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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

261 In the Privy Council some were of opinion that


The

commission provided for in the Act of Parliament was named: it consisted of the chief statesmen and lawyers of the country. In Fotheringhay, whither the prisoner had now been brought, the splendid ancestral seat of the princes of the house of York, at which many of them were buried, they met together in the Hall on the 14th October. Mary let herself be induced to plead by the consideration that she would be held guilty, if she did not make any defence: it being understood that it was with the reserve that she did not by this give up any of the rights of a free sovereign. Most of the charges against her she gradually admitted to be true, but she denied having consented to a personal attempt on Elizabeth's life. The court decided that this made no essential difference. For the rebellion which Mary confessed to having favoured could not be conceived of apart from danger to the Queen of England's life as well as her government.[260] The court pronounced that Mary was guilty of the acts for which the punishment of death had been enacted in the Parliamentary statute.

We cannot regard this as a regular criminal procedure, for judicial forms were but little observed; it was the decision of a commission that the case had occurred in which the statute passed by Parliament found its application. Parliament itself, then just summoned, had the proceedings of the Commission laid before it and approved their sentence.

But

this did not bring the affair to an end. Queen Elizabeth deferred the execution of the judgment. For in relation to such a matter she occupied quite a different position from that of Parliament.

From more than one quarter she was reminded that, by carrying out the sentence, she would violate the divine right of kings; since this implied that subjects could not judge, or lay their hands on, sovereigns. How unnatural if a queen like herself should set her hand to degrade the diadem.[261]

In the Privy Council some were of opinion that, as Mary could not be regarded as the author of the last plot, but only as privy to it, closer imprisonment would be a sufficient punishment for her. Elizabeth caught at this idea. The Parliament, she thought, might now formally annul Mary's claim to the English throne, declare it to be high treason to maintain it any longer, and high treason also to attempt to liberate her from prison: this would deter her partisans from an attempt then become hopeless, and also satisfy foreign nations. But it was urged in reply, that now to repudiate Mary Stuart's claim for the first time would be equivalent to recognising its original validity; and an English law would make no impression either on Mary or on her partisans. The remembrance of what had happened in Scotland revived again; of Darnley's murder, which men imputed to her without hesitation: she was compared to Johanna I of Naples who had taken part in her husband's murder: it was said, Mary has doubled her old guilt by attempts against the sacred person of the Queen; after she had been forgiven, she has relapsed into the same crime, she deserves death on many grounds.[262]

Spenser, in the great poem which has made him immortal, has depicted the conflict of accusations and excuses which this cause called forth. One of his allegorical figures, Zeal, accuses the fair and splendid lady, then on her trial, of the design of hurling the Queen from her throne, and of inciting noble knights to join in this purpose. The Kingdom's Care, Authority, Religion, Justice, take part with him. On the other side Pity, Regard for her high descent and her family, even _Grief_ herself, raise their voices, and produce a contrary impression. But Zeal once more renews his accusation: he brings forward Adultery and Murder, Impiety and Sedition, against her. The Queen sitting upon the throne in judgment recognises the guilt of the accused, but shrinks from pronouncing the word: men see tears in her eyes; she covers her face with her purple robe.


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