Do you think that Queen Elizabeth's mother's beheading, and her step-mother's beheading had anything to do with her reluctance with beheading Mary of Scotland? or do you think it was Elizabeth did not want to set a precedent of beheading royalty?
There were very few beheadings during her reign. Executions yes,, but few of them were beheaded.
She may have had a distaste for beheading. But I think it was more the fact that she had a real problem with executing an anointed monarch. She was well aware throughout her reign that her claim to the English throne was shaky. She was technically illegitimate when she came to the throne. She had been named in her father's will as third in line after Edward and Mary, were they to die without heirs, but both she and her sister were not legitimized by Henry's will. There were other claimants with royal blood who did not have the stigma of bastardy, Mary of Scotland chief among them. Mary, also neing a Catholic, had supporters among the Catholic faction who would have loved to have Elizabeth removed and Mary in her place. Mary was also an anointed monarch of two countries, she being the Queen of Scotland and the former Queen of France. If it was possible to execute a doubly-anointed queen, then Elizabeth knew it could be very easy to dispose of her if the circumstances were right. She had no desire to execute her flesh and blood--possibly a hold-over from losing her mother and step-mother to the scaffold, but she was also acutely aware of the fact that executing an anointed monarch was not something to be taken lightly.
Elizabeth's reluctance to execute Mary Stuart was based primarily in the fact that Mary was an anointed queen. In an era when monarchs were thought to be placed in their role by diviine selection and authority, that mattered a very great deal. To kill one of God's own anointed was to defy God's will.
It was exceedingly rare for any monarch to be subject to execution prior to the 1640s. Even in England, monarchs were not executed ... instead they died mysterious or secret deaths. Elizabeth risked raising the anger of all of Europe, especially Catholic Europe, if she executed Mary. And in the end, it did raise the ire of Spain, and the Spanish Armada sailed for England in the following year. So Elizabeth's fear in that regard was justified.
Lastly, Elizabeth feared that she would be setting a precedent that might be repeated on herself were any of the various rebellions of her reign to prove successful. If she executed Mary, there was little to stop someone from executing her later.
I definitely agree with the previous answers regarding Elizabeth's own tenuous crown; she wanted to show leniency towards her anointed cousin and also did not want a revolt on her hands. After the almost 20 years of Mary's captivity Elizabeth was ready to be through with the complications that Mary brought to her among other causes (or people) that ultimately led to Mary's death.
I would really just like to add to the discussion: Why did Elizabeth avoid meeting Mary? Do you think this is something she purposely knew she would never do? Remember how Elizabeth herself begged for her sister Mary I's time?
In reference to Marie Burton. Maybe Cecil had a part to play in Elizabeth and Mary of Scotland not meeting. Cecil (then Walsingham) worked many years to essentially destroy Mary of Scotland, (in the interest of England's welfare), and Elizabeth would have been even more reluctant to sign an execution order if she could put a living, breathing talking person to the name. If Elizabeth and Mary had met face to face, history would have been quite different from that point on. If they had, I doubt they could have convinced Elizabeth to sign the execution order.
Mary of Scotland was quite a problem for England. She had quarted the Englush Arms with her Scottish and French arms, and called herself Queen of Scotland, France and England. Scotland would kill her if they sent her back, (at least for awhile they would have). If they let her run free in England she would cause a rebellion and try to take the throne. France did not want her.
What to do with the Queen of Scotland??? Elizabeth essentially took the only option left to her,, keep her under lock and key for the rest of her life. And of course, anyone would rebel against treatment like that, especially someone royal, so hence forth all the plots for freedom, and the throne. Mary was a HUGE problem.
My understanding is that Mary didn't personally quarter the English arms, or (initially) call herself Queen of England. The first instances of that came from her French family, as well as the French monarchy. Mary was a pawn in that circumstance.
Perhaps if Mary had ratified the Treaty of Edinburgh her life as an irritant to England would have been less of a threat. No doubt she would have still been watched, and vilified, by Cecil and Walsingham. However, Elizabeth would have had a signed document in hand that Mary was not really after the throne while Elizabeth, herself, was still alive.
The circumstances of Mary's execution did lead to what Elizabeth feared...the beheading of an anointed monarch by subjects. Charles I is the unfortunate one to have that distinction.
It's also worth bearing in mind that beheadings tend to be a commuted sentence, for those of noble birth, whereas lesser folk would be hanged or possibly burnt, etc as their crimes dictated. Most nobles who were technically sentenced to be Hanged, Drawn and Quartered for treason etc (such as Thomas More in Henry's reign) had their sentence reduced to the supposedly swifter and more merciful beheading.
As you say, there were still plenty of the other kinds (hanging,drawing and quartering etc) but notably less nobles were being put to death in Elizabeth's reign than in her father's, for example. It may be a happy coincendence or it may not.
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