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Elizabeth, on the first receipt of the news about the casket. It is plain that the
Lords had really discovered the casket and some papers. The only apparent
opportunity for tampering with them in any way, before they were seen by
Morton on June 21, was that enjoyed by Sir James Balfour and Lethington, while
the casket was still in the castle. Afterwards, of course, the Lords could do as
they pleased, till May-June 1568, when Murray sent John Wood, with Scots
translations of the letters, to Elizabeth. Whether she and Cecil, or others, saw
these translations does not appear to be certain. If Cecil and Elizabeth did see
these Scots translations, in the summer of 1568, and if these versions varied from
those later produced, the reader must estimate for himself the chances that the
English Queen and her minister would draw attention to the differences. In
December 1567 the Scottish Parliament was informed that the Lords possessed
guilty letters of Mary's "written and subscribed with her own hand." As the
extant copies of the letters are not "subscribed " or signed, much has been built
on this point by Mary's defenders. In the Act of Parliament the phrase " signed "
or "subscribed" is withdrawn. The point is not worth wrangling about; the
former statement, that the letters are "subscribed," is probably a mere mis-
description. There was no difficulty in forging Mary's signature, had that been
thought advisable by her accusers. It is not absolutely clear that the letters were
inspected in this Parliament. We might gather that this was done from a later
protest of the Lords of Mary's party (September 12, 1568). They speak of "her
Majesty's writing produced in Parliament," and then go on to say that no "plain
mention " of Darnley's murder is made in the letters, even if written by Mary's
hand, which they are not. Moreover, "some principal and substantial clauses"
have been garbled by the accusers. This is very obscure. The letters are not in
Mary's hand, yet, if only some clauses are garbled, the substance, though not in
the Queen's hand, is apparently admitted to be of her composition. The argu-
ment seems to be that the accusers, possessing genuine letters of Mary's, have
had the substance copied in imitation of her writing, with additions and altera-
tions. The Lords, it seems,- could only assert all this, if they had seen and read
the letters, in Parliament. If they did, and if, when the letters were published in
1571-1573, they varied from the letters read in Parliament, we might expect
Mary's friends to point to the variations as a proof of dishonest usage. We do


not find that this was done. But it is conceivable that the protest of Mary's
Lords, in September 1568, was worded by Lesley, Bishop of Ross.

Mary had denied the authorship of the letters, and asserted that there were men
and women in Scotland, "and principally such as are in company with themselves,"
who could counterfeit her hand.-' Her Lords may have put forth their plea without
having inspected the letters closely, but the letters were certainly produced in
Parliament, whether studied there or not. And there is no later trace of any hint,
on Mary's side, that either the copies given to du Croc, or those produced in Parlia-
ment, were not identical with the letters afterwards printed and published. Lesley,
or any other pamphleteer on Mary's side, if in possession of copies of the letters as
produced in Parliament in 1567 (which he may not have been), ought to have
insisted on any changes in the letters as later published. That this was never
done is a powerful though perhaps not necessarily a conclusive argument against
a theory now to be mentioned. There are traces of the existence, in 1567 and
156S, of a letter attributed to Mary by her enemies, at that time, but never
produced by them.

This curious matter stands thus : Murray was in France at the time of the dis-
covery of the casket — ^June 20-21, 1567. On July 8, 1567, Robert Melville, who
had returned to Scotland, sent one John a Forret to Cecil. John is to go on to
Murray, and a packet of letters for Murray is to be forwarded "with the greatest
diligence that may be." It once occurred to me that John a Forret might be John
Wood, a great ally of Murray, but more probably he was Forret of Forret in Fife-
shire. Murray arrived from France into England on July 23. He saw de Silva,
the Spanish ambassador, who on August 2 wrote to Philip of Spain. ^ De Silva
says that Murray told him something that he had not told even " this Queen "'
(Elizabeth). Mary, he said, was certainly cognisant of Darnley's murder. MuiTay
then cited what, he declared, he had heard about a letter of Mary's "from a man
who had read it." Here we have only de Silva's report of Murra)''s oral version
of an oral account of a letter of Mary, as given by a man who "had read it."
One might suppose that in the packet of letters sent to Murray from Scotland, 'on
July 9, would be transcripts of the Casket Letters opened on June 21. To send to
Murray a mere oral report in a messenger's memory seems a strange proceeding.
However, de Silva's account of Murray's repetition of the other unnamed man's
version of a letter which he "had read " exactly answers, in essentials, to Lennox's
account, written in 1568, of the same letter.

