A Nice Change of Scenery: Margaret Pole in The White Princess

Margaret Pole TWQ Tudors WH

While The White Queen has taken many liberties and has been advertised as an accurate portrayal of fifteenth century courts, it has done a good job bringing attention to Margaret’s story –something that other shows have failed to do. The Tudors and Wolf Hall tried but were unsuccessful. The first only focused on a minor part of her later story and the latter depicted her as an active conspirator, making it seem as if she deserved her later fate.

Meg Pole being separated from Edward

There is a scene where she is with her brother and he is suddenly being taken away by Henry VII’s solders. The scene is absolutely heart-wrenching and it was done in such a way that you really feel for the poor girl.

Margaret is one of the most tragic figures of the wars of the roses and the Tudor era. She survived her father’s downfall and afterwards the fall of the fall of the York dynasty. The same cannot be said for her little brother, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After Richard III usurped the throne, the throne should have passed to him instead but due to their father having been executed as a traitor, he and Margaret were excluded from the line of succession.

Following Richard III’s defeat at the battle of Bosworth, Henry began the proceedings to overturn parliament’s ruling regarding his future bride and her remaining royal siblings. Richard III’s claim rested on the invalidity of Elizabeth and her sisters, which rested on the argument that Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were never truly married because he had previously been pre-contracted to another noblewoman. Shaky as it may seem, given that the two people involved were dead and the Woodvilles were unpopular among many aristocrats, this stuck. But now that he was gone, it was time for Henry to validate his own claim and the only way he was going to do that was by saying it stemmed by right of conquest, his mother’s Lancastrian ancestry, and his union with Elizabeth.

While he didn’t marry Margaret’s cousin right away, he was quick to secure the last legitimate male Plantagenet. At only ten years old, Edward was moved to the Tower of London where he lasted until 1499. By that time he was described as simple and for lack of another better word, insane. He was easily tricked into conspiring with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and before long the two were charged with treason and executed. Perkin Warbeck was hung while Edward was beheaded.

Margaret Pole was twenty four at the time, having been born two years before him. We do not know what was going through Margaret’s head at the time, but given everything she suffered, we can only imagine that it must have been a terrible –but not so unusual- ordeal for her.

In The White Queen, there is a scene where she is with her husband, shortly after the two are married and she tells him that rejects her last name ‘Plantagenet’ because it has brought her nothing but sadness. Philippa Gregory’s last book in the cousins’ war series is titled The King’s Curse and it deals with events from the first two Tudor monarchs’ reigns from Margaret’s point of view. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It has some memorable scenes, some that were very touching and others that seemed repetitive. While it focuses on Melusina’s curse, an invention of Philippa Gregory to account for Prince Arthur and many other Tudor princes’ deaths, the book’s title can also be seen as an apt description for Margaret, a woman whose life must have seemed like a curse.

Margaret Pole Portrait
By an unknown artist, this sitter is believed to be Margaret Pole due to her clothing and jewelry.

A portrait by an unknown artist that has been identified as Margaret Pole shows that she never forgot about her roots and personal tragedies. She wears a bracelet with a butt malmsey hanging from it, a clear reference to her father who was executed during her uncle, Edward IV’s reign, for treason.

The eldest daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard Neville “the Kingmaker”, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury among other titles, and Anne Beauchamp; sought to survive by seeking favor with the royal family, especially the future queen of England, the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon.

COA and Meg Pole historical and fictional portrayals
Catherine of Aragon in the Spanish series Isabel (left), Margaret Pole in The White Princess (right).

It was this friendship that earned her the title of Countess of Salisbury. This was a big deal since not many women were title holders in their own right. As suo jure, Margaret became one of the richest landowners and influential courtiers in England. She also became Princess Mary, Katherine and Henry VIII’s only surviving child, governess and the two forged a strong friendship that would last a lifetime.

But not all was well in paradise. In spite of her friendship with the Queen, and the Queen’s patronage of Humanists and popularity with the people, her influence with the King was waning and following her last miscarriage, Henry’s eye began to wander again and it wasn’t only before it was set on her lady-in-waiting and former mistress’ sister, Anne Boleyn. After his marriage to Katherine was annulled, his daughter was bastardized and his union with Anne as well as her pregnancy became public, Margaret’s life was turned upside down. She chose to stay loyal to her best friend and former charge and unfortunately, this along with her royal blood and her son Reginald’s outburst against the King, became her undoing.

A book that I highly recommend that gives a hauntingly beautiful description of Margaret Pole’s ordeals is Dan Jones’ Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Here is a small snippet from it:

“At seven o’clock in the morning on Friday, May 27, 1541, within the precincts of the Tower of London, an old woman walked out into the light of a spring day. Her name was Margaret Pole. By birth, blood and lineage she was one of the noblest women in England … Margaret’s life had long been exciting. For twenty-five years she had been the countess of Salisbury, one of only two women of her time to have held a peerage in her own right. She had until recently been one of the five wealthiest aristocrats of her generation, with lands in seventeen different counties. Now, at sixty-seven –ancient by Tudor standards- she appeared so advanced in age that intelligent observers took her to be eighty or ninety.
Like many inhabitants of the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was a prisoner. Two years previously she had been stripped of her lands and titles by an act of parliament which accused her of having “committed and perpetrated diverse and sundry other detestable and abominable treasons” against her cousin, King Henry VIII. What these treasons were was never fully evinced, because in truth Margaret’s offenses against the crown were more general than particular … As she walked out into the cool morning air, Margaret Pole could therefore have reflected that, although she was due to beheaded that morning, she would at least die wearing new shoes.” ~Dan Jones, The Wars of the  Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who’d become very attached to the late Queen, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, the lady Mary, wrote that Margaret was confused about her sentence. She wasn’t sure what her crime was, or how was it possible that she was easily convicted when there was hardly any evidence of an alleged treason. During these hard times, Henry VIII’s queen, teenager Kitty Howard and ironically Anne Boleyn’s cousin, sought to make her stay at the tower more comfortable by appealing on her behalf to her husband and sending her tailor so he could take her measurements and Kitty could order new clothes for the Countess. She also convinced Henry to send her new shoes. But in the end, nothing could save her from the same inescapable faith of her father and brother.

