On the 8th February 1587 Mary Stuart, more commonly known as Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed in the great hall of Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Having been imprisoned for 19 years in a variety of castles and manor houses, Mary was accused and found guilty of plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1586.

Mary was put under house arrest in 1568 as she was a threat to Elizabeth, due to her strong claim to the English throne through her paternal grandmother Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister). Furthermore Mary was a rallying point for Catholic and Spanish plots that sought to overthrow Elizabeth and install her as the new queen of England. Mary herself didn’t hide her belief that she should be queen, as Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate due to her being born to Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s wife after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

Mary’s imprisonment continued until a case could be made against her. She was finally charged with treason, despite not being an English citizen, after the spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham intercepted coded letters in which Mary approved of the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth. Mary’s trial took place in October 1586, and she was convicted on the 25th. However, Elizabeth was reluctant to sign the death warrant and didn’t do so for over three months.

On the 8th February 1587, Mary made her way from her chambers to the scaffold that had been erected in Fotheringhay Castle’s great hall. It took the executioner three strokes of his axe to behead her.

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© Scott Allsop