Unknown to history a st.., p.35

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 35

 

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
 



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  CHAPTER XXXV.

  BEFORE THE COMMISSIONERS.

  Who would be permitted to witness the trial? As small matters at handeclipse great matters farther off, this formed the immediate excitementin Queen Mary's little household, when it was disclosed that she was toappear only attended by Sir Andrew Melville and her two Maries beforeher judges.

  The vast hall had space enough on the ground for numerous spectators,and a small gallery intended for musicians was granted, with somereluctance, to the ladies and gentlemen of the suite, who, as Sir AmiasPaulett observed, could do no hurt, if secluded there. Thither thenthey proceeded, and to Cicely's no small delight, found Humfreyawaiting them there, partly as a guard, partly as a master of theceremonies, ready to explain the arrangements, and tell the names ofthe personages who appeared in sight.

  "There," said he, "close below us, where you cannot see it, is thechair with a cloth of state over it."

  "For our Queen?" asked Jean Kennedy.

  "No, madam. It is there to represent the Majesty of Queen Elizabeth.That other chair, half-way down the hall, with the canopy from the beamover it, is for the Queen of Scots."

  Jean Kennedy sniffed the air a little at this, but her attention wasdirected to the gentlemen who began to fill the seats on either side.Some of them had before had interviews with Queen Mary, and thus wereknown by sight to her own attendants; some had been seen by Humfreyduring his visit to London; and even now at a great distance, and adifferent table, he had been taking his meals with them at the presentjuncture.

  The seats were long benches against the wall, for the Earls on oneside, the Barons on the other. The Lord Chancellor Bromley, in his redand white gown, and Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, with long white beardand hard impenetrable face, sat with them.

  "That a man should have such a beard, and yet dare to speak to theQueen as he did two days ago," whispered Cis.

  "See," said Mrs. Kennedy, "who is that burly figure with the black eyesand grizzled beard?"

  "That, madam," said Humfrey, "is the Earl of Warwick."

  "The brother of the minion Leicester?" said Jean Kennedy. "He hathscant show of his comeliness."

  "Nay; they say he is become the best favoured," said Humfrey; "my Lordof Leicester being grown heavy and red-faced. He is away in theNetherlands, or you might judge of him."

  "And who," asked the lady, "may be yon, with the strangely-plumed hatand long, yellow hair, like a half-tamed Borderer?"

  "He?" said Humfrey. "He is my Lord of Cumberland. I marvelled to seehim back so soon. He is here, there, and everywhere; and when I was inLondon was commanding a fleet bearing victuals to relieve the Dutch inHelvoetsluys. Had I not other work in hand, I would gladly sail withhim, though there be something fantastic in his humour. But here comethe Knights of the Privy Council, who are to my mind more noteworthythan the Earls."

  The seats of these knights were placed a little below and beyond thoseof the noblemen. The courteous Sir Ralf Sadler looked up and salutedthe ladies in the gallery as he entered. "He was always kindly," saidJean Kennedy, as she returned the bow. "I am glad to see him here."

  "But oh, Humfrey!" cried Cicely, "who is yonder, with the short cloakstanding on end with pearls, and the quilted satin waistcoat, jewelledears, and frizzed head? He looks fitter to lead off a dance than atrial."

  "He is Sir Christopher Hatton, her Majesty's Vice-Chamberlain," repliedHumfrey.

  "Who, if rumour saith true, made his fortune by a galliard," said Dr.Bourgoin.

  "Here is a contrast to him," said Jean Kennedy. "See that figure, aspuritanical as Sir Amias himself, with the long face, scant beard,black skull-cap, and plain crimped ruff. His visage is pulled into sosolemn a length that were we at home in Edinburgh, I should expect tosee him ascend a pulpit, and deliver a screed to us all on theiniquities of dancing and playing on the lute!"

  "That, madam," said Humfrey, "is Mr. Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham."

  Here Elizabeth Curll leant forward, looked, and shivered a little. "Ah,Master Humfrey, is it in that man's power that my poor brother lies?"

  "'Tis true, madam," said Humfrey, "but indeed you need not fear. Iheard from Will Cavendish last night that Mr. Curll is well. They havenot touched either of the Secretaries to hurt them, and if aught havebeen avowed, it was by Monsieur Nau, and that on the mere threat. Doyou see old Will yonder, Cicely, just within Mr. Secretary's call--withthe poke of papers and the tablet?"