“At first when the sentence of death was made known to her; she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor what she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy; and that die she must … walked towards the midst of space from the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessings to her, and begged also for hers …”

Chapuys added after her bloody execution had been carried out, that he wished that “God in his high grace pardon her soul”. Her execution was carried out by an inexperienced and rough youth who hacked her to pieces. An apocryphal account has her running away from her executioner, pleading for help only for him to chase her down and butcher her. Margaret had no reason to run away. Her speech is an indicator that she was ready to die and like so many present, she had no idea that her fate would be so gruesome. Like almost every other secondary source, especially one written centuries later, it should not be taken seriously.

If you want to read a full length-biography of her, I recommend the one by Susan Higginbotham who has also written one on the Woodvilles and plenty of historical fiction. Her book really brings to light the woman, the courtier, the mother and most of all, the survivor. I highly recommend it.

Like Anne Boleyn and so many others, sensing the end, Margaret Pole began to contemplate her own mortality and when she finally made peace with her fate, it is believed that she etched this poem on the stone walls of her cell:

“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”

It is a sad end for a woman who had prided herself in being a survivor for most of her life. Two years before, her son and his alleged co-conspirators were executed. It must have been a terrible experience for her and at one point she must have thought she was cursed or that she would never be free of family tragedy. As previously stated, Margaret had lost her mother in childbirth, her father was found guilty of treason and executed by being drowned in a butt of malmsey and to top it all off, after Henry VII became King, her little brother was moved to the tower of London and fourteen years later executed. Margaret must have felt like she had avoided such fates by currying favor with the monarchy through the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon but after Henry split from Rome,and Reginald’s words against him, Margaret’s family once again became a target and the rest as they say … is history. She begins her journey in The White Princess as a young woman who has no choice but to follow those in power and curry favor with them to stay alive and as a result, she becomes the most interesting and complex character in the show.

Sources:

  • Ridgway, Claire. “The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 17 May, 2010, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-margaret-pole-countess-of-salisbury/5592/
  • Gregory, Philippa. The White Princess. Touchstone. 2013.
  • —. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. 2015.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. Amberly. 2016.
  • Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Amberly. 2014.
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22 JANUARY 1552: The Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour contrast with Tudors
The Historical Edward Seymour (left) was in reality a shy man as opposed to the intimidating figure played by Max Brown (right) in “The Tudors”.

 

On the 22nd of January, Edward Seymour, the former Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset was executed.

John Dudley and William Herbert had grown dissatisfied with the way he was running the country. When Edward Seymour was elected Lord Protector, he got to that position by making deals with many of Henry VIII’s executors and members of his imagined Regency Council. Edward was also part of this council, and upon his death he was going to be elevated to Duke and his eldest son by Anne, to Earl. But this wasn’t good enough for him. Less than a year later, he had alienated most of his supporters, including his brother. After Thomas’ execution, there was a popular uprising and instead of dealing with them in the same manner he had dealt with the Scots in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, he pardoned many of them.

One of his close friends and allies, (Paget) had warned him of what might happen if he continued down this path. In a letter, dated July 7th 1549, he wrote: “I see at the hand the King’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the King’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what your promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the late King died … planning with me for the place you now occupy to follow my advice before any other. Had you done so, things would not have gone as they have. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither. The old religion is forbidden and the new not generally imprinted. The law is almost nowhere used: The commons have become King.”

The Protector obviously chose to ignore it until August when John Dudley and his men dealt with the rebels accordingly.

“The Earl of Warwick commanded an army of twelve thousand professional soldiers and German mercenaries against Norfolk farm boys with few guns or blades, but hopes of “an equal share of things.” Three thousand men died outside Norwich at Dussindale on 27 August.” (Lisle)

As he and his men gained more supporters, Somerset took his nephew to Windsor where he promised him he would be safe from his enemies. The King highly distrusted his uncle but there was little he could do.

Edward VI

Anticipating his arrest, the Protector took his nephew to Windsor. He told him that he was taking him to a “safe haven” and that this would be temporary until he dealt with his enemies.

Anne joined her husband at Windsor days later. With no one else they could trust, they sent their ten year old son, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to bring reinforcements. But these never came. Instead, the boy was intercepted in the West by Sir William Herbert.

Sir William Herbert’s allegiance was to the league of conspirators, among them his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Northampton, William Parr who was the late Queen’s brother and who was one of many who held a grudge on the Lord Protector for kicking him off the Privy Council. He probably held a grudge against his wife as well, given her treatment of his sister.

With their son captured, and one of their commanders asking the Protector to step down “rather than any blood be shed,” the two realized that they had no option but to surrender.

Eventually he was released and continued to attend council meetings, but on the 16th of October 1551, he was arrested once again and brought to the Tower. His wife was arrested the following day and also brought to the Tower and *“if we are to judge from the list of articles she sent for, she must have realized that her visit was a long one.”

The charges laid against the Duke of Somerset were outrageous. Following his first arrest, he had lost his Protectorate but still retained some influence. His wife went on to make deals with the leading families in government by proposing betrothals to the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Warwick and others, to her son and daughters. Warwick married his son to her daughter Anne, but as tensions began rising, the couple decided to use the last card they had up their sleeves which was their illustrious daughter Jane.