It is not likely to be denied that Lennox, in 1568 (say July or August), and
Murray, in July 1567, have a common source for their description of a letter never
produced against Mary. In that source, Mary is represented as arranging the
explosion at Kirk o' Field for the night of Bastian's marriage. She is made to
urge the " dispatch" of Bothwell's wife, by poison, or divorce. In both versions,
there is danger that Darnley's " fair words " will make her relent. Murray does,
and Lennox does not, speak of a design to poison Darnley at a house between
Glasgow and Edinburgh. Lennox does, and Murray does not, make Mary say
that she wishes Bothwell " in her arms," a phrase which occurs in Casket Letter ii.
The other items quoted occur in no Casket Letter. Whence did these items
come? Possibly Murray, in July 1567, told to Lennox — but more copiously —
what he had told to de Silva, that is to say, a report, from memory, of an oral
report, from memory, by a man who, having read Casket Letter ii., made divers
fanciful and exaggerated additions. That is conceivable, strange as it may seem
that the Lords, when writing to Murray, on July 9, 1567, did not send transcripts
of the Casket Letters, but trusted to the memory of a messenger. In that case.


Lennox, in Jwly 1567, may have at once written down what Murray told him,
and copied it out in a document of a year later. Lennox's document of seven
folio pages is undated. I put it about July or August 1568, partly because it
purports to be an mdictment of Mary's conduct towards Darnley. It is in English,
with corrections in Lennox's own hand, it is not in Scots. It is the first of a series
of similar documents, of which the last was read by Lennox to the English Com-
missioners at Westminster in December 1568. It may be urged that the
document, like a large memorial picture of Darnley's murder, painted for Lennox
in the beginning of 156S, is a mere record, which he might write for English
readers at any time earlier than July- August 1568 ; and on no better evidence as
to the letter than Murray's oral report.

The reply to this is that Lennox's long document contains divers strange
"sayings and speeches" of Mary to her closest personal attendants. Now, as
late as June 1568, Lennox was writing to ask his friends to collect "the sayings
of her servants and their reports." When he wrote the long paper in which he
cites the letters attributed to Mary, he had got the "sayings and speeches" for
which he was writing, from Chiswick, on June II, 1568. Some delay must have
occurred before he received these reports from Scotland, because the letter of June
II, in which he asks for them, was intercepted by Mary's party, and now occurs
among the manuscripts of the house of Hamilton. It follows that the vast paper
in which Lennox cites the letter attributed to Mary by Murray, but never pro-
duced, cannot be earlier than July 1568. Still, it may be said, Lennox may be
only quoting Murray's verbal communication of July 1567. It may be so, but,
even by June 11, 1568, Lennox was in company with, and was working with,
Murray's agent, John Wood, who had in his keeping Scots translations of the
Casket Letters. In writing to Scotland, on June 11, 1568, Lennox employed
Wood, or his secretary, as his amanuensis. This is clear, for, on June 12, Wood
wrote letters to Scotland from Greenwich, and those letters are in the same hand
as Lennox's epistles of the previous day.'' Thus we see that, before Lennox wrote his
paper of seven pages, against Mary, in which he cites a letter attributed to iVIary, but
never produced against her, he was in close contact and collaboration with Wood,
who had the Scots translations of the Casket Letters, as they then stood, in his
possession. Is it likely that he did not communicate their contents to his ally,
Lennox, the father of Darnley? If he did, Lennox quotes a letter then officially
attributed to Mary, a letter which, though of essential value to the prosecutors,,
was later dropped by them. It was either too bold a forgery, or implicated some
of the guilty men who became Mary's accusers.

