Venice: April 1566

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 7, 1558-1580. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1890.

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'Venice: April 1566', in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 7, 1558-1580, (London, 1890) pp. 375-380. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

April 1566

[April 2.] Copy, Venetian Archives. 361. Copy of a Letter from Mary Queen of Scotland to the King and Queen [Mother] of France; enclosed in Barbaro's Despatch of 30th April 1566 (fn. 1)
Parliament was summoned for the 12th March, on which day the rebels, who had fled to England, were acquainted that they would be condemned for having disturbed the public peace and tranquillity. On the 6th of the same month we held a Council of State, and requested the King our husband to be then present with us, but he, being persuaded by the rebels, and with the assent and at the suggestion of their accomplices and adherents, the Earl of Morton and the Lords Ruthven and Lindsay, now at our Court, refused to accompany us; and consented, not so much, as we believe, for his own advantage, as under the subtle instigation of these Lords, henceforth to favour their religion, and to restore to them the property and possessions which they formerly held ; and the King also, without our knowledge, granted these Lords pardon for their offences.
The said rebels and partisans promised the King to crown him with the matrimonial crown for himself and his descendants, and to risk their very lives for this purpose, and to defend him to the utmost of their power against all comers, not excepting our own person. These subtle intrigues being unknown to us, and not suspecting the occurrence of any untoward or evil event, we went, accompanied by our nobility, to the assembly of the Estates on the 7th of the same month, to hold the Parliament, having given notice to the Lords concerning the proposals which they would then have to consider, and the Ecclesiastical Estate being received by us in the accustomed place and manner. We then advanced our proposal to effect some public good, by the restoration of the ancient religion, and also by proceeding against the rebels according to their crimes, which, upon grounds well known, were worthy of punishment; and the facts having been verified and proved before the Estates, and the offences committed being so great, that the offenders merited to be declared rebels and to have all their property confiscated, the opinion of Parliament was taken and judgment given to this effect. On the 9th of the same month, we being at supper in private about the seventh hour, in our cabinet, accompanied by our sister the Countess of Argyle, our brother the Commander of Sta. Croce, and others of our domestic servants, because, on account of our indisposition, and as the seventh month of our pregnancy was almost accomplished, we had been advised to eat meat, the King our husband came to visit us, and seated himself by our side. Meanwhile the Earl of Morton and Lord Lindsay, with their followers, to the number of one hundred and sixty persons, occupied and took possession of all the entrances and exits of our palace, so that they believed it was impossible for any one to escape thence alive. During this interval of time, Lord Ruthven, fully armed, with others of his followers, dared to enter by force into our apartments and cabinet, and perceiving our secretary, Davit Riccio, there, with other servants of ours, said that he desired to speak with him immediately. At the same moment we inquired of the King our husband if he knew anything concerning this proceeding; and when he answered us in the negative, we ordered Lord Ruthven to quit our presence under penalty of being deemed a traitor, and said that we would deal with Davit Riccio, and cause him to be punished if he had been guilty of any offence. Nevertheless, Lord Ruthven, by force in our presence, seized Davit, who for his safety and defence had retired behind our person, and a portion of Ruthven's followers, surrounding us with harquebuses in hand and muzzles levelled, dragged Davit with great cruelty forth from our cabinet, and at the entrance of our chamber dealt him fifty-six dagger wounds; at which act we remained not only wonder stricken and astounded, but had great cause to fear for our own life.
After this deed was accomplished, Ruthven returned to our presence, saying that he and his adherents were deeply offended with our proceedings and tyranny, and that we had been deceived by this Davit, especially by taking his advice to maintain the ancient religion, and not to permit those who had fled from our kingdom to return, nor to maintain friendship with foreign princes or confederates, and also because at his immediate suggestion we had nominated to our Council the Earls of Bothwell (Boithuel) and Huntly (Hontely), who were both traitors ; and Lord Ruthven made us understand that the Lords who had been in England would appear the following day, and unite with him and his friends against us, and that the King had decided to pardon their offences.
