February 8, 2015

February 8, 1587: Mary, Queen of Scots, Executed

Mary on the way to her execution. Painting by scipione Vannutelli, created about 1861.
Mary claimed that she had no knowledge or participation in the Babington Plot. She said that the letters had been forged, that she had never written to Babington about the assasination of Queen Elizabeth. In the end, it didn't really matter.

Since 1584, there had been a law on the books allowing the execution of anyone on who's behalfanyone plotted against the Queen. It was a move to try to protect Elizabeth from the countless plots against her.

Mary was convicted of treason, and sentenced to education, but it still didn't sit well with Elizabeth. She had a horror of killing an annointed monarch, and was fearful of the precendent set, especially if Mary's son James allied himself with the Catholic powers of Europe. She asked Sir Amias Paulet, who was then serving as Mary's jailer, if he could find a way to "shorten the life" of her rival. Sir Amis would have nothing to do with such a clandestine operation.

On the morning of the execution, there were 300 witnesses present. The scaffold was about 2 feet high and was draped in black. Mary put off her cloak, and revealed that she was dressed all in dark red, the color of martyrdom. Her executioners asked her forgiveness, and she said, "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end to all my troubles." She was blindfolded with a white cloth embroidered in gold.

The first blow of the axe missed her neck and hit her on the back of her head. The second one found her neck, but didn't quite sever it -- a bit of sinew had to be sawed through with the axe. The executioner held her head aloft, and found he was holding only her beautiful auburn hair. She'd been wearing a wig -- her own hair was grey and cut short.

A Skye terrier, Mary's pet, had gone with her to the scaffold and hidden among her skirts. After her death, the little animal, now bloody with its mistresses blood, refused to leave her until taken away by force.

It was the end of Mary, Queen of Scots.

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