For the best part of twenty years until she died, Mary Stuart was either imprisoned or on trial in England at the behest of her first cousin, Elizabeth I. Her entire life was anything but normal, having been crowned Queen of Scots at nine months of age, married and widowed by the time she was seventeen, and even Queen of France for a short period. She also had her eye on the English throne, and that cemented her downfall. The following farewell letter was written by Mary, then aged 44, in the early hours of February 8th, 1587, to the brother of her deceased first husband. Just six hours later, as mentioned in the correspondence, she was beheaded in front of 300 witnesses.
Transcript and translation follow.
8 feu 1587
Monssieur mon beau frere estant par la permission de Dieu pour mes peschez comme ie croy venue me iecter entre les bras de ceste Royne ma cousine ou iay eu beaucoup dennuis & passe pres de vingt ans ie suis enfin par elle & ses estats condampnee a la mort & ayant demande mes papiers par eulx ostez a ceste fin de fayre mon testament ie nay peu rien retirer qui me seruist ny obtenir conge den fayre ung libre ny quapres ma mort mon corps fust transporte sellon mon desir en votre royaulme ou iay eu lhonneur destre royne votre soeur & ancienne allyee.
Ceiourdhuy apres disner ma este desnonsse ma sentence pour estre executee demain comme une criminelle a huict heures du matin ie nay eu loisir de vous fayre ung ample discours de tout ce qui sest passe may sil vous plaist de crere mon medesin & ces aultres miens desolez seruiters vous oyres la verite & comme graces a dieu ie mesprise las mort & fidellementproteste de la recepuoir innocente de tout crime quant ie serois leur subiecte la religion chatolique & la mayntien du droit que dieu ma donne a ceste couronne sont les deulx poincts de ma condampnation & toutesfoy ilz ne me veullent permettre de dire que cest pour la religion catolique que ie meurs may pour la crainte du champge de la leur & pour preuue ilz mont oste mon aulmonier lequel bien quil soit en la mayson ie nay peu obtenir quil me vinst confesser ny communier a ma mort mays mont faict grande instance de recepuoir la consolation & doctrine de leur ministre ammene pour ce faict. Ce porteur & sa compaigne la pluspart de vos subiectz vous tesmoigneront mes deportemantz en ce mien acte dernier il reste que ie vous suplie comme roy tres chrestien mon beau frere & ansien allye & qui mauuez tousiours proteste de maymer qua ce coup vous faysiez preuue en toutz ces poincts de vostre vertu tant par charite me souslageant de ce que pour descharger ma conssiance ie ne puis sans vous qui est de reconpenser mes seruiteurs desolez leur layssant leurs gaiges laultre faysant prier dieu pour une royne qui a estay nommee tres chrestienne & meurt chatolique desnuee de toutz ses biens quant a mon fylz ie le vous recommande autant quil le meritera car ie nen puis respondre Iay pris la hardiesse de vous enuoier deulx pierres rares pour la sante vous la desirant parfaicte auuec heurese & longue vie Vous le recepvrez comme de vostre tres affectionee belle soeur mourante en vous rendant tesmoygnage de son bon cueur enuers vous ie vous recommande encore mes seruiteurs vous ordonneres si il vous plaict que pour mon ame ie soye payee de partye de ce me que debuez & qu’en l’honnheur de Jhesus Christ lequel ie priray demayn a ma mort pour vous me laysser de quoy fonder un obit & fayre les aulmosnes requises ce mercredy a deulx heures apres minuit
Vostre tres affectionnee & bien bonne soeur
Queen of Scotland
8 Feb. 1587
Royal brother, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.
Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them – this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul’s sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.
Wednesday, at two in the morning
Your most loving and most true sister