Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott

Return to Scotland

Mary was to sail from the port of Calais. Calais is on the northern coast of France, opposite to Dover in England, these towns being on opposite sides of the Straits of Dover, where the channel between England and France is very narrow. Still, the distance is so great that the land on either side is ordinarily not visible on the other. There is no good natural harbor at Calais, nor, in fact, at any other point on the French coast. The French have had to supply the deficiency by artificial piers and breakwaters. There are several very capacious and excellent harbors on the English side. This may have been one cause, among others, of the great naval superiority which England has attained.

When Queen Elizabeth found that Mary was going to persevere in her intention of returning to her native land, she feared that she might, after her arrival in Scotland, and after getting established in power there, form a scheme for making war upon her  dominions, and attempt to carry into effect her claim upon the English crown. She wished to prevent this. Would it be prudent to intercept Mary upon her passage? She reflected on this subject with the cautious calculation which formed so striking a part of her character, and felt in doubt. Her taking Mary a prisoner, and confining her a captive in her own land, might incense Queen Catharine, who was now regent of France, and also awaken a general resentment in Scotland, so as to bring upon her the hostility of those two countries, and thus, perhaps, make more mischief than the securing of Mary's person would prevent.

She accordingly, as a previous step, sent to Throckmorton, her embassador in France, directing him to have an interview with Queen Catharine, and ascertain how far she would feel disposed to take Mary's part. Throckmorton did this. Queen Catharine gave no direct reply. She said that both herself and the young king wished well to Elizabeth, and to Mary too, that it was her desire that the two queens might be on good terms with each other; that she was a friend to them both, and should not take a part against either of them.

This was all that Queen Elizabeth could expect, and she formed her plans for intercepting Mary on her passage. She sent to Throckmorton, asking him to find out, if he could, what port Queen Mary was to sail from, and to send her word. She then gave orders to her naval commanders to assemble as many ships as they could, and hold them in readiness to sail into the seas between England and France, for the purpose of exterminating the pirates, which she said had lately become very numerous there.

Throckmorton took occasion, in a conversation which he had with Mary soon after this, to inquire from what port she intended to sail; but she did not give him the information. She suspected his motive, and merely said, in reply to his question, that she hoped the wind would prove favorable for carrying her away as far as possible from the English coast, whatever might be the point from which she should take her departure. Throckmorton then endeavored to find out the arrangements of the voyage by other means, but without much success. He wrote to Elizabeth that he thought Mary would sail either from Havre or Calais; that he would go eastward, along the shore of the Continent, by Flanders and Holland, till she had gained a considerable distance from the English coast, and then would sail north along the eastern shores of the German Ocean. He advised that Elizabeth should send spies to Calais and to Havre, and perhaps to other French ports, to watch there, and to let her know whenever they observed any appearances of preparations for Mary's departure.

In the mean time, as the hour for Mary's farewell to Paris and all its scenes of luxury and splendor, drew near, those who had loved her were drawn more closely to her in heart than ever, and those who had been envious and jealous began to relent, and to look upon her with feelings of compassion and of kind regard. Queen Catharine treated her with extreme kindness during the last few days of her stay, and she accompanied her for some distance on her journey, with every manifestation of sincere affection and good will. She stopped, at length, at St. Germain, and there, with many tears, she bade her gentle daughter-in-law a long and last farewell.

Many princes and nobles, especially of the family of Guise, Mary's relatives, accompanied her through the whole journey. They formed quite a long cavalcade, and attracted great attention in all the towns and districts through which they passed. They traveled slowly, but at length arrived at Calais, where they waited nearly a week to complete the arrangements for Mary's embarkation. At length the day arrived for her to set sail. A large concourse of spectators assembled to witness the scene. Four ships had been provided for the transportation of the party and their effects. Two of these were galleys. They were provided with banks of oars, and large crews of rowers, by means of which the vessels could be propelled when the wind failed. The two other vessels were merely vessels of burden, to carry the furniture and other effects of the passengers.

Many of the queen's friends were to accompany her to Scotland. The four Marys were among them. She bade those that were to remain behind farewell, and prepared to embark on board the royal galley. Her heart was very sad. Just at this time, a vessel which was coming in struck against the pier, in consequence of a heavy sea which was rolling in, and of the distraction of the seamen occasioned by Mary's embarkation. The vessel which struck was so injured by the concussion that it filled immediately and sank. Most of the seamen on board were drowned. This accident produced great excitement and confusion. Mary looked upon the scene from the deck of her vessel, which was now slowly moving from the shore. It alarmed her, and impressed her mind with a sad and mournful sense of the dangers of the elements to whose mercy she was now to be committed for many days. "What an unhappy omen is this!" she exclaimed. She then went to the stern of the ship, looked back at the shore, then knelt down, and, covering her face with her hands, sobbed aloud. "Farewell, France!" she exclaimed: "I shall never, never see thee more." Presently, when her emotions for a moment subsided, she would raise her eyes, and take another view of the slowly-receding shore, and then exclaim again, "Farewell, my beloved France! farewell! farewell!"