We then forthwith took precautions, not less for those members of our Council and nobility, who were supporters of our authority, and who were with us in our palace, than for ourselves ; namely, for the Earls of Huntly, Bothwell, and Athol, Lords Fleming and Livingston (Leviston), Mr. James Balfour, and many domestic servants against whom this conspiracy had been organised as well as against Davit, and particularly against Balfour, whom the conspirators had determined to murder; nevertheless, by the grace of God, Bothwell and Huntly escaped by the windows of their chamber, whereby the conspirators were greatly disappointed as to the result of their enterprise. The Lords of Athol, Livingston, and Fleming, with Balfour, saved themselves otherwise. The Provost of the town of Edinburgh (Lilliburg), hearing the tumult raised in our palace, caused the bells to be sounded with hammers, and came to our palace to our succour, accompanied by a large number of armed men, and asked to speak with us, and to know how we had fared. To this enquiry we were not permitted to give any reply, because we were violently threatened by the conspirators, who said to our very face that if we endeavoured to speak they would throw us over the wall in pieces, in order to make steaks of us. The King our husband then ordered these people to retire. All the night long we were kept prisoners in our chamber, with scarcely even the opportunity of speaking with our maidservants.
On the following day, in the name of the King our husband, and without our consent, a proclamation was published to the prelates, nobility, and other persons assembled to hold Parliament, to depart. During the whole of this same day we were held in captivity, the conspirators having kept from our presence our domestic servants, and forbidden the service of our ordinary guard. At a late hour the same evening the Earl of Murray (Moray), accompanied by the Earl of Rothes and others who had been in England, came to us, and perceiving the condition in which we were, and how we had been treated, on the following day he assembled all the persons who had taken part in the last conspiracy, together with those who had accompanied them, and held a council, when it was deemed more expedient to imprison us in the Castle of Stirling, and to detain us there until the Estates had accepted and approved all the evil proposals of the conspirators, established their religion, and given the matrimonial crown and the government of the kingdom to the King; and besides this, it was believed by divers conjectures that they intended either to put us to death or to keep us in perpetual imprisonment. The King, in order to induce the conspirators to quit our palace with their guards and followers, promised to hold us for that night in safe custody, and, without using violence, to make us approve all their projects for submission to the States. Thus the conspirators retired from our palace, and then our guard in ordinary were commanded to perform their service as usual.
Our fear, however, for our personal safety still continuing, we made the King comprehend our position, and how he himself might be reduced to great straits if the conspirators prevailed against us, and how foreign potentates, and particularly our own allies, would be displeased if we made any change as to religion.
Upon these considerations the King decided to depart with us and in our company for Dunbar, whither we went the same night, being attended by the Captain of our Guard and by Arthur Erskine (Artus Erskin), our squire, and two other persons only. We had already resolved to liberate ourselves from this captivity, and had secretly communicated with the Earls of Bothwell and Huntly to devise some mode for so doing; and these noblemen, being without fear, and willing to sacrifice their lives to this end, arranged to let us down at night from the walls of our palace in a chair by ropes and other devices which they had prepared. Immediately after our arrival at Dunbar many of our nobility, desirous of our welfare, such as the Earls of Huntly, Bothwell, Marischal, Athol, and Caithness, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, with many of their relatives and friends, the Lords of Hume, Yester, Semple, and an infinity of others, hastened to our assistance, and by their advice we issued proclamations commanding our subjects to arm in our favour; and the conspirators having heard these events, the Earl of Glencairn, as being innocent of the last outrage, came to us by our permission, and received our pardon. The Earl of Rothes did the same. The Earls of Murray and Argyle sent several messengers to seek our favour similarly to these noblemen. For divers reasons, and with the advice of our nobility and Council who were with us, we have granted them our pardon, on condition that they will in no way maintain relations with the last conspirators, and will retire to Argyle for such a period of time as may seem good to us, it appearing to us too dangerous to allow so many persons in arms against us; and knowing the promises which have already passed between the King and them, and being aware of the bodily indisposition of our person, and not being in robust health, and compelled, in order to show resistance to our enemies, not to endanger greatly our affairs, we remained five days at Dunbar, and thence returned to Edinburgh, accompanied numerously by our subjects.
The last conspirators, with their adherents, have retired from Edinburgh, and some of them are now fugitives. We have caused all their possessions to be seized, and we have determined to proceed against them with the utmost vigour. To this end we are satisfied that the King our husband will act in unison with us, because he has declared in the presence of the Lords of our Privy Council his innocence of the last outrage upon us, and that he never either advised or approved it; and he has excused himself on the ground that he only, at the persuasion and entreaty of the last conspirators, and without our knowledge and opinion, had consented that the Earls of Murray, Glencairn, and other persons by whom we had been offended, should return to the kingdom. The King's meaning will be understood by his declaration which, according to his request, will be published in all parts of the kingdom.
