Trying to Remember Trying Mary is Trying

· 8 February 2018 ·

[Redrawing the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, including a sonnet]

On this date in 1587, at Fotheringhay Castle near Peterborough, Mary Stuart’s life ended at the end of an English axe. Mary had been Elizabeth Tudor’s captive for nineteen of her forty-four years.

The Queen of Scots was charismatic, valiant, occasionally manic, and always dangerous. She believed that her royal blood abnegated all mortal scruples. She had many enemies in her truncated life, but the worst of them was herself.

Please pardon the merde. A great film.

Certain things have come to light following my recent decryption of some very poor handwriting. (No, not more of Willy’s unschooled blots.) The document is part of the historical record of the penultimate act in Mary’s tragedy, so once again I’m here to set history straight, or at least to tidy it up a bit.

Details on sources are given at the end of the post.

On the left is Mary’s examination, or trial, held on 14-15 October 1586. Charged with treason, she sat surrounded by the Commissioners who were appointed to judge her. I was one of them.

On the right, her beheading on 8 February 1587, 431 years ago. I was not there. It was a furtive and quickly executed execution, set in motion by Burghley’s sub rosa subcommittee of the Privy Council. Most people learned about it after the fact, so the attendees were mainly locals, and Mary’s own servants. She had a lot of those.

In the first drawing Mary appears twice (in the doorway and seated), and in the second, thrice (entering the hall, being prepared by attendants on the scaffold, and kneeling at the block with the axe poised to descend). The artist depicts her movements by a sort of multiple exposure. This was YouTube in the 1580s.

Later artists invented what they weren’t there to see. Mary and her death were exploited as propaganda – justice to some who scorned her as a mariticide and conspirator, martyrdom to others who worshipped her as a persecuted saint.

Shortly after the execution, a Catholic Scotsman in Paris named Adam Blackwood published the first of several highly fictitious hagiographies, in French. This woodcut comes from his 1589 edition, La Mort de La Royne D’Ecosse. The image seems to belong now to someone who sells it as prints, so click on this thumbnail to see their larger version (opens in a new tab), then come on back.

Not even close.
I suspect that the man with the forked beard
beside the headsman is meant to be Burghley,
despite the fact that he wasn’t there. And
what’s with the fellow in the window,
holding up another head?
(Fine Art America)

A couple of decades later in the Protestant Netherlands, the portrayal had a different tone.

Made for a magistrate, circa 1613. The setting
and attire even look Dutch – those hats. The
open entrance was added to allow the artist
to show Mary’s clothes being burnt, to prevent
Catholics from keeping them as relics.
(Scottish National Portrait Gallery)

Two centuries on, Mary was still being exploited, but now for profit.

An imaginative 1794 etching from a London
printseller. A beatific Mary and her distraught maids
hear the news of Parliament’s death sentence
from Lord Buckhurst and Robert Beale.
Captioned in English and French,
to sell more copies.
(British Museum)

The pair of contemporary drawings shown with my poetic prologue are often attributed to the same Robert Beale pictured above. He was Clerk of the Privy Council and one of the few people present at both events. A secretary at the October trial, he and Lord Buckhurst brought Mary the bad news of her death sentence on 19 November. He returned again on 7 February (1587) with the Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, to deliver the signed execution warrant. He witnessed the dénouement the next morning, and the drawings became part of his official account. It’s likely that he had them made, then added annotations in his own hand. He was a clerk and a diplomat, not an artist.

It’s the trial drawing I’m dealing with from here on out. I know my timing is off, but I’m not waiting until October to post this.

Reproductions show the front of the page, with all the participants numbered. But there is writing on the back, where Beale has listed the names that correspond to his numbering.

Click the image to see an enlargement in a new tab.

This isn’t quite how I remember the room, but it will do for the moment. You might think I should recall all the other participants. Not a chance. Most of them I barely knew, and only saw on official occasions like this. To my parvenu father-in-law’s frequently expressed dismay, this wasn’t the crowd I hung out with.

Mary’s examination took a day and a half, as we sat cheek by cheek on those bloody benches. At one o’clock on Saturday, the trial was prorogued. Ten days later it reconvened, without the defendant, in the Star Chamber at Westminster. There, Burghley trotted out the witnesses he wouldn’t let Mary confront, then tied up the loose ends and called the roll for the verdict. There was one dissenting vote, but no suspense.The British Library holds Beale’s originals, but only the fronts are posted online, and I don’t have a reader’s pass. I tried to sign up once, but I hit a snag when I got to the birth year. Blatant age discrimination.