That a letter attributed to Mary, and containing matter not to be found in any
of the Casket Letters, really did exist, may be inferred, not only from the citations
of Murray and Lennox, but from the ' Book of Articles.' This is the long indictment
of Mary, whereof the manuscript is now in the British Museum : it was published
by Mr Hosack. We have seen, in the text, that no endorsement nor authentication
proves this document to contain the "articles" produced against Mary at West-
minster, in December 1568. It is an arraignment of Mary ; it is in an official
Scottish hand of the period, recognised by Mr Bain as that of Alexander Hay, clerk
of the Privy Council. If this be not the official and final indictment of Mary, no
other is known to exist (except a draft in the Cambridge MS.). To reject the Book
of Articles as dubious and unofficial is, perhaps, to show a scepticism not wholly
unbiassed. In any case the document avers that Mary, "from Glasgow, by her
letters and otherwise, held Bothwell continually in remembrance of the said house,"
namely. Kirk o' Field. Now, in the Casket Letters, Kirk o' Field is never once


mentioned. The writer says that she is bringing Darnley to Craigmillar, " if I hear
n« other matter of you " (Letter i. English translation). " He is to take physic at
Craigmillar " (Letter ii. English translation). The only hint that might be regarded
as pointing to Kirk o' Field is " of the ludgeing in Edinburgh," one item in a list
which is found in the Scots but not in the English version of Letter ii. On the
other hand, the letter described by Murray and Lennox does allude to " the house
where the explosion was arranged," to " finishing the place and everything as they
had desired." Now the writer of the "Articles " had Letter ii. before him, yet, like
Lennox in his long paper of seven pages, he insists that Mary's letter kept harping
on " the house in Edinburgh," which, in the Casket Letters, she does not, though,
in the Murray- Lennox version, she does. Therefore the writer of the "Articles"
had seen a Casket Letter, never produced, a forgery.

This matter of a letter, cited by Murray and Lennox, and clearly present to the
mind of the writer of the Book of Articles (whether that be final and official or
not), is an example of the delicately balanced problems in the case. Did Murray
and Lennox cite a forged letter ? Did they merely repeat, at a long interval, the
same confused and exaggerated oral report about a letter ? In questions like
these, disputants will vote according to their prepossessions, or will reserve their
judgment. The letters may be genuine throughout, but nobody who has watched
the conduct of Mary's opponents will be apt to deny that they were capable of
forging, garbling, and suppressing documents. Some topics, causes of much
ingenious writing, may be brushed aside. The letters produced as Mary's were
certainly in French, and not in the French of the versions later published in
France, these being translations from the Scots versions, or from the Latin versions
of the Scots versions. This is proved by extant copies of the original French at
Hatfield, and in the Record Office.

Again, as to the dates : The chronology of Letter ii. cannot be made to fit with
the list of dates and events in the paper called " Cecil's Diary." But it is always
a possible, though a rather desperate argument, that "Cecil's Diar}'," or
'Journal,' is not official; that the prosecutors had a better scheme of chronology —
which has vanished like their hypothetical better Book of Articles. Moreover, I
have elsewhere worked out a plausible system of dates for Mary's movements,
into which the Glasgow letters (i. , ii. ) easily fit. Again, the internal chronology
of Letter ii., written on two nights, is dislocated. But this, as I have shown,
may be easily explained if we suppose Mary, on the second night, to have written
by accident on the clean side of a piece of paper, whereof the verso contained
some lines written on the previous night, but left standing by the translators.*

There remains the difficulty about Crawford. He was in attendance on
Darnley during Mary's visit to Glasgow. On December 9, 1568, he put in,
before the Commissioners at Westminster, a deposition, done into English out of a
version written by him in Scots. It contained, first, a report of a conversation
between Crawford himself and the Queen, as she was about to enter Glasgow ;
next, a report of a private talk between Mary and Darnley. This talk Darnley
repeated to Crawford at the time, and Crawford swore that he then, at the
moment, wrote it out for Lennox. On June 11, 156S, Lennox wrote to ask
Crawford for x^ie. first part of this deposition (made on Dec. 9, 156S), namely, as
to the talk between himself and I\Lary. This part Crawford in January 1567 did
not write, but told to Lennox, if he communicated the fact at all. For the second
part, the conversation between Mary and Darnley, Lennox did not ask. The
inference is that Lennox already possessed the document which Crawford swears
to having made "immediately at the time," that is, about January 25, 1567. Now


Crawford's accounts of the two conversations are so verbally identical with these
which Mary is made to give to Bothwell in Casket Letter ii. that Crawford's and
Mary's versions must have one common source. Either Crawford borrowed his
facts and phrases from Letter ii. , or Letter ii. is, so far, a forgery based on what
Crawford wrote for Lennox in January 1567, and on what he wrote in answer to
Lennox's inquiries of June 11, 156S. What he then wrote, in 1568, having
probably told it orally to Lennox in 1567, tallies verbally with the corresponding
passage at the opening of Letter ii. Therefore it seems that all this portion of
Letter ii. is forged on the model of Crawford's statements. If Crawford did not
deliberately perjure himself, if he really did write an account of the conversation
between Darnley and Mary in January 1567, if he gave it to Lennox, for whom it
was written, and if Lennox kept it (we have seen that he asked for nothing of this
kind when collecting information in June 1568), then Letter ii. contains elements
of forgery. The two Glasgow letters are much the most important. What
difficulties obscure our view of them we have made apparent.

