Mary Stuart (?) – The Casket Letter

Another queen whose life was cut short by the execution. I put a question mark in the heading because “the casket letters”, a cache of letters supposedly written by Mary to her lover Bothwell and produced by Scottish lords during her trial for the alleged complicity in the murder of her second husband Henry Darnley, are still a source of controversy. The originals are lost (presumably destroyed by Mary’s son) and the only surviving versions are some copies and the translations into English and Scottish from the original French which were made immediately after the trial. For the sake of discussion I am going to assume in this post that their author is indeed Mary, even though the things she describes would be the acts of almost suicidal stupidity. But then, Mary was not exactly renowned for making good choices, romantic, marital or political, so who knows?

The letter is supposedly written from Glasgow, where Mary went to visit her estranged husband Henry Darnley, ill with syphilis. She is apparently very distraught at having to dissemble that she is willing to reconcile with him. He makes her promise that when he gets better they are again going to share bed and board (I guess people didn’t know back then that syphilis was incurable and infectious, even when there were no symptoms) and she just asks him to keep it a secret, unless Scottish lords, who don’t like Darnley (for good reasons), when they hear about the reconciliation, will start to fear retribution for their treatment of him. All this feigned renewal of love is apparently to make Darnley come to Edinburgh, where he can be done with – Mary at some points asks Bothwell to consider poisoning him, as it is more secretive and Darnley is obviously going to take lots of medicines. She is very upset about making this man trust her and repeats continually that she would do it for no other reason than her love for Bothwell. She is making a bracelet for him, but asks him to wear it concealed, as she had to make it in the presence of all the assorted courtiers and she is afraid somebody is going to recognize it on his wrist, especially if he is wounded and can’t hide it from whoever comes to help him. (How about not making him wear it in the first place/) She also asks him not to believe the malicious gossip spread about her by Bothwell’s brother-in-law or the tears of his wife (Bothwell still being married at this point) because she is the only one who loves him truly.


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