06 November 2022
Following hot on the heels of the exhibition Elizabeth & Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, we are delighted to announce that the British Library has acquired two documents relating to Mary, Queen of Scots’ imprisonment in England. The first, Add MS 89480, is a letter written by the Scottish queen just 5 weeks after she dramatically escaped from Lochleven Castle and fled into England in May 1568. The second, Add Roll 77740/1, is a set of official financial accounts for Mary's upkeep at Wingfield Manor and Tutbury Castle for the period 18 December 1584 to 27 February 1585 (with Add Roll 77740/2 being a duplicate set of the same accounts).
The opening of the official financial accounts for the upkeep of Mary, Queen of Scots: Add Roll 77740/1, membrane 1
On 16 May 1568, Mary and a small group of supporters crossed the Solway Firth in a fishing boat and landed at Workington in Cumberland. The following day, Mary was apprehended by the Deputy Governor of Cumberland and escorted to Carlisle Castle, where she was held under armed guard. Mary wrote immediately to her cousin, Elizabeth I, requesting refuge and military aid to regain her Scottish throne. She described the treasonable actions of her enemies and expressed ‘the confidence I have in you, not only for the safety of my life, but also to aid and assist me in my just quarrel’.
Over the coming days and weeks, Mary persisted in writing long impassioned letters to ‘her nearest kinswoman and perfect friend’, unaware that Elizabeth had already been persuaded by her chief advisor, William Cecil, not to meet with her unwelcome guest. At first, Mary continued to press for an audience with Elizabeth to plead her cause, but as the weeks went by her letters became increasingly reproachful and she complained bitterly about being ‘dishonoured by the refusal of your presence’ and the injustice of her imprisonment.
Letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Jacques Bochetel, Sieur de la Forest, 26 June 1568: Add MS 89480
The newly-acquired letter has remained in a private collection in France since the late 1800s and is therefore unknown to scholars. It was written at the exact point Mary realised her English captivity would not be temporary and that Elizabeth was being disingenuous towards her. It is one of the first pieces of evidence for this change of attitude and marks the moment when Mary turned instead to her French family and supporters.
Mary's signature at the foot of the letter: Add MS 89480
Mary sent the letter from Carlisle on 26 June 1568 to Jacques Bochetel, the French ambassador to England, petitioning him to lend her servant George Douglas 300 écus and to provide safe conduct for him to travel to France for an audience with Charles IX. The first part of the letter is written in a French secretarial hand, but Mary also added a few lines of her own in order to give her request greater force. George Douglas had played an instrumental role in Mary’s escape from Lochleven Castle and was now being entrusted to carry her letters to Charles IX and his mother, Catherine de’ Medici. Other letters by Mary to Charles and Catherine survive in French and Russian archives, in which she petitioned for French aid to her supporters in Scotland and to help her escape imprisonment.
By the time the financial accounts were compiled in 1585, Mary had been held in English captivity for almost 17 years. She had recently been transferred into the custody of Sir Ralph Sadler, and his official correspondence for the same period reveals the pressure he came under to provide for his charge as cheaply as possible. On 18 January 1585, Lord Burghley informed Sadler, ‘hir Majesty … willed me to wryte ernestly unto yow, now at your being at Tutbury, to devise how the chardg may not excede above the rate of mdll (£1500) by yer.’ The accounts may have been drawn up precisely to inform this cost cutting exercise. They offer a fascinating snapshot of Mary’s life as a prisoner as well as the considerable costs and logistics involved in her upkeep and security.
The different types of meats consumed by Mary: Add Roll 77740/1, membrane 2
The accounts reveal that Mary continued to be treated as a queen during her confinement. She was attended upon by a large household, dined under her canopy of state and enjoyed elaborate food. She was served two courses at both dinner and supper, with each course consisting of a choice of 16 individual dishes. The accounts provide a detailed record of monies received and paid out for a wide range of foodstuffs, from bread, butter and eggs to meat (beef, mutton, lamb, veal, boar, pork), poultry (capons, geese, hens, heron, partridge, blackbirds) and fish (cod, salt salmon, eels, herring, plaice, haddock, sole, oysters, pike, roach, carp and trout). Also included are spices (pepper, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace), exotic items (oranges, olives, capers, dates, almonds, figs), and sweet luxuries (marmalade, caraway biscuits, sucket or fruits preserved in heavy syrup), as well as wine and ale.
