On the eve of her execution, 7 February 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots began to write her will and testament. She finished the following day at two o’clock of the morning.
Today, after dinner, I was advised of my sentence. I am to be executed like a criminal at eight o’clock in the morning. I haven’t had enough time to give you a full account of all that has happened, but if you will listen to my physician and my other sorrowful servants, you will know the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and faithfully protest that I face it innocent of any crime.
The Catholic faith and the defense of my God-given right to the English throne are two reasons for which I am condemned, and yet they will not allow me to say that it is for the Catholic faith that I die.
I beg you as Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old friend, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your kindness on all these points: both by paying charitably my unfortunate servants their arrears of wages (this is a burden on my conscience that you alone can relieve), and also by having prayers offered to God for a Queen who has herself been called Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions.
Concerning my son, I commend him to you inasmuch as he deserves it, as I cannot answer for him.
I venture to send you two precious stones, amulets against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long happy life.
With only six hours to go until she was executed, she tried to rest but could not do so. When her time came, she chose to wear a red petticoat (similar to one Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, had worn on the day of her execution). The reason for this was because red was the color of martyrdom and in Mary’s view – and the view of many Catholics who viewed her as the rightful queen – she was dying a martyr for the Catholic Church. A powerful statement given the controversy that had followed her for most of her adult life. Despite Mary’s symbolic attire and brave stance, her end was anything but swift. The executioner who swung the axe was inexperienced. It took more than one blow to put an end to this monarch’s life.