8 February 2016

The Bravery of Mary, Queen of Scots, Executed #OnThisDay 8 February 1587

The wax mask placed over Mary's face
after death to preserve the memory of her.

I remember as a child being horrified at how Elizabeth cut off her cousin’s head. Now, decades later, I am a little closer to understanding it. It is cold and windy here in Pembrokeshire today on the 8th of February, and I imagine it must have been much the same in London more than four centuries ago. Mary asked her executioners to kneel while she prayed for their souls, and said 'I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.'

Her maidservants then began to remove her clothes, which must have been a final indignity for such a proud and private woman.  She unfastened the crucifix which she always wore around her neck and handed it to her executioner, saying it should bring him some money, then passed her well-worn rosary to one of her ladies.

It is reported that all this time she seemed calm and in good spirits, saying she ‘never had such grooms to make her unready', and that she 'never put off her clothes before such a company.'  Now dressed only in her petticoat and kirtle, she embraced her two ladies, and spoke to them in French, 'Ne crie vous, j'ay prome pour vous'. She turned to her other servants, who had assembled to witness her death, and asked them to pray for her.

A blindfold was now pinned over her head and she knelt on a cushion, praying in Latin, Psalm 31: In Te Domine confide non confundar in eternam, then, feeling with her hands for the executioner’s block, lay down her head, resting her chin over the block. In a final, chilling plea, she stretched out her arms ad called out, ‘In manus tuas, Domine,’ four times.

The act of execution did not go well. And took several attempts with the axe.  It is said as he lifted her head by her hair, her wig fell off to reveal short, grey hair. And her lips continued to move as if still praying. A detail often not reported is that her little dog, hiding under her petticoats, refused to leave his mistress and lay down between her head and her shoulders.

I will remember her today as a brave woman, who faced death with dignity and great courage, a true queen. 

The scene of the execution, created by an unknown Dutch artist in 1613 (Wikimedia Commons) 


  1. Incredible bravery. An interesting post. Thank you.

  2. Being a Scottish child, I was always 'incensed' by what the Sassenach queen did. "When I was a child I though as a child", comes to mind. Now, I can see nuances - and politics, that I was not aware of then. :)
    What an excellent post! An awesome tribute. Thank you.

    1. thanks for visiting, Susan. I have a special guest post coming up from Linda Porter, author of 'Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots.' Linda is also the historical consultant on a major new BBC 1 series, to be presented by Lucy Worsley, on the Six Wives of Henry VIII.

  3. A true brave queen who had a tragic ending


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