Queen Mary in Staffordshire

Queen Mary in Staffordshire-

Given at Stafford Place Library 20th March 2019-website version

What I want to do tonight is to look at Mary Stuart’s time in Staffordshire, largely unknown though she was four times at Tutbury, Twice at Chartley and arrested at Tixall. I will be looking at why she spent so much of her time in the North Midlands,  in particular in Staffordshire and why it is important .

The location of her prisons in Staffordshire was important not because Tutbury and Chartley were well known, they were chosen because off the beaten track. In the sixteenth century Staffordshire was a bit of backwater,  an ideal location for a controversial prisoner.

Indeed the only well known feature of Chartley, the castle, is misleading. Indeed the belief about Mary Stuart circulating locally among  the few people who knew she was kept in Staffordshire IS WRONG.

Mary was NOT KEPT IN CHARTLEY CASTLE. This was a ruin by the Tudor period. Chartley Manor House, which was burned down in 1781, was  her place of imprisonment

BUT WE ARE GETTING AHEAD OF OURSELVES THE FIRST QUESTION IS WHY MARY WAS IN ENGLAND IN THE FIRST PLACE – she is not called Queen of Scots for nothing

What the film does not tell us= her early years

 

The current film is of course not about Staffordshire or England at all.  Based on John Guy’s MY HEART IS MY OWN(2004), like Guy’s book the film is largely based on her time in Scotland.  But not about  her upbringing ,vital to understand how her experience as  Scottish Queen  produced the  disasterous history which led to her being expelled from Scotland with  deep rooted hostility meaning she would never be able to return.  But this cannot be covered  in a few minutes.

I would merely state in passing that she had an extraordinarily turbulent upbringing she was brought up virtually with no family to create models of behaviour while being taught the high  expectations of royal status.  She believed she would be able to get her way which she had no ability to achieve – from the early years which  gave her tunnel vision which marked her life. She expected to have her needs met without the give and take of normal human relationships even for an absolute monarch. There is a connection with Elizabeth, neither Queen knowing  their parents closely, but Mary always knew she would be Queen.  Elizabeth did not and living close to the edge in her early years taught caution – and when she dealt with  her cousin she showed a startling  respect for Mary which is puzzling.

Her Upbringinging and its traumas

Mary never knew her father as he died  when she was only six days old.  She knew as a child she was a political pawn, as Henry VIII sought to marry her to Edward his son by force in the English invasions known as the Rough Wooing. She was sent to France to avoid forcible marriage  to the English Edward VI when only five and a half. Her mother stayed behind as Regent. In France she was  married to the Dauphin when only 15, Queen at16 and widowed just short of her 18th birthday. These were tragic events and her strength of character was tested and proved strong – no one ever doubted her courage.

The roller coaster of fate then ejected her from the security of the French court and she returned to Scotland arriving on 19th August 1561 aged just 18 and a half. The country was riven by political and religious conflict, which initially she handled well. However perhaps it was her need for emotional security which led to two disasterous marriages, the first to  Lord Darnley of her own Catholic religion. She had married a violent, drunken bisexual psychopath and while he got her pregnant, the marriage fell apart.

Being banned from the marital bed, Darnley believed she was having an affair with her secretary Rizzio and was part of  a violent gang which broke into her chamber and stabbed him to death. The shock waves from  this incident echoed round the courts of Europe, but worse scandal was to come. Once her child was safely born she was allegedly reconciled to Darnley who came back to Edinburgh apparently  for syphilis treatment, lodged in a house in Kirk o Fields and was blown up with gunpowder and strangled. This appalling  incident put her in the spotlight as she made little attempt to bring the murderers to justice and the prime suspect, the Earl of Bothwell, was acquitted after a farcical trial.


She then married him,  allegedly  because he abducted and raped her, though these events were possibly  staged with her connivance.  Both Catholic and Protestant lords found her behavour impossible to condone and mobilised for war. Bothwell fled into exile, she was forced to abdicate  on 24th July 1567 and was imprisoned in Locheven castle. She escaped on May 2nd 1568 and  only 11 days later lost the battle of Langside to her half brother James Stuart,  the Earl of Moray and fled to England, arriving on 16th May without any warning to the English Court  which was only just digesting her forced abdication.

