Elizabeth Reluctantly Orders the Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Elizabeth, I, Queen of England (1533-1603); Salisbury, Robert Cecil, Earl of (1563-1612); [Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)]

The copie of a letter to the Right Honourable the Earle of Leycester, Lieutenant generall of all her Maiesties forces in the vnited Prouinces of the lowe Countreys, written before, but deliuered at his returne from thence: vvith a report of certeine petitions and declarations made to the Queenes Maiestie at two seuerall times, from all the lordes and commons lately assembled in Parliament. And her Maiesties answeres thereunto by her selfe deliuered, though not expressed by the reporter with such grace and life, as the same were vttered by her Maiestie.

London: By Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie, 1586


Quarto: 18.5 x 13 cm. [4], 3, [1], 4-32, [3] p. Collation: A-E4 (lacking leaf A1 with arms. With blank leaf E4)

FIRST EDITION, variant with A3r beginning "Albeit the earnest".

A fine copy with good margins bound in modern boards. Lacking the leaf with the royal arms. Short wormtrail in blank margin. Royal arms on the verso of the last text leaf. Head-piece on title page.

A fascinating work, documenting the exchange between Parliament and Queen Elizabeth on the proposed execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. The volume opens with a letter to the Earl of Leicester dated November 25th, 1586 and signed R.C. (Robert Cecil) in which Cecil announces that he has transcribed “the speaches delivered by the Queene’s most excellent maiestie in a late and weightie cause dealt in this parliament” together with the “petitions presented to hir Maiestie the 12th and 24th of November at Richmond by the Lord Chauncelour and Speaker”.

In the first petition, Elizabeth is urged to take action against the Scottish Queen’s for her traitorous actions. A number of “divers apparant and imminent dangers that may grow to her Maiesties most royal person and her realme” are ennumerated. Chief among these are Mary’s confessed complicity in the plot of Anthony Babbington to assassinate the queen, as well as her intention to return England “into the thralldome of Popish tyrannie”.  The first petition is followed by Elizabeth’s response, in which she promises to give the matter “due consideration” but declines to offer an immediate resolution: 

“I have had good experience and tryall of this worlde, I know what it is to be subiect, what to be a Soveraigne: what to have good neighbors, and Sometime meete eville willers. I have founde treason in trust, seene great benefits litle regarded, & in stead of gratefulnes, courses of purpose to crosse. These former remembrances, present feeling and future expectation of evils, I say, have made me thinke, ‘An evill, is much the better, the lesse while it endureth: and so, them happiest that are soonest hence: and taught me to beare with a better minde these treasons, then is common to my sexe: yea, with a better heart perhaps, then is in some men.” 

A few days after this exchange, Elizabeth “in some conflict with herself what to do” asked the Parliament to find “some other way of remedy” than the execution of Mary. In the resultant second petition (24th November), Parliament announces that further deliberations upon the matter have yielded no alternate solution that would ensure the safety of queen and country. The queen is once again urged to authorize Mary’s execution. Elizabeth, in her second reply, offers “an answere without answere”: 

“It was of a willing minde & great desire I had, that some other means might be found out, wherein I should have taken more comfort, than in any under thing under the Sunne. And since now it is resolved, that my suretie can not bee established without a Princesse ende, i have iust cause to complaine, that I, tho have in my time pardoned so many Rebels, winked at so many treasons, and either not produced them, or altogether slipped them over with solence, shoulde nowe be forced to this proceeding, against such a person.”

Elizabeth’s equivocal response to the November 24th petition concludes the present work.  Soon after, on December 4th, Parliament obtains a public proclamation from Elizabeth of the sentence of death. Mary is executed on February 8th, 1587.

STC 6052; ESTC S109079