Authors: Carolly Erickson
Also by Carolly Erickson
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette
The Last Wife of Henry VIII
The Secret Life of Josephine
The Tsarina’s Daughter
The Records of Medieval Europe
Civilization and Society in the West
The Medieval Vision
The First Elizabeth
Our Tempestuous Day
Bonnie Prince Charlie
To the Scaffold
Her Little Majesty
Arc of the Arrow
The Girl from Botany Bay
ST. MARTIN’S GRIFFIN
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE MEMOIRS OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
. Copyright © 2009 by Carolly Erickson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Erickson, Carolly, 1943–
The memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots / Carolly Erickson.—1st ed.
1. Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542–1587—Fiction. 2. Scotland—History—Mary Stuart, 1542–1567—Fiction. 3. Great Britain—History—Elizabeth, 1558–1603—Fiction. 4. Queens—Scotland—Fiction. I. Title.
First St. Martin’s Griffin Edition: September 2010
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Out of the shadows and mists of time, figures are taking shape, and walking across the grand stage of imagination. . . .
THE MEMOIRS OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
I saw it all. I was standing at the back, in a group of men I didn’t know, who like me were shivering in their woolen cloaks as it was as cold as a witch’s dug and the big fire in the middle of the room gave us no warmth.
I was there to watch her die, the woman I had loved and hated, wanted and rejected, fought for and nearly died for a dozen times. My wife, my joy and my burden, my sovereign, Mary, Queen of the Scots and Queen Dowager of France and rightful Queen of England too, though it was for that she had to die.
I was impatient. I wanted it to be over. Already I could tell that there would be shouts and a rush for the blood-stained block as soon as the axe fell because many of the men around me had their handkerchiefs out, ready to dip them in her gore. For as everyone knows, the blood of a beheaded criminal works wonders.
The thought of it, the mad rush of the men running past me, shoving me out of the way, the stink of the blood, the twitching body—for I had seen many an execution, and I knew that it takes a long time for a body to give up its last struggle and lie still—made me swear under my breath. I wanted no part of it. I didn’t even want to
see it, or to feel what would happen around me as the men crowded to get up onto the platform to wipe up the bloody mess.
Lord, let it be quick!
Despite the cold I felt my forehead growing damp with sweat. It had to be the waiting, all the tense waiting, that was making me feel hot. I had known for weeks that it would happen soon, that she would have to die, but no one would say when, what day or what hour. Queen Elizabeth could not make up her mind to choose a day, and so poor Mary and her grieving servants were forced to drag out their mornings and afternoons and long weary evenings, never knowing when the dreaded message would arrive. Finally it had come, and here we were, waiting out the last cold hours of Mary’s life, stamping our feet and slapping our arms in a vain effort to get warm. Meanwhile I was sweating.
At last a small door opened and Mary came in.
There was a hush, then a murmur from the hundreds of men in the room. I heard the words “martyr” and “whore,” and “murderess” and I stopped my ears, not wanting to hear more. I glanced at her. Her long years in prison, as I knew well, had turned her from the lithe, graceful, slender beauty I had first met when she was seventeen into a stout grandam with wrinkled cheeks who walked with a rheumatic limp, leaning on the arm of her escort, her sad-eyed old equerry Erskine. She still had the husk of beauty, and her eyes, as she searched the crowd, were still a lovely shade of golden brown, though lighter than they had been when we first met.
She had on a worn black gown that had once been costly, and as she walked she fingered a golden rosary tied around her waist and the miniature I had sent her, of myself and our daughter. I recognized the small suite that followed her: besides poor Erskine, there were her surgeon Gervais and her physician Bourgoing, the steward of her household Adrien de Guise, a man she had known in her youth in France, and her favorite tirewoman Margaret Hargatt.
None of the men around me uncovered when she came in, but kept on their high-crowned black hats. Not wanting to be conspicuous, I did the same. The murmuring stopped. Mary sat down in a chair draped with black velvet, the low velvet-covered block in front of her.
The death warrant was read. She was attainted of treason. She had conspired to kill Queen Elizabeth, the warrant said, and had exhorted others to kill her as well. She had to die.
Then a cleric preached to her, and afterwards knelt and began to pray in English after the Protestant fashion, for we were in England, after all, and England is a Protestant realm. But Mary, abandoning her chair and kneeling with difficulty, opened her Latin prayerbook and began to say her Catholic prayers, her voice carrying even more loudly than his, and some among the spectators crossed themselves and mouthed the old Latin words along with her.
At first I thought someone would silence her, and I looked around at the soldiers who stood by, and the sheriff’s men arrayed around the edges of the newly built wooden platform, their halberds at the ready, their faces expressionless. But no one in authority moved or spoke, and so she prayed on, her high voice broken but brave, until she reached her amen.
I saw now that one of her hands was trembling, and I could not tell if it was from the cold or from fear. I had an impulse to rush up to her, to put my own warm cloak around her, though I knew I didn’t dare. And in that moment she paused once more to look around at those gathered to watch her, and she met my gaze.
I knew at once that she recognized me. A light came into her eyes, and there was the faintest smile on her pale lips. I even thought I detected a flush on her cheeks, though it might have been a mere trick of the wintry sunlight that was beginning to filter in through the high windows.
“Orange Blossom!” I wanted to cry out. “My dearest! I tried! I did my best!”
But she had already begun to forgive the executioner Bull and his burly assistant for the bloody work they were about to do, and to hand them the token coins that were the symbol of her forgiveness.
It would not be long now, I thought. Only a moment and then those brave, loving eyes will close forever. Now I was the one who trembled, and I am not a cowardly man.
I turned aside, I could not watch. When I found my courage again and looked in her direction I saw that her women had taken off the black outer gown she wore to reveal the dark red gown she had on underneath it—red as dried blood, red for martyrdom.
Then I heard a silence, and then a swish of cloth, and in a moment, a dull thud. A shiver passed through the crowd. I looked up—and saw that the first blow of the axe had not severed her head, but sliced into it. A clumsy, crude blow, unpardonable! The knave had missed his target entirely. Vowing to slice him to ribbons once I found him, after the gory day was over, I watched as the next blow cut deep into her neck, but still did not sever her head entirely. Her blood gushed out, quantities of blood, and I could not help but gasp and try not to sob at the sight of it.
At the very last, before she died, she saw me. I swear she did. I saw her lips mouth the words “Jamie. My Jamie.” Her lips went on moving even after they held her head up, first by the red-brown wig that soon parted from the head and allowed it to bounce grotesquely along the floorboards, and then by her true hair, lank and gray and dusty from the dirt of the floor. Margaret told me afterwards that she thought Mary had been trying to say “Jesus” when her lips moved. But it wasn’t Jesus, it was Jamie.
Even in death the queen was afraid of her. Afraid of what the people would do when they learned she had been killed. So a huge bonfire was made in the courtyard, and every scrap of clothing with blood on it was burnt on that fire, and every relic of her found and destroyed. Even the executioner’s apron was burnt to ashes, against his protests. No one was allowed to leave Fotheringhay to carry the
news of Mary’s death for days afterwards, and the huge iron gates of the castle were shut and closely guarded.
I left as soon as I was able, for I was no one important, just a peddler of potions, and no one wanted to keep me from delivering my oil of vetiver and larks’-tongue balm. Besides, I was eager to get to the coast, where the
waited, her crew eager to sail to Lisbon and join the Most Fortunate Fleet. There I would tell the story of Mary Queen of Scots to whomever would listen, and I would boast that I, James, fourth Earl of Bothwell, had been fortunate enough to love her, and to watch her die, and to live on to tell the world about it.