Some of the exotic foodstuffs consumed by Mary: Add Roll 77740/1, membrane 3d
Costs for household supplies are also listed. These include lighting, fuel, cooking utensils and brewing equipment, cord for bedsteads, a bucket for the well, ‘mattinge for the Quenes lodginge’, and soap ‘for washing the Queenes lynnen and the naperie of the house’. In addition, the salaries of laundresses, turnspits, purveyors and labourers are recorded alongside specific charges for ‘mendinge the crome and scouring of armour’ and ‘settinge up and making of bedstedes’. Even though Mary was only occasionally permitted to ride, she continued to keep her own horses. The accounts provide a list of stable expenses such as payment for lanterns, rushes, hay, oats and litter, and for the ‘showinge and medicyninge of the horses’.
The final portion of the accounts sets out the cost of moving Mary, Queen of Scots, from Wingfield Manor to Tutbury Castle in January 1585: Add Roll 77740/1, membrane 5
Despite enjoying a deluxe form of house arrest, the accounts remind us that Mary was very much a prisoner of the English crown. The 1580s were a time of escalating religious crisis in Europe. Elizabeth’s ministers, fearful for the safety of their queen and the survival of Protestant England, ensured that Mary was kept under increasingly tight security. The salaries of 40 soldiers who kept watch over her are listed in the accounts, with a final entry setting out the cost of Mary’s removal from the pleasant Wingfield Manor in Derbyshire to the much more remote and secure location of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire in January 1585.
We are extremely grateful to Jeri Bapasola for supporting the acquisition of Mary’s letter. Both items are available for consultation by researchers in our Manuscripts Reading Room. They have also been digitised as part of the Medieval and Renaissance Women digitisation project, funded by Joanna and Graham Barker, and can now be viewed online: letter of Mary, Queen of Scots (Add MS 89480); household accounts for Mary's upkeep (Add Roll 77740/1 and Add Roll 77740/2).
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25 October 2022
A new exhibition The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England has recently opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibition showcases the artistic legacy of the Tudors and reveals how England became a thriving home for the arts as the Tudor monarchs increasingly used imagery to legitimise and define the dynasty.
Among the magnificent array of paintings, tapestries and sculptures, visitors will have the opportunity to see five items from the British Library, including Henry VIII’s personal Psalter, which has been loaned to the United States for the first time.
The Psalter was commissioned by the King himself in 1540 and written and illustrated for him by Jean Mallard, a French scribe and illuminator. It is a lavish production and is still in its original binding, which although quite threadbare, retains traces of deep red velvet. The Psalms are written in an elegant, humanist script and accompanied by exquisitely decorated initials showing birds, insects, fruit, flowers and foliage.
But the Psalter’s true significance lies in its main illustrations, four of which depict Henry, and its annotations written by the King. Taken together, they demonstrate that by the 1540s Henry perceived himself as King David of the Old Testament who, according to tradition, composed the Psalms and whose story was used to justify Henry’s declaration of independence from Rome and to define the Royal Supremacy. It’s little wonder then that the Psalter is more heavily marked up than any other manuscript owned by the King. His copious handwritten notes provide evidence of him probing and contemplating the Psalms, eager to discover what they had to teach him in his new role as ‘Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England’.
Visitors to the Met’s exhibition will see the Psalter displayed open at the first Psalm, which is accompanied by an image of Henry portrayed as David. He is shown sitting in his bedchamber, diligently reading and following the guidance of Psalm 1, which begins ‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly … his will is in the law of the Lord.’ To reinforce the point that he considered himself one of the blessed who, as the Psalm instructs, meditate day and night on the law of the Lord, Henry commented ‘nota quis sit beatus’ (note who is blessed).
The Psalter contains another three illustrations that link Henry with King David. The second, which prefaces Psalm 26, shows David about to slay Goliath. David is recognisable as Henry, while Goliath is modelled on Pope Paul III, who had excommunicated Henry in 1538. Contemplating this image, which represents the liberation of England from papal authority, must have given the King great satisfaction. The titulus or explanatory gloss added by Mallard in the margin reads ‘Christi plena in Deum fiducia’ (Christ’s full trust in God). One of Henry’s distinctive ‘tadpole’ signs draws attention to the words. They would certainly have resonated with Henry, who was convinced that his enemies would be sought out and destroyed because, like David, he put his trust in the Lord.
