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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Her son disinherited notwithstanding her dynastic feelings


If

we enquire whether Mary Stuart knew of these schemes, and had a full understanding with the conspirators, there can be no doubt at all of it. She was in correspondence with Babington, whom she designates as her greatest friend. The letter is still extant in which she strengthens him in his purpose of calling forth a rising of the Catholics in the different counties, and that an armed one, with reasons for it true and false, and tells him how he may liberate herself. She reckons on a fine army of horse and foot being able to assemble, and making itself master of some harbours in which to receive the help expected not merely from Flanders and Spain, but also from France. In the letter we even come upon one passage which betrays a knowledge of the plot against Elizabeth's life; there is not a word against it, rather an approbation of it, though an indirect one.[258]

And we have yet another proof of her temper and views at this time lying before us. As the zeal of the Catholics for her claim to the succession might be weakened by the fact that her son in Scotland, on whom it naturally devolved, after all the hopes cherished on his behalf, still remained Protestant, she reverted to an idea that had once before passed through her mind: she pledged herself to bring matters in Scotland to such a point that her son should be seized and delivered into the hands of the King of Spain: he was then to be instructed in the Catholic faith and embrace it; if

James had not done so at the time of her death, her claim on England was to pass to Philip II. Day and night, so she said, she bewailed her son's being so stiffnecked in his false faith: she saw that his succession in England would be the ruin of the country.

So it stands written in her letters: it is undeniable: but was that really her last and well-considered word? Was it her real wish that Elizabeth should be killed, her son disinherited notwithstanding her dynastic feelings, and that Philip II should become King of England? Were the Catholic-Spanish tendencies of Elizabeth's predecessor, Queen Mary Tudor, so completely reproduced in her?

I think we can hardly maintain this with full historic certainty. Mary Stuart was not altogether animated by hot religious zeal: if she had been, how could she formerly have left the Protestant lords in possession of power so long as she did, and even have once thought of marrying Leicester with his Protestant views? Her son affirmed that he possessed letters from her, in which she approved of his religious views and confirmed him in them. It was not religious conviction and the abhorrence of any other faith, as in Mary Tudor, but her dynastic right and her self-confidence as sovereign that were the active and predominant motives in all the actions of Mary Stuart. And if there are contradictions in her utterances, we cannot hold her capable, like Catharine Medici, of taking up and secretly furthering two opposite plans at the same time; her different tendencies appear consecutively, not simultaneously, in exact accordance with her impulses. For Mary Stuart was never quiet an instant: even in her prison she shared in the movement of the world; her brain never ceased working; she was brooding over her circumstances, her distress and her hope, how to escape the one and realise the other: sometimes indeed there came a moment of resignation, but only soon to pass away again. She throws all her thoughts into her letters which, even if they are aiming at some object close at hand, are at the same time ebullitions of the moment, passionate effusions, productions of the imagination rather than of the understanding. Who could think such a letter possible as that in which she once sought to inform Elizabeth of the evil reports about her which the Countess of Shrewsbury made, and recounted a mass of scandalous anecdotes she had heard from her. The communication was meant to ruin the countess: Mary did not remark that it must also draw down the Queen's hatred on herself. No one would have dared even to lay the letter before the Queen. Mary's was a passionate nature, endowed with literary gifts: she let her pen run on without saying anything she did not really think at the instant, but without remembering in the least what lay beyond her momentary mood. Who will hold women of this character strictly to what stands in their letters? These are often as inconsiderate and contradictory as their words.


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