Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

Why the Queen of Scotland Lost Her Head

Eighteen years have passed since Mary of Scotland fled from the kingdom. She has been a prisoner the while. Going back to that day when she came, weary and worn, to Carlisle, we see her sending a letter to Elizabeth asking for an interview, which the Queen of England will not grant, but who sends Sir Francis Knollys to give a reason for the refusal. While Sir Francis is on his way, a letter comes from Catherine de' Medici. Thus it reads: "Princes should assist each other to chastise and punish subjects who rise against them, and are rebels against their sovereigns."

Catherine wants Elizabeth to march an army into Scotland to put down Mary's half-brother, the Earl of Murray, who, though ruling in the name of Mary's son, is in reality king.

Sir Francis has an interview with Mary.

"Some suspicions are abroad in regard to the complicity of your grace in the murder of Lord Darnley, and the queen will appoint a commission to investigate the matter," says Sir Francis.

"I am not answerable to the Queen of England. Sovereigns are amenable to no one," is Mary's reply.

"Princes may be deposed by their subjects in some cases—if insane, for instance, or if they have committed murder," Sir Francis replies.

The tears steal down Mary's cheeks. This is the new doctrine. Kings and queens answerable to their subjects? Never. To admit it will be admitting that they can do wrong. It is the doctrine which George Buchanan inculcated in that little pamphlet which he published, written in Latin, and entitled De Jure Regni. To admit such a doctrine will be admitting that subjects can cut off the heads of sovereigns; whereas from time immemorial only sovereigns have had the right to decapitate subjects.

George Buchanan is superintending the education of Mary's boy, King James. The boy is proud and willful, and thinks that, as he is king, he may do as he pleases. One of his playmates is the young Earl of Mar, who has a tame sparrow, which James would like to own.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Give it to me," is his demand.

"I won't," the Mar boy replies, not wishing to part with his pet.

"It is mine. I am king," James retorts, and seizes it.

"Take that!" and Mar gives him a blow in the face with his fist.

"What is all this fuss about?" George Buchanan asks, as he enters the room.

"He has seized my sparrow," says Mar.

"It was mine. I am king," James answers.

"King, are you? I'll teach you not to take things by force;" and the boy-king has his ears boxed.

One day George Buchanan is reading, and James and Mar disturb him.

"Be quiet!" says Buchanan.

"I shall make as much noise as I please. I have the right; I am king."

George Buchanan lays down his book, takes the King of Scotland over his knee, and gives him a spanking. The Countess of Mar rushes in, with her hands uplifted in horror.

"How dare you lift your hand against the Lord's anointed?" she cries.

It is not a very polite reply which gruff George Buchanan makes; but he informs her that the boy, although he is king, must behave himself, and have respect to the rights of others.

Mary's friends—the Cardinal of Lorraine in France, the Duke of Norfolk in England—are intriguing with some of the nobles of Scotland to create disaffection in England against Elizabeth. The Duke of Norfolk will rally his followers; the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise will raise an army in France; the Scots will take the field, bring about a revolution in England, dethrone Elizabeth, liberate Mary, and make her queen not only of Scotland, but of England. The Duke of Norfolk proposes to marry her. He is rich and powerful, and under his lead England and Scotland shall once more be brought under the authority of the Pope.

The Pope knows what is going on. He has a plan for the extermination of all who will not submit to his authority. They shall be crushed out in England and France alike.

"Take no prisoners, but kill all who fall into your hands," is his message to the Duke of Guise.* He sends a present to the Duke of Alva, Philip's blood-thirsty general, who is trying to crush out the liberties of the people of Holland. Fugitives from France and the Netherlands flee to England to find protection, and are protected.

Shall Elizabeth release Mary from prison? It is the one great question. It was a breach of hospitality to put her in prison. Mary came into England a fugitive. For eighteen years she has been a prisoner. Why? Because she is the central figure around whom all the conspirators rally. The Jesuits are travelling through the country denouncing Elizabeth. Philip of Spain is sending his spies throughout the land to stir up the people to rebel. The Duke of Guise will help. The disaffected Scots will rally to overthrow the Earl of Murray.

On February 25th, 1570, the Pope publishes a bull absolving all Englishmen from allegiance to Elizabeth, and enjoining them not to obey her commands. The Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland begin the rebellion. Shall Elizabeth remain quiet, and see the affections of her subjects alienated?

Now comes the news that the streets of Paris are running with the blood of murdered Huguenots. If heretics are murdered in France, why may they not be in England?

On September 5th, 1570, the Bishop of London writes a letter to Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth's prime minister: "Men's hearts ache for fear that this barbarous treachery will not stop in France, but will reach us."

