Mary Stuart HTML version

Chapter 10
Two hours after the execution, the body and the head were taken into the same
hall in which Mary Stuart had appeared before the commissioners, set down on a
table round which the judges had sat, and covered over with a black serge cloth;
and there remained till three o'clock in the afternoon, when Waters the doctor
from Stamford and the surgeon from Fotheringay village came to open and
embalm them--an operation which they carried out under the eyes of Amyas
Paulet and his soldiers, without any respect for the rank and sex of the poor
corpse, which was thus exposed to the view of anyone who wanted to see it: it is
true that this indignity did not fulfil its proposed aim; for a rumour spread about
that the queen had swollen limbs and was dropsical, while, on the contrary, there
was not one of the spectators but was obliged to confess that he had never seen
the body of a young girl in the bloom of health purer and lovelier than that of
Mary Stuart, dead of a violent death after nineteen years of suffering and
When the body was opened, the spleen was in its normal state, with the veins a
little livid only, the lungs yellowish in places, and the brain one-sixth larger than is
usual in persons of the same age and sex; thus everything promised a long life to
her whose end had just been so cruelly hastened.
A report having been made of the above, the body was embalmed after a
fashion, put in a leaden coffin and that in another of wood, which was left on the
table till the first day of August--that is, for nearly five months--before anyone was
allowed to come near it; and not only that, but the English having noticed that
Mary Stuart's unhappy servants, who were still detained as prisoners, went to
look at it through the keyhole, stopped that up in such a way that they could not
even gaze at the coffin enclosing the body of her whom they had so greatly
However, one hour after Mary Stuart's death, Henry Talbot, who had been
present at it, set out at full speed for London, carrying to Elizabeth the account of
her rival's death; but at the very first lines she read, Elizabeth, true to her
character, cried out in grief and indignation, saying that her orders had been
misunderstood, that there had been too great haste, and that all this was the fault
of Davison the Secretary of State, to whom she had given the warrant to keep till
she had made up her mind, but not to send to Fotheringay. Accordingly, Davison
was sent to the Tower and condemned to pay a fine of ten thousand pounds
sterling, for having deceived the queen. Meanwhile, amid all this grief, an
embargo was laid on all vessels in all the ports of the realm, so that the news of
the death should not reach abroad, especially France, except through skilful
emissaries who could place the execution in the least unfavourable light for
Elizabeth. At the same time the scandalous popular festivities which had marked
the announcement of the sentence again celebrated the tidings of the execution.
London was illuminated, bonfires lit, and the enthusiasm was such that the
French Embassy was broken into and wood taken to revive the fires when they
began to die down.