  "Is that Will Cavendish? How precise and stiff he hath grown, and whydoth he not look up and greet us? He knoweth us far better than dothSir Ralf Sadler; doth he not know we are here?"

  "Ay, Mistress Cicely," said Dr. Bourgoin from behind, "but the younggentleman has his fortune to make, and knows better than to look on theseamy side of Court favour."

  "Ah! see those scarlet robes," here exclaimed Cis. "Are they thejudges, Humfrey?"

  "Ay, the two Chief-Justices and the Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Therethey sit in front of the Earls, and three more judges in front of theBarons."

  "And there are more red robes at that little table in front, besidesthe black ones."

  "Those are Doctors of Law, and those in black with coifs are theAttorney and Solicitor General. The rest are clerks and writers andthe like."

  "It is a mighty and fearful array," said Cicely with a long breath.

  "A mighty comedy wherewith to mock at justice," said Jean.

  "Prudence, madam, and caution," suggested Dr. Bourgoin. "And hush!"

  A crier here shouted aloud, "Oyez, oyez, oyez! Mary, Queen of Scotlandand Dowager of France, come into the Court!"

  Then from a door in the centre, leaning on Sir Andrew Melville's arm,came forward the Queen, in a black velvet dress, her long transparentveil hanging over it from her cap, and followed by the two Maries, onecarrying a crimson velvet folding-chair, and the other a footstool.She turned at first towards the throne, but she was motioned aside, andmade to perceive that her place was not there. She drew her slenderfigure up with offended dignity. "I am a queen," she said; "I marrieda king of France, and my seat ought to be there."

  However, with this protest she passed on to her appointed place,looking sadly round at the assembled judges and lawyers.

  "Alas!" she said, "so many counsellors, and not one for me."

  Were there any Englishmen there besides Richard Talbot and his son whofelt the pathos of this appeal? One defenceless woman against an arrayof the legal force of the whole kingdom. It may be feared that thefeelings of most were as if they had at last secured some wild,noxious, and incomprehensible animal in their net, on whose strugglesthey looked with the unpitying eye of the hunter.

  The Lord Chancellor began by declaring that the Queen of Englandconvened the Court as a duty in one who might not bear the sword invain, to examine into the practices against her own life, giving theQueen of Scots the opportunity of clearing herself.

  At the desire of Burghley, the commission was read by the Clerk of theCourt, and Mary then made her public protest against its legality, orpower over her.

  It was a wonderful thing, as those spectators in the gallery felt, tosee how brave and how acute was the defence of that solitary lady,seated there with all those learned men against her; her papers gone,nothing left to her but her brain and her tongue. No loss of dignitynor of gentleness was shown in her replies; they were always simple anddirect. The difficulty for her was all the greater that she had notbeen allowed to know the form of the accusation, before it was hurledagainst her in full force by Mr. Serjeant Gawdy, who detailed the wholeof the conspiracy of Ballard and Babington in all its branches, anddeclared her to have known and approved of it, and to have suggestedthe manner of executing it.

  Breathlessly did Cicely listen as the Queen rose up. Humfrey watchedher almost more closely than the royal prisoner. When there was adenial of all knowledge or intercourse with Ballard or Babington, JeanKennedy's hard-lined face never faltered; but Cicely's brows cametogether in concern at the ment
ion of the last name, and did not clearas the Queen explained that though many Catholics might indeed write toher with offers of service, she could have no knowledge of anythingthey might attempt. To confute this, extracts from their confessionswere read, and likewise that letter of Babington's which he had writtento her detailing his plans, and that lengthy answer, brought by theblue-coated serving-man, in which the mode of carrying her off fromChartley was suggested, and which had the postscript desiring to knowthe names of the six who were to remove the usurping competitor.

  The Queen denied this letter flatly, declaring that it might have beenwritten with her alphabet of ciphers, but was certainly none of hers."There may have been designs against the Queen and for procuring myliberty," she said, "but I, shut up in close prison, was not aware ofthem, and how can I be made to answer for them? Only lately did Ireceive a letter asking my pardon if schemes were made on my behalfwithout my privity, nor can anything be easier than to counterfeit acipher, as was lately proved by a young man in France. Verily, Igreatly fear that if these same letters were traced to their deviser,it would prove to be the one who is sitting here. Think you," sheadded, turning to Walsingham, "think you, Mr. Secretary, that I amignorant of your devices used so craftily against me? Your spiessurrounded me on every side, but you know not, perhaps, that some ofyour spies have been false and brought intelligence to me. And if suchhave been his dealings, my Lords," she said, appealing to the judgesand peers, "how can I be assured that he hath not counterfeited myciphers to bring me to my death? Hath he not already practised againstmy life and that of my son?"

