The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Second.

I give this heavy weight from off my head,

And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand;

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,

With mine own hand I give away my crown,

With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,

With mine own breath release all duteous oaths.

Richard II.

Lord Ruthven had the look and bearing which became a soldier and a statesman, and the martial cast of his form and features procured him the popular epithet of Greysteil, by which he was distinguished by his intimates, after the hero of a metrical romance then generally known. His dress, which was a buff-coat embroidered, had a half-military character, but exhibited nothing of the sordid negligence which distinguished that of Lindesay. But the son of an ill-fated sire, and the father of a yet more unfortunate family, bore in his look that cast of inauspicious melancholy, by which the physiognomists of that time pretended to distinguish those who were predestined to a violent and unhappy death.

The terror which the presence of this nobleman impressed on the Queen’s mind, arose from the active share he had borne in the slaughter of David Rizzio; his father having presided at the perpetration of that abominable crime, although so weak from long and wasting illness, that he could not endure the weight of his armour, having arisen from a sick-bed to commit a murder in the presence of his Sovereign. On that occasion his son also had attended and taken an active part. It was little to be wondered at, that the Queen, considering her condition when such a deed of horror was acted in her presence, should retain an instinctive terror for the principal actors in the murder. She returned, however, with grace the salutation of Lord Ruthven, and extended her hand to George Douglas, who kneeled, and kissed it with respect; the first mark of a subject’s homage which Roland Graeme had seen any of them render to the captive Sovereign. She returned his greeting in silence, and there was a brief pause, during which the steward of the castle, a man of a sad brow and a severe eye, placed, under George Douglas’s directions, a table and writing materials; and the page, obedient to his mistress’s dumb signal, advanced a large chair to the side on which the Queen stood, the table thus forming a sort of bar which divided the Queen and her personal followers from her unwelcome visitors. The steward then withdrew after a low reverence. When he had closed the door behind him, the Queen broke silence —“With your favour, my lords, I will sit — my walks are not indeed extensive enough at present to fatigue me greatly, yet I find repose something more necessary than usual.”

She sat down accordingly, and, shading her cheek with her beautiful hand, looked keenly and impressively at each of the nobles in turn. Mary Fleming applied her kerchief to her eyes, and Catherine Seyton and Roland Graeme exchanged a glance, which showed that both were too deeply engrossed with sentiments of interest and commiseration for their royal mistress, to think of any thing which regarded themselves.

“I wait the purpose of your mission, my lords,” said the Queen, after she had been seated for about a minute without a word-being spoken — “I wait your message from those you call the Secret Council.-I trust it is a petition of pardon, and a desire that I will resume my rightful throne, without using with due severity my right of punishing those who have dispossessed me of it.”

“Madam,” replied Ruthven, “it is painful for us to speak harsh truths to a Princess who has long ruled us. But we come to offer, not to implore, pardon. In a word, madam, we have to propose to you on the part of the Secret Council, that you sign these deeds, which will contribute greatly to the pacification of the State, the advancement of God’s word, and the welfare of your own future life.”

“Am I expected to take these fair words on trust, my lord? or may I hear the contents of these reconciling papers, ere I am asked to sign them?”

“Unquestionably, madam; it is our purpose and wish, you should read what you are required to sign,” replied Ruthven.

“Required?” replied the Queen, with some emphasis; “but the phrase suits well the matter-read, my lord.”

The Lord Ruthven proceeded to read a formal instrument, running in the Queen’s name, and setting forth that she had been called, at an early age, to the administration of the crown and realm of Scotland, and had toiled diligently therein, until she was in body and spirit so wearied out and disgusted, that she was unable any longer to endure the travail and pain of State affairs; and that since God had blessed her with a fair and hopeful son, she was desirous to ensure to him, even while she yet lived, his succession to the crown, which was his by right of hereditary descent. “Wherefore,” the instrument proceeded, “we, of the motherly affection we bear to our said son, have renounced and demitted, and by these our letters of free good-will, renounce and demit, the Crown, government, and guiding of the realm of Scotland, in favour of our said son, that he may succeed to us as native Prince thereof, as much as if we had been removed by disease, and not by our own proper act. And that this demission of our royal authority may have the more full and solemn effect, and none pretend ignorance, we give, grant, and commit, fall and free and plain power to our trusty cousins, Lord Lindesay of the Byres, and William Lord Ruthven, to appear in our name before as many of the nobility, clergy, and burgesses, as may be assembled at Stirling, and there, in our name and behalf, publicly, and in their presence, to renounce the Crown, guidance, and government of this our kingdom of Scotland.”

