Relive Mary's escape from Scotland and last hours through
her own letters to Elizabeth I and Henry III. The originals were written in French.
This letter was written to Elizabeth during Mary's one-year
incarceration in Lochleven after her defeat at Carberry
Hill. Mary truly believed that her cousin would come to her rescue but Elizabeth's
friendliness was just a front.
Madame, my Good Sister
The length of my weary imprisonment, and the wrongs I have received from those on
whom I have conferred so many benefits, are less annoying to me than not having it in my
power to acquaint you with the realities of my calamities, and the injuries that have been
done to me in various ways. It may please you to remember that you have told me
several times "that on receiving that ring you gave me, you would assist me in any
time of trouble". You know that Lord James has seized all I have.
Melville, to whom I have often sent secretly for this ring, as my most precious jewel,
says that he dare not let me have it. Therefore I implore you to have compassion on
your good sister and cousin, and believe that you have not a more affectionate relative in
the world. You should also consider the importance of the example practised against
I entreat you to be careful that no one knows that I have written to you, for it
would cause me to be treated worse than I am now. They boast that their friends at
your court inform them of all you say and do. God keep you from misfortunes, and
grant me patience and His grace that I may one day recount my calumnies to yourself, when
I will tell you more than I dare to write, which may prove of no small service to
Your obliged and affectionate good sister and cousin,
prison at Lochleven.
Having escaped from Lochleven and been again defeated at the battle of Langside, Mary
made the fatal mistake of deciding to seek Elizabeth's help for good. She sent the
following letter to her but, in her impatience and belief in Elizabeth's sincerity, she
sailed for England without waiting for a reply.
Dundrennan, May 15, 1568
To the high and mighty Prince, Elizabeth-
You are not ignorant, my dearest sister, of great part of my misfortunes, but these
which induce me to write at present, have happened too recently yet to have reached your
ears. I must therefore acquaint you as briefly as I can, that some of my subjects
whom I most confided in, and had raised to the highest pitch of honour, have taken up arms
against me, and treated me with the utmost indignity. By unexpected means, the
Almighty Disposer of all things delivered me from the cruel imprisonment I underwent.
But I have since lost a battle, in which most of those who preserved their loyal
integrity fell before my eyes. I am now forced out of my kingdom, and driven to such
straits that, next to God, I have no hope but in your goodness. I beseech you
therefore, my dearest sister, that I may be conducted to your presence, that I may
acquaint you with all my affairs.
In the meantime, I beseech God to grant you all heavenly benedictions, and to me
patience and consolation, which last I hope and pray to obtain by your means.
To remind you of the reasons I have to depend on England, I send back to its Queen
this token, the jewel of her promised friendship and assistance.
Your affectionate sister,
This is Mary's last letter to Elizabeth in which she expressed her final requests
which, like all others, would never be granted.
Now having been informed, on your part, of the sentence passed in the last session
of your Parliament, and admonished by Lord Beale to prepare myself for the end of my long
and weary pilgrimage, I prayed them to return my thanks to you for such agreeable
intelligence, and to ask you to grant some things for the relief of my conscience.
I will not accuse any person, but sincerely pardon every one, as I desire others,
and, above all, God, to pardon me. And since I know that your heart, more than that
of any other, ought to be touched by the honour or dishonour of your own blood, and of a
Queen, the daughter of a king, I require you, Madam, for the sake of Jesus, that after my
enemies have satisfied their black thirst for my innocent blood, you will permit my poor
disconsolate servants to remove my corpse, that it may be buried in holy ground, with my
ancestors in France, especially the late Queen my mother, since in Scotland the remains of
the Kings my predecessors have been outraged, and the churches torn down and profaned.
As I shall suffer in this country, I shall not be allowed a place near your
ancestors, who are also mine, and persons of my religion think much of being interred in
consecrated earth. I trust you will not refuse this last request I have preferred to
you, and allow, at least, free sepulture to this body when the soul shall be separated
from it, which never could obtain, while united, liberty to dwell in peace.
Dreading the secret tyranny of some of those to whom you have abandoned me, I
entreat you to prevent me from being dispatched secretly, without your knowledge, not from
fear of the pain, which I am ready to suffer, but on account of the reports they would
circulate after my death. It is therefore that I desire my servants to remain
witnesses and attestators of my end, my faith in my Saviour, and obedience to His church.
This I require of you in the name of Jesus Christ in respect to our consanguinity,
for the sake of King Henry VII, your great-grandfather and mine, for the dignity we have
both held, and for the sex to which we both belong.
I beseech the God of mercy and justice to enlighten you with His holy Spirit, and
to give me the grace to die in perfect charity, as I endeavour to do, pardoning my death
to all those who have either caused or cooperated in it; and this will be my prayer to the
Accuse me not of presumption if, leaving this world and preparing myself for a
better, I remind you will one day to give account of your charge, in like manner as those
who preceded you in it, and that my blood and the misery of my country will be remembered,
wherefor from the earliest dawn of your comprehension we ought to dispose our minds to
make things temporal yield to those of eternity.
Your sister and cousin wrongfully a prisoner,
Mary's last letter ever, written in the early morning of the day of her execution.
Click here to see the original French transcription and handwritten sample.
To Henri III, the Most Christian King of France.
8 February 1587.
Monsieur mon beau-frère, estant par la permission de Dieu...
Royal brother, having by God's will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the
power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years,
I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my
papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been
unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely
or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had
honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.
Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like
a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account
of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other
unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death
and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The
Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English throne are the two
issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the
Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of
this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and, although he is in the building, I have
not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the
Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and
instruction of their minister brought here for that purpose.
The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will
testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian
Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to
give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my
unfortunate servants the wages due to them-this is a burden on my conscience that only you
can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title
Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my
son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him.
I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against
illness, trusting you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them
from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feelings for
you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instruction, if it please you,
that for my soul's sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of
Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a
memorial mass and give the customary alms.
Wednesday at two in the morning.
Your most loving and most true sister.
Queen of Scotland