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Sheffield's Historical Prisoner

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Mary, Queen of Scots, was brought to Sheffield Castle on November 28, 1570, to be kept safely in the custody of George, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, by order of Queen Elizabeth, and except for strictly guarded visits, for the sake of her health, to Chatsworth and Buxton, she remained in Sheffield, either in the Castle by Lady's Bridge or at the Manor in the Park, thirteen years and nine months. It was on August 25, 1584, that she was taken away, and Shrewsbury's long and anxious task of preventing her escape was ended. Seventeen and a half months later she was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire. She was a little more than 43 years old when she was executed, so nearly one-third of her life was spent in Sheffield and the neighbourhood, or quite half of her life after she had grown up.

Few people who have ever lived have attracted as much attention as this Queen. Hundreds of books have been written about her. All her life she was a cause of strife, and since her death the strife has been continued - in books. It seems scarcely possible for any one to study her career without taking sides, strongly. Her admirers say she was beautiful, fascinating, unfortunate, wronged, and almost martyred. Her critics say she was wicked, heartless, treacherous, dangerous, and, according to the usages of the times when she lived, deserved her awful fate. In Sheffield, where she lived so long, the facts of her life on which a true opinion must be based should at least be known.

Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace in December, 1542, the daughter of James V, a dissipated King of Scotland, and Mary of Guise, a clever and unscrupulous Frenchwoman. James died a few days after Mary was born, and the infant became a queen at the end of the first week of her life. Henry VIII was then King of England, and the Scottish baby-queen was fourth in succession to the throne of England, for her grandmother - the mother of James V' - was Henry's sister. First came Henry's three children, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, and if they had no children, then the Scottish Mary would inherit the English crown. This was the cause of many of the troubles of Mary's later life.

At this time Scotland was closely allied with France, and had often helped France in wars against England. James V had married for his first wife a French princess, before he married Mary of Guise. The English wished that their young prince Edward, a boy Jive years older than the small child Mary, should become pledged to a marriage with her when they grew up, and so unite English and Scottish interests; but Mary's French mother determined that she should marry into the French royal family and thus continue the close connection between France and Scotland. Hence, when Mary was only five years old, she was betrothed to the Dauphin - the eldest son of the King of France who was four years old, and she was sent to France to be educated with the French royal children, accompanied by four Scottish girls, as playmates, all named Mary. So completely was Mary Frenchified that, though she was well educated, she was not taught to speak English, the language of her native country.

Mary remained in France thirteen years, till she was in her nineteenth year, and in that period much that affected her relation to the English throne had happened. Henry VIII had died before she was taken from Scotland. His son, Edward VI, died when she was a girl of ten. Edward's sister, Mary I of England, had reigned and died when Mary of Scotland was not yet 17 years old. So that only Elizabeth, who was crowned Queen in succession to Mary, stood between Mary of Scotland and the English throne.

Before Elizabeth's accession, however, the marriage between the Dauphin and Mary was celebrated, though Mary was not yet sixteen and her husband was not fifteen. Before her marriage, Mary had signed a gift of Scotland to France if she should die childless; and when Mary of England died the young Dauphin and his wife assumed the titles of King and Queen of England and Ireland, as well as of Scotland, and they refused to acknowledge Elizabeth's claim to the crown, though it had been granted enthusiastically by the people of England.

Mary's marriage took place in April, 1558, and in July, 1559, the French King, Henry II, died, and the Dauphin became King of France, under the title of Francis II, and so Mary, Queen of Scots was also Queen of France. On ascending the throne the French sovereigns again used the title of King and Queen of England; and later, though a treaty had been drawn up between England and Scotland agreeing that the Dauphin and Mary should give up their claim to the English throne, they would not sign it. This must be remembered in judging what followed. Mary was not only the next heir to the English crown by birth, but she persisted in claiming it at once from Elizabeth.