It is at this point that the film ends, with Elizabeth discussing her future with her. In reality they never met, and Mary misunderstood her future prospects. She expected Elizabeth Tudor to provide an English army to invade Scotland to defeat the Rebels. Elizabeth was a fully paid up member of the trade union of annointed monarchs, and as her greatest nightmare was that she would be overthrown by rebels, maintaining  Mary on the Scots throne against rebellion was a high priority.  But she became aware it would be deeply unpopular in England for a protestant Queen to put a Catholic back on the Scottish throne against Protestant rebels. She sent her ultra loyal aide Sir Francis Knollys to put Mary  under house arrest and considered the options.

Elizabeth knew  that the  protestant ministers in Scotland  could plausibly claim that Mary had at least turned a blind eye to the murder of her husband Darnley, a claim which became stronger when  she married Bothwell. There would be no English support for her until the allegations over Darnley’s murder were answered.  The English government  set up an inquiry into the allegations, though it was not even handed – Mary’s defenders rightly point to the bias in banning her from attending to defend herself.

Mary in England in 1568

Mary was moved to Bolton Castle in Wensleydale, 13th July 1568, home of Lord Scrope, the government official for the north west.  This was in the  Border region which  had many Catholics, and Mary may have been contacted by potential rebels though for obvious reasons there are no records of discussions about plans which would be  treason .  Though  this was house arrest, it was very comfortable. Lady Scrope was a Catholic and sister of the Duke of Norfolk – and may have suggested that  a marriage to her brother could gain support  from English aristocrats,  Mary would be  hedging her bets to secure English support.  The idea may also have been put to the Duke by one of Mary’s advisors, as the Duke chaired the inquiry into the allegations the Queen was involved in Darnley’s murder,  but despite his legal role he was attracted by marrying  an annointed queen.  It is only fair to say Norfolk had always considered the rebellion and  forced abdication a blow against the principles of monarchy and  aristocracy, and as we will see when we come to the Ridolfi plot he saw his priority as to restore Mary as Queen. A marriage was attractive.

The inquiry failed to come to a conclusion. James Stuart offered letters proving Mary at least knew about the threats to Darnley, but these may have been faked.  No verdict was reached,  which meant the English could not support Mary  going back to Scotland, though this remained Elizabeth’s choice.  Mary stayed in England although  her imprisonment when not convicted was unjust. But locking her up was self preservation for the English protestants, who could not take the risk of Mary leading a  foreign invasion, and the English decided to move her to a secure fortress which would be easy to defend.

The Exile in England – the choice of Tutbury Castle.

In January 1569 Elizabeth’s government moved Mary  to  a place of confinement which was proof against Catholic plots and foreign rescue attempts – which meant it had to be in the Midlands, well south of the main Catholic areas in the North of England, and away from the coastal ports and the areas in the south east where political intrigue around the court took place. The choice of Tutbury Castle was logical – Etwall village 5 miles away is thought to be the furthest place in England from the sea, and the castle was owned by the Crown as a Duchy of Lancaster property. It had been a major mediaeval fortress partly because commanding crossroads in the middle ages east west and north south  and had been a major property of John of Gaunt. It  was rarely a permanent place of occupation, and by 1569 was mainly used as the location of the Royal stud- suitable for horses maybe, but not for Royalty.

As no-one was living there permanently and was a fortress on a hill easily defended, this was where Mary was placed, arriving there on February 3rd 1569. Her arrival in a fortress guarded by troops made her aware this was a place of captivity. This was one major reason for her hating it, the other being its poor facilities. It was cold, being exposed to winds on its hill above the River Dove, extremely damp and with a marsh under the wall into which sewers drained, creating a punishing smell.  Elizabeth sent beds, bedding and carpets, but Mary constantly complained the wooden walls of the living apartments let in wind and draughts and unlike Bolton Castle it had no luxuries or even warmth.

