Tuesday, February 8, 2011
In my end is my beginning.

Centuries ago yesterday, an exhausted, wronged, and ill woman received the news that she was to be executed by foreigners who had no jurisdiction over her nor any God-given right to take her life. It was Mary Stuart, and I hold that the charges against her for conspiring against the queen were quite as feeble as those for the murder of Darnley, which even Elizabeth herself did not believe.

For those who do think that a woman under lock and key for nineteen years, of bad physical health, who had been implicated only by a man who had been brutally tortured for his confession, and whose letter had been discovered at the bottom of a beer bottle (naturally Francis Walsingham would have known where to find a letter he himself had likely written), then I can say nothing to you. As all acquainted with this matter know, the division is along the line of first principles and there can be no meeting halfway. For either side to give way, minds must be changed, not convinced.

Siding with Elizabeth are feminists who abominate the fact that Mary had affections, those who believe that because Elizabeth stayed on the throne she was a better ruler, and of course Anti-Catholics. Siding with Mary are the romantics, the advocates of natural law (overthrowing a just monarch is not natural), and of course, the Catholics.

I fall into the latter camp for all three reasons above. However, I also find the evidence against the rightful Queen of England and Scotland absurd, and even if it were not, the memory of Elizabethan martyrs and the
current state of England gives me cause to think that had Mary Stuart attempted such a bid for her own freedom and for natural justice, I--among many--would not fault her. Both Esther and Judith were virtuous, but I do believe that she had chosen the lot of the former:

I do not desire vengeance. I leave it to Him who is the just Avenger of the innocent and of those who suffer for His Name under whose power I will take shelter. I would rather pray with Esther than take the sword with Judith. _Mari R.

The reason I dubbed a portion of Elizabeth's advocates as Anti-Catholic was not lack of generosity on my part. How could I write 'Protestant' when Elizabethan Protestants only exist in pockets of the Bible Belt of the United States? Even they are a vanishing breed. How could I write 'atheists' when I have known romantic and/or rational atheists who do not side with Elizabeth? How could I write that her advocates are 'free-thinking' when under Elizabeth so many more died for the Catholic Faith than under Mary Tudor for the Protestant one? Granted Elizabeth had much more time than her half-sister, but that time also rendered her far bloodier. The death of those such as Margaret Middleton belie the notion of any 'tolerance' in Elizabeth's regime:

You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.

These were the words of Judge George Clinch to Margaret Middleton, a pregnant housewife, who had committed the iniquitous crime of housing a priest. Popular in Yorkshire, many refused to give evidence against her. Those in court pleaded for her to stand trial that she might have a less gruesome death. She heroically refused to subject her children to such a trial where they would be forced to betray their mother, as well as holding to this principle: 'I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial.' With that staunch resolve, Elizabeth's tolerant system extinguished her life and that of her unborn child's.

Given this division of principles at the very outset of the argument, to what might one appeal? I would look at the impact that the lives these women led had on their own hearts, minds, and souls.

Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold - a means of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings. _Mari R.

One way to judge the rightness of a soul's journey on this earth is how
this soul greets her end. Elizabeth killed Mary, but whose was the truly disturbing death?

When Mary heard that she was to be executed on February the 7th, she accepted it with Stoic grace and only asked that she be given time to put her affairs in order. The Count of Shrewsbury spoke to her as a modern jail warden would not dare to speak to a murderer or a rapist: 'No, no, Madam you must die, you must die! Be ready between seven and eight in the morning. It cannot be delayed a moment beyond that time.'

She must die. They are indeed her enemies, and not merely enemies of the enemies of the queen.

Well, Jane Kennedy, did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live, I was too great an obstacle to their religion. _Mari R.

When she approached the scaffold--regal, calm and clad in black--her serenity must have incensed her enemies who knew that an evildoer does not meet death peaceably. When she asked that her chaplain be allowed to accompany her, her executioners refused. Was she not allowed to worship as she wished even on the last day of her life? The Count of Kent sneered at her for carrying the cross (as the Emperor Constantine had been told by Heaven to do so centuries earlier). Mary made a reply worthy of St. Teresa of Avila that:

'...it would be difficult to hold a thing so lovely in my hand and not feel it thrill the heart, and that what became every Christian in the hour of
death was to bear with him the true Symbol of Redemption.'

She refused the mockery of a minister whose religion she did not recognize, and as she removed her ornaments, she attempted to prevent her royal person being touched by a vulgar (some believe drunken) executioner. He did roughly seize her, ripping off the doublet and revealing the red gown of the martyr beneath her sombre black.

