This particular fic deals with probably the most tense time of Elizabeth I’s reign. She has been Queen of England for a time, but there are still those, especially within France and the Catholics within her now officially Protestant Country who would like to see her deposed and a Catholic ruler back on the Throne. The most logical choice is Mary, Queen of Scots, the daughter of Mary of Guise, whom we got to see a bit of in the first movie, ‘Elizabeth’. Historians have looked at it and Mary Queen of Scots actually did have probably a more legitimate claim than Elizabeth did, but this was about religious factions and ideals staying in control of a country.
“The messages were sent in beer casks, Madame, to your Majesty’s cousin, Mary Queen of Scots and her co-conspirators,” Walsingham explained, “the cipher took some time for us to decode, but clearly, she means to do Your Majesty Harm and place herself on Your Throne.” The pieces of paper in his hands proved the intrigue, from both abroad and from here in England.
Walsingham was appointed her general secretary and he really was the founding father of what was to become England’s MI6. He was her spy master and rooted out the many plots that raged against her. The chief one being the claim that Mary Queen of Scots had. So he has been working for some time to find *something* to get Elizabeth’s cousin on in order to get rid of her and settle the matter once and for all. He was quite methodical and quite effective in that job, and sometimes he was so good, Elizabeth didn’t like him very much because of it!
“You present information to me and harp endlessly about destroying her! Have you forgotten, Master Secretary, that this woman, my cousin is a God-anointed Queen? To spill her blood would make her a martyr and brand me a fearful fool!” I bellowed, “How came you by these letters? Do we have someone of ours in her confidence and is this his scheme or hers, Walsingham? Consider my answer, answer-less.”
During this era, even other monarchs were quite loath to personally destroy each other outright because there was this idea that Monarch’s were appointed and anointed by God, so only God could destroy them. Regicide did happen and monarchs did plan to off each other, but it was pretty important that if you wanted to off someone else, you had either a war to hide behind for having done it, or you got someone else to do it for you as your catspaw and then your hand was not detected. In this instance, Elizabeth has held her in captivity for a period of time to sort of keep Mary out of sight and mind while Elizabeth decided what to do with her. And Elizabeth was constantly waffling about this, because they knew each other, and they were cousins, and so even though her family was a really screwed up mess, she was very hesitant to just destroy her cousin who was a God appointed monarch and was recognised as such in France years before she herself took the throne.
Another thing is she would often give an answer by remaining answer-less simply to show her people that she did not mean to be forced into any decision. The divinity of the monarchy applied to her, too. She would do as she saw fit – much as her father, Henry VIII did.
“These gentlemen, including Babbington approached the so-called Queen of Scots and she countenanced their scheme. It is clear that she means your Majesty’s death!”
“As you mean to have hers!”
Walsingham slapped the piece of paper down on to the table, “Here is the cipher, and here is its transcription, read for yourself, Madame!”
The line has been drawn. Walsingham finally has the proof he has been seeking so that he can at last sweep away this cousin and make Elizabeth decide and be ruler without contest in England. Elizabeth, knows, however, that the men of her Council are as concerned for themselves as they are for her and protecting her throne from Mary and her crew. And now that Walsingham has this proof, he actually is not too hesitant about getting in Elizabeth’s face about it. It’s something he has worked so hard for, he is not going to let her shrink from what he thinks is her duty.
I read the paper and how it laid out both the forces of France and Spain were in readiness to invade England’s shores and how ‘a certain sixth gentleman would set about the murder of Elizabeth the Queen’. The rage, the sorrow, the sadness came rushing to me like the ground rushing up to me after being thrown from a horse. She had given me her word! She had sworn that she would make no move against me in her own self interest! And yet this cipher was clearly written in her own hand. At the bottom of the copy was scrawled a caricature of a hanged man upon a gallows. My hand would be forced, making me no better than my father had been when he placed my own mother, also innocent, upon the block.