John Dudley

Jane was smart, articulated, and was highly praised by her mother’s chaplain and other Reformers. If she could get her royal cousin’s attention, she could bring her father back into favor. Somerset’s plan were discovered and fearing what he would do if he succeeded, Dudley and the others prosecuted him, and charged him with attempted murder, saying he planned to invite all the nobles to dinner so he could murder them. Since there wasn’t any evidence regarding this, new charges were laid against him, this time they involved sedition treason and conspiracy to “overthrow the government, imprison Northumberland and Northampton, and convene Parliament.”

Somerset attended the hearings in December where Lord Strange was brought in to testify of his plans to marry his daughter to Edward VI so he could regain power, and others were brought in to add more weight to the other charges. After his trial, his sentenced was pronounced, along with his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope who had also been arrested and charged with treason.

There are many versions of his last words, one comes from his chaplain (John Foxe) who wasn’t present for his execution but he maintained that his account was taken from a “certain noble personage” who was.

Edward began by saying: “Dearly beloved masters and friends, I am brought hither to suffer, albeit that I never offended against the king neither by word nor deed, and have been always as faithful and true unto this realm as any man hath been. But foresomuch as I am by law condemned to die, I do acknowledge myself, as well as others, to be subject thereunto …” and added that he had come here to die, according to the law, and gave thanks “unto the divine goodness, as if I had received a most ample and great reward” then asked them to continue to embrace the new religion and obey their young King.

His speech was then interrupted by the arrival of two horsemen which the people took as a sign of a pardon and shouted “A pardon! A pardon! God save the King!” But it wasn’t. Northumberland and the council had issued a law that prevented the lords’ tenants and the common citizenry yet they still managed to come. So they were sorely disappointed when they found out that no such pardon was given and turned to their hero, the “Good Duke”, who said lastly:

Edward Seymour

“Dearly beloved friends, there is no such matter here in hand as you vainly hope or believe. I have always showed myself a most faithful and true subject and client unto him. I have always been most diligent about His Majesty in doing of his business, both at home and abroad, and no less diligent about the common commodity of the whole realm.”

Kneeling down, he let his face be covered with his handkerchief and right before the axe cut through his neck, he prayed “Lord Jesus, save me.”

In many ways, Edward Seymour can’t be blamed for the economic disaster since he inherited that from Henry VIII, but in other ways his mismanagement caused an even worse economic crisis and despite his popularity with some of the commons, he attempted to solve the problem of vagabonds by turning them into slave and his wars with Scotland brought an even greater strain on the treasury.

But for the people gathered that day, he was their hero and like many popular saints with the old religion, they saw him as something larger than life, and some even went as far as dipping their handkerchiefs and other pieces of clothing in his blood and treasured them as relics.

Edward VI for his part showed very little emotion. He wrote in his diary after he had been informed of his uncle’s death: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour *
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI by Chris Skidmore

Thomas Cromwell’s Execution

NPG 6311; Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex studio of Hans Holbein the Younger

On July the 28th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill. He was one of Henry’s most devoted servants and yet he, like so many others, met the same end. One day before his death, he was visited by the archbishop of Canterbury [Thomas Cranmer] and Seymour to inform him of his death-sentence. Seymour added that “it was God’s will that you should live no longer. It seems you have learned well from the Cardinal.”

Hans Holbein's Portrait of Anne of Cleves

The reason for his imprisonment had been the King’s fourth marriage, a disastrous union which he did his best to make it better, but failed. And not only that, Cromwell had exaggerated on Anne’s grace and beauty, not to mention that he was doing a lot of things outside the King’s knowledge, and his Reformist tendencies outraged many Catholics, as well as his imposition over every noble family (regardless of their faith). When Cromwell was arrested on June the Tenth of that year, he tried to free himself from his captors, by imploring the council to remember all that he had done, and the power he had wielded, but his eloquence wasn’t enough to cause fear or doubt on any of them. His time had passed, and he knew it. Two weeks later, the marriage he had helped create, was annulled. Anne consented with the decree and wrote a letter of submission to the king, telling him that “though this case be most hard and sorrowful for me, for the great love which I bear your most noble person, yet having more regard to God and his truth, than to any worldly affection, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept the proof of the same.” She went on to repeat herself when she wrote to her brother later that month. She was later referred to as the King’s Sister and given expensive properties, making her one of the richest women in England.

Cromwell beseeched the King, writing to him, that he had been his most loyal servant, and everything he had done, had done it to serve the crown at the best of his knowledge. Yet Henry did with him as he did with all the other people he had put to death whenever they wrote or pleaded with him to save them; he ignored him. Stripped of all his titles and privileges he was condemned to die at Tower Hill instead of Tower Green which was usually reserved for the high-born. The message could not be clearer: As he had born to nothing, he would die being nothing.

On the way to the block, he met with the deranged Lord Hungerford, a former protégé of his, whose crime had been harboring a member from the pilgrimage of Grace, his wife had appealed to Cromwell but Cromwell, being loyal to the king, did nothing to help his old friend. Now in an ironic twist of fate, the two were to die on the same day. Cromwell, feeling sorry for him, tried to comfort him by saying “there is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you.” But his words did little to comfort him. As Thomas Cromwell walked to the platform, he addressed the crowds:

James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in the Tudors.
James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in the Tudors.

“Good people, I have come here to die and not to purge myself, as some may think that I will. For if I should do so, I would be a wretch and a miser, a miserable man.
I am by the law condemned to die and thank my Lord God that has appointed me this death for my offence. For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived as a sinner and have offended my Lord God, for which I ask Him heartily for forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great traveler in the world but being of a base degree, was called to high state … Since the time I came there unto, I have offended my prince, for which I also ask him for hearty amnesty. I beseech you all to pray to God with me that he will forgive me. Oh father, forgive me; Oh Son, forgive me; Oh Holy Ghost, forgive me; Oh three Persons and one God, forgive me.”