The Queen here broke in with an air of extreme surprise. “How is this, my lords?” she said: “Are my ears turned rebels, that they deceive me with sounds so extraordinary? — And yet it is no wonder that, having conversed so long with rebellion, they should now force its language upon my understanding. Say I am mistaken, my lords — say, for the honour of yourselves and the Scottish nobility, that my right trusty cousins of Lindesay and Ruthven, two barons of warlike fame and ancient line, have not sought the prison-house of their kind mistress for such a purpose as these words seem to imply. Say, for the sake of honour and loyalty, that my ears have deceived me.”

“No, madam,” said Ruthven gravely, “your ears do not deceive you — they deceived you when they were closed against the preachers of the evangele, and the honest advice of your faithful subjects; and when they were ever open to flattery of pickthanks and traitors, foreign cubiculars and domestic minions. The land may no longer brook the rule of one who cannot rule herself; wherefore, I pray you to comply with the last remaining wish of your subjects and counsellors, and spare yourself and us the farther agitation of matter so painful.”

“And is this all my loving subjects require of me, my lord?” said Mary, in a tone of bitter irony. “Do they really stint themselves to the easy boon that I should yield up the crown, which is mine by birthright, to an infant which is scarcely more than a year old — fling down my sceptre, and take up a distaff — Oh no! it is too little for them to ask — That other roll of parchment contains something harder to be complied with, and which may more highly task my readiness to comply with the petitions of my lieges.”

“This parchment,” answered Ruthven, in the same tone of inflexible gravity, and unfolding the instrument as he spoke, “is one by which your grace constitutes your nearest in blood, and the most honourable and trustworthy of your subjects, James, Earl of Murray, Regent of the kingdom during the minority of the young King. He already holds the appointment from the Secret Council.”

The Queen gave a sort of shriek, and, clapping her hands together, exclaimed, “Comes the arrow out of his quiver? — out of my brother’s bow? — Alas! I looked for his return from France as my sole, at least my readiest, chance of deliverance. — And yet, when I heard he had assumed the government, I guessed he would shame to wield it in my name.”

“I must pray your answer, madam,” said Lord Ruthven, “to the demand of the Council.”

“The demand of the Council!” said the Queen; “say rather the demand of a set of robbers, impatient to divide the spoil they have seized. To such a demand, and sent by the mouth of a traitor, whose scalp, but for my womanish mercy, should long since have stood on the city gates, Mary of Scotland has no answer.”

“I trust, madam,” said Lord Ruthven, “my being unacceptable to your presence will not add to your obduracy of resolution. It may become you to remember that the death of the minion, Rizzio, cost the house of Ruthven its head and leader. My father, more worthy than a whole province of such vile sycophants, died in exile, and broken-hearted.”

The Queen clasped her hands on her face, and, resting her arms on the table, stooped down her head and wept so bitterly, that the tears were seen to find their way in streams between the white and slender fingers with which she endeavoured to conceal them.

“My lords,” said Sir Robert Melville, “this is too much rigour. Under your lordship’s favour, we came hither, not to revive old griefs, but to find the mode of avoiding new ones.”

“Sir Robert Melville,” said Ruthven, “we best know for what purpose we were delegated hither, and wherefore you were somewhat unnecessarily sent to attend us.”

“Nay, by my hand,” said Lord Lindesay, “I know not why we were cumbered with the good knight, unless he comes in place of the lump of sugar which pothicars put into their wholesome but bitter medicaments, to please a froward child — a needless labour, methinks, where men have the means to make them swallow the physic otherwise.”

