More primary source material leading to a biography

Another one of my ancestor’s letters to William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, this time describing his visit to the captive Mary Queen of Scots – one of the few relatively neutral accounts of her lifestyle. I can’t get a precise date for this visit but the letter was written on 26 February 1569. At the time Mary Queen of Scots was 26 and had been in exile for not quite a year; she had been moved to Tutbury Castle only a few weeks before White’s visit. By his own account, White goaded Mary rather nastily on several issues – about the recent death of Catherine Knollys, a close friend of Elizabeth I’s whose husband had been one of Mary’s custodians; on Scottish intervention in Ireland; and about the dubious morality of painting. Not surprisingly she cut off the conversation abruptly. Despite this White found her rather fascinating – “she hath withall an alluring grace, a prety Scottishe accente, and a searching wit, clouded with myldnes” – and recommended that she should not be allowed contact with too many people in case they might succumb to her charms. Of course, nobody at this stage could have known that Mary’s captivity would continue for another 18 years, ending only with her execution in 1587.


when I came to Colsell, a town in Chester way, I understood that Tutbury Castell was not above half a day’s journey out of my way. Finding the wind contrary, and having somewhat to say to my Lord Shrewsbury touching the county of Wexford, I tooke post-horses and came thither about five of the clocke in the evening, where I was very friendly received by the Earle.

The Quene of Scotts, understanding by his Lordship that a servant of the Quene’s Majesty of some credit was come to the house, semed desyrous to speak with me, and thereupon came forth of her privy chamber into the presence chamber where I was, and in very curteise manner bade me welcome, and asked of me how her good syster did. I told her Grace that the Quene’s Majestie (God be praised) did very well, saving that all her felicities gave place to some natural passions of grief, which she conceaved for the deathe of her kinswoman and goode servant the Lady Knollys, and how by that occasion her Highnes fell for a while from a prince wanting nothing in this world to private mourning, in which solitary estate being forgettfull of her owne helthe, she tooke colde, wherwith she was much troubled, and wherof she was well delivered.

This much paste, she hearde the Englishe service with a booke of the psalmes in Englishe in her hand, which she showed me after. When service was done, her Grace fell in talke with me of sundry matters, from six to seven of the clocke, beginning first to excuse her ill Englishe, declaring herself more willing than apt to lerne that language ; how she used translations as a meane to attayne it ; and that Mr. Vice-Chamberlayne was her good schole-master. From this she returned back agayne to talk of my Lady Knollys. And after many speeches past to and fro of that gentilwoman, I, perceyving her to harpe much upon her departure, sayd, that the long absence of her husband (and specially in that article) together with the fervency of her fever, did greatly further her end, wanting nothing els that either art or man’s helpe could devise for her recovery, lying in a prince’s court nere her person, where every houre her carefull eare understoode of her estate, and where also she was very often visited by her Majestie’s owne comfortable presence; and sayd merely that, although her Grace were not culpable of this accident, yet she was the cause without which their being asunder had not hapned. She sayd she was very sory for her deathe, because she hoped well to have bene acquainted with her. “I perceyve by my Lord of Shrewesbury,” sayd she, ” that ye go into Irlande, which is a troublesome cuntry, to serve my sister there.” “I do so, madame; and the chiefest trouble of Irland proceeds from the north of Scotland, through the Earle of Argile‘s supportation.” Whereunto she litle answered.

I asked her how she liked her change of ayre. She sayd if it might have pleased her good syster to let her remayn where she was, she would not have removed for change of ayre this tyme of the yere; but she was the better contented therwith, because she was come so much the nerer to her good syster, whom she desyred to see above all things, if it might please her to graunte the same. I told her grace that although she had not the actuall, yet she had always the effectual presence of the Quene’s Majestie by her greate bounty and kindnes, who, in the opinion of us abrode in the world, did ever performe towards her the office of a gracious prince, a naturall kinswoman, a loving syster, and a faithefull frend; and howe much she had to thanke God, that, after the passing of so many perills she was safely arrived into such a realme, as where all we of the common sort demed she had good cause, through the goodnes of the Quene’s Majestie, to thinke herself rather princelike entertayned, then hardly restrayned of any thing that was fit for her Grace’s estate; and for my owne parte did wishe her Grace mekely to bow her mynde to God, who hath put her into this schole to learne to know him to be above kings and princes of this world; with such other lyke speeches as time and occasion then served, which she very gentilly accepted, and confessed that indede she had great cause to thanke God for sparing of her, and great cause likewise to thanke her good syster for this kindly using of her. As for contentation in this her present estate, she would not require it at God’s hands, but only pacience, which she humbly prayd him to give her.

