On this day..

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87) was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. Elizabeth I was reluctant to sign the death warrant of her cousin and fellow Queen. She finally relented under pressure from her advisors, although she ordered her privy councillor not to send out the warrant. Despite her orders, the warrant was sent and Mary was lead to the scaffold with the dignity befitting her position. She was dressed in red, the colour of a martyr.

There are several stories about Mary’s death, including that she was discovered to be wearing a wig to cover her grey hair (surely not a surprise given that she was 44). The most touching is that a small dog was found to have been hiding in her clothes, who afterwards refused to be parted from his owner. Perhaps Mary had clung to the dog as a comfort. It might go some way to explaining her reported grace and steadiness on the block, even managing to joke with her executioner.

Elizabeth was furious that her privy council had disobeyed her order and threw the councillor she had entrusted with the warrant into prison. For Mary, however, Elizabeth’s regret came too late.

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