When that didn’t work, I emailed to ask if they had an image of the list they could send. I offered to pay. I got no reply.Then I recalled this, stuck between pages 756 and 757 in This Star of England, the Ogburns’ weighty 1952 biography of me. A too-small, pre-digital, low-quality reproduction, but better than nothing.Click the image to see an enlargement in a new tab.God’s wounds, Beale. Clerk of the Privy Council, you’d think he’d manage to write legibly.

A few of the names were clear enough, including my own, #3 at the upper left, Erl of Oxford. Most weren’t. I needed some help to decrypt the scrawls. Walsingham’s code man Phelippes was unavailable, and Bletchley Park now employs only tour guides.

Cue my friends at the Internet Archive:

(State Trials, Lloyd)

And my other friends at Google Books:

(Kenyon Manuscripts)

And add one that required a few shillings in exchange.

(A Brief History of the Life of Mary, Queen of Scots, etc)

I went to work.
Beale’s drawing is basically correct regarding the peers around the perimeter – the arrangement is fine, the identification makes mistakes. But his large table of judges and lawyers, with notaries on either side scribbling into books that levitate in mid-air, is significantly deficient in accuracy. I’m trying to be tactful.

Nor was any one of the published lists spot-on. But taking everything together and grinding it through the remnants of my memory, I was able to reconstruct the hall as it looked on those two fall days in 1586.

My revised version is more of a schematic than a drawing. (It’s not to scale. Give me a break.) I considered hiring a new artist to render a Bealean facsimile, but that was the point when the candle put its foot down and said enough to the game.Click the drawing schematic to see an enlargement in a new tab.
Notes on the identifications which follow:

Names with ℗ were Privy Councillors at the time. The biographical links I’ve added are an odd lot, as not all of the men left deep footprints for history to record. Those with º also have entries in the Oxford DNB, which I didn’t link to because it requires a login.

At the top of the hall, an empty chair of estate on a dais under a cloth of estate: the Crown of England

Representing the absent Queen Elizabeth º

At floor level in front of the dais, facing the Commissioners, seated on a comfy chair: the defendant

The Scottish (ex-) Queen, Mary Stuart º

Along the left wall, seated on a plank: the higher nobility

  1. Lord Chancellor – Sir Thomas Bromley  º
  2. Lord Treasurer – William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley  º
  3. Earl of Oxford (17th) – Edward de Vere (Lord Great Chamberlain) º
    You don’t need a link, you’re already here. And my ODNB entry borders on libellous, so you aren’t missing anything.
  4. Earl of Shrewsbury (6th) – George Talbot (Earl Marshal) º
  5. Earl of Kent (6th) – Henry Grey
  6. Earl of Derby (4th) – Henry Stanley  º
  7. Earl of Worcester (3rd) – William Somerset º
  8. Earl of Rutland (3rd) – Edward Manners º
    Warning: that linked page is hard on the eyes.
  9. Earl of Cumberland (3rd) – George Clifford º
    I have a nice picture of him in this post.
  10. Earl of Warwick (3rd) – Ambrose Dudley  º
    Beale inexplicably omitted him.
  11. Earl of Pembroke (2nd) – Henry Herbert º
  12. Earl of Lincoln (2nd) – Henry Clinton
  13. Viscount Montague (1st) – Anthony Browne º

Along the right wall: the lesser nobility

  1. Lord Bergavenny (Abergavenny) – Edward Nevill, 8th Baron
  2. Lord Zouche – Edward la Zouche, 11th Baron º
    He cast the only vote against Mary’s guilt, and lived to tell the tale.
  3. Lord Morley – Edward Parker, 12th Baron
  4. Lord Stafford – Edward Stafford, 3rd Baron
  5. Lord Grey de Wilton – Arthur Grey, 14th Baron º
  6. Lord Lumley – John Lumley, 1st Baron º
  7. Lord Stourton – John Stourton, 9th Baron
  8. Lord Sandys de Vyne – William Sandys, 3rd Baron
  9. Lord Wentworth – Henry Wentworth, 3rd Baron
  10. Lord Mordaunt – Lewis Mordaunt, 3rd Baron
  11. Lord St John of Bletso – John St John, 2nd Baron
  12. Lord Compton – Henry Compton, 1st Baron
  13. Lord Cheyney (Chesney)  – Henry Cheyney, 1st Baron

Across the lower centre, in front of the spectators: the knights

  1. Sir James Croft (Acrofte)  º
  2. Sir Christopher Hatton – Vice-Chamberlain of the Household  º
  3. Sir Francis Walsingham – Secretary of State  º
  4. Sir Ralph Sadler – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster  º
  5. Sir Walter Mildmay – Chancellor of the Exchequer  º
  6. Sir Amias Paulet – Mary’s final gaoler  º

Inner bench, left side: the chief justices of the courts

  1. Sir Edmund Anderson – Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas º
  2. Sir Christopher Wray – Lord Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench º
  3. Sir Roger Manwood – Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer º

