The life of Mary Tudor has been in its place described as supremely tragic; that of Mary Stewart presents a tragedy not greater but more dramatic - whatever view we may take of her guilt or innocence with regard to Darnley, to Bothwell, to the conspirators who would fain have made her Queen of England. Of the misdeeds laid to her charge, that of unchastity has no colourable evidence except in the case of Bothwell, for whom it may be considered certain that she had an overwhelming passion; and even there the evidence is not more than colourable. That she was cognisant of the intended murder of Darnley can be doubted only by a very warm partisan: but in weighing the criminality even of that, it must be remembered not only that Darnley himself had murdered her secretary before her eyes, and had insulted her past forgiveness, but that political assassinations were connived at by the morals of the times. Henry VIII. had preferred to commit his murders through the forms of law, but had encouraged the assassination of Cardinal Beton which John Knox applauded. In Italy, every prominent man lived constantly on his guard against the cup and the dagger. Philip, Parma, Alva, Mendoza, encouraged the murder of Elizabeth, and incited or approved that of Orange. The royal House of France was directly responsible for the slaughter of St. Bartholomew. Henry III. of France assassinated Henry of Guise; the Guises in turn assassinated Henry. Many of the Scottish nobility, including certainly Lethington and Morton, if not Murray, were beyond question as deep as Mary, if not deeper, in the murder of Darnley. And in England it may be said frankly that there was no sentiment against political murder, but only against murder without sanction of Law. Given a person whose life was regarded as possibly dangerous to the State, the public conscience was entirely satisfied if any colourable pretext could be found on which the legal authorities could profess to find warrant for a death sentence, though the proof, on modern theories of evidence, might be wholly inconclusive. In plain terms, if Mary had not followed up the murder by marrying the "first murderer," the deed would not have been regarded as particularly atrocious, or as placing her in any way outside the pale. But that marriage was fatal. Darnley was killed because while he lived his intellectual and moral turpitude were perfectly certain to wreck his wife's political schemes; but the new marriage was equally destructive politically and drove home the belief that passion, not politics, was the real motive of the murder. Whether politics or passion were the real motive, whether either would have sufficed without the other, whether even together they would have sufficed without the third motive of revenge for Rizzio, no human judgment can tell. But if under stress of those three motives in combination, Mary connived at the murder, it proves indeed that her judgment failed her, but not that according to the standards of the day she was unusually wicked.

As to her conduct in England - whatever it was - in connexion with the Ridolfi, Throgmorton, and Babington plots. In the first place, she owed Elizabeth no gratitude. She was perfectly well aware that the Queen kept her alive because - unlike her ministers and her people - she thought Mary alive was on the whole more useful than dangerous. Mary always without any sort of concealment asserted throughout the eighteen years of her captivity her quite indisputable right to appeal to the European Powers for deliverance. She always denied that she had any part in or knowledge of schemes for Elizabeth's assassination. Those denials were never met by any evidence [Footnote: Cf. Hume in State Papers, Spanish, III., iii.] more conclusive than alleged copies of deciphered correspondence, or the confessions of prisoners on the rack or under threat of it. But assuming that her denials were false, that in one or other instance or in all three she was guilty, she did only what Valois and Habsburg and half the leading statesmen in Europe were doing, with the approbation of Rome, and without Mary's excuse. For they had the opportunity of overthrowing Coligny, Orange, Henry of Guise, and Elizabeth herself in fair fight; Mary had not: her crime therefore at the worst was infinitely less than theirs. To a caged captive much may be forgiven which in those others could not be forgiven.

And if in her prison she did assent to her own deliverance by assassination, and condescend (as no doubt she did) to use in some of her dealings with her captor some of that duplicity whereof that captor was herself a past mistress - if she used on her own behalf the weapons which were freely employed against her - she displayed at all times other qualities which were splendidly royal. She never betrayed, never disowned, never forgot a faithful servant or a loyal friend. If she bewitched the men who came in contact with her, she was the object of a no less passionate devotion on the part of all her women; not that transient if vehement emotion which a fascinating fiend can arouse when she wills, but a devotion persistent and enduring. And withal she dreed her weird with a lofty courage, faced it full front with a high defiance, which must bespeak for ever the admiration at least of every generous spirit.

All this we may say and yet do justice to the attitude towards her of the people of England. For to them, her life was a perpetual menace. The idea of her succession was to half of them unendurable, yet if Elizabeth died it could be averted only at the cost of a fierce civil war, aggravated almost certainly by a foreign invasion. About her, plots were eternally brewing which if they came to a head must involve the whole nation in a bloody strife. She engaged when she could in negotiations which could not do otherwise than imperil the peace of the realm. If no law or precedent could be found applicable to such a situation, there was clear moral justification for removing such a public danger in the only possible way. Mary's release would only have aggravated it; her death was the one solution. England had no hesitation in assuming the grim responsibility which the Queen of England was fain to evade at her servants' expense.