Her jailer was the Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot, an enormously rich aristocrat with seven properties in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. He was well aware that the Castle was not a place of permanent residence and was alarmed when Mary fell ill – she was soon bedridden with rheumatism and a fever.  He could not take the risk of her illnesses becoming fatal and as soon as she recovered enough to travel moved her to his property Wingfield Manor,  and later to Chatsworth  owned by his wife, Bess of Hardwick, both in Derbyshire. These were aristocratic dwellings not fortresses and were hard to defend but Mary was treated as a Queen and the fort was not a regal dwelling. It was an option for a crisis but in the summer of 1569 an attack  did not seem likely despite rumoured unrest in the northern counties, long a catholic stronghold.  Pressure was however building

The Northern Uprising

The Catholic nobility drew support from other old style nobles who resented being marginalised by William Cecil the chief minister and other new men. This resentment was focussed by the treatment of Norfolk  when in September his marriage with  Mary was vetoed by Elizabeth Tudor.  He left the Court without permission, and the government feared he would  form a rebel army and  march to Tutbury to free his intended bride, or join a northern uprising the government realised was being planned. In fact he had no intention of doing either and sent a message to the  three northern Lords -Lord Dacre, and the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland urging them not to rise believing  he would be executed if they did so.

The Northern rebels were not impressed when Norfolk went back to the court on being ordered to do so by the Queen and was locked up in the Tower of London.  However they themselves received orders to go to York to explain what they were doing,  took arms to regain the  Catholic Religion and started  a rebellion despite having no support outside the northern counties.  This seemed futile. What they aimed to do is normally thought not to involve Mary Stuart at all. Antonia Fraser wrote “This rising, ill prepared and ill organised, was more in the nature of a separatist movement on the part of northern catholics than a revolt on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots” (2002 p74). Most writers agree

But Mary could not be left out of a plot to reimpose the catholic religion – as Mary was a Catholic at least she could play a role in recruiting for the rebel army – but proclaiming  Mary was part of the plan while she was in protestant hands would put her at risk so  the aim of  releasing her was never explicitly stated. But the government believed this was a serious threat. Shrewsbury did not have enough troops to guard against a major attack and his houses were vulnerable so on September 22 he had moved Mary back to Tutbury and  he called up  Lord Huntingdon and Viscount Hereford with reinforcements but they had only hundreds, not thousands of troops , while an army of thousands was on the move.

On November 22nd Elizabeth ordered Shrewsbury to move Mary out of Staffordshire across the Trent to Warwickshire and Shrewsbury  rushed her south away from a possible rebel attack. The party arrived in Coventry on  November 25th  to find no accomodation available and she had to be put up in an Inn.  A glamorous celebrity as Mary always was, they needed 400 troops to surround the Inn to keep the locals people away. But the aim was achieved – the rebellion reversed its march and instead of heading south toward Tutbury marched north toward Scotland and the Catholic borders. They captured the port of Hartlepool and may have expected Spanish troops, encouraged maybe by the plotter Roberto Ridolfi. The Spanish did not arrive, but we will hear more of Ridolfi. The Uprising was defeated by a major government offensive and showed that Catholics were unable to challenge Elizabeth’s forces.  Mary  was moved back to Tutbury for a third time on January   2nd 1570 but as she again fell ill  Shrewsbury had permission to move her out of the fortress to his more luxurious homes in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire in May. Tutbury had become a place for a crisis.

A Cuckoo in the Nest

For the next decade and a half Elizabeth could not decide what to do about Mary. The view that Mary was being held to prevent her challenging Elizabeth for the throne is not the story for the early years as Elizabeth was still trying to get a deal to get her sent back to Scotland and – in October 1570 Cecil and Sir Walter Maitland, both Privy Councillors,  went to see her in Sheffield Castle to negotiate, though the Scots Lords had made it clear in 1569 with a decisive 40-9 vote they did not want her back.  Mary  still wanted the marriage with the Duke of Norfolk-  and as neither she nor the Duke had been involved in armed rebellion she thought this was possible. Norfolk was released from the Tower in August 1570 unconvicted  of treason, and though the  hope of a marriage was naive it was still possible to imagine that it could happen as neither had been involved in the Northern Uprising. As Antonia Fraser wrote “As  late as  January 1570 (when she had considerable evidence to the contrary) she wrote…. that their marriage would be generally approved” (AF 2002 p72). Their hopes would not survive protestant hostility after papal excommunication of Elizabeth,  and Mary was always looking to  a quick way to become English Queen by  disposing  of Elizabeth Tudor.

