There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Eight: Cat(te) And Mouse (with Allison Epstein)

In this week’s episode we get to talk about Mary’s various treason embroidery projects AND learn the fates of several of our least-favourite Scottish men.

Here is a link to Mary’s embroideries we discuss today, including the treason pillow, the rhinocerote, and the “byrd of America”.

A Catte (by Mary, Queen of Scots)

A Catte Named Hepburne (by Jan Jupiter) in the Vulgar History merch store


The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew

Learn more about Allison Epstein and their books at and follow them on IG and Twitter @ rapscallison

Get merch at (best for US shipping) and (better for international shipping)

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Vulgar History is an affiliate of, which means that a small percentage of any books you click through and purchase will come back to Vulgar History as a commission. Use this link to shop there and support Vulgar History.

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Vulgar History Podcast

There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots: Part Eight: Cat(te) And Mouse with Allison Epstein

Month 1, 2023

Ann: Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. This is the Mary, Queen of Scots series, Part I’ve-lost-track… I want to say eight perhaps. Anyway, my name is Ann Foster, I’m joined by Allison Epstein. Allison, welcome.

Allison: Thank you, I also don’t know what part we’re on, but we’ll figure that out before it posts.  

Ann: Yeah! Absolutely, we will. There’s a part in all my notes where I’m like, “Previously on…” and at this point, I think I wrote, just kind of, “Listen to all the episodes.”  [laughs]

Allison: Previously, a lot. [laughs]  

Ann: A lot, a lot. A Douglas! And also, a lot. [Allison laughs] This is in fact Part Eight, we are on Mary, Queen of Scots Part Eight. And yes, what I wanted to mention, I’ve said this before, but it becomes increasingly unhinged to me that I ever thought I was going to tell this story in four hour-long episodes. 

Allison: That’s hilarious. It’s adorable and hilarious.

Ann: I think my plan had been to do in one episode, the murder of Rizzio, the murder of Darnley and also running away with Bothwell. I thought, “That’s a cool 45 minutes, 60 minutes.”

Allison: And you spent 1 hour and 15 minutes on who is Rizzio? What’s his deal?

Ann: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. I did three episodes before she even married Darnley. And then what we’re talking about today, spoiler for how many episodes there are going to be. I thought this was– the contents of this and the next two episodes I thought were going to be another cool 45 minutes. And you were the one who was like, [suspiciously] “Okay, Ann.”

Allison: [hesitantly] Ann? [Ann laughs] I admire your ambition here, but I would book five hours.

Ann: Yeah, and that is how long it will take is my guess. So, I wanted to say first of all, before I forget my references for this. It’s been interesting, I read so much Mary, Queen of Scots stuff, so many biographies of this person who… The other irony– Okay, I’m going to say two things. First of all, sometimes when I post an episode, people send me messages quoting something and, like, a laughing emoji, and I’m like, “Perhaps that is something I said. I don’t remember.” [chuckles] I don’t remember what I’ve said before, especially in these extremely long Mary, Queen of Scots episodes. So, I might be repeating myself but whatever. 

Also, I was like Mary, Queen of Scots season, I’ve been holding off on doing it for a while and I’m like, “You know what? I’m just going to do it, and this will be kind of straightforward because this is a story I know pretty well.” And that’s the thing, if I had just done this without any new research it would have just been four 45-minute episodes, but as soon as I started reading actual books I was just like, “Oh shit, there’s so much stuff I did not know.” I knew more than some people about Mary, Queen of Scots and now I know more than… many people. [laughs]

Allison: Almost anybody. [laughs]

Ann: Yeah, there are so many things I truly did not know. And this part that we’re talking about, this post-Lochleven era is the part I think I knew the least about and that is because, I think, in a lot of books and also in movies and TV shows, although this was not Reign’s fault, they were cancelled, this whole part of her life often gets glossed over. A lot of things go from her being arrested in the first place and then it’s like, “Time passes,” and then it’s her death. Spoiler, she does die, not in this episode, not in the next episode. This part just gets skipped over a lot because whenever people are telling her story it’s like “Darnley! Rizzio! Bothwell!” That’s the story that people often retell. But this is, I would say, no less interesting, it’s just a different kind of interesting because we’re getting into some spy shit. Allison, what are your feelings about Mary Queen of Spy Shit?

Allison: This is how I know Mary best, as Mary Queen of Spy Shit. She is love of my life, schemer of schemes, I’m very, very excited to talk about this part and it’s my favourite part of this story, not because Mary is winning a lot but because she is up against some absolutely incredible odds that no human being has the wherewithal to win against. She’s in a very hard spot at this time in the story. Every day of her life she wakes up and goes, “How can I scheme my way out of this one?” She never gives up, never surrenders; she’s a legend. I’m very excited to get into it.

Ann: It’s very exciting. It’s a different vibe. She’s in England now. And the vibe in Scotland was just, like, groups of men getting together, signing paperwork doing chaotic mass murders and then not thinking about the consequences. England is like, “Let’s write some letters and be very passive-aggressive with each other and just secretly be scheming but outwardly be polite.” It’s a very different vibe.