  Walsingham rose in his place, and lifting up his hands and eyesdeclared, "I call God to record that as a private person I have donenothing unbeseeming an honest man, nor as a public person have I doneanything to dishonour my place."

  Somewhat ironically Mary admitted this disavowal, and after someunimportant discussion, the Court adjourned until the next day, itbeing already late, according to the early habits of the time.

  Cicely had been entirely carried along by her mother's pleading. Tearshad started as Queen Mary wept her indignant tears, and a glow hadrisen in her cheeks at the accusation of Walsingham. Ever and anon shelooked to Humfrey's face for sympathy, but he sat gravely listening,his two hands clasped over the hilt of his sword, and his chin restingon them, as if to prevent a muscle of his face from moving. When theyrose up to leave the galleries, and there was the power to say a word,she turned to him earnestly.

  "A piteous sight," he said, "and a right gallant defence."

  He did not mean it, but the words struck like lead on Cicely's heart,for they did not amount to an acquittal before the tribunal of hissecret conviction, any more than did Walsingham's disavowal, for whocould tell what Mr. Secretary's conscience did think unbecoming to hisoffice?

  Cicely found her mother on her couch giving a free course to her tears,in the reaction after the strain and effort of her defence. Melvilleand the Maries were assuring her that she had most bravely confuted herenemies, and that she had only to hold on with equal courage to theend. Mrs. Kennedy and Dr. Bourgoin came in to join in the sameencouragements, and the commendation evidently soothed her. "However itmay end," she said, "Mary of Scotland shall not go down to future agesas a craven spirit. But let us not discuss it further, my dearfriends, my head aches, and I can bear no farther word at present."

  Dr. Bourgoin made her take some food and then lie down to rest, whilein an outer room a lute was played and a low soft song was sung. Shehad not slept all the previous night, but she fell asleep, holding thehand of Cicely, who was on a cushion by her side. The girl, havingbeen likewise much disturbed, slept too, and only gradually awoke asher mother was sitting up on her couch discussing the next day'sdefence with Melville and Bourgoin.

  "I fear me, madam, there is no holding to the profession of entireignorance," said Melville.

  "They have no letters from Babington to me to show," said the Queen. "Itook care of _that_ by the help of this good bairn. I can defy them toproduce the originals out of all my ransacked cabinets."

  "They have the copies both of them and of your Majesty's replies, andNan and Curll to verify them."

  "What are copies worth, or what are dead and tortured men's confessionsworth?" said Mary.

  "Were your Majesty a private person they would never be accepted asevidence," said Melville; "but--"

  "But because I am a Queen and a Catholic there is no justice for me,"said Mary. "Well, what is the defence you would have me confine myselfto, my sole privy counsellors?"

  Here Cis, to show she was awake, pressed her mother's hand and lookedup in her face, but Mary, though returning the glance and the pressure,did not send her away, while Melville recommended strongly that theQueen should continue to insist on the imperfection of the evidenceadduced against her, which he said might so touch some of the lawyers,or the nobles, that Burghley and Walsingham might be afraid to proceed.If this failed her, she must allow her knowledge of the plot for herown escape and the Spanish invasion, but strenuously deny the partwhich concerned Elizabeth's life.

  "That it is which they above all desire to fix on me," said the Queen.

  Cicely's brain was in confusion. Surely she had heard those lettersread in the hall. Were they false or genuine? The Queen had utterlydenied them there. Now she seemed to think the only point was to provethat these were not the originals. Dr. Bourgoin seemed to feel thesame difficulty.

  "Madame will pardon me," he said; "I have not been of her secretcouncils, but can she not, if rightly dealt with, prove those twoletters that were read to have been forged by her enemies?"

  "What I could do is this, my good Bourgoin," said Mary; "were I onlyconfronted with Nau and Curll, I could prove that the letter I receivedfrom Babington bore nothing about the destroying the usurpingcompetitor. The poor faithful lad was a fool, but not so great a foolas to tell me such things. And, on the other hand, hath either of you,my friends, ever seen in me such symptoms of midsummer madness as thatI should be asking the names of the six who were to do the deed? Whatcared I for their names? I--who only wished to know as little of thematter as possible!"