Mary Queen of Scots


She remained in this position, suffering this anguish, for five hours, when it began to grow dark, and she could no longer see the shore. She then rose, saying that her beloved country was gone from her sight forever. "The darkness, like a thick veil, hides thee from my sight, and I shall see thee no more. So farewell, beloved land! farewell forever!" She left her place at the stern, but she would not leave the deck. She made them bring up a bed and place it for her there, near the stern. They tried to induce her to go into the cabin, or at least to take some supper; but she would not. She lay down upon her bed. She charged the helmsman to awaken her at the dawn, if the land was in sight when the dawn should appear. She then wept herself to sleep.

During the night the air was calm, and the vessels in which Mary and her company had embarked made such small progress, being worked only by the oars, that the land came into view again with the gray light of the morning. The helmsman awoke Mary, and the sight of the shore renewed her anguish and tears. She said that she could not  go. She wished that Elizabeth's ships would come in sight, so as to compel her squadron to return. But no English fleet appeared. On the contrary, the breeze freshened. The sailors unfurled the sails, the oars were taken in, and the great crew of oarsmen rested from their toil. The ships began to make their way rapidly through the rippling water. The land soon became a faint, low cloud in the horizon, and in an hour all traces of it entirely disappeared.

The voyage continued for ten days. They saw nothing of Elizabeth's cruisers. It was afterward ascertained, however, that these ships were at one time very near to them, and were only prevented from seeing and taking them by a dense fog, which at that time happened to cover the sea. One of the vessels of burden was seen and taken, and carried to England. It contained, however, only some of Mary's furniture and effects. She herself escaped the danger.

The fog, which was thus Mary's protection at one time, was a source of great difficulty and danger at another; for, when they were drawing near to the place of their landing in Scotland, they were enveloped in a fog so dense that they could scarcely see from one end, of the vessel to the other: They stopped the progress of their vessels, and kept continually sounding; and when at length the fog cleared away, they found themselves involved in a labyrinth of rocks and shoals of the most dangerous character. They made their escape at last, and went on safely toward the land. Mary said, however, that she felt, at the time, entirely indifferent as to the result. She was so disconsolate and wretched at having parted forever from all that was dear to her, that it seemed to her that she was equally willing to live or to die.

Mary who, among her other accomplishments, had a great deal of poetic talent, wrote some lines, called her Farewell to France, which have been celebrated from that day to this. They are as follows:


Adieu, plaisant pays de France

O ma patrie,

La plus cherie;

Qui a nourri ma jeune enfance.

Adieu, France! adieu mes beaux jours!

La nef qui déjoint mes amours,

N'a cy de moi que la moitid;

Une parte to reste; elle est tienne;

Je la fie á ton amitié,

Pour que de l' autre il te souvienne.

Many persons have attempted to translate these lines into English verse; but it is always extremely difficult to translate poetry from one language to another. We give here two of the best of these translations. The reader can judge, by observing how different they are from each other, how different they must both be from their common original.


Farewell to thee, thou pleasant shore,

The loved, the cherished home to me

Of infant joy, a dream that's o'er,

Farewell, dear France! farewell to thee!

The sail that wafts me bears away

From thee but half my soul alone;

Its fellow half will fondly stay,

And back to thee has faithful flown.

I trust it to thy gentle care;

For all that here remains with me

Lives but to think of all that's there,

To love and to remember thee.

The other translation is as follows:


Adieu, thou pleasant land of France!

The dearest of all lands to me,

Where life was like a joyful dance,

The joyful dance of infancy.

Farewell my childhood's laughing wiles,

Farewell the joys of youth's bright day;

The bark that takes me from thy smiles,

Bears but my meaner half away.

The best is thine; my changeless heart

Is given, beloved France, to thee;

And let it sometimes, though we part,

Remind thee, with a sigh, of me.

