Before The Commissioners





Who would be permitted to witness the trial? As small matters at hand

eclipse great matters farther off, this formed the immediate excitement

in Queen Mary's little household, when it was disclosed that she was to

appear only attended by Sir Andrew Melville and her two Maries before

her judges.



The vast hall had space enough on the ground for numerous spectators,

and a small gallery intended for musicians was granted, with some

reluctance, to the ladies and gentlemen of the suite, who, as Sir Amias

Paulett observed, could do no hurt, if secluded there. Thither then

they proceeded, and to Cicely's no small delight, found Humfrey

awaiting them there, partly as a guard, partly as a master of the

ceremonies, ready to explain the arrangements, and tell the names of

the personages who appeared in sight.



"There," said he, "close below us, where you cannot see it, is the

chair with a cloth of state over it."



"For our Queen?" asked Jean Kennedy.



"No, madam. It is there to represent the Majesty of Queen Elizabeth.

That other chair, half-way down the hall, with the canopy from the beam

over it, is for the Queen of Scots."



Jean Kennedy sniffed the air a little at this, but her attention was

directed to the gentlemen who began to fill the seats on either side.

Some of them had before had interviews with Queen Mary, and thus were

known by sight to her own attendants; some had been seen by Humfrey

during his visit to London; and even now at a great distance, and a

different table, he had been taking his meals with them at the present

juncture.



The seats were long benches against the wall, for the Earls on one

side, the Barons on the other. The Lord Chancellor Bromley, in his red

and white gown, and Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, with long white beard

and hard impenetrable face, sat with them.



"That a man should have such a beard, and yet dare to speak to the

Queen as he did two days ago," whispered Cis.



"See," said Mrs. Kennedy, "who is that burly figure with the black eyes

and grizzled beard?"



"That, madam," said Humfrey, "is the Earl of Warwick."



"The brother of the minion Leicester?" said Jean Kennedy. "He hath

scant show of his comeliness."



"Nay; they say he is become the best favoured," said Humfrey; "my Lord

of Leicester being grown heavy and red-faced. He is away in the

Netherlands, or you might judge of him."



"And who," asked the lady, "may be yon, with the strangely-plumed hat

and long, yellow hair, like a half-tamed Borderer?"



"He?" said Humfrey. "He is my Lord of Cumberland. I marvelled to see

him back so soon. He is here, there, and everywhere; and when I was in

London was commanding a fleet bearing victuals to relieve the Dutch in

Helvoetsluys. Had I not other work in hand, I would gladly sail with

him, though there be something fantastic in his humour. But here come

the Knights of the Privy Council, who are to my mind more noteworthy

than the Earls."



The seats of these knights were placed a little below and beyond those

of the noblemen. The courteous Sir Ralf Sadler looked up and saluted

the ladies in the gallery as he entered. "He was always kindly," said

Jean Kennedy, as she returned the bow. "I am glad to see him here."



"But oh, Humfrey!" cried Cicely, "who is yonder, with the short cloak

standing on end with pearls, and the quilted satin waistcoat, jewelled

ears, and frizzed head? He looks fitter to lead off a dance than a

trial."



"He is Sir Christopher Hatton, her Majesty's Vice-Chamberlain," replied

Humfrey.



"Who, if rumour saith true, made his fortune by a galliard," said Dr.

Bourgoin.



"Here is a contrast to him," said Jean Kennedy. "See that figure, as

puritanical as Sir Amias himself, with the long face, scant beard,

black skull-cap, and plain crimped ruff. His visage is pulled into so

solemn a length that were we at home in Edinburgh, I should expect to

see him ascend a pulpit, and deliver a screed to us all on the

iniquities of dancing and playing on the lute!"



"That, madam," said Humfrey, "is Mr. Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham."



Here Elizabeth Curll leant forward, looked, and shivered a little. "Ah,

Master Humfrey, is it in that man's power that my poor brother lies?"



"'Tis true, madam," said Humfrey, "but indeed you need not fear. I

heard from Will Cavendish last night that Mr. Curll is well. They have

not touched either of the Secretaries to hurt them, and if aught have

been avowed, it was by Monsieur Nau, and that on the mere threat. Do

you see old Will yonder, Cicely, just within Mr. Secretary's call--with

the poke of papers and the tablet?"



"Is that Will Cavendish? How precise and stiff he hath grown, and why

doth he not look up and greet us? He knoweth us far better than doth

Sir Ralf Sadler; doth he not know we are here?"



