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Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 31 Part 2
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WHEN Mary Queen of Scots arrived in England, without money and
even without any other clothes than those she wore, she wrote to
Elizabeth, representing herself as an innocent and injured piece of
Royalty, and entreating her assistance to oblige her Scottish
subjects to take her back again and obey her. But, as her
character was already known in England to be a very different one
from what she made it out to be, she was told in answer that she
must first clear herself. Made uneasy by this condition, Mary,
rather than stay in England, would have gone to Spain, or to
France, or would even have gone back to Scotland. But, as her
doing either would have been likely to trouble England afresh, it
was decided that she should be detained here. She first came to
Carlisle, and, after that, was moved about from castle to castle,
as was considered necessary; but England she never left again.

After trying very hard to get rid of the necessity of clearing
herself, Mary, advised by LORD HERRIES, her best friend in England,
agreed to answer the charges against her, if the Scottish noblemen
who made them would attend to maintain them before such English
noblemen as Elizabeth might appoint for that purpose. Accordingly,
such an assembly, under the name of a conference, met, first at
York, and afterwards at Hampton Court. In its presence Lord
Lennox, Darnley's father, openly charged Mary with the murder of
his son; and whatever Mary's friends may now say or write in her
behalf, there is no doubt that, when her brother Murray produced
against her a casket containing certain guilty letters and verses
which he stated to have passed between her and Bothwell, she
withdrew from the inquiry. Consequently, it is to be supposed
that she was then considered guilty by those who had the best
opportunities of judging of the truth, and that the feeling which
afterwards arose in her behalf was a very generous but not a
very reasonable one.

However, the DUKE OF NORFOLK, an honourable but rather weak
nobleman, partly because Mary was captivating, partly because he
was ambitious, partly because he was over-persuaded by artful
plotters against Elizabeth, conceived a strong idea that he would
like to marry the Queen of Scots - though he was a little
frightened, too, by the letters in the casket. This idea being
secretly encouraged by some of the noblemen of Elizabeth's court,
and even by the favourite Earl of Leicester (because it was
objected to by other favourites who were his rivals), Mary
expressed her approval of it, and the King of France and the King
of Spain are supposed to have done the same. It was not so quietly
planned, though, but that it came to Elizabeth's ears, who warned
the Duke 'to be careful what sort of pillow he was going to lay his
head upon.' He made a humble reply at the time; but turned sulky
soon afterwards, and, being considered dangerous, was sent to
the Tower.

Thus, from the moment of Mary's coming to England she began to
be the centre of plots and miseries.

A rise of the Catholics in the north was the next of these, and it
was only checked by many executions and much bloodshed. It was
followed by a great conspiracy of the Pope and some of the Catholic
sovereigns of Europe to depose Elizabeth, place Mary on the throne,
and restore the unreformed religion. It is almost impossible to
doubt that Mary knew and approved of this; and the Pope himself
was so hot in the matter that he issued a bull, in which he openly
called Elizabeth the 'pretended Queen' of England, excommunicated
her, and excommunicated all her subjects who should continue to
obey her. A copy of this miserable paper got into London, and was
found one morning publicly posted on the Bishop of London's gate.
A great hue and cry being raised, another copy was found in the
chamber of a student of Lincoln's Inn, who confessed, being put
upon the rack, that he had received it from one JOHN FELTON, a rich
gentleman who lived across the Thames, near Southwark. This John
Felton, being put upon the rack too, confessed that he had posted
the placard on the Bishop's gate. For this offence he was, within
four days, taken to St. Paul's Churchyard, and there hanged and
quartered. As to the Pope's bull, the people by the reformation
having thrown off the Pope, did not care much, you may suppose,
for the Pope's throwing off them. It was a mere dirty piece of
paper, and not half so powerful as a street ballad.

On the very day when Felton was brought to his trial, the poor Duke
of Norfolk was released. It would have been well for him if he had
kept away from the Tower evermore, and from the snares that had
taken him there. But, even while he was in that dismal place he
corresponded with Mary, and as soon as he was out of it, he began
to plot again. Being discovered in correspondence with the Pope,
with a view to a rising in England which should force Elizabeth to
consent to his marriage with Mary and to repeal the laws against
the Catholics, he was re-committed to the Tower and brought to
trial. He was found guilty by the unanimous verdict of the Lords
who tried him, and was sentenced to the block.

It is very difficult to make out, at this distance of time, and
between opposite accounts, whether Elizabeth really was a humane
woman, or desired to appear so, or was fearful of shedding the
blood of people of great name who were popular in the country.
Twice she commanded and countermanded the execution of this
Duke, and it did not take place until five months after his trial. The
scaffold was erected on Tower Hill, and there he died like a brave
man. He refused to have his eyes bandaged, saying that he was
not at all afraid of death; and he admitted the justice of his
sentence, and was much regretted by the people.

