Death of Mary, Queen of Scots

The Catholic powers of the continent formed many schemes for annoying or dethroning Elizabeth; and the imprisoned Scottish queen, or her adherents, were generally concerned in them. The King of Spain, determined at length to make a decisive effort, commenced the preparation of a vast fleet, which he termed the Invincible Armada, and with which he designed to invade the English shores. Elizabeth, her ministers, and people, beheld the preparations with much concern, and their fears were increased by the plots which were incessantly forming amongst her Catholic subjects in behalf of the Queen of Scots. An act was passed declaring that any person, by or for whom any plot should be made against the Queen of England, should be guilty of treason. When, soon after, a gentleman named Babington formed a conspiracy for assassinating Elizabeth and placing Mary on the throne, the latter queen became of course liable to the punishment of treason, although herself innocent. She was subjected to a formal trial in her prison of Fotheringay Castle, and found guilty. Elizabeth hesitated for some time to strike an unoffending and unfortunate person, related to her by blood, and her equal in rank. But at length fears for herself got the better of her sense of justice, and, it may be added, of her good sense, and she gave her sanction to an act which leaves an ineffaceable stain upon her memory. On the 7th of February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots, was beheaded in the hall of the castle, after an embittered confinement of more than eighteen years.

James VI was now, after a turbulent minority, in possession of the reins of government in Scotland, but with little real power, being a dependent and pensioner of Elizabeth, and at the same time much controlled by the clergy, who asserted a total independence of all temporal authority, and considered themselves as the subjects alone of the Divine founder of the Christian faith. James made many attempts to assert a control over the church like that enjoyed by the English monarch, and also to introduce an Episcopal hierarchy, but never could attain more than a mere shadow of his object. The chief influence he possessed arose in fact from his being regarded as heir presumptive to the English crown.