Then to dispel the rumors that he was a Lutheran, he added:

“And now I pray you that be here, to bear record that I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting any article of my faith nor doubting any sacrament of the church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of those who have maintained evil opinions, which is untrue.
But I confess that as God, by His Holy Spirit, instructs us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us- and I have been seduced. Bear witness that I die in the Catholic faith of the Holy Church.
I heartily desire you to pray for the King’s grace and that he may long live with you in health and prosperity and after him, that his son, Prince Edward, that goodly imp, may long reign over you.
And once again, I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remains in this flesh, I waver nothing in my faith.”

This last confession was probably done to save his reputation, which he knew would be stained by the nobles. And reputation, even for dead men, was everything. If not for himself, then for his descendants, namely Gregory. He did not wish his bad name to stain the reputation of his son and family. Though some might judge him as a hypocrite and an opportunist, let us remember that everyone was a pragmatist (one way or another) back then. Cromwell played the game very well, more than any other player, but like his predecessor, he had flaws, and his belief that he was so secure that he could do whatever he wanted (including exaggerating on Anne of Cleves’ beauty and grace, to get the King into an alliance that would benefit his faith and increase his power) as well as the nobles’ envy of seeing a nobody rise to such a position of power, caused his demise.

Thomas Cromwell exeuction Tudors style

Finally, kneeling down to meet his ultimate fate, he prayed: “Oh Lord, grant me that when these eyes lose their use, that the eyes of my soul may see Thee. Oh Lord and father, when this mouth shall lose his use that my heart may say ‘O Pater, in mamus tuas commendo spiritum meum’” the asked the people to pray for the king, his son “and for all the lords of the council and for the clergy and for the commonalty. Now I beg you again that you will pray for me.” Spotting Thomas Wyatt the Elder, he called out to him, asking him to pray for him as well and told him not to weep “for if I were not more guilty than you were when they took you, I should not be in this pass.” He lastly turned to the executioner begging him “to cut off the head with one blow, so that I may not suffer.” Sadly, this was not to be.

His executioner, described as a “ragged and butcherly wretch”, delivered various blows to his skull and neck before he finally severed his head. While some despaired, others rejoiced. Henry Howard, the son and heir of the Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the Queen-to-be, said of Cromwell that “the false churl is dead … Now he is stricken with his own staff.” Cromwell’s headless body was buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula, the same place where Anne Boleyn was buried. His head was stuck on a pole on top of London’s bridge. On that same day, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard.

Sources:

  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Boarman
  • Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Margaret Pole nee Plantagenet’s Execution

Margaret Pole in
Margaret Pole in “The Tudors”

On the 27th of May 1541, Margaret Pole -Countess of Salisbury (in her own right), devoted mother, friend of the late Queen Katherine of Aragon and governess to her daughter the Princess Mary- was executed.

She had been attainted in 1539 after she and several members of her family were accused of being involved in the “Exeter plot” and after her son Reginald spoke (first) against the King’s treatment of his wife Catherine and daughter Mary and later against his supremacy over the Church. Margaret was one of the last Plantagenet and one of the members with strongest Yorkist links. Her parents were George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick better known today as “The Kingmaker”. Both her father and brother had also been attainted and executed by Mary’s relatives, the first (her father) by Mary’s great-grandfather, Edward IV and her brother Edward, Earl of Warwick by her grandfather, Henry VII in 1499 after being implicated in a plot with the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

She always remained loyal to her former charge, the Lady Mary and her mother, Queen Katherine. Her death is one of the most tragic events in Henry VIII’s reign. Chapuys largely criticized this and retold the event in his letters.

Some historians believe that there was another dimension to this execution. That it was more than just religiously motivated. Sure, she was a fervent Catholic, but she was a survivor first and foremost. And despite the so called Exeter plot, there is little evidence that there really was a plot or that she was conspiring against Henry VIII. Margaret had never even been fully told of just what evidence had convicted her. But this didn’t matter. She was a religious enemy, and a dangerous threat because of her lineage and one of her sons who spoke against the King’s break from the church and his divorce from Queen Katherine.

White Rose of York.
White Rose of York.

“Margaret Pole was at one level just another casualty of the religious wars that dominated the sixteenth century, in which followers of the old faith –Roman Catholicism- and various splinter groups of the new faith –Protestantism- sought to smite one another into submission. These wars took different forms. Occasionally they were fought between kingdoms allied to opposing faiths, but far more often, the religious wars were civil and dynastic conflicts that ripped individual kingdoms asunder. This certainly was the case in England … Yet her death could also be seen as the undignified final act in a long spell of nonreligious aristocratic violence that had begun nearly a century earlier … This conflict, usually assumed to have been closed on the accession of Henry Tudor as Henry VIII and his defense of the crown at the battle of Stoke, in fact continued to haunt the sixteenth century politics long afterward. Certainly it played a role in Margaret Pole’s death…” –Jones


Reginald Pole spoke fervently against Henry VIII, this angered him and made him more paranoid. If the Catholic powers could unite against him, they could look to others to take his place as King of England. These people only needed to find someone who were descendants of Edward III, who had the right credentials and it was done. For us this may have sound far-fetched but it was not so far-fetched back then when there were many nobles who had as much royal blood as Henry, and who some considered were better suited for the job based on that lineage. Margaret and her sons being descendants of Edward III, were the first ones on Henry’s list following the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace and France and Spain forming an alliance two years later. Margaret was the last one from the members in her family imprisoned –with the exception of her younger son Geoffrey Pole, who, to save his skin, signed a confession saying so and so was guilty- to be executed.