Psalm 52 is accompanied by an illustration of Henry sitting in his Privy Chamber and playing a harp to identify him with the Psalmist. He is accompanied by his jester Will Somers, with whom he enjoyed a close relationship for more than two decades. Appearing rather dejected, the royal fool looks out of the picture towards the first verse of the Psalm, which tells us ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’.
The image accompanying Psalm 68, which begins ‘Salvum me fac’ (Save me, O God), illustrates an episode in the Bible when David is forced to choose between three terrible punishments for his sinful behaviour. The image shows Henry VIII as a penitent King David, kneeling in supplication among the ruins. Mallard’s titulus, which translates as ‘In his distress Christ invokes God’, reminds the reader that David’s torment prefigures that of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Several of Henry’s annotations also show him identifying with the Old Testament King and searching for guidance. One of the clearest examples is found next to Psalm 88. Using red crayon, Henry noted that the Psalm contains ‘the promise made to David’ and uses a wavy line and tadpole sign to highlight the verses ‘I have laid help upon one that is mighty, and have exalted one chosen out of my people. I have found David my servant, with my holy oil I have anointed him.’
A small number of Henry’s annotations, however, reveal more human concerns. One of the most poignant is found alongside the first half of verse 25 of Psalm 36 which reads: ‘I have been young and now I am old’. Henry, who was in his early fifties, very overweight and in poor health, must have been painfully aware that his time on earth was drawing to a close, and noted that this is ‘dolens dictum’ (a painful saying).
You can see this fascinating manuscript in person at The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England which runs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until 8 January 2023, or view it online at our Digitised Manuscripts website.
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30 July 2022
Begun by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century, the Tower of London became the premier royal castle of medieval England. Besieged many times, the Tower was also home to elaborate royal apartments built by Edward I, while in the Tudor period many famous prisoners passed through its infamous Traitor’s Gate, including Anne Boleyn and the future Elizabeth I. But did you know that the British Library holds the earliest detailed image of this imposing fortress, extravagant palace, and notorious prison, dating from the 1400s?
The oldest realistic view of the Tower of London, dating from the 1480s: Royal MS 16 F II, f. 73r
The very first surviving image of the Tower can be seen below. It is a drawing of London made around 1252 by Matthew Paris, monk and chronicler of St Albans Abbey. Part of an illustrated itinerary of the journey from London to Jerusalem, Paris’s drawing of the Tower shows the castle’s central keep, called the White Tower, as well as an outer wall, but very little other detail. We cannot see any of the fortress’s many other towers, and the castle is also placed on the wrong side of the river. It was not for over two centuries later that a French artist would create the first detailed image of the Tower.
London in the 1250s, as drawn by Matthew Paris. The Tower is in the top left quarter: Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 2r
The miniature below is from a collection of poems by Charles, duke of Orléans (1394–1465). The manuscript was created around 1483, the year Edward V and Richard, duke of York, the famous Princes in the Tower, were imprisoned there and soon disappeared, probably murdered on the orders of their uncle, King Richard III. Duke Charles had been captured by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and he was then imprisoned at the Tower where he wrote many of his poems until his release in 1440. The image shows four simultaneous scenes, (1) of Charles writing poetry, (2) gazing out of a window in the White Tower, (3) greeting a man outside the White Tower, and (4) riding towards the castle gate and freedom. Although the illustrator used some artistic licence to stretch the castle’s outer wall, as a result of depicting several simultaneous scenes in different parts of the castle, we can still identify many of the locations shown here.
The Tower of London, where Charles, duke of Orléans, was imprisoned: Royal MS 16 F II, f. 73r
At the centre of the image we can see the St Thomas Tower, built under Edward I, and the infamous Traitor’s Gate beneath it. This was the private water-gate of the king, leading to the royal bedchamber in the tower above. In front of the gate is the wharf that runs along the Thames outside the castle. Behind the St Thomas Tower are the battlements of the Wakefield Tower, which contained the royal apartments of Henry III.
