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Mary, Queen of Scots - "SAFELY KEPT and GUARDED"

Transcript of an Order issued by Elizabeth I to the people of Coventry directing them to guard against an escape by Mary, Queen of Scots.  Online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

 

Elizabeth had always viewed Mary as a threat to her throne.  Even at the beginning, when Mary sought Elizabeth's protection, Elizabeth had in mind to make sure her cousin could not escape England.  Even the places where she was confined were not close to the coast where waiting ships could take her away from England's shore.

How do we know this?  When Mary was brought to Coventry - around the end of 1569 - The English Queen sent a notice to the people of that town.  It ordered them, among other things, to be sure that "Marie the Scottyshe Queene" was "safely kept and guarded."  The implicit message was: 

No escapes!

Mary had not been forgotten, however. Many ardent Catholics still thought Mary - now ill with various ailments, including rheumatism - should be queen of both Scotland and England. Sir Francis Walsingham (brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the movie, Elizabeth) knew that's what Catholics in England and Scotland thought. He decided to concoct a scheme that would fatally implicate Mary once and for all.

Using the unsuspecting Sir Anthony Babington, a Catholic, as his pawn, Walsingham allowed Mary to secretly correspond with Babington (who wanted to help Mary escape). Mary's two secretaries coded all messages, but Walsingham knew the code. Anxious to be free, and relieved someone was finally talking about escape, Mary responded to Babington's letters.

If the letters had just talked about escape, Walsingham's efforts would have come to nothing. But Babington was becoming bolder with his ultimate objectives.  Going farther than helping Mary to escape house arrest, he directly referenced a plot against Elizabeth.

Babington wanted to know whether Mary would reward him "For the dispatch of the usurper."  Ignoring the advice of her counselors, who worried about the veiled threat against Elizabeth, Mary decided to respond to Babington's letter

With her own hand, and using her own words, Mary wrote to Babington.

While she said nothing at all about Elizabeth, Mary did agree to Babington's proposed plans for her escape. Her signature was on the letter. When Walsingham read it for the first time, he must have exclaimed:  "I've got her!"

Someone else - Walsingham's top-coder and forgery expert - had already drawn a picture of the gallows on the intercepted letter.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5139stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Feb 23, 2015


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