But there was much more behind the question of succession to the English throne than the personal claims of Elizabeth and Mary. Bitter religious feeling, carried to the length of cruel persecution, stains the story of the period. Both England and Scotland had become mainly Protestant, and Elizabeth was the champion of Protestantism in England, and, later, in Europe. Mary had been trained carefully in Roman Catholicism, for one of her French uncles who was a Cardinal had attended to that. She meant, on gaining real power, as Queen of Scotland or England, to make Roman Catholicism the religion of the country if she saw an opportunity. She promised it again and again to the Pope. Though, in the opinion of many, this was a strong reason against Mary being a suitable Queen for either England or Scotland in those contentious times, for it was bound to bring her endless trouble, it was really the most favourable feature of her character. Whatever failings she may have had, she was, on the whole, faithful to her religious beliefs and aims.

For about seventeen months Mary was Queen of France, and then her husband, Francis II, died. He had always been a feeble, undersized lad, unlit for his position, but she had been quite kind to him. Indeed, she had made herself very popular at the French Court. The moment her husband was dead, however, France was no place for her. What could a Queen-Dowager of nineteen years of age do? The power in France was in the hands of the mother of the next king. There was no prospect before Mary but a return to Scotland to take up the active duties of her queenship. There her mother, Mary of Guise, had died a few months previously, after a stormy life. The nobleman of greatest influence in the country was Mary's half-brother, James Stuart by name, and he was the leader of the Protestant party. He crossed to France and helped to make Mary's return easier to herself and more acceptable to the Scottish people, many of whom strongly disliked the influence gained in the country by the French. Her return was unsettling to Elizabeth, who had some idea of intercepting her on the sea, with her retinue of a hundred attendants - including the four Scottish Maries, her friends. However, she arrived safely at Leith, and was well received by the Scottish people.

Before Mary left France she had been busy trying to arrange another marriage that would help her in her designs on the English crown. Many suggestions were made; but, in the hope of uniting Spain, England, and Scotland in the interests of Roman Catholicism, she favoured Don Carlos of Spain. The King of Spain, however, would not agree. Among possible husbands within the Scottish kingdom the most suitable, by birth, was young Henry, Lord Darnley, who, like Mary herself, was a grandchild of Henry VIII's sister, Queen Margaret of Scotland, and so might some day become heir to the English crown. The marriage of these two would unite and strengthen their claims.

At first, Mary's arrival in Scotland was a success. She took her half-brother, James Stuart - a wise, just, and candid man - as her adviser, and by her attractive manners she won the admiration of the men who flocked around. Indeed, she was a woman of so much charm that, when she tried to be fascinating, only three or four men who were brought into close contact with her seemed able to refrain from carrying out her wishes. One who kept a steady head was James Stuart, whom she made Earl of Moray; another was John Knox, the mainspring of Scottish Protestantism, a stern, unyielding Puritan, who was proof against all cunning tricks, and "never feared the face of man."

Mary found herself in Scotland in a totally different moral atmosphere from that of the gay and wicked French Court, and she did not readily understand the difference. The Scots were solemnly religious. She kept to her Catholic religion, and delighted in music, dancing, love, and jollity. John Knox met her face to face, argued their differences out, and told her that her behaviour "was not seemly in an honest woman." She wept and threatened that she would have her revenge on him for such plainness, for who was he? "A subject of the commonwealth," was his reply; and he went away declaring that she had a proud spirit, a crafty wit, and a hard heart. When the novelty of her beauty and French manners wore off, she began to lose the respect of her Scottish subjects, till at last, before the end of seven years, she was fairly chased from the kingdom into England, to seek protection from her rival, Queen Elizabeth.

Though she had by her side the Earl of Moray, who had proved himself her true friend, she would not follow his advice, and her French followers shocked the serious Scottish Court. Further, she raised to a place of confidence as her secretary, a crook-backed Italian, David Rizzio, who gave himself airs and became detested by the Scottish nobles. Then she took a sudden fancy to Darnley, who was only nineteen, and though he was but a "beardless, lady-faced" youth, as one of the Scottish courtiers called him, yet feather-headed, vain, and dissipated, she married him secretly after only two months' acquaintance, against the advice of Lord Moray, and the objections of Queen Elizabeth.