I asked her Grace, since the weather did cut of all exercises abrode, how she passed the tyme within. She sayd that all the day she wrought with her needil, and that the diversitie of the colors made the worke seme lesse tedious, and continued so long at it till very payn did make her to give over; and with that layd her hand upon her left syde and complayned of an old grief newely increased there. Upon this occasion she entered into a prety disputable comparison betwene karving, painting, and working with the needil, affirming painting in her owne opinion for the most commendable qualitie. I answered her Grace, I could skill of neither of them, but that I have read Pictura to be veritas falsa. With this she closed up her talke, and bidding me farewell, retyred into her privy chamber.

She sayd nothing directly of yourself to me. Nevertheles, I have found that which at my first entrance into her presence chamber I imagined, which was, that her servant Betun had given her some privye note of me; for as sone as he espied me, he forsake our acquayntance at courte, and repaired straight into her privye chamber, and from that forthe we could never see him. But after supper, Mr. Harry Knollys and I fell into close conference, and he, among other things, told me how loathe the Quene was to leave Bolton Castell, not sparing to give forthe in speeche that the Secretary was her enemy, and that she mistrusted by this removing he would cause her to be made away ; and that her danger was so much the more, because there was one dwelling very nere Tutbery, which pretended title in succession to the crowne of England, meaning the Erle of Huntingdon. But when her passion was past, as he told me, she sayd that tho the Secretary were not her frend, yet she must say that he was an experte wise man, a mayntayner of all good lawes for the governement of this realme, and a faithful servant to his mistres, wishing it might be her luck to get the frendship of so wise a man.

Sir, I durst take upon my deathe to justifie, what manner of man Sir William Cecill is, but I knowe not whence this opinion procedes. The living of God preserve her life long, whom you serve in singlenes of heart, and make all her desyred successors to become her predecessors.

But, if I, which in the sight of God beare the Quene’s Majestie a naturall love besyde my bounden dutie, might give advise, there should be very few subjects in this land have accesse to or conference with this lady. For beside that she is a goodly personage, and yet in truth not comparable to our soverain, she hath withall an alluring grace, a prety Scottishe accente, and a searching wit, clouded with myldnes. Fame might move some to relieve her, and glory joyned to gayn might stir others to adventure much for her sake. Then joy is a lively infective sense, and carieth many persuasions to the heart, which ruleth all the reste. Myne owne affection by seeing the Quene’s Majestic our soverain is doubled, and thereby I guess what sight might worke in others. Her hair of itself is black, and yet Mr. Knollys told me that she wears hair of sundry colors.

In loking upon her cloth of estate, I noted this sentence embrodred, En ma fin est mon commencement, which is a ryddil I understande not. The greatest personage in house about her is the Lord of Levenston and the Lady his wyfe, which is a fayre gentilwoman, and it was told me both Protestants. She hath nine women more, fiftie persons in house hold, with ten horses. The Bisshope of Rosse lay then thre myles off in a towne called Burton-upon-Trent, with another Scottishe lorde, whose name I have forgotten. My Lord of Shrewesbury is very carefull of his charge, but the Quene over-watches them all, for it is one of the clocke at least every night ere she go to bed.

The next morning I was up timely, and viewing the scite of the house, which in myne opinion standes much like Windesor, I espied two halbard men without the castell wall searching underneathe the Quene’s bed-chamber windowe.

Thus have I troubled your Honor with rehersall of this long colloquy hapned betweene the Quene of Scotts and me, and yet had I rather in my owne fancy adventure thus to encomber you, then leave it unreported, as near as my memory could serve me, though the greatest part of our communication was in the presence of my Lord of Shrewesbury and Mr. Harry Knollys; praying you to beare with me therein, among the number of those that load you with long frivolous letters.

And so I humbly take my leave, awaiting an easterly winde. From West Chester, the 26th of February.

All these cuntreys which I have past from London to the sea bank lie in great welthe and quietness; each man increaseth his owne, and no degree dare offend the law. They pray for the Quene with an universall voyce, and that peace may continue. Here is a faction in Chesshire betwene Sir Hughe Chamley and Sir Edward Fitten: which hath made some division. I would have written to my Lord of Leycester, but that this messenger could not stay.

Your Honor’s assuredly to command,


One thought on “More primary source material leading to a biography

  1. I always assumed it was “Mo” as in “Modern” or “Moggy” and I pronounce “Lord” to rhyme with “Sword”.

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