Bishop Sandys, who owns the old manor-house at Scrooby, writes to Sir William Cecil: "Cut off the Scottish queen's head forthwith."

Why does Bishop Sandys desire that Mary shall lose her head? Because that she is the one individual around whom all the powers of Spain, France, Scotland, and Rome rally, for the overthrow of the government in Church and State, established by Henry VIII., overthrown by Mary, and re-established by Elizabeth.

Parliament passes a law making it treason for any one to publish the Pope's bull in England, or to deny that Elizabeth is rightful queen; but, notwithstanding the law, the Jesuits are determined to drive Elizabeth from the throne. What care they for law? To the Pope alone are they amenable.

A great number of Jesuit priests—Englishmen, who have been studying at Douay, in France—come one by one.

"Elizabeth is a usurper. She is no longer queen. The Pope has deposed her. Mary is the true queen." They whisper it to the people, to incite them to rebellion. It is not long before the priests are arrested. "We are not traitors. You persecute us because we are Catholics," say the prisoners.

"For fourteen years none have been persecuted on account of their religion here in England. Do you not support the Pope's bull?" the judges ask.

"The Pope in his bull says it is not binding on us to resist the queen, unless the bull can be executed," the Jesuits respond. That is what Loyola taught.

"That means that when you are strong enough you will drive the queen from the throne. If England is attacked, will you support the queen?"

The Jesuits make no reply. They are condemned as traitors, as inciters of rebellion and are executed.

Now comes the news, in 1584, of the assassination of William, the Silent Man. Papists did it. All England becomes hot against the Jesuits. They are arrested by scores, and put to death. The Jesuits are suspected and closely watched. Those who have been to confession, or attended mass in secret places, are thrown into prison. The country is in no mood to tolerate liberty of conscience.

Over in Paris is Francis Walsingham, who is beating the Jesuits at their own game. He has his spies everywhere. Servants who wait on tables, hair-dressers, chamber-maids, valets, coachmen—men in all stations—have their eyes and ears open day and night to see and hear what is going on, and Sir Francis pays them. He discovers that there is a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne. The conspirators in France and Spain are in correspondence with others in England. Mary knows what is going on. The conspirators in England are arrested and executed. What shall be done with Mary? The ministers appoint a court to try her.

"I am not a subject, to be tried; I am a queen," is Mary's protest.

"You cannot try one who reigns by the command of God," say her friends.

"She has resigned her crown, and is no longer queen," the judges reply.

"She resigned because she was compelled to, and therefore it is not binding," her friends respond.

"The safety of the people is the highest law," say the judges, over-throwing at once the doctrine that kings and queens have rights so sacred that they cannot be dealt with. The judges have read George Buchanan's little pamphlet, and the world is beginning to understand that kings and queens are amenable to law as well as common people.

The court declares Mary guilty, and Parliament presents an address to Elizabeth asking her to sign a warrant for her execution, for no one can be executed unless the queen signs the warrant. Elizabeth hesitates. Mary is her cousin. Shall she put her to death? Parliament has declared her to be an enemy to the public peace—a conspirator. If Elizabeth were to die, Mary would claim the throne, and there would be no end of trouble. Henry III. of France sends a letter threatening Elizabeth with vengeance if Mary be put to death. Mary's son James sends commissioners to intercede for her; while Philip II. of Spain prepares to make war on England.

Elizabeth is moody and silent. Those who wait upon her hear her talking to herself.

"Strike, or be struck!"

A letter comes from Spain: "Philip is fitting out a great fleet and army to invade England."

Elizabeth appoints Earl Howard, a Catholic, as lord high admiral, to command her fleets, which gives great offence to some of her friends; but the earl is an Englishman, and his allegiance to his sovereign is his first duty. Elizabeth will trust him. She talks over Mary's case with him; what they say no one knows: but when the earl leaves her, the calls in Sir William Davison.

"The queen desires you to prepare a warrant for the execution of the Queen of Scots," he says.

Sir William writes it in secret, though quite likely his secretary, William Brewster, knows what he is doing, for Sir William places implicit confidence in him. When it is ready, Sir William enters the queen's apartment, and Elizabeth signs her name in a bold hand, as she is wont to do. A messenger hastens away with the document; and in the Castle of Fotheringay the Scottish queen, whose life has been one of so many vicissitudes, who has seen little happiness, but much sorrow, meets her sad and mournful fate. She has committed no crime; but while she lives, the liberties of England are in danger of being overthrown, and the people breathe more freely when they hear that she is dead.