“Nay, my lords,” said Melville, “ye best know your own secret instructions. I conceive I shall best obey mine in striving to mediate between her Grace and you.”

“Be silent, Sir Robert Melville,” said the Queen, arising, and her face still glowing with agitation as she spoke. “My kerchief, Fleming — I shame that traitors should have power to move me thus. — Tell me, proud lords,” she added, wiping away the tears as she spoke, “by what earthly warrant can liege subjects pretend to challenge the rights of an anointed Sovereign — to throw off the allegiance they have vowed, and to take away the crown from the head on which Divine warrant hath placed it?”

“Madam,” said Ruthven, “I will deal plainly with you. Your reign, from the dismal field of Pinkie-cleugh, when you were a babe in the cradle, till now that ye stand a grown dame before us, hath been such a tragedy of losses, disasters, civil dissensions, and foreign wars, that the like is not to be found in our chronicles. The French and English have, with one consent, made Scotland the battle-field on which to fight out their own ancient quarrel. — For ourselves every man’s hand hath been against his brother, nor hath a year passed over without rebellion and slaughter, exile of nobles, and oppressing of the commons. We may endure it no longer, and therefore, as a prince, to whom God hath refused the gift of hearkening to wise counsel, and on whose dealings and projects no blessing hath ever descended, we pray you to give way to other rule and governance of the land, that a remnant may yet be saved to this distracted realm.”

“My lord,” said Mary, “it seems to me that you fling on my unhappy and devoted head those evils, which, with far more justice, I may impute to your own turbulent, wild, and untameable dispositions — the frantic violence with which you, the Magnates of Scotland, enter into feuds against each other, sticking at no cruelty to gratify your wrath, taking deep revenge for the slightest offences, and setting at defiance those wise laws which your ancestors made for stanching of such cruelty, rebelling against the lawful authority, and bearing yourselves as if there were no king in the land; or rather as if each were king in his own premises. And now you throw the blame on me — on me, whose life has been embittered — whose sleep has been broken — whose happiness has been wrecked by your dissensions. Have I not myself been obliged to traverse wilds and mountains, at the head of a few faithful followers, to maintain peace and put down oppression? Have I not worn harness on my person, and carried pistols at my saddle; fain to lay aside the softness of a woman, and the dignity of a Queen, that I might show an example to my followers?”

“We grant, madam,” said Lindesay, “that the affrays occasioned by your misgovernment, may sometimes have startled you in the midst of a masque or galliard; or it may be that such may have interrupted the idolatry of the mass, or the jesuitical counsels of some French ambassador. But the longest and severest journey which your Grace has taken in my memory, was from Hawick to Hermitage Castle; and whether it was for the weal of the state, or for your own honour, rests with your Grace’s conscience.”

The Queen turned to him with inexpressible sweetness of tone and manner, and that engaging look which Heaven had assigned her, as if to show that the choicest arts to win men’s affections may be given in vain. “Lindesay,” she said, “you spoke not to me in this stern tone, and with such scurril taunt, yon fair summer evening, when you and I shot at the butts against the Earl of Mar and Mary Livingstone, and won of them the evening’s collation, in the privy garden of Saint Andrews. The Master of Lindesay was then my friend, and vowed to be my soldier. How I have offended the Lord of Lindesay I know not, unless honours have changed manners.”

Hardhearted as he was, Lindesay seemed struck with this unexpected appeal, but almost instantly replied, “Madam, it is well known that your Grace could in those days make fools of whomever approached you. I pretend not to have been wiser than others. But gayer men and better courtiers soon jostled aside my rude homage, and I think your Grace cannot but remember times, when my awkward attempts to take the manners that pleased you, were the sport of the court-popinjays, the Marys and the Frenchwomen.”

“My lord, I grieve if I have offended you through idle gaiety,” said the Queen; “and can but say it was most unwittingly done. You are fully revenged; for through gaiety,” she said with a sigh, “will I never offend any one more.”

