The Death of Scotland's Queen


Her step was firm, and her countenance cheerful.

The procession now set forward. It was headed by the sheriff and his officers; next followed Pawlet and Drury, and the earls of Shrewsbury and Kent; and, lastly, came the Scottish queen, with Melville bearing her train. She wore the richest of her dresses, that which was appropriate to the rank of a queen dowager. Her step was firm, and her countenance cheerful. She bore without shrinking the gaze of the spectators, and the sight of the scaffold, the block, and the executioner; and advanced into the hall with that grace and majesty which she had so often displayed in her happier days, and in the palace of her fathers. To aid her, as she mounted the scaffold, Pawlet offered his arm. "I thank you, sir," said Mary; "it is the last trouble I shall give you, and the most acceptable service you have ever rendered me."

The queen seated herself on a stool which was prepared for her. On her right stood the two earls; on the left, the sheriff, and Beal, the clerk of the council; in front, the executioner from the Tower, in a suit of black velvet, with his assistant also clad in black. The warrant was read, and Mary in an audible voice addressed the assembly. She would have them recollect, she said, that she was a sovereign princess, not subject to the Parliament of England, but brought there to suffer by injustice and violence. She, however, thanked her God that he had given her this opportunity of publicly professing her religion, and of declaring, as she had often before declared, that she had never imagined, nor compassed, nor consented to the death of the English queen, nor ever sought the least harm to her person. After her death, many things, which were then buried in darkness, would come to light. But she pardoned from her heart all her enemies, nor should her tongue utter that which might turn to their prejudice. Here she was interrupted by Dr. Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough, who, having caught her eye, began to preach, and under the cover, perhaps through motives, of zeal, contrived to insult the feelings of the unfortunate sufferer. He told her that his mistress, though compelled to execute justice on her body, was careful of the welfare of her soul, that she had sent him to bring her to the true fold of Christ, out of the communion of that Church, in which, if she remained, she must be damned; that she might yet find mercy before God, if she would repent of her wickedness, acknowledge the justice of her punishment, and profess her gratitude for the favors which she had received from Elizabeth. Mary repeatedly desired him not to trouble himself and her. He persisted: she turn aside. He made the circuit of the scaffold, and again addressed her in front. An end was put to this extraordinary scene by the Earl of Shrewsbury, who ordered him to pray. His prayer was the echo of his sermon; but Mary heard him not. She was employed at the time in her devotions, repeating with a loud voice, and in the Latin language, long passages from the Book of Psalms. When he had done, she prayed in English for Christ's afflicted Church, for her son James, and for Queen Elizabeth. At the conclusion, holding up the crucifix she exclaimed: "As thy arms, O God, were stretched out upon the cross, so receive me into the arms of thy mercy, and forgive me my sins. Madam," said the Earl of Kent, "you had better leave such popish trumperies, and bear him in your heart." She replied: "I cannot hold in my hand the representation of his sufferings, but I must at the same time bear him in my heart."

When her maids, bathed in tears, began to disrobe their mistress, the executioners, fearing to lose their usual perquisites, hastily interfered. The queen remonstrated, but instantly submitted to their rudeness, observing to the earls with a smile, that she was not accustomed to employ such grooms, or to undress in the presence of so numerous a company. Her servants, at the sight of their sovereign in this lamentable state, could not suppress their feelings, but Mary, putting her finger to her lips, commanded silence, gave them her blessing, and solicited their prayers. She then seated herself again. Kennedy, taking a handkerchief edged with gold, pinned it over her eyes; the executioners, holding her by the arms, led her to the block; and the queen kneeling down, said repeatedly, with a firm voice, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." But the sobs and groans of the spectators disconcerted the headsman. He trembled, missed his aim, and inflicted a deep wound in the lower part of the skull. The queen remained motionless, and, at the third strike, her head was severed from the body. When the executioner held it up, the muscles of the face were so strongly convulsed, that the features could not be recognized. He cried as usual, "God save Queen Elizabeth."

"So perish all her enemies!" subjoined the Dean of Peterborough.

"So perish all the enemies of the Gospel!" exclaimed, in a still louder tone, the fanatical Earl of Kent.

Not a voice was heard to cry Amen. Party feeling was absorbed in admiration and pity.


John Lingard, "The Death of Scotland's Queen." In A History of England from the Invasion of the Romans to the Accession of William and Mary (1830).


John Lingard (1771-1851) was for many years professor of philosophy in Douai College.

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