Thursday, February 21, 2008

More about Mary: The Casket Letters

I came upon a fascinating critique of the infamous "Casket Letters" which were used to condemn Mary Queen of Scots. I have read elsewhere that perhaps portions of Mary's actual letters were taken and tampered with by forgers in order to incriminate her with Darnley's murder. At any rate, the originals are missing; only copies remain. As the article observes:
The only things we have to study the Casket Letters are copies made by clerics and the descriptions given in the court logs of the Westminster debacle. This considerably complicates matters since it makes it completely impossible to avail ourselves of modern hand writing analysis techniques. That the documents may have been false but also able to fool the eyes of sixteenth century analyzers is not odd. For one thing, the documents where scrutinized not by experts but by government officials, most of whom where not familiar with Mary's penmanship. Secondly, amongst the prosecutors there were many who where capable of forging Mary's signature, who where very well acquainted with her writing, and extremely familiar with her writing style. In short, there are a number of men who could have forged the documents and who had motive to have done so. Additionally, it is odd indeed that the court journals describe the letters as being written in the Roman hand when Mary was known to write only in the much differing Italian style. It is impossible to tell if this was merely clerical error or very strong evidence that Mary did not author the documents. Moreover, to add further to the confusion, it seems that the twenty one documents in the casket at the time of the trial originally numbered twenty two, leaving generations to wonder exactly what happened to the extra document and why.

There are other curiosities about the documents. For example, none of them were dated. None of them had proper introductions or endings; Mary was known for taking great care to find the perfect endings for her letters. The sonnets (officially counted as separate documents, but generally thought of as one long poem) where so ill written as to be nearly painful to read; Mary was known as a talented poet and the existing verse known to be hers is of a much superior quality. The letters make little to no sense, flowing in odd patterns and often completely disjointed. However, Mary was an intelligent woman and her other writings do make sense. It is hard to see how Mary could have written some of the documents if one assumes that Mary remained sane throughout the time they were written.

Here are some quotations from actual letters and sayings of Mary Stuart.
"I will be plain with you, the religion which I profess I take to be the most acceptable to God; and, indeed, neither do I know, nor desire to know any other. Constancy becometh all folks well, and none better than princes, and such as have rule over realms, and specially in matters of religion. I have been brought up in this religion; and who aught would credit me in anything if I should show myself lighter in this case."

"He who does not keep faith where it is due, will hardly keep it where it is not due." (Maxim quoted to her half-brother James Moray during her forced abdication at Lochleven)

"I have endured injuries, calumnies, imprisonment, famine, cold, heat, flight not knowing wither, ninety two miles across the country without stopping or alighting, and then I have had to sleep upon the ground and drink sour milk, and eat oatmeal without bread, and have been three nights like the owls." (To her uncle in France about her escape from Lochleven)

"Dear Son, I send three bearers to see you and bring me word how ye do, and to remember you that ye have in me a loving mother that wishes you to learn in time to love know and fear God." (To her son James - the note never reached him)

"Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold - a means of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings". (Mary Queen of Scots on the lives of rulers, Essay on Adversity, 1580)

"I do not desire vengeance. I leave it to Him who is the just Avenger of the innocent and of those who suffer for His Name under whose power I will take shelter. I would rather pray with Esther than take the sword with Judith." (At her trial)

"Well, Jane Kennedy, did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live, I was too great an obstacle to their religion." (At her death)