THE RIDOLFI PLOT AND THE PARLIAMENTARY BACKLASH.

In February 1570 the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth Tudor, meaning Catholics were released from their duty of obedience. The move meant that Catholics were now the enemy within and in 1571  Catholics were expelled from parliament. An international anti Protestant plot was then discovered led by a Florentine banker , Roberto Ridolfi, who used his ability to move across frontiers to plot a Catholic  restoration in England  backed by  the Pope. His  plan  required Spain to send up to 10,000 troops to support a Catholic rebellion. This would enable Norfolk to  marry Mary when the protestant government was overthrown. The plot was thin and there was no evidence after the Northern Rebellion was crushed that Catholics would rise, and Ridolfi was so loud mouthed that Elizabeth recieved information about the plot from informants in other countries.

Links with the star crossed lovers emerged as Mary was writing letters which incriminated her, though she stopped short of calling for Elizabeth to be removed. Around 12th April 1571 one Charles Bailly, Ridolfi’s  messenger was arrested at Dover with compromising letters to John Leslie  Bishop of Ross and  Mary’s chief advisor. Even more serious  on 29th August Norfolk was found to be sending gold to Catholic rebels in Scotland, when two of his secretaries were found to be supplying money to fund Catholics north of the border. Norfolk’s house was searched and a coded letter from Mary found. Norfolk was arrested and tried for high treason- plotting against a friendly goverenment was undoubtedly treason. He was found guilty  and condemned to death. At which point Elizabeth chose to ignore the clamour among protestants to execute him, dithering as she always  did when relatives were concerned. Norfolk was a cousin.

After Norfolk was convicted of treason, the 1572 parliament was incandescent with rage. For protestant opinion her link to the Ridolfi plot made Mary  public enemy Number One.  Mary  was not a major mover in the plot, and Elizabeth argued  she could not be put on trial for treason as she was not English.  The MPs wanted Mary tried, and when Elizabeth refused, they proposed she be banned from inheriting the throne. Elizabeth believed the blood line was sacrosanct  and  refused to sign the Bill,  Protestants were outraged and to prevent anger turning nasty Norfolk had to be sacrificed. After twice withdrawing the death certificate, Elizabeth  approved his execution and he was beheaded in July 1572.

The current fashion is to assume that the plot was exaggerated by English politicians, notably Walsingham and Cecil, and even ( as argued by Kate Williams 2018) that it “may all have been a fabrication” (p274), but Elizabeth recieved news from Cosimo Medici in Florence who Ridolfi spoke to, the Queen of  Navarre who discovered Spanish despatches, and Lennox the Regent in Scotland by 1571 who captured the castle of Dumbarton and found evidence of a plot to put Mary back on the Scottish throne promptly sent to Elizabeth. This was no fabrication but an international plan backed by Spain and the Pope for a catholic uprising to  put Mary on the two thrones and marry her to Norfolk.

Parliament’s attempts to deal with Mary in 1572 having been vetoed,  it became clear that Elizabeth would do nothing to safeguard herself or her regime, Shrewsbury being allowed to continue the fairly lax imprisonment which applied in his houses – he even allowed her to take the waters at Buxton and built her a secure house to do so. The leading ministers, Cecil and Walsingham, realised that only if Elizabeth were presented with undeniable evidence that Mary had backed her murder would she take action, and this was unlikely to happen – Mary would hardly put in writing  wanting her cousin killed.

The most astonishing aspect of Mary’s time in England when she was NOT in Staffordshire, from 1570 to 1585 is that Elizabeth alone stood against taking any serious action against Mary although she clearly posed destruction to both her life and her regime. The best historians have noted this factor.

