On This Day In History – February 1, 1587

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On 1 February 1587 Queen Elizabeth I of England signed the death warrant of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, after months of deliberating on the matter. Mary, who had at one point been Queen of France and the daughter in law of Catherine de’ Medici, had been tried and found guilty of taking part in the Babington Plot – Elizabeth deliberately held back on having the verdict announced and more so at having the death warrant signed. Mary was an anointed Queen, after all. Having her executed would be regicide.

Elizabeth finally made her decision and called her secretary, William Davison, and asked that she be brought the death warrant. She duly signed the document but still her conscience in the matter got the better of her – she asked Mary’s gaoler, via a letter from her spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, to kill Mary in some other way however he promptly to do so, utterly horrified that he would be asked to do such a thing. Instead the death warrant stood, condemning Mary Queen of Scots to be executed – the deed was kept secret from Queen Elizabeth, who was only advised that the execution had taken place after Mary had lost her head.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and one time Queen of France was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587, in a private execution.

Mary Queen of Scots was mother to King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and grandmother to King Charles I of England.

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Mary Queen of Scots by François Clouet 

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