It was on the 19th of August, 1561, that the two galleys arrived at Leith. Leith is a small port on the shore of the Frith of Forth, about two miles from Edinburgh, which is situated somewhat inland. The royal palace, where Mary was to reside, was called the Palace of Holyrood. It was, and is still, a large square building, with an open court in the center, into which there is access for carriages through a large arched passageway in the center of the principal front of the building. In the rear, but connected with the palace, there was a chapel in Mary's day, though it is now in ruins. The walls still remain, but the roof is gone. The people of Scotland were not expecting Mary so soon. Information was communicated from country to country, in those days, slowly and with great difficulty. Perhaps the time of Mary's departure from France was purposely concealed even from the Scotch, to avoid all possibility that the knowledge of it should get into Elizabeth's possession.

At any rate, the first intelligence which the inhabitants of Edinburgh and the vicinity had of the arrival of their queen, was the approach of the galleys to the shore, and the firing of a royal salute from their guns. The Palace of Holyrood was not ready for Mary's reception, and she had to remain a day at Leith, awaiting the necessary preparations. In the mean time, the whole population began to assemble to welcome her arrival. Military bands were turned out; banners were prepared; civil and military officers in full costume assembled, and bonfires and illuminations were provided for the evening and night. In a word, Mary's subjects in Scotland did all in their power to do honor to the occasion; but the preparations were so far beneath the pomp and pageantry which she had been accustomed to in France, that she felt the contrast very keenly, and realized, more forcibly than ever, how great was the change which the circumstances of her life were undergoing.

Palace of Holyrood


Horses were prepared for Mary and her large company of attendants, to ride from Leith to Edinburgh. The long cavalcade moved toward evening. The various professions and trades of Edinburgh were drawn up in lines on each side of the road, and thousands upon thousands of other spectators assembled to witness the scene. When she reached the Palace of Holyrood House, a band of music played for a time under her windows, and then the great throng quietly dispersed, leaving Mary to her repose. Mary took up her abode in this dwelling, and was glad to rest from the fatigues and privations of her long voyage; but she found her new home a solitary and gloomy dwelling, compared with the magnificent palaces of the land she had left.

Mary made an extremely favorable impression upon her subjects in Scotland. To please them, she exchanged the white mourning of France, from which she had taken the name of the White Queen, for a black dress, more accordant with the ideas and customs of her native land. This gave her a more sedate and matronly character, and though the expression of her countenance and figure was somewhat changed by it, it was only a change to a new form of extreme and fascinating beauty. Her manners, too, so graceful and easy, and yet so simple and unaffected, charmed all who saw her.

Mary had a half brother in Scotland, whose title was at this time the Lord James. He was afterward named the Earl of Murray, and is commonly known in history under this latter designation. The mother of Lord James was not legally married to Mary's father, and consequently he could not inherit any of his father's rights to the Scottish crown. The Lord James was, however, a man of very high rank and influence, and Mary immediately received him into her service, and made him one of her highest ministers of state. He was now about thirty years of age, prudent, cautious, and wise, of good person and manners, but somewhat reserved and austere.

Lord James had the general direction of affairs on Mary's arrival, and things went on very smoothly for a week; but then, on the first Sunday after the landing, a very serious difficulty threatened to occur. The Catholics have a certain celebration, called the mass, to which they attach a very serious and solemn importance. When our Savior gave the bread and the wine to his disciples at the Last Supper he said of it, "This is my body, broken for you," and "This is my blood, shed for you." The Catholics understand that these words denote that the bread and wine did at that time, and that they do now, whenever the communion service is celebrated by a priest duly authorized, become, by a sort of miraculous transformation, the true body and blood of Christ, and that the priest, in breaking the one and pouring out the other, is really and truly renewing the great sacrifice for sin made by Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. The mass, therefore, in which the bread and the wine are so broken and poured out, becomes, in their view, not a mere service of prayer and praise to God, but a solemn act  of sacrifice. The spectators, or assistants, as they call them, meaning all who are present on the occasion, stand by, not merely to hear words of adoration, in which they mentally join, as is the case in most Protestant forms of worship, but to witness the enactment of a deed, and one of great binding force and validity: a real and true sacrifice of Christ, made anew, as an atonement for their sins. The bread, when consecrated, and, as they suppose, transmuted to the body of Christ, is held up to view, or carried in a procession around the church, that all present may bow before it, and adore it as really being, though in the form of bread, the wounded and broken body of the Lord.

Of course the celebration of the mass is invested, in the minds of all conscientious Catholics, with the utmost solemnity and importance. They stand silently by, with the deepest feelings of reverence and awe, while the priest offers up for them, anew, the great sacrifice for sin. They regard all Protestant worship, which consists of mere exhortations to duty, hymns and prayers, as lifeless and void. That which is to them the soul, the essence, and substance of the whole, is wanting. On the other hand, the Protestants abhor the sacrifice of the mass as gross superstition. They think that the bread remains simply bread after the benediction as much as before; that for the priests to pretend that in breaking it they renew the sacrifice of Christ, is imposture; and that to bow before it in adoration and homage is the worst idolatry.

