Thursday, May 1, 2014

 
Mary Stuart Beheaded
 
It is important to know how dire Queen Elizabeth’s circumstances were at home and abroad while Walter Raleigh pursued his intention to establish an English colony in North America.  We saw in last month’s blog that in 1584 he had sent Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to America to locate land suitable to establish a base for privateers to attack Spanish treasure ships.  The location had to be rich in natural resources and its native inhabitants needed to be cooperative.  Amadas and Barlowe returned to England in mid-September satisfied that they had found such a place.
 
They found Queen Elizabeth, England’s leaders, and the nation’s citizenry all greatly apprehensive about the safety of the country.  During the two captains’ absence, France’s Duke of Anjou (presumed by many to be Queen Elizabeth’s future husband) had died and William of Orange, leader of the Protestant provinces of the Netherlands, had been assassinated.  Philip II of Spain seemed poised to invade England.  Additionally, Mary Stuart’s existence continued to be a threat to Elizabeth’s life.
 
At the end of December 1584 Dr. William Parry was arrested for his aborted attempt to assassinate the Queen.  Parry, working as a spy for Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s most senior advisor, had been assigned by Burghley to infiltrate papist circles.  To reward him for his services, Elizabeth had awarded Parry a pension.  He confronted her one day in her garden at Richmond palace while she was taking the air.  Overcome by “the majesty of her presence, in which he saw the image of her father,” Parry could not “suffer his hand to execute that which he had resolved” (Weir 354).  The Pope and Mary Stuart’s agent in Paris believed that Parry was acting on behalf of the deposed Queen of Scotland.  Mary was moved to the forbidding fortress of Tutbury in January 1585 to be placed under the strict supervision of Sir Amyas Paulet, a staunch Puritan.  In February 1585 Elizabeth authorized Parry’s hanging.
 
In 1585 Parliament passed a law that ordered all seminary priests to leave England within 40 days or suffer the penalty of high treason.  A bond of association was signed by thousands of Protestant gentlemen who swore to take up arms and destroy Mary if she became involved in a plot against the Queen.  Mary was showed the Bond.  She denied any knowledge of a conspiracy, signed the Bond herself, but wrote King Philip two days later to urge him to press ahead with his planned invasion.
 
Richard Grenville, seven ships, and 600 men left Plymouth Harbor April 9 to establish a military colony on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Ralph Lane, a veteran of the Irish wars, was to be its governor.  In May King Philip ordered all English ships in his ports seized.  Trade with Spain and Portugal, vital to the English economy, ended.  Queen Elizabeth “authorized the issue of letters of marquee, turning piracy into privateering, and English ships were dispatched to seize as many Spanish vessels and their cargoes as they could” (Quinn 85).  Grenville returned to England October 18, having captured the Santa Maria de San Vicente, the value of its cargo exceeding the expense to investors of Grenville’s entire voyage.
 
In August 1585 Elizabeth extended to the Dutch, her sole ally, her protection, promising an army of 6,000 men and 1,000 horse.  On September 17, she appointed Robert Dudley, the Duke of Leiscester, the army’s commander.  Obeying her orders, Raleigh sent an armed squadron to Newfoundland, where it captured seventeen Spanish fishing vessels.  The same month Elizabeth promoted Sir Francis Drake an admiral, “provided him with a fleet of twenty-two ships and 2000 men, and dispatched him on a voyage to capture several of Spain’s greatest naval bases in the Caribbean.”  Drake sacked Santo Domingo, Havana, and Cartagena.  “Her objectives … were to keep Philip fully occupied elsewhere, and at the same time demonstrate to him the might of England’s naval power” (Weir 357).  In October she sent Philip a twenty-page declaration justifying her actions.
 
On December 8, Leicester and his stepson, Robert Devereau, the second Earl of Essex, left England for the Netherlands.  (Essex would soon supplant Raleigh as Elizabeth’s Court favorite)  Leicester “took with him a household of 170 persons, many of noble birth, as well as his wife, who insisted upon being attended by a bevy of ladies and taking a vast quantity of luggage, including furniture, clothing, and carriages” (Weir 358).  The Dutch, disappointed that Elizabeth had declined to be their sovereign, treated Leicester as a visiting prince.  Leicester accepted from them, without Elizabeth’s approval, the title of Supreme Governor of the Netherlands.  Furious but upon her Privy Council’s advice, Elizabeth decided not to recall him.  Leicester would prove to be an incompetent general, his gift of command being his ability to antagonize both his allies and his own men, many of whom subsequently deserted.
 