“Our time is wasting, madam,” said Lord Ruthven; “I must pray your decision on this weighty matter which I have submitted to you.”

“What, my lord!” said the Queen, “upon the instant, and without a moment’s time to deliberate? — Can the Council, as they term themselves, expect this of me?”

“Madam,” replied Ruthven, “the Council hold the opinion, that since the fatal term which passed betwixt the night of King Henry’s murder and the day of Carberry-hill, your Grace should have held you prepared for the measure now proposed, as the easiest escape from your numerous dangers and difficulties.”

“Great God!” exclaimed the Queen; “and is it as a boon that you propose to me, what every Christian king ought to regard as a loss of honour equal to the loss of life! — You take from me my crown, my power, my subjects, my wealth, my state. What, in the name of every saint, can you offer, or do you offer, in requital of my compliance?”

“We give you pardon,” answered Ruthven, sternly —“we give you space and means to spend your remaining life in penitence and seclusion — we give you time to make your peace with Heaven, and to receive the pure Gospel, which you have ever rejected and persecuted.”

The Queen turned pale at the menace which this speech, as well as the rough and inflexible tones of the speaker, seemed distinctly to infer —“And if I do not comply with your request so fiercely urged, my lord, what then follows?”

She said this in a voice in which female and natural fear was contending with the feelings of insulted dignity. — There was a pause, as if no one cared to return to the question a distinct answer. At length Ruthven spoke: “There is little need to tell to your Grace, who are well read both in the laws and in the chronicles of the realm, that murder and adultery are crimes for which ere now queens themselves have suffered death.”

“And where, my lord, or how, found you an accusation so horrible, against her who stands before you?” said Queen Mary. “The foul and odious calumnies which have poisoned the general mind of Scotland, and have placed me a helpless prisoner in your hands, are surely no proof of guilt?”

“We need look for no farther proof,” replied the stern Lord Ruthven, “than the shameless marriage betwixt the widow of the murdered and the leader of the band of murderers! — They that joined hands in the fated month of May, had already united hearts and counsel in the deed which preceded that marriage but a few brief weeks.”

“My lord, my lord!” said the Queen, eagerly, “remember well there were more consents than mine to that fatal union, that most unhappy act of a most unhappy life. The evil steps adopted by sovereigns are often the suggestion of bad counsellors; but these counsellors are worse than fiends who tempt and betray, if they themselves are the first to call their unfortunate princes to answer for the consequences of their own advice. — Heard ye never of a bond by the nobles, my lords, recommending that ill-fated union to the ill-fated Mary? Methinks, were it carefully examined, we should see that the names of Morton and of Lindesay, and of Ruthven, may be found in that bond, which pressed me to marry that unhappy man. — Ah! stout and loyal Lord Herries, who never knew guile or dishonour, you bent your noble knee to me in vain, to warn me of my danger, and wert yet the first to draw thy good sword in my cause when I suffered for neglecting thy counsel! Faithful knight and true noble, what a difference betwixt thee and those counsellors of evil, who now threaten my life for having fallen into the snares they spread for me!”

“Madam,” said Ruthven, “we know that you are an orator; and perhaps for that reason the Council has sent hither men, whose converse hath been more with the wars, than with the language of the schools or the cabals of state. We but desire to know if, on assurance of life and honour, ye will demit the rule of this kingdom of Scotland?”

“And what warrant have I,” said the Queen, “that ye will keep treaty with me, if I should barter my kingly estate for seclusion, and leave to weep in secret?”

“Our honour and our word, madam,” answered Ruthven.

“They are too slight and unsolid pledges, my lord,” said the Queen; “add at least a handful of thistle-down to give them weight in the balance.”

“Away, Ruthven,” said Lindesay; “she was ever deaf to counsel, save of slaves and sycophants; let her remain by her refusal, and abide by it!”

“Stay, my lord,” said Sir Robert Melville, “or rather permit me to have but a few minutes’ private audience with her Grace. If my presence with you could avail aught, it must be as a mediator — do not, I conjure you, leave the castle, or break off the conference, until I bring you word how her Grace shall finally stand disposed.”