Now it happened that during Mary's absence in France, the contest between the Catholics and the Protestants had been going fiercely on, and the result had, been the almost complete defeat of the Catholic party, and the establishment of the Protestant interest throughout the realm. A great many deeds of violence accompanied this change. Churches and abbeys were sometimes sacked and destroyed. The images of saints, which the Catholics had put up, were pulled down and broken; and the people were sometimes worked up to frenzy against the principles of the Catholic faith and Catholic observances. They abhorred the mass, and were determined that it should not be introduced again into Scotland.

Queen Mary, knowing this state of things, determined, on her arrival in Scotland, not to interfere with her people in the exercise of their religion; but she resolved to remain a Catholic herself, and to continue, for the use of her own household, in the royal chapel at Holyrood, the same Catholic observances to which she had been accustomed in France. She accordingly gave orders that mass should be celebrated in her chapel on the first Sunday after her arrival. She was very willing to abstain from interfering with the religious usages of her subjects, but she was not willing to give up her own.

The friends of the Reformation had a meeting, and resolved that mass should not  be celebrated. There was, however, no way of preventing it but by intimidation or violence. When Sunday came, crowds began to assemble about the palace and the chapel, and to fill all the avenues leading to them. The Catholic families who were going to attend the service were treated rudely as they passed. The priests they threatened with death. One, who carried a candle which was to be used in the ceremonies, was extremely terrified at their threats and imprecations. The excitement was very great, and would probably have proceeded to violent extremities, had it not been for Lord James's energy and courage. He was a Protestant, but he took his station at the door of the chapel, and, without saying or doing any thing to irritate the crowd without, he kept them at bay, while the service proceeded. It went on to the close, though greatly interrupted by the confusion and uproar. Many of the French people who came with Mary were so terrified by this scene, that they declared they would not stay in such a country, and took the first opportunity of returning to France.

One of the most powerful and influential of the leaders of the Protestant party at this time was the celebrated John Knox. He was a man of great powers of mind and of commanding eloquence; and he had exerted a vast influence in arousing the people of Scotland to a feeling of strong abhorrence of what they considered the abominations of popery. When Queen Mary of England was upon the throne, Knox had written a book against her, and against queens in general, women having, according to his views, no right to govern. Knox was a man of the most stern and uncompromising character, who feared nothing, respected nothing, and submitted to no restraints in the blunt and plain discharge of what he considered his duty. Mary dreaded his influence and power.

Knox had an interview with Mary not long after his arrival, and it is one of the most striking instances of the strange ascendency which Mary's extraordinary beauty and grace, and the pensive charm of her demeanor, exercised over all that came within her influence, that even John Knox, whom nothing else could soften or subdue, found his rough and indomitable energy half forsaking him in the presence of his gentle queen. She expostulated with him. He half apologized. Nothing had ever drawn the least semblance of an apology from him before. He told her that his book was aimed solely against Queen Mary of England, and not against her; that she had no cause to fear its influence; that, in respect to the freedom with which he had advanced his opinions and theories on the subjects of government and religion, she need not be alarmed, for philosophers had always done this in every age, and yet had lived good citizens of the state, whose institutions they had, nevertheless, in some sense theoretically condemned. He told her, moreover, that he had no intention of troubling her reign; that she might be sure of this, since, if he had such a desire, he should have commenced his measures during her absence, and not have postponed them until her position on the throne was strengthened by her return. Thus he tried to soothe her fears, and to justify himself from the suspicion of having designed any injury to such a gentle and helpless queen. The interview was a very extraordinary spectacle. It was that of a lion laying aside his majestic sternness and strength to dispel the fears and quiet the apprehensions of a dove. The interview was, however, after all, painful and distressing to Mary. Some things which the stern reformer felt it his duty to say to her, brought tears into her eyes.

Mary soon became settled in her new home, though many circumstances in her situation were well calculated to disquiet and disturb her. She lived in the palace at Holyrood. The four Marys continued with her for a time, and then two of them were married to nobles of high rank. Queen Elizabeth sent Mary a kind message, congratulating her on her safe arrival in Scotland, and assuring her that the story of her having attempted to intercept her was false. Mary, who had no means of proving Elizabeth's insincerity, sent her back a polite reply.