"Ay, Mistress Cicely," said Dr. Bourgoin from behind, "but the young

gentleman has his fortune to make, and knows better than to look on the

seamy side of Court favour."



"Ah! see those scarlet robes," here exclaimed Cis. "Are they the

judges, Humfrey?"



"Ay, the two Chief-Justices and the Chief Baron of the Exchequer. There

they sit in front of the Earls, and three more judges in front of the

Barons."



"And there are more red robes at that little table in front, besides

the black ones."



"Those are Doctors of Law, and those in black with coifs are the

Attorney and Solicitor General. The rest are clerks and writers and

the like."



"It is a mighty and fearful array," said Cicely with a long breath.



"A mighty comedy wherewith to mock at justice," said Jean.



"Prudence, madam, and caution," suggested Dr. Bourgoin. "And hush!"



A crier here shouted aloud, "Oyez, oyez, oyez! Mary, Queen of Scotland

and Dowager of France, come into the Court!"



Then from a door in the centre, leaning on Sir Andrew Melville's arm,

came forward the Queen, in a black velvet dress, her long transparent

veil hanging over it from her cap, and followed by the two Maries, one

carrying a crimson velvet folding-chair, and the other a footstool.

She turned at first towards the throne, but she was motioned aside, and

made to perceive that her place was not there. She drew her slender

figure up with offended dignity. "I am a queen," she said; "I married

a king of France, and my seat ought to be there."



However, with this protest she passed on to her appointed place,

looking sadly round at the assembled judges and lawyers.



"Alas!" she said, "so many counsellors, and not one for me."



Were there any Englishmen there besides Richard Talbot and his son who

felt the pathos of this appeal? One defenceless woman against an array

of the legal force of the whole kingdom. It may be feared that the

feelings of most were as if they had at last secured some wild,

noxious, and incomprehensible animal in their net, on whose struggles

they looked with the unpitying eye of the hunter.



The Lord Chancellor began by declaring that the Queen of England

convened the Court as a duty in one who might not bear the sword in

vain, to examine into the practices against her own life, giving the

Queen of Scots the opportunity of clearing herself.



At the desire of Burghley, the commission was read by the Clerk of the

Court, and Mary then made her public protest against its legality, or

power over her.



It was a wonderful thing, as those spectators in the gallery felt, to

see how brave and how acute was the defence of that solitary lady,

seated there with all those learned men against her; her papers gone,

nothing left to her but her brain and her tongue. No loss of dignity

nor of gentleness was shown in her replies; they were always simple and

direct. The difficulty for her was all the greater that she had not

been allowed to know the form of the accusation, before it was hurled

against her in full force by Mr. Serjeant Gawdy, who detailed the whole

of the conspiracy of Ballard and Babington in all its branches, and

declared her to have known and approved of it, and to have suggested

the manner of executing it.



Breathlessly did Cicely listen as the Queen rose up. Humfrey watched

her almost more closely than the royal prisoner. When there was a

denial of all knowledge or intercourse with Ballard or Babington, Jean

Kennedy's hard-lined face never faltered; but Cicely's brows came

together in concern at the mention of the last name, and did not clear

as the Queen explained that though many Catholics might indeed write to

her with offers of service, she could have no knowledge of anything

they might attempt. To confute this, extracts from their confessions

were read, and likewise that letter of Babington's which he had written

to her detailing his plans, and that lengthy answer, brought by the

blue-coated serving-man, in which the mode of carrying her off from

Chartley was suggested, and which had the postscript desiring to know

the names of the six who were to remove the usurping competitor.



The Queen denied this letter flatly, declaring that it might have been

written with her alphabet of ciphers, but was certainly none of hers.

"There may have been designs against the Queen and for procuring my

liberty," she said, "but I, shut up in close prison, was not aware of

them, and how can I be made to answer for them? Only lately did I

receive a letter asking my pardon if schemes were made on my behalf

without my privity, nor can anything be easier than to counterfeit a

cipher, as was lately proved by a young man in France. Verily, I

greatly fear that if these same letters were traced to their deviser,

it would prove to be the one who is sitting here. Think you," she

added, turning to Walsingham, "think you, Mr. Secretary, that I am

ignorant of your devices used so craftily against me? Your spies

surrounded me on every side, but you know not, perhaps, that some of

your spies have been false and brought intelligence to me. And if such

have been his dealings, my Lords," she said, appealing to the judges

and peers, "how can I be assured that he hath not counterfeited my

ciphers to bring me to my death? Hath he not already practised against

my life and that of my son?"



