Amyas Paulet was the most stringent jailer of Mary Queen of Scots, and there is a large amount of correspondence from Paulet to Walsingham while he was in charge at Tutbury Castle and Chartley Manor. The letters are not entirely complete, and in compiling them, the Catholic priest Father Morris commented “it is plain that many of the later letters of this series are missing, and that they were purposely withdrawn from the collection is shown by the significant erasure of the item “A bundle of letters from Sir Amyas Paulet succeeding Sir Ralph Sadler 1585 to 1586”. (J Morris The letter books of Amyas Paulet, London 1874, p3). The letters may have been selectively weeded, but what remains is a body of evidence informative about Paulet’s attempt to implement his instructions to seal Queen Mary from Catholic plotters at home and abroad.
The letters are less useful in plotting what Walsingham was doing to explore alternatives to a straightforward policy of lockdown. Walsingham had given Paulet authority to isolate Mary and her party, but there is no trace in the letters which remain of the alternative scenario which emerged at the end of the the year, apparently while attention was diverted by moving the party from Tutbury because of risks to her health.
The original instructions to Paulet were to isolate Queen Mary from the Catholic underground because of the Throckmorton and other plots. A key factor was the claim at the trial of William Parry that Thomas Morgan had inspired Parry’s plan to kill Elizabeth 1. The English government had demanded action from the French government, who put Morgan in the Bastille but allowed him to plot. . Walsingham responded by instructing Paulet, to block communication with Mary’s Paris office, whose letters were stopped from being sent from the London embassy to Staffordshire. Walsingham then abandoned this to allow a secret correspondence via what I have called the Brewer’s Sting (1)– the use of a Burton brewer to smuggle the correspondence into and out of Chartley via the hollowed out bung in a barrel of beer. Why Walsingham could adopt such a high risk strategy is not well discussed, writers focusing on the easy task of discussion of the first policy Paulet pursued = lockdown. The reasons for lockdown are clear, and Mary understood them. She never understood why the flow of letters resumed.
Isolating Queen Mary
Despite having to confine Mary Stuart, Shrewsbury had allowed something like an open house, but this was open to abuse and in the 1570s when Mary could well become Queen of England if Elizabeth died, Shrewsbury was keen to have good relations with her starting a regime of leniency: as Antonia Fraser wrote,
“The great families of Staffordshire and Derbyshire…had the particular enjoyment of music and musical festivities which Mary shared. These visits also provided an excellent cover for messengers and messages to slip by secretly.”(Fraser 2002 p543).
This continued in the 1880s along with visits to Buxton to take the waters, causing serious damage to Shrewsbury’s marriage to Bess of Hardwick, who assumed a suspiciously close liaison.
Paulet banned such activities and forebade taking the waters at Buxton. Lockdown banned strangers from Chartley and for Mary’s group of servants imposed an oppressive regime of constant supervision. Letters from the continent only reached the French embassy in London, and nothing bar official correspondence left Chartley. Paulet had fulfilled his instructions, yet Walsingham was not satisfied. He could no longer believe this was enough.
The best short sketch of Walsingham’s dilemma and why he changed his mind to become proactive – though perhaps without telling Paulet – is in John Guy’s My Heart is My Own biography of the Scottish Queen. Guy wrote regarding the Queen’s reaction to lockdown and the new policy thus:
“She guessed instantly the reason for Paulet’s severing of her links to the outside world. Walsingham realized that his success in checkmating Castelnau had been all too complete. If he wanted to entrap Mary, then far from sealing off her correspondence, he would have to find her a new postman whom she trusted and believed to be safe. Castelnau could no longer fulfil this role as he was discredited in both England and France for his collusion in the Throckmorton plot and aid to Mary over and above his instructions. He was replaced as the French ambassador in September 1585 by Guillaume de l’Aubepine, Baron de Chateauneuf.”(Guy My Heart is My Own 2004 p479)
The third sentence is written with hindsight, since that is what happened, but the need to cut off the Queen from her supporters was clear, and the execution of Francis Throckmorton did make Castelnau persona non grata both sides of the English channel. Even before that Castlenau had lost credibility and the flow of letters organized by Fagot had become problematical. It is the case that Walsingham had no real sources of information in 1585 and Paulet’s instructions were leaving Walsingham in limbo.