On Christmas Eve Mary Stuart was moved to a moated house at Chartley.  She had complained to Elizabeth about her previous residence, at Tutbury.  This provided Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principal Secretary of State, to set a trap once and for all to eliminate Mary.
 
Walsingham turned a trainee priest, Gilbert Griffith, sent to England by Mary’s friends in Paris, to work for him.  Walsingham instructed Griffith to pass on to Mary the many letters from abroad that were waiting for Mary at the French embassy.  Any reply that she gave Griffith he would deliver to Walsingham, who would have it deciphered, copied, and resealed and afterward sent to its destination.  Griffith informed Mary that he had organized a secret route whereby letters might be smuggled in and out of Chartley.  Letters would be smuggled in and out inside a large beer barrel provided by the local brewer in Buxton.  Gifford persuaded the brewer to convey Mary’s letters in a waterproof wooden box small enough to be slipped through the bung-hole of a barrel.
 
In March 1586 Philip wrote Pope Sixtus V to ask that he bless Philip’s planned invasion of England.  He received the Pope’s blessing.  “The planned invasion now assumed the nature of a crusade against the Infidel, a holy war that was to be fought on a grand scale” (Weir 363).
 
On May 20 Mary Stuart wrote to the Spanish ambassador to England Bernardino de Mendoza to inform him that she would cede her right to the succession of the English crown to Philip. The Spanish king told the Pope that he had no interest in receiving it but would transfer any claim to his daughter, the Infanta Isbella Clara Eugenia.
 
In late May, Gilbert Griffith gave Walsingham two other letters that Mary Stuart had smuggled out to him.  One of them assured Mendoza that she supported Philip’s planned invasion.  The second letter was sent to Charles Paget, an English nobleman, a staunch Roman Catholic, and a correspondent of Mary’s living in France.  The letter asked Paget to remind Philip of the need for urgency in invading England.  In a return letter Paget told Mary that a priest, John Ballard, had arrived in England from France to orchestrate a Catholic rebellion against Elizabeth.
 
Meanwhile, Walter Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke Island under Ralph Lane’s governorship was failing.  A drought, hostile relations with the local natives, the failure of supply ships to arrive from England, a dearth of food supply: all contributed to Lane’s desperation.  He was rescued from starvation unexpectedly by Francis Drake, sailing north from the Caribbean on the whim of adding to Lane’s fort armament that he had taken from the Spaniards.  A ferocious storm convinced Lane to load his entire colony onto Drake’s ships.  The fleet left June 19.  It reached England July 27.
 
While Lane and Drake were considering Lane’s options at Roanoke, John Ballard, watched closely by Walsingham’s agents, was seen visiting Anthony Babington, a rich twenty-five year old Catholic gentleman of Dethick.  Ballard and Babington were overheard discussing Philip’s projected invasion and Elizabeth’s murder.  The deed was to take place either in her Presence Chamber, while she walked in the park, or while she rode in her coach.  Babington would do the deed himself with the assistance of six of his friends, themselves idealistic young Catholics of gentle birth.  On June 25 Mary wrote to Babington, who replied July 6.  He outlined to her his conspiracy: his “six noble gentlemen” would dispatch the Queen; he would rescue Mary from Chartley; and with the help of the invading Spanish forces, she would become Queen.
 
On July 17 Walsingham was given Mary’s return letter to Babington.  Written by her two secretaries from her notes, which she subsequently burned, the letter indicated that Mary endorsed Babington’s plan and Elizabeth’s murder.  Walsingham had his forger had a postscript that asked for the names of Babington’s six gentlemen.
 
Much to Walter Raleigh’s surprise, Drake and the entire Roanoke colony arrived in Plymouth July 27.  He had sent Grenville and a relief squadron off to Roanoke in April, the squadron arriving off the Outer Banks approximately two weeks after Drake and Lane’s departure.
 