Of the other letters, one (iii.) implicates Mary in an alleged but very dim attempt
to embroil Darnley with her brother Robert. Another (iv. ) concerns a maid about
her person, who, if not carefully treated, may reveal something. Letters v., vi., vii.
were written, or we are to suppose that they were written, in April 21-23, 1567, and
bear on Bothwell's abduction of Mary. Of these, vi. is suspiciously like a mere
precis of a long excuse of Mary's conduct, written in Scots, probably by Lething-
ton, and sent to the Bishop of Dunblane, then in Paris, in May 1567.^ Letter viii.
fits into no known moment in Bothwell's relations with Mary, and is written in an
affected or alembicated style, not customary, perhaps unexampled, in her epistles.
On the side of the authenticity of parts, at least, of the letters, is the tone of
humility and dependence which Mary later adopted, in her letters to Norfolk,
when he and she intended to marry. The expressions of remorse and loathing of
her task, in Letter ii., also seem almost beyond the power of a forger to conceive,
but many critics are of an opposite opinion. Our impressions are merely sub-
jective. As to the sonnets, it is not easy to guess when, if genuine, they were
written. To an English reader their passion appears overpoweringly natural and
unfeigned, and their inartificial laxity and roughness may be the result of rapid
and excited composition. On the other hand, a French critic. Monsieur de
Wyzeva, avers that, to a French ear, the "tone" is not French, and that both
sonnets and letters are the work of a person who thinks in English (or Scots) ;
also that this "tone" is not that of Mary's genuine writings in the French
language. These are impressions which a foreigner cannot criticise.® As to the
question of the possibility of forging, without detection, the handwTiting of the
Queen, the letters were never submitted to experts — merely to a throng of English
Lords in the course of a short winter day. In the case of the Logan-Gowrie
letters (Appendix, pp. 569-575), we find such an extraordinary example of skilled
forgery, by a rural practitioner in a small way of business, that a successful imita-
tion of Mary's large Italian hand seems well within the resources of the art.
Examples which, probably, would deceive any modern critic, were designed by
Mr F. Compton Price, and are published in the author's "Mystery of Mary Stuart."
It seems possible that even if the original Casket Letters were to be discovered,
and compared with Mary's authentic handwriting, we might come no nearer to a
solution of the problem ; though, in the Logan case, the forgery is detected.

Here we must leave this much debated question, on which conviction can
hardly, perhaps, be attained by a perfectly fair and unbiassed student. As the
evidence stands, the letters could not be founded on by a jury ; and the author


himself, while unable to reject the testimony of all the circumstances to Mary's
guilty foreknowledge of, and acquiescence in, the crime of her husband's murder.
cannot entertain any certain opinion as to the entire or partial authenticity of the
Casket Letters. Mary was never allowed to see the originals. Her denials were per-
sistent. Yet, if guilty, therewas no reason why she should not deny much more openly,
loudly, and pertinaciously, above all, after the death of Paris, the alleged bearer
of the missives (August 1569). He was gone ; he could not be heard ; and his
confessions were not produced against the Queen, but were deliberately suppressed
by Cecil. In 1582 Mary was declaring the letters to be forgeries, and was
anxious to procure them. Bowes, too, the English ambassador, was attempting
to obtain the letters for Elizabeth, "for the secrecy and benefit of the cause."
Why "secrecy"? The letters were in the hands of the Earl of Cowrie : he
would not give them up ; he was executed for treason in 1584, and we hear no
more of the letters and the casket.^ " Secrecy," so desirable, may, of course, here
mean secrecy from friends of Mary who were anxious to destroy the letters. But
it may also mean that the more they were known, the less would they injure Mary
or benefit Elizabeth. Thus, to every inference there is always a counter inference,
and the business of the historian is to state each, and rely on neither of the

1 Goodall, ii. 342, 343, 388, 389.

- Spanish Calendar, i. p. 665.