To the right of the St Thomas Tower we can see the brown roof of the great hall, no longer standing. Next to it, just on the edge of the frame, is the Lanthorn Tower. Originally the queen’s lodgings, this was later used by Edward II, rather than the king’s apartments in the St Thomas Tower, which were then used by one of his favourites. Beyond these, we can see the rounded Bell Tower, a wall along the entrance to Mint Street, and finally the Byward Tower, which Charles and his entourage are passing through to leave the Tower. Behind the castle we can see the city of London with London Bridge and its drawbridge. However, none of the various spires in the distance beyond the bridge can be linked to one of the city’s many medieval churches. Between the Tower and the bridge is the old medieval custom house and the edge of Tower Hill.
The artistic style suggests that the illustrator was Dutch. The detail in their depiction of the Tower and the city suggests that they either used another illustration of the Tower as a model, or they may have even been resident in London, using first-hand knowledge to depict the city and its castle. This would explain how their depiction of the Tower can be so accurate in its detail, such as the White Tower’s three square and one round turrets being correctly positioned as if one was indeed viewing the castle from the south bank of the river.
The White Tower of the Tower of London: image from Wikimedia
For more about early images of London, see our blogpost on London in medieval manuscripts, and to read more about Charles D'Orléans manuscripts at the British Library, see our blogpost Charles d'Orléans, earliest known Valentine? You can also read about one of the Tower’s more unusual residents, Henry III's elephant.
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28 May 2022
A major new exhibition, The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics, is now on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It brings together a significant number of the most famous Tudor portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, paintings from the Walker Art Gallery’s own collection and Tudor objects from around the UK. The exhibition presents the story of the five Tudor monarchs — Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth — and explores life at the Tudor court, its cultural influences, family ties and political connections, as well as considering the Tudor dynasty’s legacy. The British Library is delighted to have loaned the Westminster Tournament Challenge to this show, the only manuscript of its kind known to survive in England.
Westminster Tournament Challenge, decorated with shields, Tudor roses and pomegranates and signed by King Henry VIII, 12 February 1511: Harley Ch 83 H 1
On 1 January 1511, Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, gave birth to a son. London was filled with celebrations: guns were fired from the Tower of London and the city bells were rung. Beacons were lit across the country to announce the royal birth. Henry VIII himself proclaimed that a two-day Burgundian-style tournament be held in Katherine’s honour at Westminster.
The Westminster Tournament Challenge was issued on 12 February 1511 and explains the tournament’s over-arching allegorical theme. The text begins by introducing four knights or ‘challengers’ sent by Queen ‘Noble Renown’ of the kingdom of ‘Noble Heart’ to joust in England against all ‘comers’ or respondents in honour of the ‘birth of a young prince’. Henry VIII played the star role of ‘Ceure Loyall’ — Sir Loyal Heart — and wore a costume covered in the gold letters ‘K’ and ‘H’. Leading courtiers Sir Thomas Knyvet, Sir William Courtenay and Sir Edward Neville rode as ‘Vailliaunt Desyre’, ‘Bone Voloyr’ and ‘Joyous Panser’ respectively.
The four knights entered the tiltyard on a magnificent pageant chariot decorated as a forest with a golden castle in the centre and pulled by a golden lion and a silver antelope. Their shields, which were presented to Katherine on the first day of the tournament, are shown in the left-hand margin of the Tournament Challenge, each bearing the initials of the knights’ allegorical sobriquets and surrounded by roses and pomegranates to represent Henry and Katherine. The tournament rules are set out in the middle section of the document. These would have been read aloud by heralds, before being signed by the four challengers and all the respondents, who, in reality, were leading courtiers and Henry’s tiltyard companions. Henry VIII’s large signature can be seen in the centre of the lower portion of the Tournament Challenge alongside other members of his court, including Charles Brandon, Thomas Howard and Thomas Boleyn.
Section of the Westminster Tournament Roll showing Henry VIII running a course as Sir Ceure Loyall, as Katherine of Aragon watches from the pavilion, 1511: the College of Arms, London
According to contemporary accounts, the tournament was the most lavish of Henry’s reign and a great spectacle of Tudor pageantry. The whole occasion was commemorated in the illustrated Westminster Tournament Roll preserved at the College of Arms, London. This impressive document is also displayed in the exhibition, presenting visitors with a rare opportunity to view the Tournament Challenge and Roll side by side.
