The Captive Queen of Scots - By Jean Plaidy


The Prelude


The words were still echoing in Mary’s ears as she rode through the night. Her hair had escaped from beneath her hood; the wind tore at it, tossing it this way and that with as little respect as she herself had been treated so recently in her capital city of Edinburgh. Beneath her cloak her gown was in shreds; she herself had torn it from her shoulders in a frenzy of despair as she had stood at the window of the Provost’s house while the mob shouted below. She could still see their cruel faces, the red glow from the torches reflected in their eyes, while they shouted: “Burn the adulteress!”

Not one friend among them, she had thought. Is there no one in this cruel and barbarous land to help me?

Maitland of Lethington had walked shamefacedly on the other side of the road. He was the husband of her dear Mary Fleming who, with Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone and Mary Seton had been one of her four devoted Marys, those who had shared their childhood with her. She had cried for help to Maitland but even he had passed by.

So there was no one. Bothwell had fled. She dared not think of Bothwell, for that would reawaken more turbulent emotions. Where was he now, the man who had taken her by force, the man who had arrogantly linked his life with hers, to her degradation and destruction? Yet would she have cared about that if he were with her now?

But if he were with her now her enemies would not have dared to treat her thus. She would not be riding through the darkness, their prisoner.

Surely Moray, her half-brother, would come to her rescue. Where was Moray? Where there was no trouble! Could it be accidental that always where there was trouble Moray was not. He is after all my brother, she thought; whatever happens he must always remember that.

But she was too tired for thought; she was exhausted by fear and rage, by despair . . . yes and even hunger; she had forgotten when she had last eaten; she had not thought of food since before Carberry Hill, that decisive battle which had brought her to this state. She had been exultant before the battle, believing that she must be victorious because Bothwell was at her side. But even he, magnificently virile as he was, could not fight an army when his own followers—and hers—had deserted to the enemy. There had been nothing but disaster since Darnley’s death and, because it was generally believed that she had played a part in his murder, it was easy enough to turn her army against her. Yet she had been confident because Bothwell had been with her; brave, defiant, cruel, he was ruthless and unfaithful; all knew it, and she herself had reluctantly and most bitterly learned it, but there was not a braver man on either side of the Border, not a braver man on Earth.

He obsessed her as he had ever since, with his Borderer’s audacity, he had forced his way into her apartment and committed rape—“the rape of the Queen.”

“Leave him,” they had said. “He shall go free if you will return with us to Edinburgh.”

And like a fool she had believed them, although he had not.

She would remember that last fierce embrace as long as she lived, for there would never be another like him.

“Fool!” he had cried. He had treated her as a Queen only on State occasions; in private she was a foolish woman completely under his domination. “Don’t you see they want only to separate us so that they may more easily destroy you. Leap onto your horse. We’ll escape them yet. We’ll go to Dunbar . . . together.”

“No!” she had cried, although she had longed to ride with him. They would have killed him. They longed to kill them both. They had offered her his life if she would deliver herself into their hands that they might inflict that which was more bitter than death: the humiliation, the degradation which they were forcing her to suffer now.

So she had parted from him. He had escaped to . . . she knew not where; and for her there had been the terrible journey to the Provost’s house, the night of horror there, in the room which looked on the street; and placed outside her window was that hideous banner on which was depicted the murdered Darnley and her little son James—hers