The Tudor Society

8 February 1587 – The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: A Primary Source Account

This primary source account of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots is from Original letters, illustrative of English history; with notes and illustrations, Second Series, Volume III, ed. Henry Ellis (p113-118). Ellis notes that "the present narrative is from the Lansdowne MS. 51. art. 46. It is indorsed in Lord Burghley's hand, "8 Feb. 1586. The Manner of the Q. of Scotts death at Fodrynghay, wr. by Ro. Wy.""

Mary, Queen of Scots, being led to her execution by Laslett John Pott (1871)

Mary, Queen of Scots, being led to her execution by Laslett John Pott (1871)

A Reporte of the manner of the execution of the Sc. Q. performed the viijth. of February, Anno 1586 [modern dating 1587] in the great hall of Fotheringhay, with relacion of speeches uttered and accions happening in the said execution, from the delivery of the said Sc. Q. to Mr Thomas Androwes Esquire Sherife of the County of Northampton unto the end of said execution.

First, the said Scottish Queen, being carried by two of Sir Amias Paulett's gentlemen, and the Sheriff going before her, came most willingly out of her chamber into an entry next the Hall, at which place the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, commissioners for the execution, with the two governors of her person, and divers knights and gentlemen did meet her, where they found one of the Scottish Queen's servants, named Melvin, kneeling on his knees, who uttered these words with tears to the Queen of Scots, his mistress, "Madam, it will be the sorrowfullest message that ever I carried, when I shall report that my Queen and dear mistress is dead." Then the Queen of Scots, shedding tears, answered him, "You ought to rejoice rather than weep for that the end of Mary Stuart's troubles is now come. Thou knowest, Melvin, that all this world is but vanity, and full of troubles and sorrows; carry this message from me, and tell my friends that I die a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true Frenchwoman. But God forgive them that have long desired my end; and He that is the true Judge of all secret thoughts knoweth my mind, how that it ever hath been my desire to have Scotland and England united together. Commend me to my son, and tell him that I have not done anything that may prejudice his kingdom of Scotland; and so, good Melvin, farewell;" and kissing him, she bade him pray for her.

Then she turned to the Lords and told them that she had certain requests to make unto them. One was for a sum of money, which she said Sir Amyas Paulet knew of, to be paid to one Curle her servant; next, that all her poor servants might enjoy that quietly which by her Will and Testament she had given unto them; and lastly, that they might be all well entreated, and sent home safely and honestly into their countries. "And this I do conjure you, my Lords, to do."

Answer was made by Sir Amyas Paulet, "I do well remember the money your Grace speaketh of, and your Grace need not to make any doubt of the not performance of your requests, for I do surely think they shall be granted."

"I have," said she, "one other request to make unto you, my Lords, that you will suffer my poor servants to be present about me, at my death, that they may report when they come into their countries how I died a true woman to my religion."

Then the Earl of Kent, one of the commissioners, answered, "Madam, it cannot well be granted, for that it is feared lest some of them would with speeches both trouble and grieve your Grace, and disquiet the company, of which we have had already some experience, or seek to wipe their napkins in some of your blood, which were not convenient." "My Lord," said the Queen of Scots, "I will give my word and promise for them that they shall not do any such thing as your Lordship has named. Alas! poor souls, it would do them good to bid me farewell. And I hope your Mistress, being a maiden Queen, in regard of womanhood, will suffer me to have some of my own people about me at my death. And I know she hath not given you so straight a commission, but that you may grant me more than this, if I were a far meaner woman than I am." And then (seeming to be grieved) with some tears uttered these words: "You know that I am cousin to your Queen, and descended from the blood of Henry the Seventh, a married Queen of France, and the anointed Queen of Scotland."

Whereupon, after some consultation, they granted that she might have some of her servants according to her Grace's request, and therefore desired her to make choice of half-a-dozen of her men and women: who presently said that of her men she would have Melvin, her apothecary, her surgeon, and one other old man beside; and of her women, those two that did use to lie in her chamber.

