Narrative of the Execution of the Queen of Scots – the end

Mary implores her guards to let her servants accompany her, promising they will behave themselves, and even bursts into tears. They finally let her to choose six servants, and she selects four men and two women. Then she enters the hall where the scaffold is set up. She sits down on a stool and listens with a cheerful indifference to her sentence. Then she has to listen to the sermon of the Dean of Peterborough, trying to convince her to convert in these last moments of her life to Protestantism, which of course she refuses. An interesting tidbit – the Dean uses Psalm 45: 10 – 11 to tell Mary she should forget her past glory, which is the gloomiest use of this verse I have ever seen. All the gathered then pray to God for her to make her see the light of true faith. She prays in Latin and then in English for her soul, her son, Queen Elizabeth and forgives her enemies. When she ends, she is calm, and even cheerful. She forgives her executioners, as the custom was, and when they disrobe her, she even jokes she is not used to being disrobed by such a bridegroom, or in such a big company. Her women start to wail, but she tells them in French “Don’t cry, I promised you wouldn’t”. One of the executioners wants to take away her “Agnus Dei”, but she says she wanted to give it to one of her servants and promises him to get paid instead. (Executioners usually got all the personal belongings of the people they killed, that is why they were so keen of disrobing the victims themselves).  One of her women ties her eyes with a cloth used to cover the Eucharist chalice. Mary says one final Psalm in Latin, puts her head on the block and while one executioner is holding her tight, the other dispatches her. He must have been inexperienced, because it took him two blows, and even after that there was still “a little gristle”.

This is not the only gruesome detail. When the executioner lifts her head up, her head covering and wig fall off, revealing short grey hair. Her lips were trembling a quarter of an hour after the decapitation. Another executioner, burrowing in her skirts to pluck off her garters (yuck), finds there her pet dog who was hiding there and then the poor animal (the tradition has it that it was a Skye terrier) lies down in the space between her head and shoulders, until he is taken by force to be washed. All Mary’s other belongings are also either washed or burnt and the executioners are only allowed to take their fees. Mary’s body is carried upstairs to be embalmed.

Wingfield ends his narrative with the assurances that he tried to note down everything as faithfully as he could, and if the speeches are not exact transcriptions of the words spoken, they are substantially true.


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