Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Lord Darnley

Mary's Execution

After months of vacillating, Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant on February 1, 1587.  One week later, she was dead, the victim of a botched execution by a headsman who took two blows to finish her off.  She went to her death bravely, dressed in an underskirt of red, as befitted a Catholic martyr (as she considered herself).  Three additional blows were required to sever her head from her body, and when the executioner bent to pick up her head, he found that all he had in his hand was a blond wig.  The severed head dropped to the platform.  The head of Mary Queen of Scots was covered by short-cropped gray hair.

A narrative drawing of Mary's execution
A narrative drawing of Mary's execution

In the fashion of the rigorous rules of kingship, her death was received with horror in Scotland and France.  Her body, with much lamentation, was laid to rest in Peterborough Cathedral.

Elizabeth I died in 1603.  Mary and Darnley's son became James I, King of England and Scotland.  Finally, the thrones of Scotland and England were united.  None of the scheming of the previous fifty years could bring about this result.  It was as if James had only to bide his time. 

Mary's tomb in Westminster Abbey
Mary's tomb in Westminster Abbey

James, who had done nothing to save his mother and who had rejected her religion to rule as a Protestant, later had Mary reburied in Westminster Abbey, close to the final resting place of his predecessor, Elizabeth I.  The two cousins, antagonists and rival queens, were to spend eternity together.



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