Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Mary—How the Queen Escaped, and How She Was Made Prisoner Again

The Queen was now a prisoner, and to keep her quite safe, the lords took her away from Edinburgh, and put her in a lonely castle in the middle of a loch called Loch Leven. Then they wrote out two papers, which they made her sign. One paper said that Mary gave up her crown to her little son James; the other, that the Earl of Murray should be Regent until James was old enough to reign.

Mary did not want to sign these papers. But she was helpless; she seemed to have no friends left. Stern, grave men stood round her, and it is even said that one, more fierce than the others, seized her arm so roughly with his iron-gloved hand that she cried out in pain. So Mary signed away her crown, which had given her, she said, "Long, great and intolerable pains," and which left her, "vexed in spirit, body, and senses."

A few days later, the baby King was crowned. He was scarcely more than a year old. The Earl of Mar held him in his arms as the crown was placed upon his little head. Two other lords, laying their hands upon the crown, promised in his name to fear God and to keep the laws. He was then made to touch the sceptre and the sword with his tiny fingers. John Knox thundered out a sermon, and after it was all over, the little King was lifted from the throne and carried back to his nurse.

There was great rejoicing over the coronation of the new King. Bonfires blazed, cannon boomed, and people shouted. In her lonely prison, Mary heard the sounds. "What is it?" she asked.

"The people rejoice for the crowning of the King," was the reply.

Then Mary laid her head upon the table and wept. Her reign was ended.

When Mary signed away her crown, she was only twenty-five. Although she had become Queen of Scotland when she was seven days old, she had really ruled but six years, and into the last two of these six years had been crowded all the passion and sorrow of a lifetime. But she was still young and still beautiful, and, if the rebel lords had triumphed for the time, there were still men ready to love her and to fight for her.

Soon, plots were formed to free the Queen. Secret messages and letters found their way within the prison walls. At last all was arranged. A washerwoman had brought some clean clothes to the castle. Mary changed dresses with this woman, and taking a bundle of clothes in her arms, and drawing her hood well over her face, she passed the guards safely and stepped into the boat. The boat started to recross the loch again to the shore. Mary sat very still and quiet, with her head bent. Perhaps she sat too still, for one of the boatmen thought something was strange. "Let us see what manner of dame this is," he said, and stooping forward, he tried to peer under her hood. Queen Mary quickly put up her hands to cover her face. Alas, they were no workwoman's hands, they were long, and slender, and white. She was discovered, and, in spite of all her tears and entreaties, the boatmen turned and rowed her back to the castle again.

But although they had failed once, Mary's friends did not despair. At last, with the help of a boy of fourteen, called Little Douglas, who lived in the castle, she escaped.

The keys of the gate of the castle were always placed on the table, beside the Governor, when he was at supper. But one night, while Little Douglas waited upon the Governor, he dropped a napkin, and in picking it up he also picked up the keys. The Governor did not notice that they were gone, and as soon as he dared, Little Douglas left the supper room and hastened to the Queen.

A few minutes later, with beating hearts they were hurrying down the silent passages. No one noticed them; no one questioned them. The gates were safely passed and locked behind them. Mary's friends on shore were watching, and they saw three figures glide quickly from the outer gate to the water's edge. It was Mary, with her little frightened maid and Douglas.

They sprang into a boat which lay ready, and Douglas, bending to the oars, rowed as fast as he could away from the dark castle. Half way across, he paused, and dropped the keys into the water. They were safe for a time from pursuit. So eager was Mary to reach the shore, that she took an oar and helped to row. At last, breathless with excitement and delight, she sprang to land. In a moment her friends were round her. A horse was ready, and leaping into the saddle she sped away.

Oh! the wild, sweet ride, through the cool night air. She was free again! A Queen again! At every bound, her horse carried her further and further away from prison. At every bound her heart grew lighter, her hopes rose higher. With only a few hours rest she rode half across Scotland, to Hamilton, near Glasgow.

The news of the Queen's escape flew like wildfire through the land. From far and near, those who loved her gathered to her, till she was at the head of an army of six thousand men.

The Regent Murray was in Glasgow, not many miles away, and he too gathered his army and marched against his sister. At Langside, a village near Glasgow, a battle took place. It lasted only three-quarters of an hour, and ended in the total defeat of Mary's troops.

On a little hill, about half a mile from the battle-field, the Queen stood to watch. She was full of hope and gladness. Eagerly she watched the fight sway this way and that. But when she saw her troops beaten and scattered, when she saw them at last put to utter flight, she lost all hope. Turning from the field, she too fled, never pausing until she was sixty miles away.

Mary knew not where to go. She feared to remain in Scotland lest she should again be put in prison. France, where she had been so happy, was far off. England lay nearer. Surely, she thought, Elizabeth, her cousin, would be kind to an unhappy sister queen. So to England she went.

Alas poor Mary! In her need and trouble, she had forgotten the years of hate and distrust that lay between herself and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth could not forgive Mary for having claimed the throne of England. She could not forgive her for being more young and beautiful than herself. She would not receive, and would not help her cousin. Mary found that she had only escaped from a Scottish prison to be shut up in an English one.

Elizabeth had to give a reason for putting Mary in prison. She said it was because she had helped to murder her husband Darnley. But, whether Mary had killed her husband or not, Elizabeth had no right to imprison her, for Mary was not an English subject, and the English Queen had no right to interfere between the Scottish Queen and her people.

There was a trial, held first at York and then at Westminster, to which Mary's accusers came, but to which Mary was not allowed to go to defend herself. Among those who came to accuse her was her half-brother, the Regent Murray.

There was a great deal of talking, but nothing was proved one way or another. And after a long time, Elizabeth said that although she did not doubt the truth and honour of the Regent, he had proved nothing against the Queen, and she had made up her mind not to interfere with Scottish matters. She said this, but she kept Mary in prison, while Murray was allowed to go back to Scotland with plenty of good English gold in his pockets.

For nineteen years beautiful Queen Mary was kept prisoner in England. From castle to castle she was moved about, always strongly and carefully guarded. She had still many friends, and again and again they plotted to free her, but they never succeeded.

"Now blooms the lily by the bank,

The primrose down the brae;

The hawthorn 's budding in the glen,

And milk white is the slae,

The meanest hind in fair Scotland

May rove their sweets amang;

But I, the Queen of a' Scotland,

Maun lie in prison strang.

"I was the Queen o' bonny France,

Where happy I hae been,

Fu' lightly raise I in the morn,

As blithe lay down at e'en:

And I'm the sovereign of Scotland,

And mony a traitor there;

Yet here I lie in foreign bands

And never ending care."

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