Allison: Because here’s the thing. We’re going to get into it but when Mary was in Scotland, Mary was the smartest person in the room by, like, a not insignificant amount. We witnessed how good the asshole lords are not at scheming, so Mary was like, “Okay guys, let me just scheme my way around this one more time. This is the worst planned murder I’ve ever heard of. Why are you signing your names on everything?” England is a different story and so she’s going to have to adapt.

Ann: Yeah, that’s the thing. I do not know what your experience was going to school so I can only speak for myself, but it was like, I have always been good at writing. I wrote a better essay than most people even if there was no thesis to it, the teachers were just like, “Oh, this is fine.” So, I never really had to learn how to be good because my natural ability was okay. Then I got to a master’s program and suddenly they were like, “This isn’t a good paper, you don’t have a thesis.” And I was like, “But I have never needed a thesis.”

Allison: “I’ve always been good enough.” [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] Like, the fact that I wrote complete sentences got me through an entire undergraduate degree, a high school… So suddenly, I had to step my shit up, right. Because it’s like, “Oh, I can do it, it’s just suddenly more work.” And I feel like that’s what Mary experienced. It’s like, she could get out of– How many times did she climb out of a window? How many times did she manipulate somebody? She got out of these shitty situations basically every time. But in England, it’s just like, the people she’s up against, it’s not the asshole lords, it is people who we will talk about in detail soon, people who Allison knows a lot about, a lot more than I do. But we know, like, William Cecil, we’ve seen his looming puppet mastery previously. He is frighteningly competent. 

Allison: There’s William Cecil on one hand and Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart on the other hand and you’re like, “Okay, you’re going to have to scheme in different ways to get around these men.”

Ann: Yes, exactly, exactly. So, the books that I read, I think the point that I started making several minutes ago was that it’s been changing each episode. There are some core titles that I’ve been using for everything, but I’ve really sort of, for this era, I’ve got some new sources. So, I was looking at a book called The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams. As per ever, Embroidering Her Truth by Clare Hunter, the book about embroidery and textiles and Mary, Queen of Scots, because we’re going to get into some…

Allison: Which we’re going to get into this time. [laughs]

Ann: I’ve been, this Clare Hunter book, honestly, game changer. It’s so good. I am going to actually be having a special episode with Clare Hunter coming up later where we’re going to deep dive into these textiles and these embroideries. 

Allison: That’s a real gasp from me listeners, I’m very excited about that one. I didn’t know. [laughs]

Ann: Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! No, I’m so excited to share that episode. Yeah, that book, it really gets into– For her, she was seeing Mary, Queen of Scots did not leave diaries but what she did do, Clare Hunter was looking at the lists of the fabrics she ordered and when and what did the fabrics look like? And that’s where you can see what she was thinking like, “Oh, she marries Darnley and suddenly all her fabrics are in colour.” You see what she’s doing. 

But then also the embroideries are as close we have to Mary’s diaries because you’re like, “What was she making? What were the subjects she was choosing?” And then Clare is like a really, really, really expert person about this sort of topic, she is a stitcher herself. So, she could look at the stitchery and see, like, “Oh, these stitches here are even and these ones are more spaced out. You can tell she was upset.” So, what you can learn from her from this is huge. 

So, we’re going to touch on that a bit today but listeners, please know in I think two weeks, you’re going to get me talking to Clare Hunter for an hour just being like, “Clare, talk to us about this. Please, tell us about this.” 

Another book I turned to for the first time and thank god. Okay, this is a book called Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew. So, I want to shout out Pen and Sword Press because every time I was looking for a book about a strangely tangential person, I was like, “Oh my god, there’s a book about it,” it’s Pen and Sword Press. Pen and Sword Press is just filling in all the gaps about the Tudor era with books about the most obscure of people. I think, I’m pretty sure they’re the ones who published the book about Scottish Machiavelli, his biography. Pen and Sword Press, bless you. I know you follow me on TikTok, I don’t know if you listen to this podcast…

Allison: If you would like to be a sponsor of this podcast… [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] What you do with these books about these incredibly obscure people is so helpful because looking at this part, Mary’s England era… Other books, so Clare Hunter, lot of good information from that. The Kate Williams, lots of good information. But I really wanted to have a chronological thing of what happened when and a larger book, I understand they sort of wrap things up to be like, “And over the next seven years, these things happened.” And I was like, “No, but what order did they happen in?” It’s what I wanted to know and that’s where this book came in. 

Anyway, there’s also an article from History Today by Cyril Hamshere about the Ridolfi plot, which we will be talking about, and which I really needed to get someone like Cyril Hamshere– This was an article from, like, the 1970s but it’s online, bless you History Today, Cyril Hamshere really lays it out. And then, an article from BBC, which is also about the various plots. 