Although Mary had shrunk at the most important time from disproving
her guilt, she was very careful never to do anything that would
admit it. All such proposals as were made to her by Elizabeth for
her release, required that admission in some form or other, and
therefore came to nothing. Moreover, both women being artful and
treacherous, and neither ever trusting the other, it was not likely
that they could ever make an agreement. So, the Parliament,
aggravated by what the Pope had done, made new and strong laws
against the spreading of the Catholic religion in England, and
declared it treason in any one to say that the Queen and her
successors were not the lawful sovereigns of England. It would
have done more than this, but for Elizabeth's moderation.

Since the Reformation, there had come to be three great sects of
religious people - or people who called themselves so - in England;
that is to say, those who belonged to the Reformed Church, those
who belonged to the Unreformed Church, and those who were called
the Puritans, because they said that they wanted to have everything
very pure and plain in all the Church service. These last were for
the most part an uncomfortable people, who thought it highly
meritorious to dress in a hideous manner, talk through their noses,
and oppose all harmless enjoyments. But they were powerful too,
and very much in earnest, and they were one and all the determined
enemies of the Queen of Scots. The Protestant feeling in England
was further strengthened by the tremendous cruelties to which
Protestants were exposed in France and in the Netherlands. Scores
of thousands of them were put to death in those countries with
every cruelty that can be imagined, and at last, in the autumn of
the year one thousand five hundred and seventy-two, one of the
greatest barbarities ever committed in the world took place at

It is called in history, THE MASSACRE OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW, because
it took place on Saint Bartholomew's Eve. The day fell on Saturday
the twenty-third of August. On that day all the great leaders of
the Protestants (who were there called HUGUENOTS) were assembled
together, for the purpose, as was represented to them, of doing
honour to the marriage of their chief, the young King of Navarre,
with the sister of CHARLES THE NINTH: a miserable young King who
then occupied the French throne. This dull creature was made to
believe by his mother and other fierce Catholics about him that the
Huguenots meant to take his life; and he was persuaded to give
secret orders that, on the tolling of a great bell, they should be
fallen upon by an overpowering force of armed men, and slaughtered
wherever they could be found. When the appointed hour was close
at hand, the stupid wretch, trembling from head to foot, was taken
into a balcony by his mother to see the atrocious work begun. The
moment the bell tolled, the murderers broke forth. During all that
night and the two next days, they broke into the houses, fired the
houses, shot and stabbed the Protestants, men, women, and children,
and flung their bodies into the streets. They were shot at in the
streets as they passed along, and their blood ran down the gutters.
Upwards of ten thousand Protestants were killed in Paris alone; in
all France four or five times that number. To return thanks to
Heaven for these diabolical murders, the Pope and his train
actually went in public procession at Rome, and as if this were not
shame enough for them, they had a medal struck to commemorate the
event. But, however comfortable the wholesale murders were to
these high authorities, they had not that soothing effect upon the
doll-King. I am happy to state that he never knew a moment's peace
afterwards; that he was continually crying out that he saw the
Huguenots covered with blood and wounds falling dead before him;
and that he died within a year, shrieking and yelling and raving to
that degree, that if all the Popes who had ever lived had been
rolled into one, they would not have afforded His guilty Majesty
the slightest consolation.

When the terrible news of the massacre arrived in England, it made
a powerful impression indeed upon the people. If they began to
run a little wild against the Catholics at about this time, this
fearful reason for it, coming so soon after the days of bloody
Queen Mary, must be remembered in their excuse. The Court was
not quite so honest as the people - but perhaps it sometimes is
not. It received the French ambassador, with all the lords and
ladies dressed in deep mourning, and keeping a profound silence.
Nevertheless, a proposal of marriage which he had made to Elizabeth
only two days before the eve of Saint Bartholomew, on behalf of the
Duke of Alen?on, the French King's brother, a boy of seventeen,
still went on; while on the other hand, in her usual crafty way,
the Queen secretly supplied the Huguenots with money and

I must say that for a Queen who made all those fine speeches, of
which I have confessed myself to be rather tired, about living and
dying a Maiden Queen, Elizabeth was 'going' to be married pretty
often. Besides always having some English favourite or other whom
she by turns encouraged and swore at and knocked about - for the
maiden Queen was very free with her fists - she held this French
Duke off and on through several years. When he at last came over
to England, the marriage articles were actually drawn up, and it
was settled that the wedding should take place in six weeks. The
Queen was then so bent upon it, that she prosecuted a poor Puritan
named STUBBS, and a poor bookseller named PAGE, for writing and
publishing a pamphlet against it. Their right hands were chopped
off for this crime; and poor Stubbs - more loyal than I should have
been myself under the circumstances - immediately pulled off his
hat with his left hand, and cried, 'God save the Queen!' Stubbs
was cruelly treated; for the marriage never took place after all,
though the Queen pledged herself to the Duke with a ring from
her own finger. He went away, no better than he came, when the
courtship had lasted some ten years altogether; and he died a
couple of years afterwards, mourned by Elizabeth, who appears to
have been really fond of him. It is not much to her credit, for he
was a bad enough member of a bad family.

