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
The vast hall had space enough on the ground for numerous spectators,
and a small gallery intended for musician
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
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
"He is Sir Christopher Hatton, her Majesty's Vice-Chamberlain," replied
"Who, if rumour saith true, made his fortune by a galliard," said Dr.
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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.