April 8. Original Letter Book, Venetian Archives. 362. Marc' Antonio Barbaro, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Signory.
News has been received from Scotland much in contradiction of the preceding intelligence, namely, that the King had recalled all the exiles to the kingdom; that he had released the Earl of Arran, son of the Duke of Châtellerault, who was prisoner in Scotland; that he had recalled the said Duke, who had retired to Flanders; and that he had received a promise from the above-mentioned that they would crown him King even against the will of the Queen, if he chose to adopt the new religion, as he had given them proof. The Queen's secretary, by name David [Riccio], an Italian, greatly in her confidence, has been assassinated with poniards on leaving the Queen's own chamber; and to complete a charge against the Queen, a calumny was also circulated that she was pregnant before she cohabited with the King; so that this unhappy Princess, seeing all her enemies called to Scotland, her dearest and most faithful servant killed, the King changed both as to his religion and his disposition towards her, and, what weighs more than anything else upon her, his suspicion of her honour, and fearing also for her very life, has withdrawn to Dunbar, a strong fortress on the sea, and there she remains trusting in God. She has received this reward for giving her kingdom and herself to the King, and preferring him to the many powerful Princes who sought her hand, as one of the most beautiful women in Europe; and thus she is unjustly persecuted. On hearing this intelligence their Majesties immediately sent Monsr. de Mauvissière to Scotland, but from what I hear he is not a person capable of treating so important a negotiation. The King will not remain long at Clermont, and goes to keep the holy days at La Charité, a few leagues hence.
Bourbon, 8th April 1566.
[Italian; the portion in italics deciphered by Signor Luigi Pasini.]
April 14. Original Letter Book, Venetian Archives. 363. Marc' Antonio Barbaro, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Signory.
It is heard from Scotland that the Queen is in the same distress, and demands succour from the most Christian King, her brother-in-law; but until the return of the gentleman sent thither lately, it is not believed that the King will come to any decision.
Bourbon, 14th April 1566.
April 17. Original Letter Book, Venetian Archives. 364. Marc' Antonio Barbaro, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Signory.
I have been to visit the Duke of Guise, who confirmed all that I have lately written concerning the affairs of Scotland ; and he told me that the Queen of Scotland wished to seek safety in France, and that she had escaped through a window, because she had been kept almost as a prisoner. She had written to her uncle, his Eminence of Lorraine, two letters, which he had forwarded to their most Christian Majesties, who were so full of compassion that they could scarcely restrain their tears, and she (the Queen of Scotland) seems apprehensive for her very life.
Nevers, 17th April 1566.
April 30. Original Letter Book, Venetian Archives. 365. Marc' Antonio Barbaro, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Signory.
Their most Christian Majesties are now at Monceaux, a palace of the Queen, and to-morrow they depart for St. Maur (S. Moro), a palace of her Majesty's only two leagues hence, and between these two places, and two or three other places in this neighbourhood, they will remain during the months of May and June.
The news written by me about Scotland came to their Majesties by way of England, and was somewhat amplified by their Ambassador, who is a Huguenot, and who therefore made additions which subsequently were not verified. Nevertheless it is the fact that the recall of all the rebels was made by the King of Scotland without the consent of the Queen his consort, and arose from ambition, and through the promise made him by the rebels, not only to crown him King, but also to limit the succession to his descendants should he not have issue by that Queen. It was in like manner true, that violence was practised against the Secretary David with much more audacity than was related in the first advices, as you will perceive by the accompanying letter, (fn. 2) which is a copy of the identical letter written by the Queen to their Majesties, and which is in all respects conformable with information which I have received from Marshal Bourdillon this day. The Queen of England has shown great anger at these proceedings, and has issued banns and proclamation against the Scotch rebels, to prohibit them from returning to their native kingdom.
These Majesties are expecting the return of Mauvissière, in whose stead they will send a person of greater authority.
Paris, 30th April 1566.
[Italian; the portion in italics deciphered by Signor Luigi Pasini.]


  • 1. As this copy is in Italian, it is of course a translation, the original having doubtless been in French. It bears no date, but is evidently of the same date as a similar letter in Scotch from Queen Mary to the Bishop of Glasgow, her Ambassador in France, dated at Edinburgh, 2nd April 1566, and printed in Keith, I. 330, and in Labanoff, I. 341.
  • 2. See No. 361.