Now, I do want to mention – and we’re going to get into this more next time – recently, some guys found some letters that Mary, Queen of Scots wrote in code, and they decoded them but the stuff that is in those letters… Next week’s episode is when those letters are from. But I said before, Mary, Queen of Scots, she didn’t have diaries, what did she think? These cyphered letters like…

Allison: Pretty close.

Ann: We’re going to know, yeah, next time we’re going to get into that. Those letters are not from this era. Also, I have to say, I did look at Allison’s book, A Tip for the Hangman, but that’s, again, more next week’s episode where I learn some things from you, from your book [laughs] about various plots. I’m like, “Allison, explain it to me through fiction. Thank you.” 

Okay, so I have a couple of notes that I just wanted to say. It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve recorded and I had some thoughts I wanted to share, things that have been occurring to me. So, I just wanted to go through the numbers. Mary, Queen of Scots, she became Queen of Scots when she was 6 days old. When she was 15, she became Queen of France, she was widowed for the first time aged 18. Then she ruled in Scotland from ages 18 until 24, when she was forced to abdicate, remember, before her 25th birthday when all these things would have happened. So, she ruled in Scotland for six years, which is like, when you look at other people who have ruled other places, six years is actually kind of standard. It’s an outlier to have somebody like Elizabeth I who ruled for decades and decades. And six years, the six years she ruled, like, God bless.

Allison: What a six years they were.

Ann: Honestly, yeah. But I mean, think of other people in similar positions. For instance, her cousin Lady Jane Grey, who also had assholes manipulating her all the time and she only managed to reign for nine days. It’s like cat years. Mary reigned in Scotland for six years but that’s like 25 non-Scotland years, really, in terms of what an impressive feat that was.

Allison: I’m going to toss in a Jesus Christ Superstar reference for your listeners which is, “She tried for 3 years, and it felt like 30.” A lot of work.

Ann: Yes. It was, it was. And she also had chronic medical conditions, there’s a lot going on. So, she was jumping out of windows. Like, when she was growing up in France, being raised by Catherine de’ Medici and the de Guise uncles, they were teaching her spy shit, they were teaching her cyphered letters, they were teaching her how to manipulate an emissary. They weren’t teaching her how to tie a bedsheet into a rope, jump out a window and land on a horse; she just figured that out herself. The stuff she was doing in Scotland was not what she was raised or taught to do, that was just her figuring it out, honestly, incredibly well, are my thoughts. It just bothers me. 

So, I’m not going to call out any specific book, I got great information from all the books I read but some of the books I read are like, “Oh, this tragic life of this person who made so many bad mistakes. Blah-blah-blah.” And it’s like, whomst among us has not made bad mistakes? I’m not here to be like, “She was perfect and everything she did was great.” But I am trying to, sort of like, course correct the general record which is, “She was a sad woman, who lived a sad life, and she sat around being sad all the time.” Like you explained Allison, she woke up every day being like, “How can I scheme my way out of this now?” Of course, she was sad sometimes, we’re all sad sometimes.

Allison: Of course she cried sometimes. Some of us cry a lot, it’s not our fault, history.

Ann: Yeah, I really don’t like when people are like, “She was a tragic figure, her life was tragic.” It’s like, everyone dies at the end of our story, and it depends on what part of the story you tell. And if you’re doing a birth to death then inherently it’s sad at the end because that person is going to die. But if you told– and I love this concept, no one’s done it, someone should. If someone out there is listening, not you Allison, I know you have other projects on the go, someone who is also a historical fiction novel writer. You could take the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and end it at some sort of happy point, you know? You could write the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and end it after she triumphantly re-enters Edinburgh after Rizzio’s murder. You don’t need to end it at one of the sad points, but everyone always does, which just drives home the fact that “It’s a sad story.” 

It’s like, she won so many times against– Every time Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart raised an army against her, she beat him except for the final time. She did really great so many times and it just really bothers me when people are like, “She was a dumb woman, she led from her heart.” Oh my god, the whole story about, like, people are like, “She had a terrible choice in husbands.” It’s like, first of all, as I laid out…

Allison: You know who else had a terrible choice of husbands and wives? Every single Tudor monarch since the beginning of ever and also all of the stewards.

Ann: Exactly. And the fact that people are like, “She was swept away with lust by Darnley.” It’s like, no, as I laid out in 1 hour and 45 minutes, politically, that was her best move at the time. He was a horrible person.

Allison: Yeah, he just sucked guys. It’s not her fault that he just sucks.

Ann: And then, in my opinion, I don’t think she ever chose Bothwell, I think Bothwell forced that situation upon her. So, the fact that it’s like, “Oh, she was swept away, she chose these bad husbands, and it was because of her choices in her love life.” It’s like, really no. We’re going to talk about this later, I keep saying stuff we’re going to talk about later. I’ve had several weeks to think about this and I’m just like, “I have things I want to tell Allison.” But like, everything people say, the haters about Mary, her son was that.

Allison: Yes, we had this conversation last night. [laughs] James, man.

Ann: Oh my gosh, he was a whooore. He was the one who fell in love with men and then who were literal grifters, one after another, gave them titles and jobs.