In less than a year Mary had taken a great dislike to Darnley, and every one admitted that he was altogether unsuitable as a husband for a queen. His final great offence was in joining a plot for the murder of the Italian Rizzio. Entering the Queen's boudoir with the conspirators, he held her in her chair while the others dragged Rizzio out of the room and slew him.

In June, 1566, a son was born to her and Darnley. Queen Elizabeth became the child's godmother, but Darnley declined to attend the christening. This infant, James, child of ill-matched parents, became Elizabeth's successor on the English throne under the titles, James VI of Scotland, and James I of England, and so united the English and Scottish kingdoms. The parents, however, were so far from being friendly to each other that Mary declared life was no longer of any use to her unless she could be freed from Darnley. Such words had a deadly meaning in those stern and cruel times.

And now came the darkest deed of Mary's life. A bold but unscrupulous soldier, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, began to take an active part in her affairs, and she seemed to fall entirely under his influence, as if fascinated by his rough, manly bearing. Bothwell had only recently been married. A plot was now arranged for the murder of Darnley, and there is no doubt that Mary was aware of Bothwell's purpose and methods, for correspondence exists that shows she co-operated. Indeed, she was used as a decoy to draw her husband, who had been ill, into a lonely country-house in which Bothwell had stored a large quantity of gunpowder. There Mary left Darnley, and attended a wedding feast while the house was blown up. Thirteen weeks after the murder of her husband, Mary married his murderer, who in the meantime had secured a divorce from his young wife. To save appearances somewhat, Mary arranged with Bothwell that he should carry her off, as if by force. This he did; but when the Scottish lords offered to rescue her, she replied that she was well treated, and had no cause to complain.

Can it be wondered at that the Scottish people were disgusted at their Queen, and insulted her in the streets? At last the Scottish lords, having intercepted the correspondence which proved the murder of Darnley by Bothwell, and the guilty knowledge of Mary, captured her, no one being willing to right for her, and she was shut up in Loch Leven Castle, on an island in a lake. Bothwell escaped to Denmark, where, later, he died insane. The Scots next offered Mary the alternative of agreeing to a divorce from Bothwell or of resigning the crown; and she chose to give up the crown in favour of her infant son James, with the Earl of Moray as Regent, and the child was crowned at the age of "thirteen months.

This, however, was a state of things that would not content Mary, who was born to plot for greater power instead of submitting. She completely won over two of the sons of the owner of the Castle in which she was held, one of whom, it seems likely, she promised to marry, and they assisted her to escape and gather an army to regain her queenship. When, however, her half-brother, the Regent Moray, guardian of the infant King, approached with a much smaller army, Mary's followers scattered hastily, and there was no heart in the fight that followed. Mary herself quickly saw that her cause was lost, and galloped from the field. With a small band of retainers she reached the coast, and crossing in a fishing boat to Cumberland, sought the protection of Queen Elizabeth, whose crown she had all her life hoped to secure for herself.

As soon as Elizabeth heard of Mary's coming, she sent word to Carlisle that she must be detained. " Use her honourably, but see that she does not escape," was the order. This was the beginning of a detention that lasted nearly nineteen years.

The story of Mary's life during those nineteen years is a story of removal from place to place, and of continuous, but always detected, plotting, the objects of which were the release of Mary, and her marriage to some one who would help her to become Queen of England, after the murder of Queen Elizabeth. Generally the plot was accompanied by a design for the invasion of England by France, or Spain, or Scotland. A plot for the marriage of Mary and the Duke of Norfolk, made possible by the Pope having annulled the marriage with Bothwell, brought the Duke to the scaffold in 1572. The English Parliament asked that Mary should also be punished, but Elizabeth would not agree to her execution. Then there was a plot, the details of which Mary superintended, for the invasion of England by the Duke of Guise; and another for a Spanish invasion, to be followed by the marriage of Mary to Don John of Austria. All the while these conspiracies were being hatched, Mary was writing to Queen Elizabeth professing to be her loving cousin and sincere friend; and all the while the secrets of the plotters were being laid bare before Elizabeth's ministers.

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