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A Queen In Exile

Elizabeth certainly did not expect that her strongly expressed views against rebels ousting monarchs would lead to Mary arriving in her territory. A Catholic monarch ousted by protestant rebels gave the protestant government of England a major headache. Why did Mary make so stunning a decision? Mary left Scotland as she believed Elizabeth would send an army to put her back on the throne, convinced that the English would act immediately, or just as unrealistically that the French government of Catherine de Medici would assist her as she was a former French Queen. On 20th May 1568, seven days after Langside, she wrote from Carlisle to the earl of Cassilis (Fraser 2002 p459) saying she was “right well received and honourably accompanied” and expected to be back in Scotland with a French or English army “about the fifteenth day of August”. There is no other word but “delusional” to explain her belief that armies could be magically produced in three months. The French would have to create both an army and an invasion fleet but Mary’s grasp of military logistics was limited.

Mary should however have had a firm grasp of the politics of France – but despite having lived there as the wife of the King, the obstacles to the French intervening had escaped her. As her mother was a Guise, and the current King under the control of the Italian Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici was hostile to the Guise faction, the internal politics of the French court meant that the French were not inclined to help Mary as this meant bolstering the Guise element within their divided polity. Hopes of French assistance were clearly delusional.

Mary remained convinced Elizabeth was inclined to help her. But the common assumption of both Queens that monarchy was divinely appointed and the subjects could not choose who would occupy the throne was overridden in Elizabeth’s case by a keen awareness of political reality. A protestant English army could never be sent to fight a protestant Scots army to impose a Catholic Queen. Thus the Scots would have to accept Mary back voluntarily and while talks about talks took place Mary was moved from Carlisle, where an invasion north of the border was feasible, to Bolton Castle in North Yorkshire, ending the prospect of an invasion as the castle was too far south to be a base for an invasion force. The rest of the year was involved in tortuous attempts to clear a way for Mary to be accepted back in Scotland.

Although Mary was upset when moved to Yorkshire she did not waver in her belief that Elizabeth would support her, She relied on her blood tie – she was Elizabeth’s nearest relative, both being descended from Henry VII – she was an anointed monarch and her deposition threatened Elizabeth who also faced potential rebellion. But the political reality overriding these factors was that Mary was Catholic and Elizabeth protestant and armed support for a Catholic against Protestant rebels would be a bridge too far for the daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. Not that she openly admitted this.

Mary’s initial confinement was not technically imprisonment despite her being close guarded – Guy says Bolton Castle after arriving from Carlisle “may have seemed less a place of imprisonment than a place of refuge ” (op cit p440). Warm physically (it had a primitive form of central heating) and in Lady Scrope a welcoming aristocratic hostess. As the sister of the Duke of Norfolk she may have put the dangerous idea of marrying her brother into Mary’s consciousness. Certainly the months in the north of England did not seem captivity. However Mary was confused by the preparations for a commission of inquiry which was taking on the appearance of a trial.