James VI.—About the Death of Two Queens and the Joining of Two Crowns
All these years, while the King had been growing up, Queen Mary, his mother, had been kept in England, a captive.
From castle to castle she had been moved. As the years went on, she was treated more and more hardly, kept more and more closely a prisoner. For, although her own son had been taught to look upon her as an enemy, Mary had still many friends, and plot after plot was formed to free her, and to place her upon the throne of England. But sooner or later, every plot was found out.
The last and greatest of these plots was called the Babington Conspiracy. It was so called from the name of a gentleman called Babington, who was at the head of it. The plot was discovered, and Babington and all his friends were put to death in cruel fashion.
It was then decided that Mary too should be tried for her share in the plot.
She was at this time imprisoned in the castle of Fotheringay, in Northamptonshire. There, forty of the greatest lords and gentlemen of England came for the trial.
In the great banqueting hall of the castle they gathered, and with grave, stern faces, sat awaiting the coming of their prisoner. At one end of the hall there was an empty throne, with a canopy over it. This was not meant for Queen Mary, but only to show where Queen Elizabeth would have sat, had she been there. At the side was placed a chair for Mary.
As Queen Mary entered the hall, it was seen that she walked with difficulty, for the long years in damp prisons had made her lame. When she saw that she was not to be allowed to sit upon the throne, but only on a common chair, she looked proudly and sadly at the lords. "I am a Queen," she said, pointing to the throne; "my seat ought to be there."
But there was no pity nor kindliness in all the stern faces as she looked round upon them. "Alas," she said, after a moment's silence, "here are many counsellors, yet there is not one for me." Then she quietly took her seat.
The trial began, if trial it could be called, for Mary was not allowed to have any one to help her, or to plead for her. She did not even know of what she was accused. It was one poor woman against forty stern men.
All that was said or done mattered little, for it was meant that Mary should die. So her forty stern judges condemned her to death. But Elizabeth, although she hated and feared Mary, although she would have been glad to hear that she was dead, did not want to bear the reproach of having put her to death. So she would not, at first, sign the death warrant, as the paper commanding a person to be put to death is called. Elizabeth gave her wise men and counsellors many hints as to what she would like them to do. She even tried to make Mary's jailer murder her. But although he was a stern, rough man, he would not do so wicked a deed.
At last, seeing nothing else for it, Elizabeth signed the warrant.
Very quietly Mary received the news that she was to die. "When is it to be?" she asked.
"To-morrow, at eight in the morning," was the reply.
She had only a few more hours to live. Her maids gathered round her, weeping bitterly. "Come, come," she said, "cease weeping and be busy. Did I not warn you, my children, that it would come to this? Now blessed be God it has come, and fear and sorrow are at an end."
She divided her money among her servants, putting each sum into a little purse, and writing the name of the person for whom it was intended on a piece of paper. She wrote letters, and made her will, and at last lay down to rest.
Early next morning she was awake and dressed herself with great care. She wore a black satin dress, and a long white veil, and round her neck hung a golden crucifix. So, leaning upon the arm of one of the officers of the guard, she entered the great hall of the castle. It was crowded with people and bright with firelight. Upon a low platform, covered with black, stood a block. The last sad hour of all her troubled life had come, and soon Mary, who was perhaps the most unfortunate queen who ever set foot upon a throne, lay dead. "So perish all the enemies of the Queen," cried the Dean of Peterborough, as the executioner held up the head. He was answered by the sound of tears. Mary was only forty-five, yet her hair was white, and her face was the face of an old woman.
When all was over, dreary silence settled down on Fotheringay. For a moment there was stir and clatter in the courtyard as a horseman rode out of the gates, and turning his horse southward, galloped wildly. It was a messenger to tell Elizabeth that her great rival was dead.
But no welcome messenger was he. When the Queen heard the news she was very angry, or at least pretended to be angry. She put one of her advisers in prison, and sent others away in disgrace. But she could not remove from herself the blame, for she had signed the warrant.
Mary had not many friends left in Scotland. But Elizabeth by putting her to death, made many into friends who had before been enemies. James had never seen his mother. He had been taught not to love her, but rather to think of her as an enemy. But now he was angry. He would not receive Elizabeth's messenger, and it seemed as if there might be war. There was none, however. James knew that if he went to war with England, many of his nobles would not follow him, and that he had neither men enough, nor money enough, with which to conquer England. He knew, too, that when Elizabeth died, he was the next heir to the English throne. So in a little time he let his anger die away, and became friends again with the English Queen.
Sixteen years later that English Queen lay dying. "Will you have your cousin of Scotland to reign after you?" asked her wise men. She did not speak, but made a sign which seemed to mean "yes."
But whether the great despotic Queen would or would not, the King of Scots was the rightful heir. He was the great-grandson of Henry vii. , and there was neither man nor woman in all England who had so good a right to the throne.
As soon as Queen Elizabeth was dead, a lady who sat beside her drew a ring from her finger. Going to the window she opened it. Below sat a horseman, booted and spurred. The lady threw the ring down to him, and the horseman, knowing what it meant, turned his horse's head northward and galloped off to Scotland. Hardly pausing for rest, he rode day and night, until he reached Holyrood Palace.
The King had gone to bed, but hearing that a messenger had arrived post haste from England, he rose again. So, dusty, travel-stained, and weary, the messenger knelt to kiss the hand of his new King—the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
A few days later, King James said good-bye to Scotland, and set out for his new kingdom. It had taken the messenger who came to tell him that he was King, just three days to ride through all the kingdom. James spent a month on the way. He crossed the border at Berwick, the town over which, perhaps, more than over any other, the Scots and English had fought and quarrelled, and which they had torn from each other again and again. Now the King was received with great rejoicings. Everywhere as he passed, balls, plays, hunting parties, and all kinds of entertainments were got up for his amusement, and when he at length entered London, cannon boomed, and bells rang, and the people cheered until they were hoarse.
So at last, after hundreds of years of war and bloodshed, England and Scotland were joined. What almost every King of England, since the days of Edward the Confessor had longed for, had come to pass. But not in the way they thought. Scotland was still unconquered. She had given England a King.
This union of the crowns, as it was called, happened in 1608 a.d.