 

Antonia Fraser commented “It was the will of Elizabeth not the answers of Queen Mary which stayed the Hand of the Commons from passing a bill of attainder on the Scottish Queen. Instead a bill was passed merely depriving  Mary of her right to succeed to the  English throne*…Elizabeth would not allow this tide of xenophobia to sweep away her “good sister and cousin” in spite of all the revelations of Ridolfi… her preservation of Mary Stuart’s life in 1572 by personal intervention must be allowed to be to her credit”.  (AF 2002 pp86-87).

*The Bill passed the Commons but Elizabeth then vetoed it: Mary remained first in line to the throne.

Sixty years earlier, Conrad Read (Bardon Papers 1909) had written “Elizabeth stood practically alone at this juncture between Mary and Protestant England. This is a fact which deserves emphasis….. loyal Englishmen at large recognised in her an enemy who lacked only the means to destroy themselves, their sovereign and their faith…. But she (Eliabeth TF) would have none of it. Instead she proposed to keep the ‘bosom servant’ a prisoner… behind the walls of a nobleman’s place whence she might encourage discontented Englishmen at home and abroad to rebel…” (ppxxvi- xxvii)

This she did encouraged as J B Black in the Oxford History of England (1959) wrote “Mary remained for the next twelve years the great ‘untouchable’ in English politics – rebellious, defiant, incorrigible in her hope of final victory…  while there was a chance of elevation to power by way of conspiracy, war and revolution,  she would not accept…. a settlement by treaty”.  (p373)


Across the channel, the French king Charles IX watched and said “The poor fool will never cease (from plotting, Jenny Wormald) until she loses her head. In faith, they will put her to death. I see it is her own fault and folly”. (Wormald 2017 p190 OUP 373).

 

It would be a dozen years before Elizabeth realised with the killing of William of Orange that she was vulnerable. It remains an unsolved mystery why she was adamant her cousin had priveleged treatment.

The Road Back to Tutbury

The impasse continued for the next dozen years, while continental  Protestant- Catholic conflict  became increasingly violent . The murder of the protestant William of Orange in July 1584 showed Royalty was not off limits. In October Cecil and Walsingham set up the BOND OF ASSOCIATION by which protestants would swear an oath to defend Elizabeth’s life and the protestant succession.


The key to what was essentially mob law was a clause which pledged “to pursue as well by force of arms as by all other means of revenge” anyone attacking the Queen. More notably the pledge was against not just the actual attacker but to combat any “pretended successor by who OR FOR WHOM any such detestable act shall be attempted or committed” (MY EMPHASIS) Thus actual guilt was not needed for Bond signers to be justified in  killing  a claimant to the throne. This was the heart of a debate in parliament forcing Elizabeth  to consider what to do if she died not from natural causes but murder.  Parliament was no longer prepared to allow the evasions of 1572 to happen again. Mary was Scots, but this did not mean she could plot against the throne. The Queen would be defended.

The ACT FOR THE QUEEN’S SAFETY passed in March 1585 had two provisions, both aimed at Mary. In the first, if a person who had a hereditary right to the throne was involved in violence against the crown, a commission of Privy Councillors, Ministers and judges would decide on guilt and any such person found guilty would be excluded from the succession and any subject might kill them. If the Queen were actually killed, then the claimant and their allies could be hunted down and killed. Elizabeth however forced concessions  limiting mob rule. The Act provided for  a trial of offenders by commission, and while the Bond cited any person who was an ‘heir or successor’, the act insisted they had to have been ‘assenting or privy’ to the plot before they could be subject to its provisions.

Elizabeth was always focussed on who would take over from her – she would never say who this would be. But she did not want the only real candidate killed by a mob on mere suspicion of plotting.

The real candidate was Mary’s son James,  now 19 years old and Elizabeth was now prepared to recognise him as King of Scotland,  de facto  accepting he was the heir to the English throne. Elizabeth would never name her successor. But with the Act having a loophole exempting him from reprisals, he had no reason to plot to get the English throne when he was being offered the key to Whitehall.