“We will remain in the hall,” said Lindesay, “for half an hour’s space; but in despising our words and our pledge of honour, she has touched the honour of my name — let her look herself to the course she has to pursue. If the half hour should pass away without her determining to comply with the demands of the nation, her career will be brief enough.”

With little ceremony the two nobles left the apartment, traversed the vestibule, and descended the winding-stairs, the clash of Lindesay’s huge sword being heard as it rang against each step in his descent. George Douglas followed them, after exchanging with Melville a gesture of surprise and sympathy.

As soon as they were gone, the Queen, giving way to grief, fear, and agitation, threw herself into the seat, wrung her hands, and seemed to abandon herself to despair. Her female attendants, weeping themselves, endeavoured yet to pray her to be composed, and Sir Robert Melville, kneeling at her feet, made the same entreaty. After giving way to a passionate burst of sorrow, she at length said to Melville, “Kneel not to me, Melville — mock me not with the homage of the person, when the heart is far away — Why stay you behind with the deposed, the condemned? her who has but few hours perchance to live? You have been favoured as well as the rest; why do you continue the empty show of gratitude and thankfulness any longer than they?”

“Madam,” said Sir Robert Melville, “so help me Heaven at my need, my heart is as true to you as when you were in your highest place.”

“True to me! true to me!” repeated the Queen, with some scorn; “tush, Melville, what signifies the truth which walks hand in hand with my enemies’ falsehood? — thy hand and thy sword have never been so well acquainted that I can trust thee in aught where manhood is required — Oh, Seyton, for thy bold father, who is both wise, true, and valiant!”

Roland Graeme could withstand no longer his earnest desire to offer his services to a princess so distressed and so beautiful. “If one sword,” he said, “madam, can do any thing to back the wisdom of this grave counsellor, or to defend your rightful cause, here is my weapon, and here is my hand ready to draw and use it.” And raising his sword with one hand, he laid the other upon the hilt.

As he thus held up the weapon, Catherine Seyton exclaimed, “Methinks I see a token from my father, madam;” and immediately crossing the apartment, she took Roland Graeme by the skirt of the cloak, and asked him earnestly whence he had that sword.

The page answered with surprise, “Methinks this is no presence in which to jest — Surely, damsel, you yourself best know whence and how I obtained the weapon.”

“Is this a time for folly?” said Catherine Seyton; “unsheathe the sword instantly!”

“If the Queen commands me,” said the youth, looking towards his royal mistress.

“For shame, maiden!” said the Queen; “wouldst thou instigate the poor boy to enter into useless strife with the two most approved soldiers in Scotland?”

“In your Grace’s cause,” replied the page, “I will venture my life upon them!” And as he spoke, he drew his weapon partly from the sheath, and a piece of parchment, rolled around the blade, fell out and dropped on the floor. Catherine Seyton caught it up with eager haste.

“It is my father’s hand-writing,” she said, “and doubtless conveys his best duteous advice to your Majesty; I know that it was prepared to be sent in this weapon, but I expected another messenger.”

“By my faith, fair one,” thought Roland, “and if you knew not that I had such a secret missive about me, I was yet more ignorant.”

The Queen cast her eye upon the scroll, and remained a few minutes wrapped in deep thought. “Sir Robert Melville,” she at length said, “this scroll advises me to submit myself to necessity, and to subscribe the deeds these hard men have brought with them, as one who gives way to the natural fear inspired by the threats of rebels and murderers. You, Sir Robert, are a wise man, and Seyton is both sagacious and brave. Neither, I think, would mislead me in this matter.”

“Madam,” said Melville, “if I have not the strength of body of the Lord Herries or Seyton, I will yield to neither in zeal for your Majesty’s service. I cannot fight for you like these lords, but neither of them is more willing to die for your service.”

“I believe it, my old and faithful counsellor,” said the Queen, “and believe me, Melville, I did thee but a moment’s injustice. Read what my Lord Seyton hath written to us, and give us thy best counsel.”

