Elizabeth I to Mary Queen of Scots, June 1567

Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots, 23 June 1567 (SP 52/13 f.71)

Even though Bothwell was formally acquitted of the murder, he continued to be viewed as the chief suspect. In late April 1567, he persuaded Mary to accompany him to Dunbar, claiming that her life would be in danger if she stayed in Edinburgh. But upon arriving, Mary was taken prisoner by Bothwell. What happened next has been the subject of intense speculation ever since.  It has been claimed that Bothwell raped Mary in order to force her into marriage. Other sources allege that she was complicit in the act. Either way, they were married on 15 May and Mary soon fell pregnant (she later miscarried twins). Their opposers met them at Carberry Hill on 15 June, and Bothwell fled the country. Mary was forced to surrender both the battle and her crown. Having heard all of this, Elizabeth set aside her accustomed diplomacy and wrote a furious letter full of contempt for Mary, whom she chastised for her reckless actions.


[Draft by Lord Burghley] Madame, it hath bene allweise held for a special principle in friendship, that prosperitie provideth but adversite proveth frendes, wherof at this tyme fyndyng occasion to verify the same with our actions, we have thought mete both for our profession and your comefort in these few words, to testify our friendship not only by admonyshyng of your worst but to comfort you for your best. We have understood by your trusty servant Robert Melvill such thyngs as yow gave hym in chardg to declare on your behalf concerning your estate and specially of as much as should be sayd for ye allowance of your mariadg. Madam, to be playne with you our greef hath not bene small that in this marriadg so slender consideration hath bene had that, as we perceave manifestly no good frend you have in ye whole world can lyke thereof, and if we shuld otherwise wryte or saye we shuld abuse you. For how cold a worse choise be made for your honour than in such hast to marry such a subject who besides other notorious lackes publick fame has chargyd with the murdre of your late husband, beside ye touchyng of your self also in some part, though we trust in that behalf falsely. And with what perill have you marryed hym that hath an other lawfull wyfe a lyve, whereby neither by God’s law nor man’s your selff can be his lawfull wiff [wife], nor any children betwixt you legitimate. Thus you see playnely what we thynk of the marriadg wherof we ar hartely sorry that we can conceave no better, what collourable reasons so ever we have hard of your servant to induce us therein. We wish uppon ye deth of your husband that first care had been to have serched out and punished ye murderers of our neare coosyn, your husband, which having bene doone effectually, as easily it might have bene in a matter so notorious, ther myght have bene many more thyngs tollerated better in your mariadg than now can be suffered to be spoken of. And surely we can not but for friendshipp to your self, besides ye natural instynction that we have of blood to your late husband, profess our selves ernestly bent to doo any thyng in our power to procure ye dew punishment of that murdre agaynst any subject that you have, how deare so ever you should hold hym, and next thereto, to be carefull how your sonne ye prynce may be preserved for ye comfort of yours and your realme. Which two thynges we have from ye begyning allweise taken to hart, and therin doo meane to contynew, and wold be very sorry but you shuld allow us therin, what dangerous perswasions so ever be made to you for ye contrary. Now for your Estat in such adversitie as we here you shuld be wherof we [know?] not well what to think to be how having a great part of your Nobilitie as we here separated from yow, we assure you that what so ever we can imagyn mete for your honor and surety that shall lye in our power, we will perform the same that it shall and will appear you have a good neighbour, a deare sistar and a faythfull frend, and so shall you undoubtedly allweise fynd and prove us to be in dede towards yow. For which purpose we ar determyned to send with all spede on [one] of our owne trusty servants, not only to understand your state but also thereuppon so to deale with your Nobility and people, as they shall fynd yow not to lack our friendshipp and power for ye preservacyon of honor in quyetness. And upon knolledg had what shall be furder ryght to be done for your comfort and for ye tranquilitie of your realme we will omytt no tyme to furder ye same as yow shall and will see. And so we recommend ourselves to you good sistar in as affectionate a manner as heretofor we war accustomed. At our manor of Rychmond ye 23 of June 1567.

Return to Elizabeth I’s monarchy