Tragically, Prince Henry died just days after the tournament was held, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Katherine was stricken with grief, but Henry seemed less concerned. Both he and his wife were still young and the possibility of another heir did not seem remote. The king threw himself into preparing for war against France. He could not have known at this stage that Katherine would never provide him with a male heir.
The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics runs at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from 21 May to 29 August 2022.
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19 February 2022
As the British Library’s major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, draws to a close, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to the final space in the exhibition, which is a symbolic recreation of the Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, where both Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, are buried. A series of hanging paper shapes evoke the chapel’s ornate pendant fan vault ceiling beneath which lie replicas of Elizabeth and Mary's tomb effigies.
Image showing replicas of Elizabeth I’s Effigy in Westminster Abbey, originally sculpted by Maximilian Colt, 1605–07, and Mary, Queen of Scots’ Effigy, originally sculpted by Cornelius and William Cure, 1607–13, on display in the British Library exhibition
When Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603, Mary’s son, James, was immediately proclaimed king of England, unifying the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland as James VI and I. Although James I showed little enthusiasm for building a tomb to Elizabeth, he was persuaded to do so by his Principal Secretary, Robert Cecil, who oversaw its construction between 1605 and 1607. Elizabeth’s tomb effigy is thought to have been copied from the funeral effigy that was placed on the hearse that carried her to Westminster Abbey. Her face, copied from a death mask, was described as lifelike.
Drawing of Elizabeth I’s funeral procession, showing the full-sized funeral effigy of the crowned queen, dressed in her parliamentary robes and holding an orb and sceptre, early 17th century: Add MS 35324, f. 37v
By contrast, James was determined to commemorate his mother Mary, whose final wish to be buried in France had been denied. In 1612, he had her remains removed from Peterborough Cathedral and reinterred at Westminster. Completed four years later, her tomb was more costly, larger and more magnificent than Elizabeth’s, containing details that emphasised Mary’s martyrdom.
We are immensely grateful to Her Majesty the Queen and the Dean of Westminster Abbey for granting permission for replicas of Elizabeth and Mary’s effigies to be made especially for display in the exhibition. They were created by model maker Michael Whiteley, who started the process by visiting Westminster Abbey to take laser measurements and photographs of the originals. The figures were then both sculpted in clay with all the filigree work on the clothing and the cushions being reproduced exactly as it appears on the original tomb effigies. The next stage involved casting the clay sculpts using silicone rubber with a Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) jacket to reproduce every fine detail. This material is also used for many Disney projects and has the highest fire rating available. Once complete, the surface layer of resin gel coat was mixed with marble powder to recreate the finish of the originals, while bronze powder was added to the resin gel coating for the cross on Elizabeth’s orb and her sceptre. Finally, the figures were cleaned and suitably aged before being installed in the exhibition.
The model of Elizabeth I’s effigy being sculpted in clay © Michael Whitely
The final space in our exhibition is one of peaceful sanctity, much lighter than the rest of the gallery and filled with 16th-century choral music. A semi-transparent wall allows visitors to see the shadows of the surrounding architecture and hints of the turbulent journey they have just been on. The space invites them to linger and reflect, and it serves as a fitting reminder that, although Elizabeth and Mary never met in person, in death they finally rest in close proximity, two of the most famous figures in British history.
Image showing the replicas of Elizabeth I and Mary’s Queen of Scots’ tomb effigies in Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens
Andrea Clarke and Karen Limper-Herz
16 February 2022
Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens tells the story of the complex and evolving relationship of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Drawing on documents, letters and speeches written in the queens’ own hands, as well as the courtiers closest to them, the exhibition reveals how, from cordial beginnings, their relationship turned to distrust and betrayal.
The exhibition catalogue for the Elizabeth and Mary exhibition
In 1561, when the recently widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, returned to Scotland to take up direct rule, the two queens were both young and infinitely curious about each other — anything but mortal enemies. They exchanged expensive gifts and letters full of sisterly affection and expressed an earnest desire to meet and make a perfect amity. Mary hoped that a personal meeting would result in her being recognised as Elizabeth’s heir presumptive, and she frequently reminded her cousin that they were not only fellow sovereign queens but also ‘of one blood, of one country, and in one island’. When their plans to meet in 1562 were aborted, Mary lost her opportunity to persuade Elizabeth in person to settle the succession, turning her thoughts to marriage as a means to strengthen her claim to the English crown. Elizabeth quickly made it known that a marriage to one of her powerful European rivals would be seen as a hostile act and instead proposed her favourite, Robert Dudley, as a suitable husband. But she would still not name Mary as her heir.
Portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, by Steven van der Meulen, c. 1561: by kind permission of Waddesdon (Rothschild Family)
Elizabeth’s suggestion that Mary marry her ‘horse master’ — to use Mary’s own words — caused great offence and coincided with a deterioration in relations between the two queens. In late September 1564, Mary sent her ambassador, Sir James Melville, on a nine-day visit to the English court to smooth things over. His autograph memoirs (held at the British Library as Add MS 37977) record how ‘hir Maieste plesit to confer with me euery day, and somtymes thrys vpon a day’, and provide a vivid account of their conversations.
During Melville’s first audience with Elizabeth, she requested an update on the Dudley marriage proposal, keen to point out that ‘sche estemed him as hir brother and best frend, whom sche suld have married hir self, had she not been determined to end hir lyf in virginite’. Instead, ‘sche wissit that the quen hir sister suld mary him, as metest of all vther, and with whom sche mycht find in hir hart to declaire the quen second personne’. Elizabeth insisted that Melville witness Dudley being ennobled as Earl of Leicester. He wryly observed that, as Dudley kneeled before the queen, ‘sche culd not refrain from putting hir hand in his nek, to kitle [tickle] him smylingly’. On another occasion, in Elizabeth’s private chambers, the Scottish ambassador was ‘accidentally’ shown a miniature of Dudley, labelled ‘My lordes picture’. Elizabeth declined his request to take it for Mary as ‘sche had bot that ane of his’.
Sir James Melville’s autograph memoirs, c. 1600: Add MS 37977, ff. 33v–34r
Melville’s memoirs provide a fascinating insight into Elizabeth’s preoccupation with her Scottish cousin and the human curiosity and rivalry which lay at the heart of their relationship. Over the course of his visit, Elizabeth bombarded Melville with questions about Mary’s appearance. When quizzed about which of the two queens was fairest, he tactfully replied that both were ‘the fairest ladyes off thar courtes, and that the quen of england whas whytter, bot our quen was very lusome [attractive]’. On hearing that Mary was taller, Elizabeth retorted that Mary ‘was ouer heych, and that hir self was nother ouer hich nor ouer laich’. Further questions about Mary’s accomplishments followed, and Elizabeth was interested to hear that her cousin played the virginals ‘raisonably for a quen’. Later that evening, Elizabeth had a courtier escort Melville to a gallery where she was playing the virginals ‘excellently weill’. When pressed by Elizabeth to declare which queen played the virginals better, Melville ‘gaif hir the prayse’.
Melville’s memoirs are on display in the British Library’s major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.
Anna Turnham and Andrea Clarke
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13 February 2022
Some writings burn with anger even after more than four centuries. Two such are memoranda by Robert Beale, Clerk to the Privy Council of Queen Elizabeth I. Anger, but also astonishing bluntness from a leading — and loyal — functionary of the state. Beale was furious at Elizabeth’s attempts to foist the blame for the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, on to others: first, by asking her subjects to murder Mary, and then by blaming Secretary of State William Davison and the Privy Council over the delivery of the death warrant that the Queen had signed. Beale was the man who had carried the death warrant to Fotheringhay and had read it at Mary's execution.
Mary, Queen of Scots, loomed large in Beale’s career. Since at least 1572, he had been convinced that Mary’s death would be for the good of the Queen of England and of the Protestant religion. On four occasions he was sent to negotiate with the imprisoned Scottish queen. He noted the personal messages that Elizabeth added to the formal letters that he carried to Mary: ‘Your dearest Sister if it had pleased you so to have kept her El. R’ (27 May 1583); ‘Your Cousin even so is one as by desertes you might have had affectionate unto you El R’ (4 May 1584).
