Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fotheringhay February 8th 1587

Today is the 425th anniversary of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in the great hall at Fotheringhay castle in 1587.


Queen Mary in 1578.
It was in this style that she attired herself for her death.


She appears to have very consciously stressed her role as a Catholic martyr on this last public appearance, wearing full black and holding a crucifix, and disbobing to a reveal a red under-dress, thusconveying both mourning and penitence as well as martyrdom. After the execution these garments were burned to preven them becoming relics.

All that now survives of Fotheringhay castle are the earthworks and one fragment of walling. There is some information about the castle and about the arrangements for Queen Mary's trial there the previous autumn which can be read here.

A reconstruction of Fotheringhay Castle by Julian Rowe
Reproduced by kind permission of Peter Hammond


There are several eyewitness accounts of the execution. One is by a French gentleman attendant upon the Queen and which can be read here. A second one, also sympathetic to the Queen, can be read here. A third one, more inclined to the English government's view can be read here.


Contemporary drawing of the execution

Image: Tea at Trianon blogspot


Death mask of Queen Mary
Property of the Duke of Hamilton at Lennoxlove

Image: BBC News


Chemise worn by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution
Proprty of the Throckmorton family at Coughton Court

Image: Felicityfaery photostrean on Flickr


The Queen's rosary and prayerbook
Property of the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel castle


Queen Mary remains a controversial figure, difficult to easily assess. Her culpability or otherwise for the death of her second husband and her many of her actions after her flight to England in 1568 are still open to debate - not a few people lost their lives as a consequence of her presence, and her claims, within the realm.

What is clear is that whatever her shortcomings or mistakes she conducted herself at her death with great and triking dignity, worthy of her rank. In that she was like her grandson King Charles I - I do not know whether he was aware of the details of her death, but it is very likely - and both achieved perhaps more in the manner of their deaths than they did in their lives.

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