 James finally decided that his mother had to be told she could never again be Queen of Scotland – certainly he would not share the throne with her.  Mary now only had the English throne to aim for and  only if from captivity she could secure a successful coup which would rescue her before the Bond of Association could be triggered, Walsingham and Cecil  had to prevent her organising a coup: which meant  as a minimum putting her in quaruntine to stop her sending coded messages to conspirators. This objective meant that Shrewsbury was too lenient to  be her jailer, and she had to be moved back to the fortress which could not easily  be stormed to free her- after nearly fifteen years, January 14th 1585, she went back to Tutbury.

A new jailer, Sir Ralph Sadler replaced the Earl in a move planned before the Bond of Association was announced in 1584, Sadler being appointed in August to take Mary to Wingfield presumably while Tutbury was prepared. There were scandals  involving Sadler, who was not the right man for the job  and Sir Amayas Paulet was announced (according to Guy) on January 4th 1585.  At this stage the plan seemed to be to isolate Mary unable to communicate  so she could not plot. But she would be vulnerable to assassination under the Bond of Association if a freelance killer managed to kill Elizabeth.  Antonia Fraser sums up her position at the start of 1585 brilliantly, suggesting “By the spring of 1585 there was very little that was encouraging to be discerned in the situation of the queen of scots…. her position in England may be compared to that of someone tied unwillingly over a powder keg, which may at any moment be exploded by a match held by an over enthusiastic friend”. (AF 2002 p141).

What Fraser is describing is the attempt of William Parry to assassinate Elizabeth, for which he was executed in 1585. Fraser is right that Mary opposed this – her French agent Thomas Morgan was involved but it was not her plan as it risked her own assassination by the Bond of Association – but it is not the case that Mary was only threatened by enthusiatic friends she could not control. A  properly organised plan involving her release would be different and her mind turned to this.  But she was now seriously ill and the government knew Tutbury was posing a risk she might die. On Christmas Eve 1585 her new jailer, Amayas Paulet, moved her to Chartley  for health reasons. The rigour of her captivity remained in place.

Paulet was a hard line puritan who was determined to seal her  prison  and did so. And yet this was

not enough – the authorities, notably William Cecil, (Lord Burghley)  and the spymaster  Sir Francis Walsingham wanted to have Mary executed, despite Elizabeth’s adamant refusal to put her cousin on trial. How this was to be achieved required a plan of fiendish complexity and phenomenal good luck, involving the murky world of counter espionage. We will sketch what happened and discuss why it worked. But first we need to work out why Mary was moved further into Staffordshire. This was  a healthy rural location, good for Mary’s health  but not the real reason why Chartley was chosen . This

 is a remote hamlet  with few comings and goings. Everything going in and out could be searched,

and Mary did not dare take the risk of sending coded messages. She was totally isolated.

 Letters began to pile up, undelivered, in the French embassy in London. Her French agent Thomas Morgan had run a system which Stephen Alford describes (2012 p195)  describes as two stages, going across the channel to the Embassy and then up to Staffordshire. Under Paulet nothing was getting through to Staffordshire.  And whether this had been planned all along or not, at this point the most brilliant of all Elizabethan double agents emerged. Mary’s supporters needed someone they had total trust in as a Catholic. In December a man appeared who seemed able to  solve the communication problem. He appeared totally trustworthy. His name was Gilbert Giffard (Gifford).

Gifford was the son of the Gifford’s of Chillington and a Staffordshire lad, which was important. The Giffords were a famous Catholic family and in 1575 Elizabeth had personally punished them for their beliefs when visiting Chillington. Their response was to send their son to the English schools at Rome and  Douai to become a Jesuit Priest. While this did not quite work out, he became part of the anti-Elizabeth underground with an impeccable record as a Catholic militant. After hearing of his record, Morgan had no qualms in writing a letter of support reccomending support for Gifford to the  French embassy in London and to Mary herself because Gifford had a plan.