■* See abstracts of all these letters in Maitland Club Miscellany, vol. iv. p. 119.

* Cf. Mystery of Mary Stuart, chap. xiv.

5 Labanoff, ii. pp. 32-44.

6 Revue des Deux Mondes, 1902.

' Bowes' "Correspondence," pp. 236-265.



On or about April 19, in the year 1608, a notary of Eyemouth, named George
Sprot, was arrested. Of the circumstances we only hear vaguely, from Calderwood
and Dr Abbot, later Archbishop of Canterbury, that Sprot had been babbling
about his knowledge of the Gowrie Conspiracy. We have no official mention of
Sprot till July 5, 1608. On that day he wrote a letter of confession to the Earl
of Dunbar (.Sir George Hume), who was in Scotland on the business of the Kirk.
This letter, with the whole of the documents in Sprot's case between July 5 and
August 12, the day of his execution, are in the muniment room of the Earl of
Haddington, and have remained unknown to our historians.^ The ancestor of
Lord Haddington, in 1608, was Sir Thomas Hamilton, King's Advocate, one of
the Octavians of 1596, an eminent historical scholar and collector of MSS. As
to what befell the imprisoned Sprot between April 13 and August 5, we know
from the Haddington .MSS. that he had lain in the " laigh house" or dungeon on
the basement of the Tolbooth, "a loathsome hole," that he had often been
.examined, and that he had declared Logan of Restalrig innocent of writing certain


treasonable letters, apparently in his hand, which were found on Sprot's person,
among his papers, or were given up by Ninian Chirnside of Whitsumlaws. On
July 5, in his letter to Lord Dunbar, Sprot maintains that Restalrig was in the
Gowrie Conspiracy, that he himself had a guilty knowledge of it, but that he
forged the Logan letters as to the plot — that is to say, the letters then in the
possession of the Govern7>ient. Sprot, as we learn from Calderwood, had, at first,
admitted the genuineness of the letters, and later, under torture, had declared
them to be forged.-

The peculiarity of this passage in Calderwood is that it has its basis in a
manuscript, of unknown authorship, now in the Wodrow MSS. in the Advocates'
Library in Edinburgh (vol. ix. Rob. iii. 2, 9). The later historian and collector, the
Reverend Mr Wcjdrow, who lived under William IIL, Anne, and George L, has
marked this as " MS. History of the Church of Scotland from 1581-1641, I know
not by whom." It is not in Calderwood's handwriting, but in another hand of
the period, and is a kind of diary of events. The passage referring to Sprot is
correctly printed in Pitcairn, ii. 275, but is incorrectly described as "a curious
fragment."' "It is evidently written," says Mr Pitcairn, "by some one who
entertained ideas unfavourable to the reality of the Gowrie Conspiracy." On
comparing the excerpt (not "fragment") in Pitcairn with the passage in Calder-
wood (vi. pp. 778, 780), it becomes certain that Calderwood's source was the
anonymous manuscript now in the Advocates' Library. He takes whole passages
out of it, with a few verbal changes and transpositions of sentences, all this without
acknowledgment. But when he arrives at the description of the hanging of
Sprot, he not only deserts but contradicts his authority, introducing new matter
of his own, without giving his sources for that. Thus, his MS. source, the MS.
in the Wodrow MSS., declares that, on the scaffold, Sprot " maist plainlie
confessit, that he had nather promise of lyf, nather rewaird to his wyf and bairnis
efter his deceas. ..." Calderwood (who must have read this in the MS.) writes,
" Notwithstanding Sprot's confessions, so many as did not believe before were
never a whit the more persuaded, partly because he was a false notary, and could
counterfeit so finely men's hand writs, for which cause he was worthy of death ;
partly because be?tejit was promised to his wife and childrett by the Earl of Dunbar,
and had suffered both death and torments as a false notaiy."

Calderwood appears to myself to be stating these circumstances, not as facts,
but as the arguments advanced by the sceptics who had to excuse their disbelief
in a dying confession. After the Gowrie tragedy, Mr Robert Bruce had professed
himself ready to believe the King's account, if Henderson were hanged, and
adhered to his statements on the scaffold. Now Sprot did adhere to his, but,
not wishing to believe them, resolute Presbyterians appear to have alleged

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 59 of 60)