Inner bench, right side: more justices and jurists

  1. Justice William Peryam º
  2. Justice Sir Thomas Gawdy º
  3. Dr Dale – Doctor at Civil Law [nobody recorded his first name]
  4. Dr Ford – Doctor at Civil Law [nor his]

Central table: the lawyers and scribes

  1. Sir John Popham – Attorney General º
  2. Thomas Egerton – Solicitor General º
  3. Francis Gawdy – Serjeant at Law, the prosecutor º
  4. Robert Beale – Clerk of the Privy Council, scribbler of the list º
  5. John Wolley – Latin Secretary to the Queen  º
  6. Thomas Wheeler – Principal Register to the Queen
  7. Edward Barker – Register of the Audience of Canterbury, public notary


• Left/right and top/bottom are reversed between the drawings and the published lists. The lists reference a view from the doorway looking ‘down’ the room, while the drawings show a spectator’s-eye view from the other end. I tried my schematic both ways, but kept the one that matched Beale, to reduce confusion.

• There were no living dukes at this time, and the only marquess (Winchester) was absent. If you’re wondering why Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester ( º) wasn’t there – he was still in the Netherlands, backing out of his extremely unauthorised acceptance of the Governor-Generalship of the United Provinces. He didn’t return to England until December.

• [23] Like Zouche, Mordaunt believed Mary to be not guilty. Unlike Zouche, he voted to condemn her anyway.

• [30] The same Ralph Sadler who was portrayed as a ward of Thomas Cromwell in the popular novels by Hilary Mantel. At the time of the trial Sadler was nearly eighty, and he died less than two months after Mary’s execution.

• [37 and 42] The Gawdys were half-brothers. True story: Their father, Thomas Gawdy, had three sons by three wives (serial, not seraglio). All three boys were christened Thomas. #37 was the middle Thomas. #42, the youngest Thomas, showed more sense than his parents by changing his name to Francis at his confirmation.

• Beale’s artist didn’t try very hard with hands and feet, did he.

• [ biographical links] Have the citizens of Argentina had no instruction in web design since 1996? The assembly of information on this site is laudable, and it’s in English no less, but oh those pages. Even Beale’s handwriting is easier to read. Perdóname, Señor Castelli.

• The following names showed up in various places. They were Privy Councillors, or had other relevant duties, or were appointed to the Commission but did not serve at the trial.

  • · John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury  º Appointed to the Commission but did not serve.
  • · William Paulet, 3rd Marquess of Winchester º Appointed, did not serve. He was Lord High Steward at Mary’s (first) interment, at Peterborough Cathedral on 1 August 1587.
  • · Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham and Lord High Admiral  º Appointed, did not serve.
  • · Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon  º Appointed, did not serve.
  • · William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham  º Appointed, did not serve.
  • · Thomas Sackville, 1st Baron Buckhurst  º Appointed, did not serve. Delivered the death warrant with Beale in November 1586.
  • · Francis Knollys  º Appointed, did not serve. Involved in the Parliamentary session that determined Mary’s death sentence in November 1586.
  • · William Davison  º Appointed, did not serve. He took the fall for the execution’s execution, when Elizabeth wanted a public scapegoat. Poor fellow was never the same after his ordeal.
  • · Thomas West, 2nd Baron de la Warr – Mentioned in State Trials. Irrelevant trivia: his son the 3rd Baron was a Colonial adventurer, and namesake of the state of Delaware.
  • · Richard Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough – A vocal presence at Mary’s execution, the preface to Kenyon indicates that Fletcher contributed its ‘account of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and other particulars relating to her trial and execution’. He’s presumably in the crowd in the trial drawing, and #6 in the execution drawing.

When I’m on one of these personal-history-documentation binges there’s no help for it, I’m down the rabbit hole. When I ran across the reproduction of Beale’s list, I simply wanted to untangle the names. The project ballooned once I  realised what a cock-up the drawing was, but I was too far in to stop. You’ve just read the result.

It’s been a while since I felt Shake-Spearean, with my voices humming in my ears. I was pleased to smelt a sonnet from this shipload of prosaic ore. I’d still like to write about Mary someday (perhaps in Elizabeth I, Part 3). If you take a close look at The Winter’s Tale you can suss out a few analogies, but they’re subtle. They had to be. Even I wouldn’t have gotten away with writing overtly about the Queen of Scots back then, no matter how wickedly I’d have portrayed her. My detached head would have followed hers to the floor. These days I’m not so censored. Every year there’s another anniversary, and now I’ve got a Prologue for Act 1.

One last thought: despite all my knot-picking, I cannot guarantee that my schematic is incontrovertibly correct. Only Stratfordians are that certain of the conclusions they invent infer. But it’s better than Beale did at the time, and if it’s not perfect, it’s close.

