CHAPTER XXII. ELIZABETH (vii), 1583-87 - THE END OF QUEEN MARY
Mary, as before, denied the jurisdiction, professing readiness to answer only before Parliament. She ignored an invitation from the Queen to obtain pardon by a confession of guilt. She assented under protest to appear before the Court, and there avowed that she had consistently appealed to the Powers of Europe to aid her, as she was entitled to do, but flatly denied complicity in the Babington plot. The evidence against her was entirely that of letters - said to be copied from her correspondence, but quite possibly invented in whole or in part - and the confessions of the conspirators or of her secretaries, extorted under torture or the fear of it. Those letters might even have been concocted to suit Walsingham without his actual privity, by the man who had the task of deciphering and copying them. Having heard her denial, the Court was transferred from Fotheringay, where it first sat, to Westminster: and at Westminster, after further examination of the documents and of Mary's secretaries, it unanimously pronounced her guilty. The sentence was left for Parliament and the Queen to settle. The Parliament which had passed the recent Act for the Defence of the Queen was dissolved, and a new one was summoned. On its meeting in November, it petitioned for Mary's execution, in accordance with the terms of the "Association" which Mary herself had offered to join. The publication of the sentence was received with public acclamation: but whether the Queen would assent to it remained to be seen.
What then were the guiding considerations, whether of Ethics or of Expediency?
[The situation reviewed;]
For eighteen years, Mary had been in Elizabeth's power. Elizabeth had held her captive for the sufficient reason - amongst others - that were she outside of England and free from restraint, there was nothing to prevent her from actively agitating the Catholics of Europe to assert her claim to the English throne. No monarch having in his grip a claimant with an undeniably strong title to his throne would have allowed that claimant to escape from his clutches. Few would have hesitated to concoct some more or less plausible pretext for the claimant's death. Half England considered that a sufficient pretext was provided by Kirk o' Field; but even assuming that Mary's guilt in that matter was legally proved, which it assuredly was not, it is sufficiently obvious that the sovereign of England had no jurisdiction. Still any monarch situated like Elizabeth would have maintained, and probably have acted upon, the right to put the captive to death, if proved to be guilty of complicity in treason or subornation thereof. Throughout the eighteen years, Elizabeth had deliberately abstained from seeking to prove definitely that Mary was an accomplice in the various plots on her behalf, while she was no less careful to leave the imputation of complicity clinging to her. But now, if the Chartley correspondence were genuine, the case was decided. The Court, which cannot be said to have been packed, was satisfied. Again it does not appear that any monarch, regarding the captive's death as per se desirable, would have doubted the sufficiency of the ground for her execution.
But hitherto the English Queen had not regarded her rival's death as per se desirable. Conceivably there was an element of generosity in that view. Certainly there was the fact that Mary was an anointed Queen, and Elizabeth had a most profound respect for the sanctity of crowned heads. But apart from this, there was the purely political argument. Mary living, and in her power, was an asset. She might always be set at liberty on terms. Elizabeth hated parting with a political asset even at a high price, for good value. Hitherto she had reckoned the living Mary as worth more than Mary's death would be: for Mary might simply be replaced as a claimant by James, who was not, like his mother, in her power, and might very well think the crown of England worth a Mass.
[its recent developments]
Now however, a considerable change had come over the situation. Failing Mary the English Catholics were divided as to the succession. James could profess filial affection when it suited him; but for some time past he had dropped that attitude; he had just made a convenient compact with England; and his mother, making up her mind to his antagonism, had by will disinherited him and bequeathed her rights to Philip of Spain, who had a clear claim to the blood Royal of England as descending through his mother Isabella of Portugal from John of Gaunt. [Footnote: See Front. Philip's cousins, however, the duchesses of Braganza and Parma, daughters of Isabella's brother, had a better title - as they also had to the crown of Portugal. See p. 303. The exiled Westmorland had a better title still.] The accession of Philip would suit neither France, nor the Pope; the accession of James would be at best an uncertain gain to the Catholics; and so Mary's execution would leave no one claimant for the discontented to rally to. On the other hand, if Mary were allowed to live, her restoration by Elizabeth would be almost incredible. Her value as an asset had fallen, the security given by her death would be much more assured. Political expediency, therefore, entirely favoured her death, unless the execution would bring France or Scotland against Elizabeth in arms. France protested earnestly, but clearly intended nothing stronger than protests, and it very soon became equally clear that no serious trouble need be feared from James.
[1587 The sentences carried out]