“At first, when the sentence of death was made known to her, she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor how she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy, and that die she must … walked towards the midst of the space in front of the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessing to her, and begged also for hers … May God in his high Grace pardon her soul.” -Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador at Henry VIII’s Court


Her execution was gruesome. The usual executioner was nowhere to be seen because he was in the North dispensing justice and in his place was a young man who was completely unprepared for the task ahead.

“When the signal was given to strike he brought the weapon down toward the block. But he botched the job.” (Jones). The youth botched the job. Rather than killing her in one stroke, he hacked her to pieces, inflicting several blows to her head and shoulders.

It was a sad end for the woman who had survived the wars of the roses and served faithfully under the Tudor regime. When she had been moved to the Tower, she expected to be treated according to her station and very few took pity on her. In fact another maligned person, another Queen named Katherine, took it upon herself to send the poor old woman clothes and new shoes so she could be appropriately dressed. Katherine Howard, against popular opinion today, was engaged in doing the usual things that Queen Consorts did and that meant doing charitable work and interceding on prisoners’ behalf to her husband, to ask him for mercy. No doubt, this was the thing that motivated Henry to pay from his own purse for her new garments. Unfortunately it didn’t save her from this gruesome fate. So once again, the white rose of York was stained with blood.

Sources:

  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Inside the Tudor Court of Henry VIII by Lauren Mackay
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon’s Last Flight

Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in
Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in “The Tudors” and “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

On the 19th of May, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed. Anne Boleyn was the first Queen of England (or former if you want to get technical) to be executed.   Her execution was originally set on the eighteenth but it was postponed. Anne was deeply distraught. According to Kingston, the Captain of the guard, she would after be laughing and joking about her own mortality. And at other times she was jovial, engaging in conversation with her aunt, and the other women around her, including his wife. But on that morning of May nineteenth, Anne walked to the scaffold where she was immortalized by her next speech:

Anne Boleyn's execution in
Anne Boleyn’s execution in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1970) where she was played by Dorothy Tutin

“Good Christian people,
I am come hither to die,
for according to the law
and by the law I am judged to die,
and therefore I will speak nothing against it.
I am come hither to accuse no man,
nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die,
but I pray God save the king
and send him long to reign over you,
for a gentler nor more merciful prince was there never:
and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign lord.
And if any person will meddle of my cause,
I require them to judge the best.
And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all,
and I heartily desire you all pray for me.
Oh Lord have mercy on me,
to God I commend my soul.”

Her words were fully remembered and recorded and they moved the crowd, who despite (some of them) their dislike for this maligned Queen, they knelt and did as she asked them to, pray for her.

Then she gave a pouch of money to her executioner –provided to her by Henry- and knelt, bracing herself for what was coming next. In one stroke, it was all over. Anne Boleyn was no more.

Some historians like Leanda de Lisle argue about the method of execution. Why did Henry VIII use a sword instead of an axe? Anne was afraid of fire and rightly so. Henry VIII saw himself as a cavalier, a knight in shining armor if you will. In his view death by the sword served the purpose to show that he was the purveyor of justice and the sword was also a symbol of Camelot, of righteousness and Henry always saw himself as the great purveyor of justice. Against what is shown on film and TV, there was nothing absolutely romantic about her end, it was tragic, it was sad, it was unfortunate. Period. And the sword was Henry’s long-stand view that nothing was wrong with this kingdom, and that justice had prevailed once more.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn: A Life by Eric Ives

The Execution of Thomas Seymour 1st Baron of Sudeley

Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.
Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.

On the twentieth of March 1549, Thomas Seymour, Edward VI’s uncle and younger brother of the Lord Protector, Ned Seymour, was executed at Tower Hill. Thomas Seymour is famous for marrying the late King’s last consort, Katherine Parr. While the couple had only one child, Thomas was very protective of her. He grew paranoid after the death of his wife and saw enemies everywhere and urged his ally, Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset to return his eldest and favorite daughter, Jane Grey, into his custody. Something Henry reluctantly agreed. Nonetheless, in spite of his assurances, Thomas began to scheme with him and other members of court who were dissatisfied with his eldest brother.  When they had agreed to elect Edward Seymour as Protector, they had all been promised key positions in the government. Most of them had been rewarded for their loyalty by being elevated to Marques or in Thomas’ case, Barons. But they were not content. Something was missing and that something was more favor. Edward Seymour showed more favor to the commons and his attitude against the nobility and rising gentry who had brought him to where he was, angered them.

During his wife’s pregnancy, the Lady Elizabeth, his nephew’s second older sister resided with them. Very soon it became clear to Lady Sudeley that her husband’s attentions towards the pre-teen were overly affectionate and she had Elizabeth banished. Thomas Seymour tried to make it up to her by being at her side at all times but this wasn’t enough. According to one source, in her delirium she berated him and accused him of never loving her. He tried calming her down but sickened with grief and possibly puerperal fever, she died days later.

His brother didn’t allow him to inherit on his daughter’s behalf, or to have his daughter inherit, his wife’s states. If the rift between brothers’ was not worse already, this made it even more.
In spite of his many allies, Thomas Seymour was too brash and paranoid and it was this brashness and impatience that brought about his doom.

According to a much later account, when Elizabeth heard the news she said "A man of much with and very little judgment" but in reality what she said is found in her book of psalm and prayers which is currently held at Elton Hall; it reads "Vanity of Vanities; and the height of Vanity. T. Seymour".
According to a much later account, when Elizabeth heard the news she said “A man of much with and very little judgment” but in reality what she said is found in her book of psalm and prayers which is currently held at Elton Hall; it reads “Vanity of Vanities; and the height of Vanity. T. Seymour”.

