Friday 5th May, 2006

6 PM Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, London. Finishing off coverage of the execution scene then down to the crypt for a scene from nearly four months previously, as Mary confronts her accusers at her trial at Fotheringhay.


The outcome of Mary’s trial was really a foregone conclusion. She had argued that as a sovereign she was not subject to England’s laws but eventually she was prevailed upon to appear in person to answer the charge that she had conspired to assassinate Elizabeth. As all her papers had been taken from her and she was denied any form of counsel she was forced to defend herself without help or preparation but she still gave a remarkable performance. Firstly she reiterated her view that the court was not competent to try her but then admitted that she had sought her own freedom, as any captive would, and supported the Catholic faith in England. When it came to the Babbington plot however she denied any involvement. For the movie we have taken just one element of her trial – a speech in which she asks her accusers on what authority they presume to try her and what such a trial will mean for the nature of kingship itself. It’s a key point in the story as Mary has hit upon one of Elizabeth’s key worries about executing her. Kings and Queen were theoretically above the ordinary law, answerable only to God for their action. If Elizabeth could try and condemn Mary then she was saying monarchs were in fact answerable to the state and the divine nature of all kingship was hence diminished. If Mary was just another ordinary mortal then so was Elizabeth.
These worries did not bother the commissioners sent to try Mary however. Her protestations of ignorance of the plot were immaterial. The Act of Association, passed in the spring of 1585 made any beneficiary in a plot against Elizabeth – regardless of their knowledge of it – guilty by association. It was an Act designed specifically to provide the legal framework for executing Mary and was, in effect, her death warrant. Despite her eloquent defence against a very hostile prosecution there could be no doubting the outcome. After the trial the commissioners returned to London to reconvene in the Star Chamber and a verdict of guilty was reached. Mary was not told until On the 19th of November.

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