealous Protestant, and very suspicious and watchful in respect to Mary, on account of her Catholic connections and faith. She was very plain in person, and unprepossessing in manners. She was, however, intelligent and shrewd, and was governed by calculations and policy in all that she did. The people by whom she was surrounded admired her talents and feared her power, but nobody loved her. She had many good qualities as a monarch, but none considered as a woman.

Queen Elizabeth I


Elizabeth was somewhat envious of her cousin Mary's beauty, and of her being such an object of interest and affection to all who knew her. But she had a far more serious and permanent cause of alienation from her than personal envy. It was this: Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII., had, in succession, several wives, and there had been a question raised about the legality of his marriage with Elizabeth's, mother, Parliament decided at one time that this marriage was not valid; at another time, subsequently, they decided that it was. This difference in the two decisions was not owing so much to a change of sentiment in the persons who voted, as to a change in the ascendency of the parties by which the decision was controlled. If the marriage were valid, then Elizabeth was entitled to the English crown. If it were not valid, then she was not entitled to it: it belonged to the next heir. Now it happened that Mary Queen of Scots was the next heir. Her grandmother on the father's side was an English princess, and through her Mary had a just title to the crown, if Queen Elizabeth's title was annulled.

Now, while Mary was in France, during the lifetime of King Henry, Francis's father, he and the members of the family of Guise advanced Mary's claim to the British crown, and denied that of Elizabeth. They made a coat of arms, in which the arms of France, and Scotland, and England were combined, and had it engraved on Mary's silver plate. On one great occasion, they had this symbol displayed conspicuously over the gateway of a town where Mary was making a public entry. The English embassador, who was present, made this, and the other acts of the same kind, known to Elizabeth, and she was greatly incensed at them. She considered Mary as plotting treasonably against her power, and began to contrive plans to circumvent and thwart her.

Nor was Elizabeth wholly unreasonable in this. Mary, though personally a gentle and peaceful woman, yet in her teens, was very formidable to Elizabeth as an opposing claimant of the crown. All the Catholics in France and in Scotland would naturally take Mary's side. Then, besides this, there was a large Catholic party in England, who would be strongly disposed to favor any plan which should give them a Catholic monarch. Elizabeth was, therefore, very justly alarmed at such a claim on the part of her cousin. It threatened not only to expose her to the aggressions of foreign foes, but also to internal commotions and dangers, in her own dominions.

The chief responsibility for bringing forward this claim must rest undoubtedly, not on Mary herself, but on King Henry of France and the other French princes, who first put it forward. Mary, however, herself, was not entirely passive in the affair. She liked to consider herself as entitled to the English crown. She had a device for a seal, a very favorite one with her, which expressed this claim. It contained two crowns with a motto in Latin below which meant, "A third awaits me."  Elizabeth knew all these things, and she held Mary accountable for all the anxiety and alarm which this dangerous claim occasioned her.

At the peace which was made in Scotland between the French and English forces and the Scotch, by the great treaty of Edinburgh which has been already described, it was agreed that Mary should relinquish all claim to the crown of England. This treaty was brought to France for Mary to ratify it, but she declined. Whatever rights she might have to the English crown, she refused to surrender them. Things remained in this state until the time arrived for her return to her native land, and then, fearing that perhaps Elizabeth might do something to intercept her passage, she applied to her for a safe-conduct; that is, a writing authorizing her to pass safely and without hindrance through the English dominions, whether land or sea. Queen Elizabeth returned word through her embassador in Paris, whose name was Throckmorton, that she could not give her any such safe-conduct, because she had refused to ratify the treaty of Edinburgh.

When this answer was communicated to Mary, she felt deeply wounded by it. She sent all the attendants away, that she might express herself to Throckmorton without reserve. She told him that it seemed to her very hard that her cousin was disposed to prevent her return to her native land. As to her claim upon the English crown, she said that advancing it was not her plan, but that of her husband and his father; and that now she could not properly renounce it, whatever its validity might be, till she could have opportunity to return to Scotland and consult with her government there, since it affected not her personally alone, but the public interests of Scotland. "And now," she continued, in substance, "I am sorry that I asked such a favor of her. I have no need to ask it, for I am sure I have a right to return from France to my own country without asking permission of any one. You have often told me that the queen wished to be on friendly terms with me, and that it was your opinion that to be friends would be pest for us both. But now I see that she is not of your mind, but is disposed to treat me in an unkind and unfriendly manner, while she knows that I am her equal in rank, though I do not pretend to be her equal in abilities and experience. Well, she may do as she pleases. If my preparations were not so far advanced, perhaps I should give up the voyage. But I am resolved to go. I hope the winds wilt prove favorable, and carry me away from her shores. If they carry me upon them, and I fall into her hands, she may make what disposal of me she will. If I lose my life, I shall esteem it no great loss, for it is now little else than a burden."

How strongly this speech expresses "that mixture of melancholy and dignity, of womanly softness and noble decision, which pervaded her character." There is a sort of gentleness even in her anger, and a certain indescribable womanly charm in the workings of her mind, which cause all who read her story, while they can not but think that Elizabeth was right, to sympathize wholly with Mary.

Throckmorton, at one of his conversations with Mary, took occasion to ask her respecting her religious views, as Elizabeth wished to know how far she was fixed and committed in her attachment to the Catholic faith. Mary said that she was born and had been brought up a Catholic, and that she should remain so as long as she lived. She would not interfere, she said, with her subjects adopting such form of religion as they might prefer, but for herself she should not change. If she should change, she said, she should justly lose the confidence of her people; for, if they saw that she was light and fickle on that subject, they could not rely upon her in respect to any other. She did not profess to be able to argue, herself, the questions of difference, but she was not wholly uninformed in respect to them, as she had often heard the points discussed by learned men, and had found nothing to lead her to change her ground.

It is impossible for any reader, whether Protestant or Catholic, not to admire the frankness and candor, the honest conscientiousness, the courage, and, at the same time, womanly modesty and propriety which characterized this reply.