Gifford proposed to use a brewer in Burton on Trent (brewing capital of England) to smuggle letters in and out of Chartley in the weekly delivery of beer. The bung would be hollow to carry the letters and no one would suspect anything unusual. It was a brilliant plan which had only one flaw. Gifford was a double agent working for the spymaster Francis Walsingham, Paulet having hired the brewer when he was still operating out of Tutbury. Everything written by Mary and her supporters was sent to his code breaker, Thomas Phellipes, decoded and made known to the authorities.

Not only was Gifford a double agent, but as he was involved in the anti Elizabeth underground he knew young catholic men who were prepared to kill the Queen, and was the link person to the Babbington plotters. He was able to take the letters from Chartley and Mary to the men involved in the increasingly complex discussions of how to place Mary on the throne – to their eventual destruction, as the plotting was known to Walsingham via Phellipes decodes before the letters were passed on by Gifford to their real  destination. Unlike the Ridolphi plan Babbington could not offer a  foreign invasion project  and success depended on a Catholic uprising bigger than 1569. More important, the plan did involve releasing Mary from Chartley with a 100 men deputed to attack the manor while half a dozen murdered Elizabeth.

As this talk is about Staffordshire, I will leave the Babbington plot aside, it is well covered in the literature. For Walsingham and the ministers of the Privy Council, they waited for the crucial statement from Mary approving the killing  the Queen.  Babbington’s letter of July 14th  made the plan abundantly clear. The watchers, as Stephen Alford calls them, waited the reply. Mary sent it on 17th and while not explicitly in favour of killing Elizabeth and not in her handwriting – her secretaries put the message in code – but leaving no doubt what she was favouring. After deciphering the code, Phillipes sent it on to Walsingham with a gallows drawn on the envelope. For the government, it was the decisive moment. On the 19th July the decript was in the hands of Walsingham.  Gifford, who had been staying in Burton to recieve the coded letters from the brewer, fled to the Continent on the 20th July being aware that the plotters would be arrested and his part in exposing them revealed. In Chartley,  Paulet was ordered to move Mary out of the Manor on the pretext that the house was being cleaned, so her rooms could be searched for evidence of the trial which was now inevitable. She was moved to Tixall near Stafford  to lodge with Sir Walter Aston.

Tixall and the last weeks

While I am not a sympathiser of Mary Stuart, seeing her as selfish, short sighted, and with appalling judgement, there is something genuinely tragic about her last weeks in Staffordshire. She recovered her spirits and her health, was no longer bedridden and was able to move into the open air. She could ride again, and Paulet invited her to a deer hunt. Yet this was based on the illusion that she was about to see a homicidal conspiracy unfold which would see her cousin killed and her own release to preside over a virtual civil war.

The authorities had already taken the steps to ensure this would not happen, but Mary had no idea how effectively she had walked voluntarily into a trap. She did not have to do this and while the idea that she was a victim has taken hold, in fact she had gambled to win believing she had a winning hand. Yet the final moments as the tables were turned are genuinely poignant.

We have now arrived at August 11TH 1586.  Mary  was allowed to watch a deer hunt, on or near Cannock Chase in the vicinity of Tixall. She saw armed men on horseback approaching and believed that this was Babington’s release posse. It was Elizabeth’s men and as the Act of 1585 decreed, there would be no summary justice. She was arrested and taken back to Chartley, before proceeding to Fotheringhay Castle and trial. The rest is history.

It is one of the best known stories in British history, and yet with many  unsolved questions. I have touched on some here, notably the curious leniency with which Elizabeth Tudor treated her cousin. Elizabeth was gambling that fortune would favour her, and it did- courtesy of the security operatives who stopped assassins getting to her.. But we should now  realise that this was a matter of happenstance: Mary kept on her lone crusade because it was possible she could win. That she did not was due to the men who decided they would prevent her from doing so but up to that genuinely sad day at Tixall when her hopes collapsed, Mary could hope to be Queen again.

 It is a little known fact that while the stage where her drama was played out is not critical, that stage was at crucial points places in the County of Staffordshire. The location  of the Mary Stuart story in England is at least easy to establish – and I hope that tonight has gone some way to establishing these aspects of this important and resonant story.

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