Mary, Queen of Scots

On February 8, 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed after almost twenty years of imprisonment. The anniversary seemed a good time to showcase a letter from Mary. (Yes, this date is in the Julian calendar not the Gregorian, but we’re going to ignore that for convenience sake).

George Vertue, Maria Scotorv Regin et Franciae Dotaria.  illustration for Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, The History of England. 1735. MS 1569/12

Our letter dates from 1571, when Mary was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle. Her retinue had been reduced following a Spanish plot on her behalf, and this letter was written to her departed “Faithful and good servants.” We have only the first two pages, but the full text is known.

Mary, Queen of Scots, autograph letter. Sheffield castle, [18 September 1571]. MS 569/12

The letter is in French, but here’s the translation of our portion, as given in Turnbull’s “Letters of Mary Stuart” (1845):

My faithful and good servants seeing that it has pleased God to visit me with so much affliction and now with this strict imprisonment and the banishment of you my servants from me I return thanks to the same God who has given me strength and patience to endure it and pray that this good God may give you like grace and that you may console yourselves since your banishment is on account of the good service which you have rendered to me your Queen and mistress for that at least will be very great honour to you to have given so good proof of your fidelity in such an exigence and if it shall be the pleasure of the good God to restore me to liberty I shall never forget you all but shall reward you according to my power At present I have written to my Ambassador for your maintenance not having it in my power to do better towards you as I should wish and now at your departure I charge each one of you in the name of God and for my blessing that you be good servants to God and do not murmur against him for any affliction which may befall you for thus it is his custom to visit his chosen I commend to you the faith in which you have been baptized and instructed along with me remembering that out of the Ark of Noah there is no salvation and like as you make profession of no other sovereign than myself alone so I pray you to profess with me one God one Faith one Catholic Church as the greater portion of you have already done And especially you who are recently reclaimed from your errors strive to instruct yourselves very rigidly and found yourselves in the faith and pray to God to give you constancy for to such God will never deny his grace and to you Master John Gordon and William Douglas I pray God that he may inspire your hearts I can do no more

Secondly I commend you to live in friendship and holy charity with each other and to bear with each other’s failings and now being separated from me assist yourselves mutually with the means and graces which God hath given to you and above all pray to God for me and give my very affectionate remembrances to the French Ambassador in London and tell him the state in which I am And in France present my humble duties to all my uncles and friends and particularly to my grandmother whom let some of you hasten to visit for me Beseech my uncle to urge strongly the King the Queen and Monsieur to assist my poor subjects in Scotland and if I die here to grant the same protection to my son and my friends as to myself according to the ancient league of France with Scotland…

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

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