Allison: You want someone who led with the heart and the dick is King James I! Not Mary.

Ann: No. I find it increasingly interesting and it’s increasingly why I’m just like, “I think I might need to do a little follow-up season about James,” because everything that people are like, “Mary is going to do this, she’s like this,” it’s like, she wasn’t, she was an extremely Catholic woman who was very conservative in a lot of ways and they’re all like, “She’s so slutty and so trampy,” and it’s like, she wasn’t. Her son was. [both laugh] She was not! Anyway, I just wanted to get my feelings a bit about how she’s actually great. I’m looking at my notes and it’s like, “People say she’s passionate!” I’m like yeah, I said that, [laughs] inherently. 

Okay yeah, this is where I want to point out part of what Reign got correct, which is the overall vibes, is what I want to say. For instance, in Season 1 of Reign, there’s an episode, like, based not in fact, which, that’s not the show’s deal and whatever. So, there was an episode, it was one of those episodes on a TV show where it’s just like, everyone’s all in the same room. It’s a bottle episode where it’s like, “Let’s all film on one set for one day.” So, something happens, I forget what, but all the men have to leave because they have to fight a battle so it’s just the women left in the castle; Mary, her ladies in waiting, Catherine de’ Medici, and then the castle is attacked from men from Naples who – I never stop finding funny – are called Neapolitans. 

Allison: That makes me laugh every time. Thank you for saying that! Florentines too makes me laugh and I know that’s silly. They’re just goofy names for people. [Ann laughs] I’m sorry to the country of Italy but every time I’m like, “That’s food, not people.” 

Ann: No. I was recapping Reign when this episode came out and the amount of times I said, “The evil Neapolitans,” [laughs] it was gratuitous. Anyway, the Neapolitans come in and Mary and Catherine scheme their way out of this situation. And so, earlier in the episode, obviously it pays off, but at the time I was just like, “This is airing at the same time as Downton Abbey,” and you know on Downton Abbey they’d always be like, “This is a toaster. Oh, I don’t know what…”

Allison: “What is a weekend?”

Ann: They’re introducing things to be like, “Telephone?” to make us feel superior and that people in the past were dummies. So, when Reign, in the episode they were like, “This is a fork.” [laughs] And they’re all like, “I don’t know about this, I prefer eating with not a fork.” But I don’t know, doesn’t this episode end with Mary stabbing a Neapolitan in the eye with a fork? It does.

Allison: Bless. Legend. 

Ann: This is where I love this show. But like Mary did not stab a Neapolitan in the eye with a fork but she had a real fork stab to the eye energy is what I want to say. [Allison laughs] Reign got that right and I love that for that show. I love that people who watched that show who didn’t know who she was were like, “Who is this badass woman who, whenever she’s backed in a corner pulls out some amazing scheme and does great?” because that’s what she actually was like. 

For so long it’s just been, especially in the 19th century when all those paintings came out of her swooning and being tragic, it really built up this thing that she was just this sad saddo who was just dragged around and manipulated by people. But no, she was someone who, metaphorically, would stab a Neapolitan in the eye with a fork and that is what she was like. She did what needed to be done, she put on the disguise, she pretended like she was in love with Darnley, she rode a horse while pregnant for five hours, rallied an army, and climbed out a window. These are things she did. It’s got, what I have to say, a real Fredegund-style energy.

Allison: Yes! Yes, it does. She could disguise an entire army as trees, she would have done that. 

Ann: Yeah, exactly. There’s a part in the Fredegund story– New listeners, I did three hours of episodes about Fredegund.

Allison: Which at the time seemed like a lot of hours for a single person. [laughs

Ann: It was. How long-winded I’ve become, I’m sure if I did that again it would be longer. So, Fredegund was a queen of a part of what is now France, centuries and centuries before Mary, Queen of Scots. But anyway, she was great. There was a part in the story where they were under siege, she had just given birth and her husband was like, “I don’t know what to do,” and Fredegund was like, “Bitch, listen up.” She, just having given birth, covered in birth juices, got her little newborn baby with her and she’s like, “Here’s what we’re going to do,” and then she invents how to have shelf-stable poisons on knives, manipulates two young servants into going on a suicide mission to kill an enemy king. 

And that’s what Mary’s energy is to me; she’s never more powerful than when she’s in what seems like an impossible situation. Interestingly, Fredegund is also always talked about in contrast with Fredegund and Brunhild, two queens. So, I don’t know, Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth, similar, similar vibes. 

Anyway, here we are. What just happened was she’d just lost a battle to Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, and she was just like, “I don’t know what to do,” and then, controversially to some people who think she’s an idiot, decides to go to England. It’s really easy to be like, “That was a bad decision,” when you know what the repercussions are, but she didn’t know what the repercussions would be. She was making a judgment call and if she had gone to France, things maybe would have gone badly in a different way, who knows. 