Walsingham rose in his place, and lifting up his hands and eyes

declared, "I call God to record that as a private person I have done

nothing unbeseeming an honest man, nor as a public person have I done

anything to dishonour my place."



Somewhat ironically Mary admitted this disavowal, and after some

unimportant discussion, the Court adjourned until the next day, it

being already late, according to the early habits of the time.



Cicely had been entirely carried along by her mother's pleading. Tears

had started as Queen Mary wept her indignant tears, and a glow had

risen in her cheeks at the accusation of Walsingham. Ever and anon she

looked to Humfrey's face for sympathy, but he sat gravely listening,

his two hands clasped over the hilt of his sword, and his chin resting

on them, as if to prevent a muscle of his face from moving. When they

rose up to leave the galleries, and there was the power to say a word,

she turned to him earnestly.



"A piteous sight," he said, "and a right gallant defence."



He did not mean it, but the words struck like lead on Cicely's heart,

for they did not amount to an acquittal before the tribunal of his

secret conviction, any more than did Walsingham's disavowal, for who

could tell what Mr. Secretary's conscience did think unbecoming to his

office?



Cicely found her mother on her couch giving a free course to her tears,

in the reaction after the strain and effort of her defence. Melville

and the Maries were assuring her that she had most bravely confuted her

enemies, and that she had only to hold on with equal courage to the

end. Mrs. Kennedy and Dr. Bourgoin came in to join in the same

encouragements, and the commendation evidently soothed her. "However it

may end," she said, "Mary of Scotland shall not go down to future ages

as a craven spirit. But let us not discuss it further, my dear

friends, my head aches, and I can bear no farther word at present."



Dr. Bourgoin made her take some food and then lie down to rest, while

in an outer room a lute was played and a low soft song was sung. She

had not slept all the previous night, but she fell asleep, holding the

hand of Cicely, who was on a cushion by her side. The girl, having

been likewise much disturbed, slept too, and only gradually awoke as

her mother was sitting up on her couch discussing the next day's

defence with Melville and Bourgoin.



"I fear me, madam, there is no holding to the profession of entire

ignorance," said Melville.



"They have no letters from Babington to me to show," said the Queen. "I

took care of that by the help of this good bairn. I can defy them to

produce the originals out of all my ransacked cabinets."



"They have the copies both of them and of your Majesty's replies, and

Nan and Curll to verify them."



"What are copies worth, or what are dead and tortured men's confessions

worth?" said Mary.



"Were your Majesty a private person they would never be accepted as

evidence," said Melville; "but--"



"But because I am a Queen and a Catholic there is no justice for me,"

said Mary. "Well, what is the defence you would have me confine myself

to, my sole privy counsellors?"



Here Cis, to show she was awake, pressed her mother's hand and looked

up in her face, but Mary, though returning the glance and the pressure,

did not send her away, while Melville recommended strongly that the

Queen should continue to insist on the imperfection of the evidence

adduced against her, which he said might so touch some of the lawyers,

or the nobles, that Burghley and Walsingham might be afraid to proceed.

If this failed her, she must allow her knowledge of the plot for her

own escape and the Spanish invasion, but strenuously deny the part

which concerned Elizabeth's life.



"That it is which they above all desire to fix on me," said the Queen.



Cicely's brain was in confusion. Surely she had heard those letters

read in the hall. Were they false or genuine? The Queen had utterly

denied them there. Now she seemed to think the only point was to prove

that these were not the originals. Dr. Bourgoin seemed to feel the

same difficulty.



"Madame will pardon me," he said; "I have not been of her secret

councils, but can she not, if rightly dealt with, prove those two

letters that were read to have been forged by her enemies?"



"What I could do is this, my good Bourgoin," said Mary; "were I only

confronted with Nau and Curll, I could prove that the letter I received

from Babington bore nothing about the destroying the usurping

competitor. The poor faithful lad was a fool, but not so great a fool

as to tell me such things. And, on the other hand, hath either of you,

my friends, ever seen in me such symptoms of midsummer madness as that

I should be asking the names of the six who were to do the deed? What

cared I for their names? I--who only wished to know as little of the

matter as possible!"



