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Mary still believed that Elizabeth was on her side, despite the obviously partisan nature of the way the conference proceeded. On the transference of the conference to London, Mary wrote to her cousin showing total trust in her good behaviour, writing “ Since you, my good sister, know our cause best, we doubt not to receive presently good end thereof: where through we may be perpetually indebted to you” (Fraser 2002 p481). Relying on Elizabeth was foolish. Through into December Mary’s representatives did little to press for her to be allowed into the hearing. Elizabeth was aided in ignoring Mary by heavy snow which made her ability to travel 250 miles to Westminster out of the question, giving Elizabeth a breathing space to consider how to solve the problem Mary posed while at Bolton Castle.

Late in December 1568 Elizabeth suggested that Mary hand over the throne of Scotland to her infant son – meaning Moray would run the government – and live in England with all parties accepting that if James died before his mother she could return as Queen. This attempt to keep the throne occupied by a Stuart, albeit an infant, was rejected by Mary and Elizabeth washed her hands of the problem. The Conference was ended by Elizabeth on January 11th 1569 without Mary or her representatives having even seen the casket letters.

Moray was sent home with £5000 to pay for his expenses, and Elizabeth wrote that both Moray and the Queen had done nothing to compromise their honour. This was ridiculous, since Moray had accused his half sister of complicity in murdering Darnley, and finally awoke Mary to the fact she had been abandoned. The treatment of the two key characters in the civil war which had followed Darnley’s murder were treated in such vastly different ways that while Elizabeth would sanction further talks to see if Mary could be returned to Scotland, the reality that she was now to be in prison in England. She was now moved from Bolton and pleasant aristocratic company to Tutbury Castle where the presence of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick, could not conceal the brutal fact Mary was now a prisoner with no time limit on the sentence.

Mary was therefore sent to Tutbury castle, arriving on February 3rd 1569 and finally could have no doubt that she was a prisoner, not a guest. Not suprisingly, she plotted to gain her release. She had already told Francis Knollys, her first jailer, at Bolton Castle in October 1568 though she hoped Elizabeth would back her as Scottish Queen if things went badly “as a desperate person I will use any attempts that may serve my purpose”, (Fraser p477). She kept her promise and now began to explore ways to escape.

Once it was clear she would not be supported in going back to Scotland she had appealed to the Spanish for help using her Catholic faith as a bargaining counter. She wrote in early January 1569 for a message to go to the Spanish Ambassador De Spes “Tell the Ambassador that if his master will help me, I shall be queen of England in three months, and Mass shall be said all over the country” (JB Black OUP p130). The timing was absurdly unrealistic with no understanding of how much support Catholicism had in England, the wish was very much the father to the thought, and Spain was unable to invade in 1569 anyway, but De Spes added her call to the conspiracy known as the Ridolfi plot. There was no doubt Mary had returned to the idea of taking Elizabeth’s throne which the Guise family had proposed when she was in France. This could be achieved in theory by marriage to the Duke of Norfolk. This was to be the major priority through 1569 though Elizabeth was to be understandably hostile.

Mary bowed to force majeure and abandoned any idea of returning to Scotland in the immediate future, though talks with Elizabeth’s ministers about some way out to allow her back home would continue for several years. But it was now clear to Mary once under the control of the Earl of Shrewsbury that she had made a disasterous miscalculation in putting herself in Elizabeth’s hands – and losing control of her fate. The reason why she took this fatal decision remain without any plausible answer. There is plenty of evidence that Mary Stuart was a charismatic figure with a sharp and creative mind skilled in writing poetry. She was undoubtedly clever. Her tragedy – unlike that of her great grandson Charles Stuart – was that she was clever, but not intelligent.

*In fact Mary hardly knew either of her Scottish husbands – Darnley she met only when she arrived in Scotland and he had arrived from England. Bothwell she had met in France briefly. Elizabeth 1 was wholly unknown to her save through letters..

Selected Bibliography

Doran Susan Elizabeth and Her Circle Oxford University Press 2015- 2018 ed)
Fraser Antonia Mary Queen Of Scots Phoenix 2002
Guy John My Heart is My Own Fourth Estate 2004, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS 2018
J B Black The Reign of Elizabeth – Oxford at the Clarendon Press 1959

5th April 2021