The True Executor of the Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

The True Executor of the Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Koeppen, Melissa (Illinois Wesleyan University)

Constructing the Past: Vol. 6: Iss. 1, Article 4 (2005)


On February 8, 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed after being found guilty of conspiring in the Babington Plot to have her sister queen, Elizabeth I, murdered. When word of the execution reached Elizabeth, she argued that she had never ordered the execution. Elizabeth blamed the incident on her Secretary of State William Davison and Lord Treasurer Burghley. Davison claimed that under Burghley’s instructions he had gone to Elizabeth to obtain the royal signature for Mary’s death warrant. On February 1st, Davison said Elizabeth called for him and instructed him to have the death warrant sealed. However, Elizabeth claimed she had told Davison to keep the signed warrant secet and to keep it with him until further notice. I Davison argued that Elizabeth discussed assassination as an alternative to executing Mary. But when she drafted a letter to Sir Amyas Poulet, Mary’s keeper during her imprisonment, regarding assassination of Mary, she received a discouraging response. Davison addressed this issue with Burghley, who then addressed the Council. It was Burghley who said that the Queen “had done everything she could do” but she had said to Davison, “she wanted to hear no more of it until it was done.”

Did Davison and the other Councillors go against the Queen’s presumed wishes? Did Elizabeth use Davison as a scapegoat so she could claim innocence in the execution? Sir John E. Neale, former Astor Professor of English Hisory at University of London, discussed the idea that Davison was Elizabeth’s scapegoat. Wallace MacCaffrey, the latest key authority on Elizabeth and Emeritus Professor of History at Harvard University, insinuates it was the Councillors who pushed for the execution. Another key authority, Conyers Read, former Professor of History at Princeton University, University of Chicago, and University of Pennsylvania, insinuates that Elizabeth had more to do with the execution than she would admit, and he, like Neale, suggests that Elizabeth used Davison as her scapegoat. Since these historians have differing ideas, the primary evidence must be examined to find the historical truth regarding the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Click here to read this article from Constructing the Past

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