To return to the Catholics. There arose two orders of priests, who
were very busy in England, and who were much dreaded. These were
the JESUITS (who were everywhere in all sorts of disguises), and
the SEMINARY PRIESTS. The people had a great horror of the first,
because they were known to have taught that murder was lawful if it
were done with an object of which they approved; and they had a
great horror of the second, because they came to teach the old
religion, and to be the successors of 'Queen Mary's priests,' as
those yet lingering in England were called, when they should die
out. The severest laws were made against them, and were most
unmercifully executed. Those who sheltered them in their houses
often suffered heavily for what was an act of humanity; and the
rack, that cruel torture which tore men's limbs asunder, was
constantly kept going. What these unhappy men confessed, or what
was ever confessed by any one under that agony, must always be
received with great doubt, as it is certain that people have
frequently owned to the most absurd and impossible crimes to escape
such dreadful suffering. But I cannot doubt it to have been proved
by papers, that there were many plots, both among the Jesuits, and
with France, and with Scotland, and with Spain, for the destruction
of Queen Elizabeth, for the placing of Mary on the throne, and for
the revival of the old religion.

If the English people were too ready to believe in plots, there
were, as I have said, good reasons for it. When the massacre of
Saint Bartholomew was yet fresh in their recollection, a great
Protestant Dutch hero, the PRINCE OF ORANGE, was shot by an
assassin, who confessed that he had been kept and trained for the
purpose in a college of Jesuits. The Dutch, in this surprise and
distress, offered to make Elizabeth their sovereign, but she
declined the honour, and sent them a small army instead, under the
command of the Earl of Leicester, who, although a capital Court
favourite, was not much of a general. He did so little in Holland,
that his campaign there would probably have been forgotten, but
for its occasioning the death of one of the best writers, the best
knights, and the best gentlemen, of that or any age. This was SIR
PHILIP SIDNEY, who was wounded by a musket ball in the thigh as
he mounted a fresh horse, after having had his own killed under him.
He had to ride back wounded, a long distance, and was very faint
with fatigue and loss of blood, when some water, for which he had
eagerly asked, was handed to him. But he was so good and gentle
even then, that seeing a poor badly wounded common soldier lying
on the ground, looking at the water with longing eyes, he said,
'Thy necessity is greater than mine,' and gave it up to him. This
touching action of a noble heart is perhaps as well known as any
incident in history - is as famous far and wide as the blood-
stained Tower of London, with its axe, and block, and murders out
of number. So delightful is an act of true humanity, and so glad
are mankind to remember it.

At home, intelligence of plots began to thicken every day. I
suppose the people never did live under such continual terrors as
those by which they were possessed now, of Catholic risings, and
burnings, and poisonings, and I don't know what. Still, we must
always remember that they lived near and close to awful realities
of that kind, and that with their experience it was not difficult
to believe in any enormity. The government had the same fear, and
did not take the best means of discovering the truth - for, besides
torturing the suspected, it employed paid spies, who will always
lie for their own profit. It even made some of the conspiracies it
brought to light, by sending false letters to disaffected people,
inviting them to join in pretended plots, which they too readily

But, one great real plot was at length discovered, and it ended the
career of Mary, Queen of Scots. A seminary priest named BALLARD,
and a Spanish soldier named SAVAGE, set on and encouraged by
certain French priests, imparted a design to one ANTONY BABINGTON -
a gentleman of fortune in Derbyshire, who had been for some time a
secret agent of Mary's - for murdering the Queen. Babington then
confided the scheme to some other Catholic gentlemen who were his
friends, and they joined in it heartily. They were vain, weak-
headed young men, ridiculously confident, and preposterously proud
of their plan; for they got a gimcrack painting made, of the six
choice spirits who were to murder Elizabeth, with Babington in an
attitude for the centre figure. Two of their number, however, one
of whom was a priest, kept Elizabeth's wisest minister, SIR FRANCIS
WALSINGHAM, acquainted with the whole project from the first. The
conspirators were completely deceived to the final point, when
Babington gave Savage, because he was shabby, a ring from his
finger, and some money from his purse, wherewith to buy himself new
clothes in which to kill the Queen. Walsingham, having then full
evidence against the whole band, and two letters of Mary's besides,
resolved to seize them. Suspecting something wrong, they stole out
of the city, one by one, and hid themselves in St. John's Wood, and
other places which really were hiding places then; but they were
all taken, and all executed. When they were seized, a gentleman
was sent from Court to inform Mary of the fact, and of her being
involved in the discovery. Her friends have complained that she
was kept in very hard and severe custody. It does not appear very
likely, for she was going out a hunting that very morning.

