William Cecil ponders the problem of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots was also Queen of France when her husband, Francis, became king in July 1559. Eighteen month later Francis II died from an ear infection and in August 1561 she returned to the homeland she had not seen since she was a child. At first her rule was successful even though the Reformed Church held sway. But then in 1565 she married her cousin, Henry Lord Darnley. Matters deteriorated to the extent that the queen’s secretary David Riccio was murdered in front of her on 9 March 1566 and her husband’s home at Kirk o Field was blown up the following February. Had he died in the explosion eyebrows would have been raised but since he was founded strangled in an orchard near the smouldering ruins there can be no doubt that he was assassinated. Mary’s marriage three months later to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell may not have been to her choosing but it added fuel to the fire that she had taken part in her second husband’s murder.

On 13 May 1568 following imprisonment, flight and defeat on the battlefield she sailed across the Solway Firth where she remained for the next nineteen years until she was executed in February 1587.

Her arrival triggered a series of plots to put her on the English throne. From the start of her visit to England, Elizabeth I’s advisors were aware of the danger that Mary’s presence presented. To many Catholics it seemed that Mary was the rightful queen of England rather than Elizabeth. Her presence made her a focus for plotters.

William Cecil, wrote a paper about what to do with Mary in 1568. The English government could not just pack her up and send her back to Scotland or to France. She was Elizabeth’s heir by right of blood. The Government had a duty to protect her. Even worse, in 1558 she had signed a secret agreement giving Scotland and England to France if she died without an heir. A claim to her right to the crown had been made on her behalf by her father-in-law, King Henry II, following Mary Tudor’s death the same year. It seemed to Cecil that if Mary was freed and sent to France that they would use her claims to England’s throne as an excuse to go to war with Elizabeth.

Cecil summed it up eloquently, ‘we find neither her continuance here good, nor her departing hence quiet for us.’

Clearly Cecil didn’t much care if Mary had blown up Darnley or not. he wanted an alliance with Scotland’s Protestants and he didn’t want to see the ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland resurrecting itself. it seemed sensible that Mary should be tried at York for the alleged crime. He thought that if she was acquitted she would agree to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh which renounced her claim to the English throne before being restored to the Scottish throne and if she was found guilty she might be ‘sent to live in some convenient place without possessing her kingdom’ (p Donaldson, p.77). He went on to argue that the restoration would not be in her own interest…it certainly wasn’t in Elizabeth’s.

Gordon Donaldson, The First Trial of Mary Queen of Scots

One thought on “William Cecil ponders the problem of Mary Queen of Scots

  1. It was not her fault but Cecil was right it would lead to war no matter which way cards fell . Her fate was thus sealed .Elizabeth did now want to sign death certificate or kill her. Cecil did it all himself and poor ill fated Mary died but execution in front of all watching . What a thing to happen yet even today I can see no way out of it .What ever happened England would be taken over or lost to us all

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