A note in Beale’s hand of one of Elizabeth’s personal messages to Mary, Queen of Scots: Add MS 48049, f. 199r
Beale collected originals or copies of many of the most important papers and polemics about Mary over the years. Much of his collection on Mary is now preserved in one volume (Add MS 48027), from which three items are displayed in Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens. The first is a copy of the Bond of Association — the oath of loyal Englishmen in 1584 to unleash lynch law against those who attempted to harm Elizabeth or for whose cause they acted — as signed by Mary herself, with an attempt to mimic her signature: ‘This have I Robert Beale seen under the hand and seale of the Scotish Queen hade remaining with Mr Secretary Walsingham’. The second is his copy of the proclamation pronouncing Mary’s guilt, with his note of its reading in the City of London. The third is Beale’s own drawing of her execution. This blogpost discusses other documents in the same volume.
Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1587): Add MS 48027/1, f. 650*r
In the aftermath of Mary's execution on 8 February 1587, Secretary Davison had been imprisoned in the Tower of London and tried before the Star Chamber. Beale wrote a full account of his own part in delivering the commission for the execution, restating its lawfulness and stressing that it was, as far as he knew, the Queen’s will. This account was perhaps written about the time of Davison’s trial, when it was unclear if he would not share Mary's fate. Beale kept a copy of the Queen’s warrant, adding in his own hand ‘Elizabeth R’ and specifying ‘Her Maiesty hand was also in the toppe’.
The first page of Beale’s copy of the commission for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Queen’s signature and the note at the top are in his hand: Add MS 48027, f. 645r
One memorandum provides Beale's fiercest criticism of Elizabeth. Written on the back of an account of Davison’s trial, he records how a copy of the proceedings was sent to the Scottish Ambassador to show the English Queen’s innocence. Beale disapproved of the Council’s self-incriminating submission provided for the same purpose: ‘Imprudenter: To take soche a matter uppon them: being of so great a moment. It may serve as an Evidence to condemne.’
Beale’s reflections on Elizabeth I’s responsibility, in his own hand: Add MS 48027, f. 690v
Beale went even further. He compared Elizabeth to the French King, Charles IX, whose plan to murder Admiral Coligny triggered the Massacre of St Bartholomew in Paris, in which thousands of Protestants were murdered: ‘Anno 1572: Immediately uppon the Massacre of the Admirall &c the king wold have layed it uppon the house of Guise: and so were his lettres. But they wold not beare yt: and so he was faine to advowe yt himself.’ Beale’s account here is pretty accurate: Charles had indeed initially tried to lay the blame on the Duke of Guise for what he himself had ordered, but quickly had to admit the truth. It is remarkable to see a loyal subject and committed Protestant comparing Elizabeth I to the king responsible for such a notorious atrocity. Hardly less surprising is Beale's implicit parallel between both the Queen’s dutiful servants and the ultra-Catholic Duke of Guise as being victims of royal duplicity.
Our major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, is on at the British Library in London until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.
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10 February 2022
Following a large explosion at Kirk o’ Field outside Edinburgh at two o’clock on the morning of 10 February 1567, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was found dead in a nearby garden. Darnley is one of the most notorious figures in Scottish history. He was king consort of Scots, and his mysterious death caused a sensation both at home and abroad. Within days, painted placards were set up and handbills distributed in Edinburgh, openly accusing his wife, Mary, Queen of Scots, and James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, of being lovers and of orchestrating Darnley’s murder.
Poem by Robert Sempill, The testament and tragedie of King Henrie Stewart, 1567: Cotton MS Caligula C I, f. 26r
The sensational news was reported even further, when broadside ballads began appearing in print penned by Robert Sempill. Intended to be sung to popular tunes, one of the first of these ballads, The testament and tragedie of vmquhile [the deceased] King Henrie, was printed in Edinburgh by Robert Lekpreuik. This survives in a unique copy currently on display in the British Library's exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens. Taking the form of a a rhetorical device known as a prosopopoeia, by which Darnley’s ghost is represented as recounting his life, Darnley narrated how ‘Scotland I socht, in houpe for to get [Mary]’. Finding him ‘Sa perfyte, plesand, and sa dilectabill’, Mary married him, making Darnley king. Darnley claimed he was popular with the common people, while doing all he could to please and serve his wife: ‘Hir for to pleis I set my haill consait [conceit]:/ Quhilk [Which] now is cause of my rakles [reckless] ruyne’. Blinded by passion, he renounced his protestant faith and began attending catholic mass daily with Mary. Consequently, Darnley was damned, having ‘for hir saik denyit the God deuine [divine]’. His honour was diminished, his word doubted, his supporters deserted him. He became, by turns, depressed, anxious, angry and lethargic.