So, it’s Mary, she’s got 16 or so loyal people with her. Bear in mind, at this point, she has shaved her head. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that last time but to put on her pants disguise, she had this very signature crimped red hair. So, she’s just, like, shaved head, they never put that in any of the movies.

Allison: Which is a shame because, like, how badass is that?

Ann: Oh my gosh, yeah. So anyway, they arrived in England. Mary was apparently in high spirits and very talkative. So famously, again, I don’t know what’s famous to not me, she stumbled when getting out of the boat, that happens in a lot of the movies. 

Allison: Also happens every time I get out of a boat so, like, [laughs] give her a break.

Ann: Especially, yeah exactly. It’s like, “Oh, is this a bad omen?” But I feel like in terms of her and boat-based omens, the worst ones so far was when she was going from France to Scotland and the boat of other people all drowned in front of her.

Allison: Yeah, we’ve had worse boat omens in our days. 

Ann: This seems like, by contrast, maybe a good omen.

Allison: No one’s dead!

Ann: Yeah. So, this is where Mary, Queen of the tourism industry of the British Isles… the amount of castles she slept at least one night in, I think…

Allison: Is every castle in the British Isles.

Ann: Yeah. This is where, if you’re, I don’t know, I feel like in my retirement years, I was talking with one of the listeners, Laura-Lee, she was saying that it would be great to do a trip to follow Mary’s footsteps, but we both agreed, that would be multi-months long, the amount of places she went. If we had to sleep one night in every castle she slept one night in [laughs] like, let’s take a year. 

Allison: And you’d all have to sleep on trunks in the hallway because there wouldn’t be enough beds.

Ann: Yes! Yes. Oh, RIP Rizzio. So, the castle that she arrives in if you are planning this trip for yourself is called Workington Hall. So, they arrived and one of her guys, they didn’t want to be like, “It’s Mary, Queen of Scots.” So, they sent a message to the owner of Workington Hall, Sir Henry Curwen, and they were like, “Hey, so we’re here with this young Scottish heiress who is visiting. We thought she might be a potential bride for your son, can we hang out in your castle for a while?”

Allison: “Her head is shaved, don’t mind that. It’s normal in Scotland.”

Ann: “Don’t worry about it, that’s just what the Scottish ladies are doing these days. Yes, she’s wearing pants also, that’s just a very Scottish thing.”

Allison: “Yeah, she’s 6 feet tall, don’t worry about it.”

Ann: [laughs] So, he was not there but they were allowed to hang out in the house based on this story. But for all the reasons you just said, the people in Workington were pretty much right away like, “This is fucking Mary, Queen of Scots. [Allison laughs] This is clearly Mary, Queen of Scots.” So, the Deputy Governor of Cumberland arrived with 400 men to be like, “Hey Mary, Queen of Scots, welcome to England,” et cetera. So, they were going to escort her to Carlisle Castle, which I guess is a more appropriate place for a queen to be. On route, they passed through Cockermouth. 

Allison: Which cannot be a real place, England. What are you doing? [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] Oh my gosh, oh yeah. So, I do want to say, I think at least three people who are from England let me know that last time I pronounced the name of a place as [phonetic] “Skilly,” because that is how it is spelled. It is in fact pronounced [phonetic] “Silly!”

Allison: Which is a silly way of saying that place if there’s a K in it somewhere. 

Ann: It’s England, I’m going to do my best. But you know, the people who corrected me, I responded to each of them being like, “Why is it spelled that way then?” And they’re all like, “I know, it’s wild.” So, I’m going to do my best but some of these words, like…

Allison: Tell us after, we’re doing our best. 

Ann: It’s the English language. So, I’m going to interpret them as I understand the way English letters work. 

Anyway, so in Cockermouth, “A local merchant presented her with a length of black velvet and instructed that a black gown be made for her.” So, thank you to this man, I feel like this is the ghost of Rizzio who came down.

Allison: “Get this lady a costume, she loves an outfit.”

Ann: “She needs an outfit!” So, then she arrived at Carlisle Castle. She wrote a letter to Elizabeth. So previously, she had written to Elizabeth being like, “Hey, can I come to England?” but she came to England before she heard back. So, she wrote Elizabeth another letter being, I guess, like, “Guess what? I’m in England.” 

Allison: “Assuming you said yes, and it was delayed in the mail.”

Ann: Yeah. So, she explained just so there would be no confusion, yeah, she abdicated but she hadn’t wanted to, in case that’s why Elizabeth didn’t help her out. Mary was like, “In case you’re like, “This lady abdicated so I don’t like her.” It’s like, “I didn’t want to abdicate, I was forced into it.” And she’s like, “Let’s meet. Let’s meet each other,” because every time they tried to meet, I think the de Guise uncles kept doing massacres and it kept happening. So, she hoped she could see Elizabeth in person, and she hoped her own personal charisma – which is at a supernatural level from everything that she’s done – Elizabeth would be so moved that she could provide Mary with money and soldiers so Mary could swoop back into Scotland and take over as queen again. 

