Wil­liam Ce­cil

The English min­is­ter plot­ted Mary’s down­fall for decades

BBC History Magazine - - Cover Story -

El­iz­a­beth’s chief min­is­ter, Wil­liam Ce­cil (1520–98), al­ways hated Mary and wanted her off the throne. Mary was sim­ply too Catholic for his tastes, and any­way he had no time for any other fe­male ruler than El­iz­a­beth. Mary was El­iz­a­beth’s heir, un­less the English queen had a child – and so she was, to Ce­cil, a con­stant threat. Most of the lords in Scot­land were in Ce­cil’s pocket, no­tably Mo­ray, paid to un­der­mine Mary and hope­fully re­move her. Whether Ce­cil knew about their coup at­tempts or not, his funds as­sisted them.

El­iz­a­beth’s sym­pa­thy for Mary an­gered Ce­cil and he re­peat­edly dis­cour­aged the English queen from help­ing her cousin. When Mary was im­pris­oned in Loch Leven Cas­tle and forced to ab­di­cate, El­iz­a­beth was fu­ri­ous and wanted to in­ter­vene, but Ce­cil dis­suaded her. And when Mary fled into Eng­land, hop­ing that El­iz­a­beth would as­sist her, Ce­cil pushed hard for Mary to be sub­mit­ted to an in­quiry for in­volve­ment in the death of Darn­ley. The aim was not to find her guilty or in­no­cent, but to cre­ate a non-ver­dict (which would en­sure that she con­tin­ued to lan­guish in prison).

So Mary was kept locked up, un­der a watch that grew so tight that, in the words of her keeper, not even a flea could es­cape her rooms. But what Ce­cil – and other min­is­ters such as Fran­cis Wals­ing­ham – re­ally wanted was an ex­cuse to get rid of his royal cap­tive. And so a dou­ble agent was hired, who vol­un­teered to take her let­ters to France. Ev­ery one was opened and de­coded. When, fi­nally, after nearly 20 years of im­pris­on­ment, Mary agreed to con­spire in a plot against her cousin, Ce­cil had the ev­i­dence he needed to ex­e­cute her.

Wil­liam Ce­cil saw Mary as a dan­ger to El­iz­a­beth I be­cause she was po­ten­tially a ral­ly­ing cause for Catholics

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