"Can your Majesty prove that you knew nothing?" asked Melville.



Mary paused. "They cannot prove by fair means that I knew anything,"

said she, "for I did not. Of course I was aware that Elizabeth must be

taken out of the way, or the heretics would be rallying round her; but

there is no lack of folk who delight in work of that sort, and why

should I meddle with the knowledge? With the Prince of Parma in

London, she, if she hath the high courage she boasteth of, would soon

cause the Spanish pikes to use small ceremony with her! Why should I

concern myself about poor Antony and his five gentlemen? But it is the

same as it was twenty years ago. What I know will have to be, and yet

choose not to hear of, is made the head and front of mine offending,

that the real actors may go free! And because I have writ naught that

they can bring against me, they take my letters and add to and garble

them, till none knows where to have them. Would that we were in

France! There it was a good sword-cut or pistol-shot at once, and one

took one's chance of a return, without all this hypocrisy of law and

justice to weary one out and make men double traitors."



"Methought Walsingham winced when your Majesty went to the point with

him," said Bourgoin.



"And you put up with his explanation?" said Melville.



"Truly I longed to demand of what practices Mr. Secretary in his

office,--not as a private person--would be ashamed; but it seemed to me

that they might call it womanish spite, and to that the Queen of Scots

will never descend!"



"Pity but that we had Babington's letter! Then might we put him to

confusion by proving the additions," said Melville.



"It is not possible, my good friend. The letter is at the bottom of

the Castle well; is it not, mignonne? Mourn for it not, Andrew. It

would have been of little avail, and it carried with it stuff that Mr.

Secretary would give almost his precious place to possess, and that

might be fatal to more of us. I hoped that there might have been

safety for poor Babington in the destruction of that packet, never

guessing at the villainy of yon Burton brewer, nor of those who set him

on. Come, it serves not to fret ourselves any more. I must answer as

occasion serves me; speaking not so much to Elizabeth's Commission, who

have foredoomed me, as to all Christendom, and to the Scots and English

of all ages, who will be my judges."



Her judges? Ay! but how? With the same enthusiastic pity and

indignation, mixed with the same misgiving as her own daughter felt.

Not wholly innocent, not wholly guilty, yet far less guilty than those

who had laid their own crimes on her in Scotland, or who plotted to

involve her in meshes partly woven by herself in England. The evil done

to her was frightful, but it would have been powerless had she been

wholly blameless. Alas! is it not so with all of us?



The second day's trial came on. Mary Seaton was so overpowered with

the strain she had gone through that the Queen would not take her into

the hall, but let Cicely sit at her feet instead. On this day none of

the Crown lawyers took part in the proceedings; for, as Cavendish

whispered to Humfrey, there had been high words between them and my

Lord Treasurer and Mr. Secretary; and they had declared themselves

incapable of conducting a prosecution so inconsistent with the forms of

law to which they were accustomed. The pedantic fellows wanted more

direct evidence, he said, and Humfrey honoured them.



Lord Burghley then conducted the proceedings, and they had thus a more

personal character. The Queen, however, acted on Melville's advice,

and no longer denied all knowledge of the conspiracy, but insisted that

she was ignorant of the proposed murder of Elizabeth, and argued most

pertinently that a copy of a deciphered cipher, without the original,

was no proof at all, desiring further that Nau and Curll should be

examined in her presence. She reminded the Commissioners how their

Queen herself had been called in question for Wyatt's rebellion, in

spite of her innocence. "Heaven is my witness," she added, "that much

as I desire the safety and glory of the Catholic religion, I would not

purchase it at the price of blood. I would rather play Esther than

Judith."



Her defence was completed by her taking off the ring which Elizabeth

had sent to her at Lochleven. "This," she said, holding it up, "your

Queen sent to me in token of amity and protection. You best know how

that pledge has been redeemed." Therewith she claimed another day's

hearing, with an advocate granted to her, or else that, being a

Princess, she might be believed on the word of a Princess.



This completed her defence, except so far that when Burghley responded

in a speech of great length, she interrupted, and battled point by

point, always keeping in view the strong point of the insufficient

evidence and her own deprivation of the chances of confuting what was

adduced against her.



It was late in the afternoon when he concluded. There was a pause, as

though for a verdict by the Commissioners. Instead of this, Mary rose

and repeated her appeal to be tried before the Parliament of England at

Westminster. No reply was made, and the Court broke up.





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