She blessed her maids and asked them not to weep, but to rejoice for their mistress's coming freedom. Her eyes having been bound, she knelt
at the block making her last prayers, repeatedly interrupted by the surly executioner. At last, her arms held by another executioner, her head was severed, not with a sword as would have been legitimate for her status, but with an axe. It was 'obvious' to Pierre de Bourdeille, an observer, that the brute wished to exacerbate the pain of her death, as it took him three strokes to cut off the head of a woman. When her head was shorn of its wig, it was revealed that a lady too young to be grey, had hair of silvery white and shorn close to the head. The evidence of her long suffering at the treachery of her nobles and of Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth died, she was a frail old woman, likely poisoned in her blood by the white cosmetics fashionable at the time. She was a nervous, lonely, frightened creature. Crying in darkened rooms, afraid to sleep, and as from the beginning of her reign, irresponsibly reluctant to name the heir to the throne.

Being so fearful of death, she sat on the floor for four days towards the end before being carried to her bed. There were no last words as she could not speak. Some speculate that she assented to James's succession by a physical sign.
The death of this woman is indeed a pitiable thing to contemplate.

She had betrayed so many close to her and had been betrayed by those whom she loved as well. It had likely always hung over her head that the only
reason she was queen was by the intercession of her older sister's Spanish husband (who had feared an English-Scottish-French alliance), and that it had been sealed by virtue of the promise she had made to her sister to preserve the Catholic Faith against the Protestant nobility. She either lied then or later broke her word. It is ironic that it was often those most dear to her that conspired against her.

Had she been a good queen for her own people? Well, she chose to side with heretical noblemen rather than the common, Catholic people of
England, using her long reign to stamp it out via persecution both fiscal and physical. In court, she was hasty and hot-tempered (woe unto a lady-in-waiting who either caught Bess with a lover or a stole a lover from her). She was also easily flattered, being pitiably insecure about her looks following her disfigurement from small pox. This weakness in her pride is how many explain her indulgence of the flattering Earl of Essex. Such a failing is understandable in an ordinary woman, but hardly befitting a monarch.

It seems also that advisers such as Burghley, Cecil, Essex, Walsingham, etc. and even courtiers, were as much queen as she. When she was confronted with accumulated economic abuses
(supposedly perpetrated by these parties) in the 'second' part of her reign, her grand defense was 'ignorance.' This 'ignorance' would have been characteristic of her then, as her defenders protest again and again that where deeds of blood and violence were committed via religious persecution and piracy, Elizabeth cannot be held responsible.

Even modern statesmen, such as Ronald Reagan, know that one must take responsibility where one has authority, and when he reluctantly bought into a plan of Colin Powell's, which later failed, he took complete
responsibility for it; only Powell himself made the truth known later. A ruler cannot be great by virtue of a regime and simultaneously be innocent of its failings.

And Elizabeth's policies abroad? She persecuted Ireland, though not without blundering, sought to undermine the crown in France, succeeded in doing the same in Scotland, and aided any rebellion that was directed against Catholicism on the continent. Iniquitously, she also traded with the Ottoman Empire, selling them metals to use against other nations of her own continent. Anyone who has read of the atrocities
committed by the Ottomans ought to be aghast at such disgusting and heartless pragmatism. At home in England, her military campaigns of course meant very high taxes, yet even then she never financed her allies well enough to help them gain a victory that might erase the memory of the cost.

She had a Tudor's mind: 'sharp, but narrow,' and perhaps had she been in better hands, would have made a better queen. Mary's situation however had been impossible, as the defection of the oligarchy was due in great part to their apostasy. Possessing a greater sense of ethics than modern leaders who
rather idiotically claim that their personal beliefs do not influence their lives as statesmen, Mary knew that she could not sacrifice the Truth for political expedience, as Elizabeth had done under Mary Tudor's reign.

The tragedy of Mary was in so many ways the tragedy of the West. Though GKC was quite the romantic, I find his essay 'If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary, Queen of Scots' to be so realistically compelling that it was heartbreaking. A medieval warrior wed with an educated woman of the Renaissance? The merging of two worlds, rather than their bloody and tragic clash against one another? The speculation
is of course merely that, but every time I turn my eyes to the story of Juan and Mary, I can't but wish their paths had met as he had planned.

It was five hundred years before Joan of Arc was canonized. We may have to wait just as long for 'Mari R.'

1 comments:

. said...

That's a good post!

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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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