After this, she being supported by Sir Amias's two gentlemen aforesaid, and Melvin carrying up her train, and also accompanied with the Lords, Knights, and Gentlemen aforenamed, the Sheriff going before her, she passed out of the entry into the Great Hall, with her countenance careless, importing thereby rather mirth than mournful cheer, and so she willingly stepped up to the scaffold which was prepared for her in the Hall, being two feet high and twelve feet broad, with rails round about, hung and covered with black, with a low stool, long cushion, and block, covered with black also. Then, having the stool brought her, she sat her down; by her, on the right hand, sat the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, and on the left hand stood the Sheriff, and before her the two executioners; round about the rails stood Knights, Gentlemen, and others.

Then, silence being made, the Queen's Majesty's Commission for the execution of the Queen of Scots was openly read by Mr. Beale, clerk of the Council; and these words pronounced by the Assembly, "God save the Queen." During the reading of which Commission the Queen of Scots was silent, listening unto it with as small regard as if it had not concerned her at all; and with as cheerful a countenance as if it had been a pardon from her Majesty for her life; using as much strangeness in word and deed as if she had never known any of the Assembly, or had been ignorant of the English language.

Then one Doctor Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough, standing directly before her, without the rail, bending his body with great reverence, began to utter this exhortation following: "Madam, the Queen's most excellent Majesty," &c, and iterating these words three or four times, she told him, "Mr. Dean, I am settled in the ancient Catholic Roman religion, and mind to spend my blood in defence of it." Then Mr. Dean said: "Madam, change your opinion, and repent you of your former wickedness, and settle your faith only in Jesus Christ, by Him to be saved." Then she answered again and again, "Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die." Then the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, perceiving her so obstinate, told her that since she would not hear the exhortation begun by Mr. Dean, "We will pray for your Grace, that it stand with God's will you may have your heart lightened, even at the last hour, with the true knowledge of God, and so die therein." Then she answered, "If you will pray for me, my Lords, I will thank you; but to join in prayer with you I will not, for that you and I are not of one religion."

Then the Lords called for Mr. Dean, who, kneeling on the scaffold stairs, began this prayer, "O most gracious God and merciful Father," &c, all the Assembly, saving the Queen of Scots and her servants, saying after him. During the saying of which prayer, the Queen of Scots, sitting upon a stool, having about her neck an _Agnus Dei_, in her hand a crucifix, at her girdle a pair of beads with a golden cross at the end of them, a Latin book in her hand, began with tears and with loud and fast voice to pray in Latin; and in the midst of her prayers she slided off from her stool, and kneeling, said divers Latin prayers; and after the end of Mr. Dean's prayer, she kneeling, prayed in English to this effect: "For Christ His afflicted Church, and for an end of their troubles; for her son; and for the Queen's Majesty, that she might prosper and serve God aright." She confessed that she hoped to be saved "by and in the blood of Christ, at the foot of whose Crucifix she would shed her blood." Then said the Earl of Kent, "Madam, settle Christ Jesus in your heart, and leave those trumperies." Then she little regarding, or nothing at all, his good counsel, went forward with her prayers, desiring that "God would avert His wrath from this Island, and that He would give her grief and forgiveness for her sins." These, with other prayers she made in English, saying she forgave her enemies with all her heart that had long sought her blood, and desired God to convert them to the truth; and in the end of the prayer she desired all saints to make intercession for her to Jesus Christ, and so kissing the crucifix, and crossing of her also, said these words: "Even as Thy arms, O Jesus, were spread here upon the Cross, so receive me into Thy arms of mercy, and forgive me all my sins."

Her prayer being ended, the executioners, kneeling, desired her Grace to forgive them her death; who answered, "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles." Then they, with her two women, helping of her up, began to disrobe her of her apparel; she never changed her countenance, but with smiling cheer she uttered these words, "that she never had such grooms to make her unready, and that she never put off her clothes before such a company."

Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin; she, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, "Ne criez vous; j'ay promis pour vous;" and so crossing and kissing them, bade them pray for her, and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress's troubles. Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell; and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.

This done, one of the women having a Corpus Christi cloth lapped up three-corner ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots' face, and pinned it fast to the caul of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, "In te, Domine, confido, non confundar in eternum," &c. {Ps. xxv.}. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which holding there, still had been cut off, had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms, cried, "In manus tuas, Domine," &c, three or four times. Then she lying very still on the block, one of the executioners holding of her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay; and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little grisle, which being cut asunder, he lifted up her head to the view of all the assembly, and bade "God save the Queen." Then her dressing of lawn falling off from her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.

