The research for my book Mary Queen of Scots in Staffordshire threw up many puzzles that were not about Staffordshire. The most puzzling was and is the reasons why she left Scotland after defeat at the battle of Langside in 1568, which current writing cannot explain. None of her advisors were in favour. She hoped to gain support from two states she thought would help regain the throne, France and England, but she had no real reason to think either would help. France had never suggested they might come back to help butthe England of Elizabeth 1 was slightly more hopeful.
Although protestant like the majority of the English and Scots , Queen Elizabeth had made the principle of support for monarchy her most firmly held belief. This had led her to suggest that she might send an army to help Queen Mary if the Scots forced her off the throne. Mary took these suggestions as firm commitments, but as the following article shows, this assumption was one that Mary would come to regret.
NB The spelling STUART rather than the Scottish Stewart will be used as John Guy says The Queen used this and both major biographies of the last sixty years – John Guy and Antonia Fraser – use this spelling.
Mary Stuart aka Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in England from February 3rd 1569 when she arrived at Tutbury castle in Staffordshire to her execution at Fotheringhay on February 8th 1587. When she arrived at the grim fortress of John o’Gaunt it was plain that she was not a guest of Elizabeth 1: the castle, being used for the Royal Stud, was clearly a prison. How had she lost control of her fate? Her first months in England, which are still highly controversial, must be examined taking into account the conflicted relationship of Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth Tudor before and after Mary arrived in England The English Queen had made Mary a prisoner, despite their shared view of monarchy and the duties of the monarch uniting them – but once Mary had arrived in England in 1568 – this could not prevent them being torn apart.
The conventional view of Mary as victim has a basis in historical reality as she argued consistently, up to and at the trial which finally condemned her to be executed, that she was imprisoned without trial and was a refugee from injustice. However civil war, imprisonment by her own subjects, defeat at the battle of Langside (13th May 1568) ) and the flight in panic showed her judgement was poor. She made consistent failures of statecraft which made her in large part complicit in her own downfall. Thus victimhood is an easy case to make but is not the full picture. As the legacy of the Stuarts in England was to show, there was a fatal history of short sighted judgements in her family with only her great grandson Charles able to look ‘outside the box’ when he fled from defeat at the battle of Worcester. Perhaps Charles looked back at his ancestor and understood the value of taking advice.
It is true that Mary had arrived in England voluntarily, and had expected to be treated according to what we might see today as the principles of Natural Justice. Her repeated requests to Elizabeth to meet to discuss her imprisonment were always rejected – the two Queens never met, whatever dramatists may allege – and it may be suspected that Elizabeth felt unable to meet her cousin because she would be unable to make a reasonable answer to the claim that Mary would undoubtedly have made that her imprisonment could not be justified.
Or at least, not justified without resort to alleging Mary practised real politik involving disasterous miscalculations. While Mary was indeed a voluntary exile as a refugee from rebels, she could be accused of self destructive behaviour involving optimistic expectations of people she hardly knew – notably Elizabeth 1 and the Earl of Bothwell *- showing wildly unrealistic choices. This paper will focus on the events which led her to imprisonment in Tutbury castle in February 1569.