Elizabeth Tudor who was later sent to the Tower during her sister, Queen Mary I’s, regime appealed to her by invoking the example of Thomas Seymour, saying that if his eldest brother -the Duke of Somerset- hadn’t been prevented from seeing him, then he wouldn’t have condemned his little brother. This is true. Ned Seymour wasn’t allowed to see or speak with Thomas. Thomas Seymour was a master of rhetoric and ingenuity, and he could have convince his brother or at the very least, get him to give him a royal pardon.

Despite this shortcoming, Thomas Seymour entertained himself by trying all sorts of things to appeal to the good conscience of other people. He tried smuggling a letter written in orange juice with a hook “plucked from his hose” to Lady Mary but it was soon discovered. Before he died, he wrote one last poem:

“Forgetting God to love a king
Hath been my rod or else nothing:
In this real life being a blast of care and strife
till be in the past.
Yet God did call me in my pride
lest I should fall and from him slide
for whom loves he
and not correct that they may be of his elect.
The death haste thee
thou shalt me gain
Immortally with him to reign
Who send the King
Like years as new in governing his realm with joy
And after this frail life such grace
As in his bliss
he may have place.”

Like his brother who would meet the same fate three years layer, his execution would prove highly unpopular. While his supporters had abandoned him, the resentment that had been between them and the Lord Protector was still there and it only got worse after this.

As with all men and women condemned to death, he was allowed to give one last speech before the executioner swung his axe. He was executed at Tower Hill and while we know very little of what he said, according to one account, when he was about to lay his head on the block he said “speed of what you are to do”. Then came the blow that ended his life.

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Katherine Howard and Jane Parker’s EXECUTION

Katherine and Jane Parker

On the 13th of February of 1542, Katherine Howard and her lady in waiting, Jane Parker were put to death. The two were executed on the same spot Anne Boleyn had been executed and also buried at the Tower’s chapel in St. Peter ad Vincula.

Katherine Howard's motto echoes the one by her predecessor, Jane Seymour, who gave the King a son; "No Will but His". By this she gave a powerful message that she would be the consort Henry wanted her to be, and she was doing things that Consorts usually did like charity and begging for mercy for traitors, and giving gifts to her stepchildren (including the Lady Mary Tudor whom she reconciled after the two set their differences aside). It is a myth that the two were enemies. In fact, Katherine spent more time with her than with her other stepchildren and they gave each other many gifts.
Katherine Howard’s motto echoes the one by her predecessor, Jane Seymour, who gave the King a son; “No Will but His”. By this she gave a powerful message that she would be the consort Henry wanted her to be, and she was doing things that Consorts usually did like charity and begging for mercy for traitors, and giving gifts to her stepchildren (including the Lady Mary Tudor whom she reconciled after the two set their differences aside). It is a myth that the two were enemies. In fact, Katherine spent more time with her than with her other stepchildren and they gave each other many gifts.
Before her execution she said to her confessor, the Bishop of Lincoln, that “as to the act, my reverend lord, for which I stand condemned, God and his holy angels I take to witness, upon my soul’s salvation, that I died guiltless, never having so abused my sovereign’s bed. What other sins and follies of youth I have committed I will not excuse; but I am assured that for them God hath brought this punishment upon me, and will, in his mercy, remit them, for which, I pray you, pray with me unto his Son and my Savior, Christ.” Conor Byrne and Retha Warnicke in their respective biographies of Katherine Howard, and other royal and courtier’s wives; make the case that while the evidence against her was scant, she is continuously presented as guilty.
But out of all the portrayals we’ve seen on TV, the worst is that of Tamzin Merchant in “The Tudors”. She is mean girl from head to toe, and she knows it and revels in teasing Mary and anyone she can get her hands on. She is like a modern day giggly cheerleader her father has married and tells Mary that while she is old and ugly (and will never marry) she is hot and young and that is why she hates her.
Katherine-Howard-tudor-history-32415820-500-228.gif
“You are jealous.” She says with that annoying smirk, hands on her hips. Her ladies then proceed to laugh, looking as brainless than ever. They are just there to please their Queen Bee.
The event has some basis in reality. Katherine Howard did get upset that Mary wasn’t giving her the proper respect she deserved and dismissed two of her maids, but the two later reconciled.
As Queen, Katherine advocated for many prisoners, including Mary’s old governess, the Countess of Salisbury and sent her own tailor to make sure she would have new clothes. She saved Thomas Wyatt from being executed. Everything that she was nothing out of the ordinary for queen consorts at this time.
Jane Parker Collage
Her lady in waiting has been no luckier. Jane Boleyn [nee Parker] aka Lady Rochford has also been the negative propaganda. Now we know differently, that she didn’t hate her husband or her sister-in-law, but for some reason, fiction still continues to portray her as a serpentine, diabolical, resentful, and vindictive woman. The real Lady Rochford was all the contrary and very close to the Boleyns and as the recent biography of her by Fox and her husband biography by Ridgway and Cherry show, she was very close to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn and Anne asked for her help when her husband was having an affair with one of her ladies, possibly the “Imperial Lady” that Chapuys refers to in his letters who was sympathetic to Mary and her mother’s plight. She did NOT give any evidence against George Boleyn. If she had, Chapuys would have said so from the beginning. Would a man who had every reason to hate Anne at this moment, have missed this? Hell no. For some reason he didn’t and that is because she did not say anything. If she did, assuming she was interrogated, she would have done her best to save her husband. This was a highly political game, and everyone was looking to save their own skins. But Jane never provided any evidence against her husband and the rest of her in-laws. The person who condemned George and Anne was a certain “Lady”. Chapuys and others refer to her as the woman or the Lady, this person was none other than the Lady Exeter.