So, she figured, and the vibe of this is very much like when COVID first started and we were all like, “Oh, I guess we’ll all work from home for one or two weeks, maybe a month max.” So, Mary is like, “Okay, to get this together, this force, I’ll be in England probably one to two months and then I’ll go back to Scotland and take over again.” She signed off this letter as, “Your loyal and affectionate good sister and cousin, and escaped prisoner.” 

Allison: She’s so dramatic! [laughs] I love her so much.

Ann: She’s great. Her letters, which we’re going to get into more later, but there’s so much personality in them. Her writing style, you really see what she’s like, and to my delight, she is just what I thought she was like.

Allison: 100% yes. Love.

Ann: So, Carlisle Castle, it’s more of a fortress than a cozy home. She stayed in a place that is now called Queen Mary’s Tower because that’s how you get the tourists there. Actually, it was called Queen Mary’s Tower, it’s now demolished, but you can go there and stand where it was, which, you know, to me, is fine. I’d be like, “Oh my god, this is where the tower was where Mary…” I am the tourist who would go there and pay money to see that. So, at this point, she’s being treated as a guest, not as a prisoner. 

There’s going to be, I didn’t count because I have other things to do in my life, but I feel like at this point in this series we’ve had like 85 named characters, mostly…

Allison: Mostly James.

Ann: Mostly James. We’re in England so we’re going to have several Williams now and Roberts. But some of those people are going to recur and I have to say when they came up in my research, when I was reading, I’m like, “[gasps] Oh my god, that guy again! I have to include that so everyone can know what happened to him.” But there are going to be some new people and I’m going to give them some nicknames because whimsy is required and also, otherwise, I’m not going to remember the difference between the Earl of This and the Earl of Such and Such.

So, here we have Carlisle Castle. The governor of the castle is Henry Lord Scrope. He was in London, actually, when Mary arrived but they’re like, “Hey Mary, Queen of Scots, is at your castle Henry Lord Scrope,” and he’s like, “Oh shit,” so then he came to his castle with his friend, Sir Francis Knollys.

Allison: Of Lettice Knollys?

Ann: The dad of Lettice Knollys. Sir Francis Knollys. Yeah, so we’re going to call him for the rest of this story, Mr. Lettice, or Lettice’s Dad. 

Allison: [laughs] Which he would hate, being a Tudor man but…

Ann: I’m sure, yeah. So, it took them 10 days to get there, I feel like that’s not 10 days away, but they got there 10 days after because I guess maybe they were instructed by Cecil and other people of like, “Here’s what you do, here’s the plan.” 

So, when Elizabeth found out that Mary was in England she was just like, “Wait, what?” It’s like when you see a friend and you’re like, “Hey, yeah let’s have lunch.” And if your friend shows up at your workplace to be like, “We’re having lunch, right?” Like, “Oh no, I was just polite, I was just saying that. That wasn’t an actual invitation.” So yeah, she’s like, “I wrote her some nice letters,” and she helped out at Lochleven if you will recall, she really helped Mary not be assassinated there.

Allison: We were sending secret dagger letters. It was a good time.

Ann: Yeah, but the whole thing with Mary is that she’s a Catholic queen, Elizabeth is the Protestant queen. For anyone who wants Catholics to be in charge of England, Mary is their obvious figurehead. So, she knows that if Mary is here, that is going to get people maybe doing rebellions to try and make Mary be the queen.

Allison: Spoiler: Elizabeth is not wrong. [laughs]

Ann: No, no. So, her very presence, somebody whatever tripled the threat of invasion from another place overnight just by being there. And tripled means because it’s, like, Spain, France, so many other Catholic– Rome…

Allison: The Pope!

Ann: Yeah, Mary being there suddenly meant there’s technically actively three Catholic countries who might now like, invade at any moment.

Allison: Not to mention all the Catholics who were already in England had been really pissed off for like, 40 years. They’re all like, “Okay, now it’s time to go.”

Ann: Exactly, exactly! Her existence is really… Sometimes I forget it’s not just like, “Hey, here’s this cool person.” No, she represents so much to so many people, Mary. So, Elizabeth had an emergency meeting, and she was like, “I want to meet Mary and hash this out.” If you’re playing along with the Mary, Queen of Scots bingo card, which you can find on my Instagram page, “Mary and Elizabeth almost meet,” is one of the squares. 

Anyway, so Elizabeth is like, “I want to meet her, can I finally talk to her? Let’s figure this out.” Cecil is like, “Oh no.” Because Cecil knows that Mary is really, really, really persuasive and charming and sympathetic and Elizabeth has been kind of sympathetic to her this whole time. It wouldn’t take much to tip Elizabeth over to actually wanting to help her if she met her because Mary has the superpower of persuasion, Elizabeth is kind of easy to manipulate. So, Cecil is like, “These women can never meet,” basically. 

Allison: And like, I don’t know that Elizabeth is easy to manipulate generally but queen to queen, there’s not that many other people in the world who are in her situation so she’s naturally going to be super sympathetic to Mary who is extremely persuasive. If some asshole from Spain came over and was like, “Hey, do you want to let my Catholic son in?” I don’t think she’d be persuaded in that way. But Mary is… there’s a spot in her heart for someone like Mary.