But all was not as Sempill depicted. While Darnley had charmed and dazzled Mary on his arrival in Scotland from family exile, once married to her in July 1565 he proved an arrogant, jealous and unreliable drunkard who alienated almost everybody, including his new wife. After Mary declined to grant him equal authority with her, Darnley’s resentment focused on her Italian favourite, her secretary David Rizzio, whom he accused of being her lover. On 9 March 1566, he participated in Rizzio’s brutal murder at Holyroodhouse in Mary’s own presence. Then, three days later, he betrayed his co-conspirators by helping her escape captivity shortly after midnight. Mary had won Darnley over by explaining ‘how miserably he would be handled, in case he permitted thir lords to prevail in our contrare [against her]’ (Alexandre Labanoff, Lettres, instructions et mémoires de Marie Stuart, reine d’Écosse, 7 vols. (London, 1844), 1, p. 347). Fearing for his safety, at first Darnley kept in Mary’s favour, hearing mass with her daily. But in the months that followed his behaviour became more difficult and unpredictable, driving them further apart, even after the birth of their son, Prince James, in June. At the end of the year he sought safety in Glasgow with his father, but fell ill on the way, probably as a result of syphilis. Mary visited him while he convalesced, persuading Darnley to return to Edinburgh, where he was lodged at Kirk o’ Field at the beginning of February 1567.
Bird’s-eye view of the murder scene of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, by an unknown artist, February 1567: The National Archives, MPF 1/366/1.
On 10 February 1567, in the early hours before Darnley’s intended return to court, Kirk o’ Field was destroyed by gunpowder. The discovery of Darnley’s body alongside that of one of his servants, William Taylor, without a mark on either of them, only deepened the mystery. A shocked Mary ordered an immediate investigation, offering a reward to anyone coming forward with information about the murderers.
Surviving accounts, depictions and depositions make it possible to reconstruct how Darnley was murdered. On realising that the house was surrounded by conspirators, Darnley and Taylor appear to have lowered themselves out of a first-floor window onto a gallery below using a rope and chair. They then made their way through a door in the town wall on to Thieves Row, only to find themselves surrounded. Eyewitnesses overheard Darnley plead for his life. Taylor and he were almost certainly suffocated, then Kirk o’ Field was blown up.
Drawing of a placard depicting Mary, Queen of Scots, as a mermaid ensnaring James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, represented as a hare, February 1567: The National Archives, SP 52/13/60
Despite ordering the investigation into Darnley’s murder and passing an act of parliament against placards and handbills, anonymous public attacks on Mary and Bothwell continued. One placard even portrayed Mary as a mermaid (prostitute) ensnaring Bothwell, depicted as his heraldic beast the hare, within her net. Mary wrote to Darnley’s father, Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, promising ‘a perfite triall to be had of the king our husbandis cruel slauchtir’.
Letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, 21 February 1567: Cotton MS Caligula B X/2, f. 408r
After Bothwell, the principal suspect in Darnley's murder, was acquitted in a rigged trial on 12 April, Lennox pursued a blood feud against him that culminated in Mary’s deposition from the throne three months later. Popular print would prove critical in turning public opinion against the queen, with Lennox recruiting Robert Sempill, Scotland’s foremost satirist, to write a series of widely read and sung broadside ballads in support of his cause. Darnley was a deeply divisive figure during his lifetime, but in death he became, in Sempill’s words, ‘the Sacrifice’ that sparked rebellion. Although cheap print, to be thrown away or recycled once read, Sempill’s Testament and tragedie is now as rare and precious as many a manuscript, not least for the impact it had on its first audience.
Group portrait of James VI, Matthew Stewart and Margaret Douglas, earl and countess of Lennox, and Lord Charles Stewart (‘The Memorial to Lord Darnley’) by Livinus de Vogelaare, 1567: Royal Collection Trust 401230 / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022
Our major exhibition, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, is on at the British Library in London until 20 February 2022. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day, subject to availability.
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