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Casket letters

are so delicately balanced, that inquirers may change their views, and modify or reverse their opinions, on the appearance of each fresh document that is brought to light; or even upon a new consideration of existing evidence. Controversy centres round a very long and singular undated epistle called "The Glasgow Letter" or "Letter II." If Mary wrote all of this, or even wrote some compromising parts of it, she was certainly guilty. But two questions remain to be settled—(1) did her accusers at one time possess another version of this letter which if it existed was beyond doubt a forgery? and (2) is not part of Letter II. a forged interpolation, based on another document, not by Mary?

The whole affair has been obscured and almost inextricably entangled, as we shall see, by the behaviour of Mary's accusers. Of these Maitland of Lethington was consenting to Darnley's murder; the earl of Morton had, at least, guilty foreknowledge; the regent Moray (Mary's natural brother) had "looked through his fingers" at the crime, and for months remained on intimate terms with the criminals. He also perjured himself when putting before Elizabeth's commission of inquiry at Westminster (December 1568) a copy of the confession of Hepburn of Bowton (Cotton MSS. British Museum. Caligula C.I. fol. 325). This is attested as a "true copy," but Moray, who had been present when Bowton was examined (December 8, 1567), knew that the copy presented at Westminster (December 1568) had been mutilated because the excised passages were damning to Lethington and the earl of Morton, accomplices in the crime of Darnley's murder, and accomplices of Moray in his prosecution of his sister. (See in Cambridge University Library, MS. Oo. 47, fol. 5 et seq. Compare the MS. copy of the confession in the British Museum, Cotton MSS. Caligula, C.I. fol. 325, printed in Anderson's Collections, vol. ii. pp. 183-188.)

If Moray the righteous could act thus, much more might the murderer Morton perjure himself in his averment that there had been no tampering with the Casket Letters in his custody. We cannot, in short, believe Mary's accusers on their oaths. When they all went, in October–December 1568, to York and London to accuse their queen—and before that, in their proclamations—they contradicted themselves freely and frequently; they put in a list of dates which made Mary's authorship of Letter II. impossible; and they rang the changes on Scots translations of the alleged French originals, and on the French itself. For example, when Moray, after Mary was in Elizabeth's power (May 16, 1568), wished Elizabeth to have the matter tried, he in May–June 1568 sent John Wood to England with Scots translations of the letters. Wood was to ask, "if the French originals are found to tally with the Scots translations, will that be reckoned good evidence?" It was as easy to send copies of the French, and thus give no ground for the suspicion that the Scots letters were altered on the basis of information acquired between May and October 1568, and that the French versions were made to fit the new form of the Scots copies. Another source of confusion, now removed, was the later publication in France of the letters in French. This French did not correspond with French copies of some of the originals recently discovered in Cecil's MSS. and elsewhere. But that is no ground of suspicion, for the published French letters were not copies of the alleged originals, but translations of Latin translations of them, from the Scots (see T. F. Henderson, The Casket Letters, 1890). German historians have not made matters more clear by treating the Letters on the principle of "the higher criticism" of Homer and the Bible. They find that the documents are of composite origin, partly notes from Mary to Darnley, partly a diary of Mary's, and so on; all combined and edited by some one who played the part of the legendary editorial committee of Peisistratus (see Homer), which compiled the Iliad and Odyssey out of fragmentary lays! From all these causes, and others, arise confusion and suspicion.

So much information unknown to older disputants such as Goodall, the elder Tytler, Chalmers, and Malcolm Laing, and in certain cases unknown even to Froude and Skelton, has accrued, that the question can now best be studied in The Casket Letters by T. F. Henderson (1889; second issue, 1890, being the more accurate); in The Mystery of Mary Stuart, by Andrew Lang (4th edition, 1904), and in Henderson's criticism of that book, in his Mary, Queen of Scots (1905) (Appendix A). The conclusion arrived at here is that of Henderson, but it is reached independently.

The history of the letters must be given in summary. Henderson, in The Casket Letters (1889), was the first to publish and use as evidence a document of which the existence was made known in the fifth report of the royal commission on historical manuscripts. It is a sworn statement of the earl of Morton, written in 1568. A silver casket (originally Mary's property, but then in the possession of Bothwell) was placed in his hands on the 20th of June, and was inspected by several nobles and gentlemen on the 21st of June 1567. Morton denies that the contents, the letters, sonnets, and some other papers, had been in any way tampered with. But if Moray could knowingly submit garbled evidence, Morton's oath is of no value if uncorroborated.

Mary was, on the 21st of June 1567, a prisoner in Loch Leven Castle. A messenger was at once sent from Edinburgh to London with a letter from Lethington and a verbal message. By the 12th of July, de Silva, the Spanish ambassador, reports on the authority of the French ambassador that du Croc, French envoy to Scotland, avers that Mary's Scottish enemies have autograph letters of hers proving her guilt, and himself possesses copies. Of these copies no more is heard, and they cannot be found. According to de Silva, Elizabeth said that she did not believe in the Letters, and that Lethington, who wrote to Cecil on the 21st of June, and sent a verbal message by the bearer, "had behaved badly in the matter,"—whether that of the letters, or in general. On what evidence she based that opinion, if she really held it, is unknown. In December 1567 the Scottish parliament was informed that the letters were signed by Mary (they are unsigned), but the phrase is not used in the subsequent act of parliament. The letters were exhibited and apparently were read, probably read aloud. Mary's party in September 1568 declared that they were garbled, and that the handwriting was not hers. In the end of July 1567 the earl of Moray, Mary's brother, passing through London from France, told de Silva, as de Silva reported to his government, that there was proof of Mary's guilt in a letter of three double sheets of paper signed by her.

According to Moray's version of the letter, Mary was to try to poison Darnley in a house on the way between Glasgow and Edinburgh where he and she were to stop. Clearly Lord Livingstone's house, Callendar, where they did rest on their journey, is intended. If this failed, Mary would put Darnley "in the house where the explosion was arranged for the night upon which one of the servants was to be married." No such arrangement had been made, as the confessions of the murderers, at which Moray was present, clearly prove. It may be said that de Silva means "the house in which the explosion was afterwards arranged." But the earl of Lennox, Darnley's father, understood Moray to mean that as early as January 21–22, 1567, the house of Kirk o' Field, where Darnley was slain, had already been mined. Moray's version of the letter made Mary tell Bothwell to poison or put away his wife. No such matters occur in Letter II.; Moray spoke, he said, on the authority of "a man who had read the letter." A similar account of this letter is given in a document of Darnley's father, the earl of Lennox (Cambridge University Library MSS. Oo. 7. 47; f. 17 b.). Can we suppose that "the man who had read the letter" invented much of its contents, and told them to Moray, who told de Silva, and told Darnley's father, Lennox, then in or near London?

At this point comes in the evidence—unknown to Froude, Skelton, Hosack, and Henderson in his book The Casket Letters—of a number of documents, notes of information, and indictments of Mary, written for or by the earl of Lennox. These MSS are in the University Library of Cambridge, and were transcribed by Father Stevenson. His transcripts were brought to light by Father Pollen, S. J., who lent them, with his own notes on them,