Hail Mary: The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Four hundred and thirty years ago today, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason against her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England.
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Mary Queen of Scots Photo

Mary Queen of Scots, circa 1559.

The Backstory

The relationship between Scotland and England had a tenuous history, and no two people embodied this as much as Mary Queen of Scots and her older cousin Queen Elizabeth I.

Mary was only six days old when she became queen of Scotland in 1542. With her mother being King Henry VIII's older sister, Mary was second in line to the English throne, after her cousin Elizabeth I. However, many Catholics in England considered Elizabeth's claim to the throne illegitimate and Mary as the true queen.

After making several poor political decisions and choices in marriage, Mary was pushed out of Scotland and foolishly decided to flee to her cousin Elizabeth for help. Feeling threatened by Mary's presence, Elizabeth locked her away for almost 19 years. Throughout those years, multiple attempts were made on Elizabeth's life, with rumors circulating that Mary was somehow involved in her cousin's demise. The suspicions were laid to rest when Mary was directly caught in an assassination plot attempt against Elizabeth. Although laden with guilt, Elizabeth ordered the execution of her 44-year-old cousin.

Queen Elizabeth I Photo

Queen Elizabeth I. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Execution

As her ladies-in-waiting wept, Mary dutifully finished her prayers as she faced the scaffolding and a crowd of 500 onlookers. The executioner fell to his knees and asked for her forgiveness. With composure and a smile on her face, she quietly forgave him and allowed her ladies-in-waiting to help her remove her articles of clothing and place a handkerchief over her eyes.

As she lay her head on the block, she cried out In manus tuas, Domine multiple times. After two strokes of the executioner's axe, her head was severed from her body. Taking her head with his hand, the executioner lifted her head-dress off, revealing her once famously fair hair had turned grey. "God save Queen Elizabeth! May all the enemies of the true Evangel thus perish!" he cried out. According to record, Mary's lips quivered for several minutes after her decapitation.

It was said that her beloved dog had been hiding underneath her clothes and faithfully stayed with her blood-soaked body.