In the very early hours of February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned the last letter that she would ever write. She addressed her former brother in law, Henry III, King of France, in hopes that he might be able to settle some of her financial affairs after she was gone.
In her letter, she speaks of her “papers” being confiscated and that she was unable to get them returned to her in order that she might take care of some of her personal matters. She requests that Henry pay her servants the money that is due them out of the good Christian charity in his own heart.
Mary also complained that her chaplain (almoner) had been taken away from her and he was unable to hear her confession or give her the Last Sacrament. She does not waiver in her confession of the Catholic faith and maintains her innocence in the two points on which she is charged: her Catholic faith, and her God-given right to the English throne. She points out that, even if she were a subject of English law, she would not be guilty of any crime.
Mary had requested that her body be conveyed to France, where she wished to be buried. She laments to Henry that her request was denied (by Elizabeth). She was initially buried five months after her execution in Peterborough Cathedral but was moved to Westminster Abbey in 1612, nine years after her son took the English throne.
Below is the English translation of Mary’s last letter, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
Queen of Scotland
8 Feb. 1587
Sire, my brother-in-law, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.
Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them – this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul’s sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.
This Wednesday, two hours after midnight.
Your very loving and most true sister, Mary R
According to Marilee Hanson, in the end, it was not Henry III who paid the salaries and provided the financial support that Mary requested for her servants, but Phillip II of Spain instead, who honored her last will and testament.
Henry died six months after Mary, a victim of an assassination.
Since this article was originally posted in October 2020, there has been a discovery of the spiral letter-locking technique that Mary used to seal this letter before she sent it to Henry. Although the intent of this post was about the content of that letter, in my own fascniation with anything to do with Mary Stuart I stumbled across a step-by-step guide on how to perform this intricate technique. I have included a link here if you are interested in trying your hand at spiral letter-locking. There are also videos on Youtube that will walk you through it as well, but I thought this guide with pictures was useful. The instructions start on page 5. Good luck!
National Library of Scotland. (5 Octobver 2020) .”The Last Letter of Mary Queen of Scots.” https://digital.nls.uk/mqs/trans1.html#:~:text=The%20Last%20letter%20of%20Mary%20Queen%20of%20Scots,condemned%20to%20death%20by%20her%20and%20her%20Estates. (5 October 2020)
Hanson, Marilee. (5 October 2020). “Mary Queen of Scots Last Letter.” EnglishHistory.net. https://englishhistory.net/tudor/mary-queen-scots-last-letter/