I tried.


There are numerous posted reproductions of Beale’s drawings. The British Library’s images are watermarked. Fie on’t, ah fie. Go to Wikimedia Commons instead.

  • British Library, trial drawing []
  • · Drawing, trial of Mary, Queen of Scots – Add. 48027, f.569*
  • · Trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Great Chamber, Fotheringhay Castle, co. Northants., 14-15 October 1586
  • · Image taken from Papers and correspondence relating to Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • · Originally published/produced in England; 1586.
  • · Filename 014237 – © The British Library Board
  • British Library, execution drawing []
  • · Drawing, execution of Mary, Queen of Scots – Add. 48027, f.650*
  • · Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringhay Castle, co. Northants., 8 February 1587
  • · Image taken from Papers and correspondence relating to Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • · Originally published/produced in England; 1587.
  • · Filename 014526 – © The British Library Board
  • Wikimedia Commons, trial drawing []
  • · JPG resolutions up to 1138 x 1504 pixels
  • · This is the best reproduction I’ve found. Though it’s scanned from the BL’s original, there are no watermarks, making it easier to see the bleed-through of the names written on the back. My reversed name is visible to the left of the first four numbered figures. If you imagine flipping the page over and rotating it anti-clockwise so that the top edge from the front becomes the left edge on the back, you can see that the writing lines up.
  • Wikimedia Commons, execution drawing []
  • · JPG resolutions up to 1062 x 1284
  • · No watermarks. There are numbers on this drawing too, but as I mentioned, there weren’t a lot of peers in attendance this time.
  • 1 – Earl of Shrewsbury
  • 2 – Earl of Kent
  • 3 – Sir Amias Paulet
  • 4 through 7 – #6 is probably Richard Fletcher as noted in the comments above, and the Earls of Derby, Cumberland, and Pembroke might be the others, as the warrant was addressed to them in addition to Shrewsbury and Kent. It was a hugger-mugger affair, and with Bess out for additional heads afterwards, nobody wanted to admit they knew about it in time to be present.
  • Royal Collection Trust, prints of both drawings []
  • · JPG heights all 2000 pixels, widths from 1608 to 1654 pixels
  • · Silver gelatin prints, photographs taken by Emery Walker. Linked page includes a good description of the documents. Images are lacking in contrast, there are crease lines, and you can’t see the bleed-through of the names, but the resolution is good.
  • This Star of England []
    “William Shake-speare” Man of the Renaissance
  • · by Dorothy and Charlton (Sr) Ogburn
  • · Coward-McCann, 1952 (hardback), 1297 pages
  • · In particular, Chapters 56 and 57, covering Mary’s trial and execution, including the trial drawing and Beale’s list of names. To be honest, the entire tome is full of interesting things. It’s a biography of me, how could it not be. The Ogburns nailed my relationship with Burghley, giving him the most accurately unflattering portrayal I’ve ever seen in print. Nor did they have to tiptoe around the Shakespeare business the way Ward did in 1928. The point of their great effort was to say what Looney hadn’t and Ward couldn’t.
  • · This Star of England is long out of print and used copies aren’t cheap, but Google digitised the whole thing, and it’s available to read online or download by single pages at the HathiTrust Digital Library. A login is required to download the whole-book PDF, however.
  • · This Star of England can also be read in a text transcription posted by Mark Alexander on his website []. Well, half of it. The first fifty chapters have been done, the remainder are PDFs of what appear to be the page scans he worked from. An unfinished project.
  • · Yes the book is a long haul, and it’s old enough that some of its suppositions have been supplanted by more recent Oxfordian scholarship, but I’ve given you two places where you can read it at your own pace, gratis.
  • The Manuscripts of Lord Kenyon Volume 14, Part 4 []
  • · Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts
  • · Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1894
  • · pages 621-626

Additional Reading

  • • Recent news (imagine that) about a donation to the British Library made this past December (2017). Forty-three manuscript letters by Elizabeth, Cecil, or Walsingham, all written to Ralph Sadler concerning his oversight of Mary’s confinement at Tutbury Castle during 1584-85. The letters were donated by Mark Pigott, a very wealthy American businessman. Think of him as an inverse Henry Folger.

Other posts I’ve written about Mary:

20 Jan 2016: Protesting Too Much – A portion of a larger post on a different topic, it includes a couple of images also in today’s post, and it mentions the trial. Nothing that isn’t here.

08 Feb 2016: Heads-Up on a Heads-Off – My previous anniversary post, highlighting the place that Mary’s execution holds in the history of cinema. Features a short Edison Laboratory motion picture from 1895 recreating the beheading, which contains the first special-effects edit and the first death scene ever recorded on film.