Jane acted as chaperone to Katherine Howard. It is possible that Katherine, despite excelling greatly at her position, was still an inexperienced player and believed all of Culpeper’s threats that he would denounce her previous liaisons with the King, asked her to. In this world it didn’t matter that her previous liaisons were not liaisons at all and she had been raped. Female virtue was at the top of everything. Many times women who were raped, were blamed. Some noblewomen or royal women could not afford such a scandal because then nobody would want to marry them, or worse, their families’ honor would be put into question and they would be blamed. Jane’s involvement in Katherine’s comings and goings, and helping her meet Culpeper to bribe him into keeping his silence though, ended badly for her too. According to one eye-witness who was present at Jane’s execution, he said to his brother that she had “made the most godly and Christian end that ever was heard” and had made her peace with God and like her late sister-in-law, asked “all the Christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment for their offences against God” and that if she and Kitty were condemned to die it was because they sinned and deserved to die. Katherine was the first one to go, then Jane.
Sources:
  • Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Jualia Fox
  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
  • The Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.

Lady Jane Dudley nee Grey’s Execution.

"This famous nineteenth-century painting of Jane Grey's execution encapsulates the myth of Jane as an innocent virgin, sacrificed on the altar of adult political ambition. In reality, Jane was a religious leader and no mere victim" -Leanda de Lisle
“This famous nineteenth-century painting of Jane Grey’s execution encapsulates the myth of Jane as an innocent virgin, sacrificed on the altar of adult political ambition. In reality, Jane was a religious leader and no mere victim” -Leanda de Lisle

On Monday 12th of February 1554, both Lady Jane Dudley [nee Grey] and her husband [Guildford] were executed. The latter was the first one to be executed following by his wife who continued to sign her letters as Jane Dudley, rather than Jane Grey, giving no credence to the later myths that she resented Dudley or had been forced to marry him.

Jane was dressed in the same black gown she had worn to her trial, which was a statement of her religious piety and her intense devotion to God, as well as her belief that her faith would shelter her as it had sheltered others through their last hours. Jane had called on the people to rise against the Mass, days before, she had called the people “Return, return to Christ’s war”. This was a religious war and only one religion could come on top. Jane, closer to her father than her mother, wrote to him and told him to be cheerful for she had made her peace with God. She could have -in theory- written to her mother and her youngest sister Mary, but no letters survive so we must assume that she didn’t. Her letter to Katherine was more hostile and she told her if she accepted this material world and accepted the Catholic Faith, even if it was for survival, that she would burn in hell. She asked Katherine if she were to die or live, to die instead for there was nothing better than that.

Jane learned a lot from one of her favorite women and tutors, the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Catherine Parr.  Catherine was seen a role model to many young Protestant women and Jane sought to emulate her.
Jane learned a lot from one of her favorite women and tutors, the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Catherine Parr. Catherine was seen a role model to many young Protestant women and Jane sought to emulate her.
Jane’s other tutors and Protestant admirers like Ulm, Bullinger abroad praised her for her good dress as well as for her intellectuality. But as she had grown up, this fame had gotten to her head, and she saw herself as the leader of the Protestant Faith in England and believing that God was on her side, she wanted to look her best on her execution. So she dressed humbly to state her religious devotion and humility.

Jane’s last words were:

“Good people I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen’s Highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocence, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people this day.
I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by none other means, but only by the mercy of God in the merits of his only son, Jesus Christ and I confess when I did know the Word of God I neglected the same, loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague or punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God for his goodness that he has thus given me time and respect to repent. While I am alive I pay you to assist me with your prayers.”


Before she walked to the block, she gave one message to the Lieutenant of the Tower where she told him as she had told Mary I’s chaplain that he should look to his conscience and see that death was much better than life: “There is a time to be born, and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lord knows, as a friend, Jane Dudley.”

Then she was blindfolded and nervously knelt down to the block but she could not find it and got frightened and said “What shall I do? Where is it?” Eventually someone stepped forward and guided her to it. As she laid her head there she said one last prayer “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” And then the axe was swung, and as one eye-witness recorded “she ended”.

Sources:

  • Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On his day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Caroll

Guildford Dudley’s Execution

Cary Elwes as Guildford Dudley in "Lady Jane".
Cary Elwes as Guildford Dudley in “Lady Jane”.
Guildford Dudley was the first one to die on the morning of Monday, 12th of February 1554. He was escorted to the Main Gate by Sir Anthony Browne and Jane saw him being led from the Tower to the block. Guildford asked his jailor to pray for him. Before dying, he had sent a message to his wife where he said “he wished to kiss her for the last time”. Jane however said that she did not want any distractions from her prayers and they both had to be strong for what was coming. Guildford, equally religious as her, was inspired by her courage and refused to have a priest with him which was a testament of his strong belief in the new faith. Jane would have seen his execution from her window. 

The EXECUTION of Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.
Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.

Mary Queen of Scots was executed on the eighth of February at Fortheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Mary had been found guilty of the famous “Casket Letters” in which she allegedly conspired to kill her royal cousin, Elizabeth, thus committing regicide. She was also guilty in the eyes of many of killing her second husband and cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. However it is important to note that her mother in law who initially believed she was guilty, no longer did and before her death, nine years before Mary’s execution, she wrote to Elizabeth and Cecil asking for clemency. Margaret Douglas was buried with royal honors, as a Princess. One of the last jewels she commissioned featured her grandson (Mary’s son) with his hands raised out to the sun and two crowns being placed on him which symbolized the crown of Scotland which he already had after his mother had been forced to abdicate on July 1567, and the other was of England, which he would eventually inherit after Elizabeth’s death.

