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Sheffield's Historical Prisoner page 2


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It may be asked how Mary was able to receive, or plan, so many schemes, seeing that she was closely watched, and usually confined to the grounds of the castle or house that was her place of detention. It must be remembered that Mary always had around her, in attendance, at least twenty of her friends ; that the Catholics were numerous in England, and Queen Elizabeth had been excommunicated by the Pope, so that her Catholic subjects were absolved from faithfulness to her ; and that Mary, as the Queen-dowager of France, was a wealthy woman, with an income equal to at least 80,000 a year in our day. She was able to pay, or pension well, those who pleased or served her. For example, when her half-brother, the Regent Moray, who had brought up her son, was murdered in the streets of Edinburgh, she offered a pension to the murderer. At the same time, with her customary falseness, she wrote a letter of sympathy to the murdered man's widow. What could be done with such a woman? Even her son James renounced her when he became a man; and then she made a will, as Queen of Scotland, giving Scotland, at her death, to the King of Spain.

The fourteen years spent in Sheffield were the freest from plots, for Sheffield was remote, and Shrewsbury, the Queen's Custodian, was strong throughout all the region round. At last, in August, 1584, the Earl, by earnest pleadings with Queen Elizabeth, managed to get freed from his troublesome charge, though for some time longer Mary, after leaving Sheffield, remained on his estates, at Wingfield in Derbyshire, and Tutbury in Staffordshire. Then she was removed to Chartley in Staffordshire and plotted herself out of her life.

This last conspiracy was much like others that had gone before it, except for its ending. Anthony Babington, a Derbyshire youth, heir to large estates, came to Sheffield Castle as page to Mary, and was passionately devoted to her. When he was eighteen he went to London and joined a secret society of Catholics. Later he acted as a messenger between Mary and her friends on the Continent, and in 1586 planned, in England and abroad, a Catholic' insurrection in England, to be supported by Spanish arms, for the purpose of releasing Mary and murdering not only Queen Elizabeth but her ministers. This plan was sent in detail to Mary and approved by her. It was also sent to Philip II of Spain, and he promised to help in "the holy enterprise." But these letters to Mary, and from her, were all falling into the hands of Elizabeth's ministers, and, just as the plot was ripening, all the conspirators were arrested, tried, and hanged. Babington, on the scaffold, gloried in his deed, when he found there was no hope of pardon. It was on account of her letter agreeing to this foul murder-plot that Mary was brought to trial, condemned, and, on February 8, 1587, beheaded at Fotheringay Castle.

On no woman who has ever lived has so much sympathy been wasted as on Mary, Queen of Scots, by people who are ruled by sentiment, without a due regard for right and wrong. Born to be a Queen, Mary ought to have formed true ideas of queenly duty. The sadness of her early widowhood as Queen of France created a feeling in her favour. She was handsome and accomplished, with great power of fascination, particularly through the fine use of a beautiful voice. But when she reached Scotland she strangely misused her advantages. For Scotland itself she never had a thought - a curious contrast to the fine English patriotism of Elizabeth. Mary was willing to give her country away to France or Spain. All that she cared for was to have her own way. When she failed, it was the word "Revenge" that sprang first to her lips. Her whole life is a story of double-dealing, which passed into positive crime. She could not be trusted; she would not allow herself to be forgiven, for the moment one plot was discovered she started another. She suffered grievously, but then she was grievously at fault. The quietest time of her life, after her return to Scotland, was that spent at Sheffield, for there less than elsewhere had she opportunity for plotting. That was because George Talbot, her custodian, was one of the very few men who kept a level head in dealing with her, and so saved Sheffield from being connected with any of the exciting events of her life, though she lived there longer than anywhere except France.

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