Ann: Exactly. Thank you for that clarification. Elizabeth, not easy to manipulate; easy to manipulate by Mary. Or she would be because she has in the past been very sympathetic. And because the whole thing about like, whatever happens to Mary, it’s like, well, a queen has to be treated like this and this and this and if we suddenly stop treating queens like this then Elizabeth is at risk. 

Allison: “Then what’s going to happen to me?”

Ann: Exactly. 

Allison: Also, a political manipulation. She’s like, “I don’t want anything to happen to Mary,” and Cecil is like, “I do, though.”

Ann: Yeah. So, here’s what my notes say. Cecil is like, “Oh fuck. Let’s send her back to Scotland.” And Elizabeth is like, “How about fuck you, Cecil? No.” And Cecil was like, “Okay, how about we fully investigate the Darnley murder in order to clear her name and then we can maybe return her to Scotland but just as a figurehead. She won’t be in charge, but the assholes will still be in charge.” I don’t know, it wasn’t a real plan but that’s what Cecil said he wanted to do. Did I tell you already that Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is in charge of Scotland? I think I did.

Allison: I think so but good reminder.

Ann: Yeah, because after she abdicated, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart got his lifelong dream to be the regent of Scotland. So, what Cecil wanted was Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, who is easy to manipulate by…

Allison: Anybody.

Ann: Yeah. Keep him in charge and Mary would be there but just as, kind of like, you know, your face would be on the coins, but you wouldn’t be in charge.

Allison: Which Mary would not for one single frickin’ second have been okay with.

Ann: No. And that would never have worked. Anyway, Mary was put under the protection of Lettice’s Dad. So, fun fact, Sir Francis Knollys, his mother’s name was also Lettice, surname, Peniston.

Allison: [laughs] I’m sorry, I’m 4. I’m 4 years old.

Ann: So, Lettice’s grandmother was Lettice Peniston, which is a great name. In a sea of, like, Roberts and Williams and Marys it’s like, Lettice Peniston? Great.

Allison: [laughs] I’m pulling it together, we can continue.

Ann: Do you need to go to Cockermouth to think about this more?

Allison: Stop this! [both laugh] I am an adult human being. 

Ann: So, our Lettice, Lettice Knollys who we know about new listeners because I did an episode about her a couple of years ago. So, at this point, Lettice Knollys is the same age as Mary, Queen of Scots, they’re both 25 years old. She was not yet married, Lettice, but we’re going to keep up to date with what she does later on. So, anyway, Lettice’s dad, I think, treats Mary in an okay way, and I think it might be partially because she’s the same age as his daughter, so he sees her in a dad way, kind of. She also has red hair. 

So, Lettice’s Dad found Mary very nice and charming even though she’s a Catholic and Protestant and he was supposed to be her prison guard, he was kind of like, “She’s cool, this is fine.” But he’s the one who had to deliver all the bad news so Elizabeth told him to tell Mary, “We can’t meet queen to queen.” Mary burst into tears because she is a person who cries a lot and that doesn’t make her a weak person.

Allison: It makes her a person who cries a lot.

Ann: Yeah. So, she burst into tears, I feel like, obviously, situationally, she reminded Lettice’s Dad that… Yeah, because she’s also told that they’re going to investigate the Darnley murder and her involvement in it and she was like, “Okay but I wasn’t involved in it. You know, I viewed paperwork with all the signatures of the people who were involved in it,” which included Scottish Machiavelli, Jeremy Jam from Parks and Recreation, all these people who are now kind of in charge of Scotland, “Those guys did it, they signed paperwork about it. Pretty sure Cecil has a copy.” Elizabeth was like, “I can’t meet with you face-to-face if you’re an on-the-run murderess. We need to clear your name and then maybe we can see each other face-to-face, but I, the Queen, can’t be seen hanging out with a person who killed a king.”

Allison: Which is Cecil’s stalling tactic, “You can meet her but not until we’ve cleared her name from this murder even though I have the list in my pocket of the people who did the murder.” 

Ann: “This murder that I, Cecil, arranged.” Anyway, Mary began writing to France. She had an uncle who was the de Guise Cardinal and also, Charles was the King of France, he was the younger brother of her first husband Francis so they kind of grew up together, Charles had always had kind of a crush on her, so he had maybe some feelings to want to help. She was like, “Send money, or support, or like, I only have this one velvet dress from this guy in Cockermouth, can you send me some fabric?” Eventually, actually, Lettice’s Dad petitioned Liz and got Liz to send along – sorry, my notes say Liz and not Elizabeth so, Liz. I’m not going to type out Elizabeth 10,000 times so Liz. 