He glanced over the parchment, and instantly replied — “Oh! my dear and royal mistress, only treason itself could give you other advice than Lord Seyton has here expressed. He, Herries, Huntly, the English ambassador Throgmorton, and others, your friends, are all alike of opinion, that whatever deeds or instruments you execute within these walls, must lose all force and effect, as extorted from your Grace by duresse, by sufferance of present evil, and fear of men, and harm to ensue on your refusal. Yield, therefore, to the tide, and be assured, that in subscribing what parchments they present to you, you bind yourself to nothing, since your act of signature wants that which alone can make it valid, the free will of the granter.”

“Ay, so says my Lord Seyton,” replied Mary; “yet methinks, for the daughter of so long a line of sovereigns to resign her birthright, because rebels press upon her with threats, argues little of royalty, and will read ill for the fame of Mary in future chronicles. Tush! Sir Robert Melville, the traitors may use black threats and bold words, but they will not dare to put their hands forth on our person.”

“Alas! madam, they have already dared so far and incurred such peril by the lengths which they have gone, that they are but one step from the worst and uttermost.”

“Surely,” said the Queen, her fears again predominating, “Scottish nobles would not lend themselves to assassinate a helpless woman?”

“Bethink you, madam,” he replied, “what horrid spectacles have been seen in our day; and what act is so dark, that some Scottish hand has not been found to dare it? Lord Lindesay, besides his natural sullenness and hardness of temper, is the near kinsman of Henry Darnley, and Ruthven has his own deep and dangerous plans. The Council, besides, speak of proofs by writ and word, of a casket with letters — of I know not what.”

“Ah! good Melville,” answered the Queen, “were I as sure of the even-handed integrity of my judges, as of my own innocence — and yet ——”

“Oh! pause, madam,” said Melville; “even innocence must sometimes for a season stoop to injurious blame. Besides, you are here —”

He looked round, and paused.

“Speak out, Melville,” said the Queen, “never one approached my person who wished to work me evil; and even this poor page, whom I have today seen for the first time in my life, I can trust safely with your communication.”

“Nay, madam,” answered Melville, “in such emergence, and he being the bearer of Lord Seyton’s message, I will venture to say, before him and these fair ladies, whose truth and fidelity I dispute not — I say I will venture to say, that there are other modes besides that of open trial, by which deposed sovereigns often die; and that, as Machiavel saith, there is but one step betwixt a king’s prison and his grave.”

“Oh I were it but swift and easy for the body,” said the unfortunate Princess, “were it but a safe and happy change for the soul, the woman lives not that would take the step so soon as I— But, alas! Melville, when we think of death, a thousand sins, which we have trod as worms beneath our feet, rise up against us as flaming serpents. Most injuriously do they accuse me of aiding Darnley’s death; yet, blessed Lady! I afforded too open occasion for the suspicion — I espoused Bothwell.”

“Think not of that now, madam,” said Melville, “think rather of the immediate mode of saving yourself and son. Comply with the present unreasonable demands, and trust that better times will shortly arrive.”

“Madam,” said Roland Graeme, “if it pleases you that I should do so, I will presently swim through the lake, if they refuse me other conveyance to the shore; I will go to the courts successively of England, France, and Spain, and will show you have subscribed these vile instruments from no stronger impulse than the fear of death, and I will do battle against them that say otherwise.”

The Queen turned her round, and with one of those sweet smiles which, during the era of life’s romance, overpay every risk, held her hand towards Roland, but without “speaking a word. He kneeled reverently, and kissed it, and Melville again resumed his plea.

“Madam,” he said, “time presses, and you must not let those boats, which I see they are even now preparing, put forth on the lake. Here are enough of witnesses — your ladies — this bold youth — myself, when it can serve your cause effectually, for I would not hastily stand committed in this matter — but even without me here is evidence enough to show, that you have yielded to the demands of the Council through force and fear, but from no sincere and unconstrained assent. Their boats are already manned for their return — oh! permit your old servant to recall them.”