“I will not move precipitously, Sir!” I said pushing the papers back to him, “was that gallows sketch something she drew or your scrawl, Walsingham?”
Whenever they had proof of something that would serve as means by which to execute someone, sometimes there would be a gallows sketched on it by the recorders to indicate that this was indeed the piece of evidence that would deem that person a traitor and ripe for execution. This is true, there was a sketch of a gallows on this piece of paper, and it is unsure whether or not Walsingham himself or someone else actually did it. Elizabeth calls him on it because it serves as a reminder that she knows what she has to do, but she certainly does not want to do it. She is caught between two difficult choices and she is being forced to act.
“Madame,” his face red with rage, “no counterfeit is presented to you here! This is Mary’s own cipher, sent to and from her own stores of beer, by means that we have been observing for months. And though it would bring upon us the wrath of Philip of Spain, we have no choice! Your majesty must act!”
So now Walsingham is giving her even more details. He has made it quite clear that he has been watching Mary, it is in her hand, and he is outlining how the messages got in and out. Now, historians are still debating about whether it really was Mary’s own hand or that of a clever forger. But the messages were smuggled in this manner. Walsingham also knows quite well what is at stake and he is not about to shrink from it. He knows that this question of which queen is legitimate or not as long as Mary Queen of Scots is alive.
“Must?” I stared up at my grim Privy Council member, one of the truest, with me from the beginning of my reign. Still, something in all of this was amiss. I could feel it. “Must is not a word that one uses with princes, Lord Walsingham, ” Do you imagine that because I am a woman that I do not have the stomach toward cruelty? Do you think that because I am slow to make war, I am somehow more merciful than a King might be? Oh, do not be so beguiled, Sir! We women have forgotten more about cruelty than you men could possibly remember on your own! What I will not countenance are lies in Our Name.”
Elizabeth is reminding Walsingham that she is still Queen of England and like her father, she will not hesitate to kill someone if she sees fit. She is also telling him in a rather veiled manner that if any of this evidence he is presenting to her is found to be trumped up. She is sort of giving in, but she wants them to know that if it is at all false, it will be the conspirators that will be destroyed instead.
“Everything I have done, I have done to secure your Majesty’s throne! All I have ever done has…”
“Enough! You have offered neither a confession nor do you refute what I suspect. Your obsession, ” I hissed, “your obsession with finding Our cousin’s treachery has made you blind to anything else. But know this, Sir Francis, if one stroke of this is a forgery in any form I will rend you limb from limb and tear out your heart with my own hands. I will not wait for either the Privy Council nor the House of Commons.”
As I mentioned earlier, she really meant that. She knew the amount of time that Walsingham spent disassembling the plots around her and there were quite a few during her reign. She also suspects that someone that immersed in such a mindset also has to be getting themselves pretty dirty in the process as well.
“Majesty,” Walsingham bowed low, offering no further protest. He knew full well that my words had done nothing more than dismiss him. The plots swam, as shadows within shadows behind even more shadows. His footfalls echoed into the dark corridors that night. Those echoes I still hear in my sleep.
I do not often speak of the death of my cousin, Mary. I do not like to think that in those moments I could feel the trap enclosing not around my cousin, Mary, but around me as well. In time, after much back and forth, I was enticed to sign the order of Mary’s execution. Even at the last moments I sought to intervene and put a halt to it. But it was too late. The intrigue had swallowed up Mary, and soon more intrigues would set upon England as well. How could I plead innocence when my own hands were now well covered with the blood of my own cousin – a God-anointed sovereign? In so doing, I had not secured my own throne, but in fact strengthened the claim of my former brother-in-law, one-time suitor, Philip of Spain. We had played into his hands. Soon….the Armada would come.
Here she is really very honest about how she feels going through this period of time. She is as much a prisoner as her cousin Mary is, she is being swept along as much as her ill-fated cousin, and she realized a bit too late that her former brother in law, Philip of Spain would send the Armada, and at the time England could not really afford to be at war with anyone.