While London was celebrating Drake’s boastful return – “In half a year … he has destroyed what Philip cannot rebuild in twenty, even with all his millions in gold” (Miller 160) – Walsingham pounced.  John Ballard was arrested August 4 and put in the Tower of London.  August 9 -- Mary Stuart’s jailor, Sir Aymas Paulet, confiscated Mary’s letters, jewelry, and money while she was hunting before arresting her on the moors.  August 14 – Babington was located and taken to the Tower.  Fearing torture and believing that being cooperative would earn him a pardon, four days later he confessed.  September 20 -- Babington, Ballard, and five other conspirators were executed.  They were hanged briefly, had their privates cut off and bowels taken out while alive and seeing, and then beheaded and quartered.
 
On October 11 a special court of 36 commissioners assembled to hear evidence against Mary Stuart, who refused to acknowledge its jurisdiction.  During her trial, Mary denied all knowledge of the Babington Plot, declared that her crucial letter to Babington was a forgery, insisted that she had never sanctioned the murder of Elizabeth, and that all she had ever done was seek help to gain her freedom wherever she could find it.  Parliament assembled October 29 to ratify the special court’s guilty verdict.  It petitioned Elizabeth November 12 to authorize Mary’s execution.
 
Elizabeth could not act.  “If she signed the death warrant, she would be setting a precedent for condemning an anointed queen to death, and would also be spilling the blood of her kinswoman.  To do this would court the opprobrium of the whole world, and might provoke the Catholic powers to vengeful retribution.  Yet if she showed mercy, Mary would remain the focus of Catholic plotting for the rest of her life to the great peril of Elizabeth and the kingdom.  Elizabeth knew where her duty lay, but she did not want to be responsible for Mary’s death.  For weeks she existed under the most profound stress which affected her judgment and brought her close to a breakdown” (Weir 375).
 
On February 1, 1587, Sir William Davison presented Elizabeth the death warrant to sign.  She did so, but, according to what she insisted days later, she then commanded Davison not to disclose the fact.  As Davison was about to leave the room, Elizabeth suggested that he might ask Mary’s jailor, Sir Amyas Paulet, to quietly do away with Mary.  Elizabeth could claim that Mary had died of natural causes.  Although horrified, Davison agreed to write to Paulet, who answered back that he could not in good conscience.
 
Acting apparently against her wishes, Davison took the death warrant to the acting Lord Chancellor, who attached to the warrant the Great Seal of England.  When Elizabeth discovered that this had happened, she made Davison swear on his life not to let the warrant out of his hands until she had expressly authorized him to do so.
 
In an emergency meeting, Elizabeth’s ten councilors agreed to take the responsibility for Mary’s execution.  Lord Burghley drafted an order to have the sentence carried out.  Mary Stuart was decapitated February 8.
 
Elizabeth “erupted, not only in a torrent of weeping, but also in rage against those who had acted on her behalf and driven her to this.  Her councilors and courtiers …  quaked in fear at the terrible accusations that were hurled at them” (Weir 380).  Walsingham fled to his country home and feigned illness.  Leicester and Burghley were banished from the royal presence.  Davison was arrested Feb. 14, tried in the Star Chamber, sentenced to a heavy fine, and imprisoned in the Tower.
 
By May, Elizabeth had begun to forgive.  Burghley was allowed back to Court.  Leicester was forgiven.  Sir Christopher Hatton was sworn in as Lord Chancillor, and Walter Raleigh replaced him as Captain of the Guard.  Paulet was appointed Chancillor of the Order of the Garter.  Davison would remain in the Tower until after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
 
King Philip of Spain was poised to strike.  He had ordered General Parma to subjugate as much of the Dutch Provinces as was possible to create a springboard for the invasion.  Acting on Elizabeth’s orders, Francis Drake and 24 ships left Plymouth Harbor April 16, 1587, to attempt to cripple Philip’s armada of ships. When John White, authorized by Walter Raleigh to found a colony somewhere on the south shore of Chesapeake Bay, left Plymouth May 8 with 117 men, women, and children, nobody in England knew what Drake had accomplished, and nobody but the perpetrator and his agent knew that White’s venture would be sabotaged. 
 
Sources cited:
 
Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.  Print.
 
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke.  Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.
 
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.