MQS pink young

“This was the last captive princess of romance, the dowager queen of France, the exiled queen of Scotland, the heir to the English throne and (there must have been some among the silent witnesses who thought so), at this very moment, if she had her rights, England’s lawful queen. This was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. For a moment she held all their eyes, then she sank back into the darkness of her chair and turned her grave inattention to her judges, She was satisfied that her audience would look at no one else.” (Mattingly)

There have been many movies and historical fiction about Mary, but none have come any closer to understanding the real Queen of Scots. Mary was a very tragic figure, born in a turbulent time when the wars of religion were starting to tear her country apart, she was orphaned when she was less than two months old and crowned less than a year later with many Regents, including her mother. Marie de Guise was from the prominent de Guise family who many saw as “upstarts” and eyed with suspicion. At one point they conspired to marry their widowed daughter to the King of England who showed a strong interest in her. Mary’s mother had given birth to two healthy baby boys, and that was enough to attract the King of England, her uncle. But the King of France wisely chose to stall their ambitions and instead turn them to another suitor. The King of Scots. Scotland is seen as a backwards country in contrast to the greater countries of England, France and Spain but this can’t be further from the truth. Under the last three Stewarts, Scotland prospered greatly and became a center of culture, architectural greatness and a beacon of patronage for intellectuals. Mary’s parents always traveled the countryside. James V like his ancestors, made sure that the people knew him and had personal contact with him. This was a great contrast to the Kings of England who would normally processed and greet their people on important occasions and then go back to their usual routines. Mary, being her father’s daughter, followed the same protocol, but she was less successful. By the time that Mary returned to Scotland, shortly after Francois II’s death, she returned to a different country. The political and religious landscape had changed. Scotland had been overtaken by new religious and radical thinkers who advocated for a separate church, and national unity, forsaking Scottish identity in favor of an English one. Although Elizabeth and her councilors are credited to using religion to create dissent in Mary’s kingdom; she was not the first one. Henry VIII was the first one to pursue this policy, so did his son under the Protectorate of his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Then his sister ascended the throne and although she was Catholic, she still used religion as a way to undermine Mary’s mother’s regency and coax many of the country’s Catholics, including those that were undecided to rebel against Marie de Guise’ rule. When Elizabeth I came to the throne, the work had been half-done for her, she was just there to finish what the others started.

Mary and Darnley’s marriage was disastrous and although she had reasons to get rid of him, so did others whom he had angered with his brash behavior. Both she and Danrley were descendants of Henry VII through their eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland. Mary descended from her first marriage to James IV of Scotland and Darnley through her second to the Earl of Angus. The only saving grace was their son, James VI who was born in June 1566. Her decision to marry her captor, the Earl of Borthwell has puzzled historians for centuries. Some have used it as proof that she was incapable of ruling, and that she thought of herself a woman more than she did a Queen. This mirrors closely the film that was done about her where she was played by Vanessa Redgrave, which portrayed her as exactly that –as a vulnerable and indecisive individual. And yet, these historians and producers ignore the many other tragic events in her life that led her to make such a decision. In an age where female virtue was everything, Queens could not afford to admit they had been raped. If they had, this could be used against them by their enemies who would use it to discredit them. Unfortunately for Mary, it soon became common knowledge. Everyone had spread the word that when she sought to escape, Bothwell had routed her and with an army bigger than her own, she had limited choices. She could defy him and she and her women would die, or likely be raped, or she could agree to his terms.

MQS Black

“Bothwell’s views on female rulers were, like those of some of his fellow nobles, much closer in private to the bigoted public utterances of John Knox. Bothwell’s rape of Mary proved her weakness and her agreement to marry him, as many Scottish and Northern English heiresses who had been similarly kidnapped and raped could attest, was inevitable … His marriage to Mary took place according to Protestant rites in a muted and brief ceremony in Holyrood House, conducted by the bishop of Orkney on 15 May … the French ambassador du Croc noted her deep depression.” (Porter)

Given how many of her friends described their marriage, it was likely that he had taken her by force first and ashamed of her condition, she was forced to wed him. Not long after she also found that she was pregnant. Had she not done this, she would have been worse treated by a society where already condemned her for being a female monarch. Mary eventually escaped and won some victories but decided to go back to England, naively thinking that her royal cousin would help her regain her throne. That decision sealed her fate and the rest as they say is history.

On Wednesday morning, on the eighth of February, Mary walked out from her small chambers to the private Hall.

“Elizabeth had instructed that Mary die in the privacy of the hall …. But Elizabeth ordered that the Queen of Scots be denied her request for her servants to accompany her.” (Lisle)

Elizabeth did not want to make a martyr out of her royal cousin. She had been reluctant to sign her death warrant; she did not want others to talk about her death and make her out to look like a victim because that would have made her feel guiltier. Yet Mary was not going to give her fellow monarch that satisfaction. She chose to wear as (ironically) Elizabeth’s mother had done for her execution, a red petticoat which symbolized martyrdom. “Far meaner persons than myself have not been denied so small a favor” she told the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury before they led her to the Hall.

Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.
Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.

Her last words after she was blindfolded were: “In te Domine confide, nonconfundar in aeternum” (In you Lord is my trust, let me never be confounded). The executioners were largely inexperienced and also crude, and roughly pushed her head against the block and then the Earl of Shrewsbury gave the signal. In the words of her physician, they “butchered her like those with which they cut wood”. Thus ended the life of the Queen of Scots, as tragically as when it began.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewars: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The True Life of Mary Stuart: Queen of Scots by John Guy
  • Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Armada by Garrett Mattingly