Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Depiction of the execution on Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire
Depiction of the execution on Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire

Historical Context

Mary Stuart was Queen of Scots from 1547 until she was deposed in 1567. She spent the next twenty years of her life in exile or imprisoned. After she was deposed, she sought the assistance of her first cousin once removed, Elizabeth I, who reigned over England.

This complicated matters however as Elizabeth perceived Mary as a threat and had her imprisoned while a commission of inquiry investigated whether she was responsible for the death of her first husband, which had been the proximate cause of her overthrow.

She spent eighteen and a half years imprisoned in England, and several plots to replace Elizabeth with Mary or have her marry other European royalty came to nothing. On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested after being implicated in the Babington Plot, another scheme to overthrow the protestant Elizabeth and replace her with the catholic Mary.

She was found guilty on October 25 and sentenced to death. Elizabeth hesitated to sign the death warrant, fearing the precedent it set, and asked her custodian to find a way to "shorten the life" of Mary, but he refused. Elizabeth eventually signed the warrant and the execution was set for February 8.

Mary was not executed with a single blow - the first missed and hit her in the back of the head, the second did not completely sever her head, and only after the third did the executioner raise her head to the crowd. Mary was wearing a wig however, and the head fell from his hands, revealing that she had very short, grey hair.

Drawing Info


Artist: Unknown
Location drawn: Fotheringhay Castle, Kingdom of England

Source: Mr Allsop History

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