“Melville,” said the Queen, “thou art an ancient courtier — when didst thou ever know a Sovereign Prince recall to his presence subjects who had parted from him on such terms as those on which these envoys of the Council left us, and who yet were recalled without submission or apology? — Let it cost me both life and crown, I will not again command them to my presence.”

“Alas! madam, that empty form should make a barrier! If I rightly understand, you are not unwilling to listen to real and advantageous counsel — but your scruple is saved — I hear them returning to ask your final resolution. Oh! take the advice of the noble Seyton, and you may once more command those who now usurp a triumph over you. But hush! I hear them in the vestibule.”

As he concluded speaking, George Douglas opened the door of the apartment, and marshalled in the two noble envoys.

“We come, madam,” said the Lord Ruthven, “to request your answer to the proposal of the Council.”

“Your final answer,” said Lord Lindesay; “for with a refusal you must couple the certainty that you have precipitated your fate, and renounced the last opportunity of making peace with God, and ensuring your longer abode in the world.”

“My lords,” said Mary, with inexpressible grace and dignity, “the evils we cannot resist we must submit to — I will subscribe these parchments with such liberty of choice as my condition permits me. Were I on yonder shore, with a fleet jennet and ten good and loyal knights around me, I would subscribe my sentence of eternal condemnation as soon as the resignation of my throne. But here, in the Castle of Lochleven, with deep water around me — and you, my lords, beside me — I have no freedom of choice. — Give me the pen, Melville, and bear witness to what I do, and why I do it.”

“It is our hope your Grace will not suppose yourself compelled by any apprehensions from us,” said the Lord Ruthven, “to execute what must be your own voluntary deed.”

The Queen had already stooped towards the table, and placed the parchment before her, with the pen between her fingers, ready for the important act of signature. But when Lord Ruthven had done speaking, she looked up, stopped short, and threw down the pen. “If,” she said, “I am expected to declare I give away my crown of free will, or otherwise than because I am compelled to renounce it by the threat of worse evils to myself and my subjects, I will not put my name to such an untruth — not to gain full possession of England, France, and Scotland! — all once my own, in possession, or by right.”

“Beware, madam,” said Lindesay, and, snatching hold of the Queen’s arm with his own gauntleted hand, he pressed it, in the rudeness of his passion, more closely, perhaps, than he was himself aware of — “beware how you contend with those who are the stronger, and have the mastery of your fate!”

He held his grasp on her arm, bending his eyes on her with a stern and intimidating look, till both Ruthven and Melville cried shame; and Douglas, who had hitherto remained in a state of apparent apathy, had made a stride from the door, as if to interfere. The rude Baron then quitted his hold, disguising the confusion which he really felt at having indulged his passion to such extent, under a sullen and contemptuous smile.

The Queen immediately began, with an expression of pain, to bare the arm which he had grasped, by drawing up the sleeve of her gown, and it appeared that his gripe had left the purple marks of his iron fingers upon her flesh —“My lord,” she said, “as a knight and gentleman, you might have spared my frail arm so severe a proof that you have the greater strength on your side, and are resolved to use it — But I thank you for it — it is the most decisive token of the terms on which this day’s business is to rest. — I draw you to witness, both lords and ladies,” she said, “showing the marks of the grasp on her arm, “that I subscribe these instruments in obedience to the sign manual of my Lord of Lindesay, which you may see imprinted on mine arm.”27

Lindesay would have spoken, but was restrained by his colleague Ruthven, who said to him, “Peace, my lord. Let the Lady Mary of Scotland ascribe her signature to what she will, it is our business to procure it, and carry it to the Council. Should there be debate hereafter on the manner in which it was adhibited, there will be time enough for it.”

Lindesay was silent accordingly, only muttering within his beard, “I meant not to hurt her; but I think women’s flesh be as tender as new-fallen snow.”