  "Can your Majesty prove that you knew nothing?" asked Melville.

  Mary paused. "They cannot prove by fair means that I knew anything,"said she, "for I did not. Of course I was aware that Elizabeth must betaken out of the way, or the heretics would be rallying round her; butthere is no lack of folk who delight in work of that sort, and whyshould I meddle with the knowledge? With the Prince of Parma inLondon, she, if she hath the high courage she boasteth of, would sooncause the Spanish pikes to use small ceremony with her! Why should Iconcern myself about poor Antony and his five gentlemen? But it is thesame as it was twenty years ago. What I know will have to be, and yetchoose not to hear of, is made the head and front of mine offending,that the real actors may go free! And because I have writ naught thatthey can bring against me, they take my letters and add to and garblethem, till none knows where to have them. Would that we were inFrance! There it was a good sword-cut or pistol-shot at once, and onetook one's chance of a return, without all this hypocrisy of law andjustice to weary one out and make men double traitors."

  "Methought Walsingham winced when your Majesty went to the point withhim," said Bourgoin.

  "And you put up with his explanation?" said Melville.

  "Truly I longed to demand of what practices Mr. Secretary in hisoffice,--not as a private person--would be ashamed; but it seemed to methat they might call it womanish spite, and to that the Queen of Scotswill never descend!"

  "Pity but that we had Babington's letter! Then might we put him toconfusion by proving the additions," said Melville.

  "It is not possible, my good friend. The letter is at the bottom ofthe Castle well; is it not, mignonne? Mourn for it not, Andrew. Itwould have been of little avail, and it carried with it stuff that Mr.Secretary would give almost his precious place to possess, and thatmight be fatal to more of us. I hoped
that there might have beensafety for poor Babington in the destruction of that packet, neverguessing at the villainy of yon Burton brewer, nor of those who set himon. Come, it serves not to fret ourselves any more. I must answer asoccasion serves me; speaking not so much to Elizabeth's Commission, whohave foredoomed me, as to all Christendom, and to the Scots and Englishof all ages, who will be my judges."

  Her judges? Ay! but how? With the same enthusiastic pity andindignation, mixed with the same misgiving as her own daughter felt.Not wholly innocent, not wholly guilty, yet far less guilty than thosewho had laid their own crimes on her in Scotland, or who plotted toinvolve her in meshes partly woven by herself in England. The evil doneto her was frightful, but it would have been powerless had she beenwholly blameless. Alas! is it not so with all of us?

  The second day's trial came on. Mary Seaton was so overpowered withthe strain she had gone through that the Queen would not take her intothe hall, but let Cicely sit at her feet instead. On this day none ofthe Crown lawyers took part in the proceedings; for, as Cavendishwhispered to Humfrey, there had been high words between them and myLord Treasurer and Mr. Secretary; and they had declared themselvesincapable of conducting a prosecution so inconsistent with the forms oflaw to which they were accustomed. The pedantic fellows wanted moredirect evidence, he said, and Humfrey honoured them.

  Lord Burghley then conducted the proceedings, and they had thus a morepersonal character. The Queen, however, acted on Melville's advice,and no longer denied all knowledge of the conspiracy, but insisted thatshe was ignorant of the proposed murder of Elizabeth, and argued mostpertinently that a copy of a deciphered cipher, without the original,was no proof at all, desiring further that Nau and Curll should beexamined in her presence. She reminded the Commissioners how theirQueen herself had been called in question for Wyatt's rebellion, inspite of her innocence. "Heaven is my witness," she added, "that muchas I desire the safety and glory of the Catholic religion, I would notpurchase it at the price of blood. I would rather play Esther thanJudith."

  Her defence was completed by her taking off the ring which Elizabethhad sent to her at Lochleven. "This," she said, holding it up, "yourQueen sent to me in token of amity and protection. You best know howthat pledge has been redeemed." Therewith she claimed another day'shearing, with an advocate granted to her, or else that, being aPrincess, she might be believed on the word of a Princess.

  This completed her defence, except so far that when Burghley respondedin a speech of great length, she interrupted, and battled point bypoint, always keeping in view the strong point of the insufficientevidence and her own deprivation of the chances of confuting what wasadduced against her.

  It was late in the afternoon when he concluded. There was a pause, asthough for a verdict by the Commissioners. Instead of this, Mary roseand repeated her appeal to be tried before the Parliament of England atWestminster. No reply was made, and the Court broke up.

 

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