Then Mr. Dean said with a loud voice, "So perish all the Queen's enemies;" and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, "Such end of all the Queen's and the Gospel's enemies."

Then one of the executioners pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood, was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or clean washed; and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the Hall, except the Sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her.

Click here to view the primary source in Ellis's book on Google Books.

Mary was buried at Peterborough Cathedral but then moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612 on the orders of her son, James I.

If you're interested in Mary, Queen of Scots, you will enjoy Linda Porter's talk "Three Queens - Catherine Parr, Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots" - click here.

There are 12 comments Go To Comment

  1. M

    A grisly description. There are two sketches in the BL that have intrigued me ever since I saw them way back when I was a teenager. Here’s the link to my theory as to who created them. .

    This written description is far more effective than the sketches as our imaginations take flight and we are among the witnesses in Fotheringay on that cold February morning.

  2. L

    Her little dog, by the way was a skye terrier, who was called Armageddon, or Geddon for short, pined away and died shortly after. Poor little Geddon was probably buried within the grounds of Fotheringay. There is a rumour that upon the mount of what is left of the castle, there is a little clump of thistles that grows, they are known as Queen Mary’s tears, I suppose it’s possible that little Geddon was buried here under these thistles.
    If my lousy memory serves, when James ordered the re burial of his mother in Westminter abbey. Mary body was buried in the tomb that had once belonged to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s body was hasily reinterred to lie with her sister. Although to be fair Elizabeth was given all reverence and her new tomb was given the magnificent effigy that now adorns it. If it wasn’t for the inscription upon the base of the tomb, no one would actually know that there are 2 people in that tomb.
    To the eternal memory of Elizabeth queen of England, France and Ireland, daughter of King Henry VIII, grand-daughter of King Henry VII, great-grand-daughter to King Edward IV. Mother of her country, a nursing-mother to religion and all liberal sciences, skilled in many languages, adorned with excellent endowments both of body and mind, and excellent for princely virtues beyond her sex. James, king of Great Britain, France and Ireland, hath devoutly and justly erected this monument to her whose virtues and kingdoms he inherits.”

    On the base of the monument:

    Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in [the] hope of the Resurrection”.

  3. m

    so sad!-and disgusting! with anne Boleyn,katherine howard,the lady jane rochford and the totally innocent jane grey!..

  4. E

    May she be reunited with her little dog and all who loved her one day.

    1. H

      This time, it was the mistress waiting at the Rainbow Bridge for the wee moggy, not the other way about. 😍

  5. s

    She was so brave and forgiving, I doubt I could have retained my dignity in sight of those axes.

  6. R

    What an ignorant man praying over her and at her and not letting her pray in peace without his prattling and interruptions. If it wasn’t bad enough that the poor woman was being executed and had to listen to a sermon almost as well as a whole list of nonsense charges, she had to put up with persecution on the block and demands to change her faith, as if that was going to change anything. After all that the executioner botched the job.

    However, Mary had the last word because she took her gown of, to reveal a dress of scarlet red, the colour of martyrdom, declaring herself a Catholic martyr. Her poor little dog, though, hid under her skirts and could not be encouraged out and died soon afterwards. So sad.

    Rest in peace Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. Amen.

  7. L

    It has always broke my heart how women have beenn pawns in men’s games and I cry to think she was struck two times that could of afforded a very good French men to do the job like Ann bolynn was given ! And her poor fur baby should of went to a very good friend to make sure he had the very best care .GODBLESS THEM BOTH

  8. R

    The butchery that was the execution of Mary Queen of Scots was a vile reminder of Englands nobiliy unable to come to terms with their faith and the hypocropsy of refusing to understand the basic truths of Scripture.

  9. M

    I have read that it was normal for condemned prisoners of nobility to and their executioners to meet and to expect some knowledge of personality. Certainly, during the length of her imprisonment, it has been noted by other historians that there was a relationship between Mary and the men tasked with her execution. In reading the account of the execution the faithfulness of Queen Mary’s little dog, Geddon, affects our emotions. But to understand that there were two executioners at the block on that day, and that one of them held her hand in comfort emphasizes her tragic and cruel ending.

  10. n

    wow! fascinating story- she was so vilified. Have a good day! ya?

  11. M

    Mary was certainly guilty of knowing her supporters planned to assassinate Elizabeth. In my view Mary was justly executed.

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8 February 1587 – The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: A Primary Source Account