The Queen meanwhile subscribed the rolls of parchment with a hasty indifference, as if they had been matters of slight consequence, or of mere formality. When she had performed this painful task, she arose, and, having curtsied to the lords, was about to withdraw to her chamber. Ruthven and Sir Robert Melville made, the first a formal reverence, the second an obeisance, in which his desire to acknowledge his sympathy was obviously checked by the fear of appearing in the eyes of his colleagues too partial to his former mistress. But Lindesay stood motionless, even when they were preparing to withdraw. At length, as if moved by a sudden impulse, he walked round the table which had hitherto been betwixt them and the Queen, kneeled on one knee, took her hand, kissed it, let it fall, and arose —“Lady,” he said, “thou art a noble creature, even though thou hast abused God’s choicest gifts. I pay that devotion to thy manliness of spirit, which I would not have paid to the power thou hast long undeservedly wielded — I kneel to Mary Stewart, not to the Queen.”

“The Queen and Mary Stewart pity thee alike, Lindesay,” said Mary — “alike thee pity, and they forgive thee. An honoured soldier hadst thou been by a king’s side — leagued with rebels, what art thou but a good blade in the hands of a ruffian? — Farewell, my Lord Ruthven, the smoother but the deeper traitor. — Farewell, Melville — Mayest thou find masters that can understand state policy better, and have the means to reward it more richly, than Mary Stewart. — Farewell, George of Douglas — make your respected grand-dame comprehend that we would be alone for the remainder of the day — God wot, we have need to collect our thoughts.”

All bowed and withdrew; but scarce had they entered the vestibule, ere Ruthven and Lindesay were at variance. “Chide not with me, Ruthven,” Lindesay was heard to say, in answer to something more indistinctly urged by his colleague —“Chide not with me, for I will not brook it! You put the hangman’s office on me in this matter, and even the very hangman hath leave to ask some pardon of those on whom he does his office. I would I had as deep cause to be this lady’s friend as I have to be her enemy — thou shouldst see if I spared limb and life in her quarrel.”

“Thou art a sweet minion,” said Ruthven, “to fight a lady’s quarrel, and all for a brent brow and a tear in the eye! Such toys have been out of thy thoughts this many a year.”

“Do me right, Ruthven,” said Lindesay. “You are like a polished corslet of steel; it shines more gaudily, but it is not a whit softer — nay, it is five times harder than a Glasgow breastplate of hammered iron. Enough. We know each other.”

They descended the stairs, were heard to summon their boats, and the Queen signed to Roland Graeme to retire to the vestibule, and leave her with her female attendants.

27 The details of this remarkable event are, as given in the preceding chapter, imaginary; but the outline of the events is historical. Sir Robert Lindesay, brother to the author of the Memoirs, was at first intrusted with the delicate commission of persuading the imprisoned queen to resign her crown. As he flatly refused to interfere, they determined to send the Lord Lindesay, one of the rudest and most violent of their own faction, with instructions, first to use fair persuasions, and if these did not succeed, to enter into harder terms. Knox associates Lord Ruthven with Lindesay in this alarming commission. He was the son of that Lord Ruthven who was prime agent in the murder of Rizzio; and little mercy was to be expected from his conjunction with Lindesay.

The employment of such rude tools argued a resolution on the part of those who had the Queen’s person in their power, to proceed to the utmost extremities, should they find Mary obstinate. To avoid this pressing danger, Sir Robert Melville was despatched by them to Lochleven, carrying with him, concealed in the scabbard of his sword, letters to the Queen from the Earl of Athole, Maitland of Lethington, and even from Throgmorton, the English Ambassador, who was then favourable to the unfortunate Mary, conjuring her to yield to the necessity of the times, and to subscribe such deeds as Lindesay should lay before her, without being startled by their tenor; and assuring her that her doing so, in the state of captivity under which she was placed, would neither, in law, honour, nor conscience, be binding upon her when she should obtain her liberty. Submitting by the advice of one part of her subjects to the menace of the others, and learning that Lindesay was arrived in a boasting, that is, threatening humour, the Queen, “with some reluctancy, and with tears,” saith Knox, subscribed one deed resigning her crown to her infant son, and another establishing the Earl of Murray regent. It seems agreed by historians that Lindesay behaved with great brutality on the occasion. The deeds were signed 24th July, 1567.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00