Queen Elizabeth had been warned long ago, by one in France who
had good information of what was secretly doing, that in holding
Mary alive, she held 'the wolf who would devour her.' The Bishop
of London had, more lately, given the Queen's favourite minister
the advice in writing, 'forthwith to cut off the Scottish Queen's
head.' The question now was, what to do with her? The Earl of
Leicester wrote a little note home from Holland, recommending
that she should be quietly poisoned; that noble favourite having
accustomed his mind, it is possible, to remedies of that nature.
His black advice, however, was disregarded, and she was brought
to trial at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, before a tribunal
of forty, composed of both religions. There, and in the Star
Chamber at Westminster, the trial lasted a fortnight. She defended
herself with great ability, but could only deny the confessions
that had been made by Babington and others; could only call her
own letters, produced against her by her own secretaries, forgeries;
and, in short, could only deny everything. She was found guilty,
and declared to have incurred the penalty of death. The Parliament
met, approved the sentence, and prayed the Queen to have it
executed. The Queen replied that she requested them to consider
whether no means could be found of saving Mary's life without
endangering her own. The Parliament rejoined, No; and the citizens
illuminated their houses and lighted bonfires, in token of their
joy that all these plots and troubles were to be ended by the death
of the Queen of Scots.

She, feeling sure that her time was now come, wrote a letter to the
Queen of England, making three entreaties; first, that she might be
buried in France; secondly, that she might not be executed in
secret, but before her servants and some others; thirdly, that
after her death, her servants should not be molested, but should be
suffered to go home with the legacies she left them. It was an
affecting letter, and Elizabeth shed tears over it, but sent no
answer. Then came a special ambassador from France, and another
from Scotland, to intercede for Mary's life; and then the nation
began to clamour, more and more, for her death.

What the real feelings or intentions of Elizabeth were, can never
be known now; but I strongly suspect her of only wishing one thing
more than Mary's death, and that was to keep free of the blame of
it. On the first of February, one thousand five hundred and
eighty-seven, Lord Burleigh having drawn out the warrant for the
execution, the Queen sent to the secretary DAVISON to bring it to
her, that she might sign it: which she did. Next day, when
Davison told her it was sealed, she angrily asked him why such
haste was necessary? Next day but one, she joked about it, and
swore a little. Again, next day but one, she seemed to complain
that it was not yet done, but still she would not be plain with
those about her. So, on the seventh, the Earls of Kent and
Shrewsbury, with the Sheriff of Northamptonshire, came with the
warrant to Fotheringay, to tell the Queen of Scots to prepare for

When those messengers of ill omen were gone, Mary made a frugal
supper, drank to her servants, read over her will, went to bed,
slept for some hours, and then arose and passed the remainder of
the night saying prayers. In the morning she dressed herself in
her best clothes; and, at eight o'clock when the sheriff came for
her to her chapel, took leave of her servants who were there
assembled praying with her, and went down-stairs, carrying a Bible
in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Two of her women and four
of her men were allowed to be present in the hall; where a low
scaffold, only two feet from the ground, was erected and covered
with black; and where the executioner from the Tower, and his
assistant, stood, dressed in black velvet. The hall was full of
people. While the sentence was being read she sat upon a stool;
and, when it was finished, she again denied her guilt, as she had
done before. The Earl of Kent and the Dean of Peterborough, in
their Protestant zeal, made some very unnecessary speeches to her;
to which she replied that she died in the Catholic religion, and
they need not trouble themselves about that matter. When her head
and neck were uncovered by the executioners, she said that she had
not been used to be undressed by such hands, or before so much
company. Finally, one of her women fastened a cloth over her face,
and she laid her neck upon the block, and repeated more than once
in Latin, 'Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!' Some say
her head was struck off in two blows, some say in three. However
that be, when it was held up, streaming with blood, the real hair
beneath the false hair she had long worn was seen to be as grey as
that of a woman of seventy, though she was at that time only in her
forty-sixth year. All her beauty was gone.

But she was beautiful enough to her little dog, who cowered under
her dress, frightened, when she went upon the scaffold, and who
lay down beside her headless body when all her earthly sorrows
were over.


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