So, Elizabeth sent along some things for Mary to have more outfits but unfortunately, there was, either on purpose or not, the parcel that arrived contained some pieces of black velvet, some ripped shirts and random velvet shoes. [Allison laughs] It’s like, “Was that the bag you were taking to Goodwill or was that the bag of things for Mary, Queen of Scots?” So, either this was an intentional insult, or they just sent the wrong parcel and at this point, I think it was the wrong parcel because Elizabeth was being kind to Mary at this point. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart even sent along some outfits from Scotland but again, [laughs] he doesn’t know fashion, he doesn’t know what she wants, he took all her stuff and gave it to his wife, remember? So, he sent, like, cloaks, coverings for saddles. It’s like, “What did you send me? Like, napkins? This isn’t clothes.”

Allison: “My man, why did you send 45 saddle blankets and zero dresses? What is wrong with you?” [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] So, one month passed at Carlisle Castle with Lettice’s Dad. She was there with her entourage which included Mary Seaton from the Four Marys, Yung Willy from Lochleven.

Allison: Yung Willy!

Ann: Yung Willy style. So, they just kind of passed the time. At one point her entourage played a football game against each other and she was allowed to watch them. She was allowed to go out horseback riding, to go hunting hares. And this is where Mr. Lettice was like, “Oh no, she’s really good at horseback riding and she could probably run away on a horse so let’s let Elizabeth know that and maybe keep that in mind.” 

Meanwhile, Mary Seaton is there and she’s doing amazing work with wigs. So, if you will recall, Mary shaved her head. I love that she fled Scotland with no outfits, but all of the wigs, like the first episode of Schitt’s Creek when Moira is packing up all of her wigs. So, Mary arrived with wigs and no outfits. Anyway, so Mary Seaton was just styling the wigs; the wigs are all different hair colours. Lettice’s Dad wrote in one letter, “I don’t even know what colour hair she has naturally. Every day it’s a new thing.” Some great wig action happening. Mary Seaton is just at this level of personal dresser that I find really delightful. 

Anyway, Mary kept defending herself and Lettice’s Dad went to Elizabeth and was like, “Maybe we should let her return to Scotland.” Mary’s persuasiveness is considerable, but Lettice’s Dad seems like he was kind of a pushover. So, he went to Elizabeth and was like, “Hey, let’s just let her go back to Scotland.” And Elizabeth was like, “Uhh, no. What are you…? No.” 

Allison: “You had one job, my guy, it was not that.”

Ann: Yeah. So anyway, Elizabeth wrote to Mary being like, “You can’t go back to Scotland, stop asking to go back to Scotland.” These letters exist, that’s how we know. So, Mary wrote back to Elizabeth being like, “Come on!” And Elizabeth did not change her mind. Anyway, Elizabeth did agree to one thing Mary wanted which was that she summoned Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart to London to testify about the whole Darnley murder situation as a witness/accuser. 

At the same time, Mary was moved further, like, where Carlisle Castle was (close-ish to the Scottish border) her supporters could come get her, she was good at riding a horse, so she was moved to somewhere a bit more into England, further away from Scotland. She’s moved to Bolton Castle in Wensleydale in Yorkshire, the home of Lord Scrope but Mr. Lettice is still her babysitter. So, this place was also more a fortress than a cozy home. Mr. Lettice said it had the “Highest walls of any house he had ever seen,” so welcome to prison castle. But again, she’s allowed to go hunting and hawking and while there, and presumably earlier, Lettice’s Dad started tutoring Mary in the English language and you’re thinking, “She speaks the English language.” She does not! She speaks French, Latin, and Scots; Scots and English have similarities but are not the same language. 

Allison: So, when she was writing to Elizabeth in these letters, was she writing French?

Ann: Probably, yeah. French was kind of like… So, she was in Scotland for five years, but being raised by her mother who is French and surrounded by French servants. And then she went to France for like 15 years, so I think French is kind of her first language.

Allison: French is definitely… Yeah, I was wondering, in England, how many people spoke French good enough to do international business in French?

Ann: I don’t know, I don’t know. But I think Elizabeth famously spoke every language.

Allison: All of them.

Ann: I think she did; I think she’s very well educated. But this is interesting about the Scots. So, again, I think when she first went to Scotland, I think I said on the podcast, she started practicing her Scots, a language that she knew when she was a little girl. This is why people in England– So, when she spoke English, she spoke it with a Scottish accent. So, people in England described her as having “A purring Scottish accent.” I always thought she would have a French accent when speaking English, but I think because she grew up in Scotland speaking Scots and French, her English… Anyway, she had a Scottish accent! So, I need to cross off the things that bother me the fact that in the Saoirse Ronan movie, she uses a Scottish accent. In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Samantha Morton uses a Scottish accent and, in both cases, I was like, “Eugh, giving her a Scottish accent? She would have had a French accent!” In fact, no, people who met her, English people, said she had a delightful Scottish accent.

Allison: Huh!

Ann: Exactly. It’s the same as, like, in Reign when she got married in France and was wearing a white dress. I was like, “Eugh, white wedding dresses, people don’t wear white…” 

Allison: Oh no, but she actually did though!

Ann: She actually did wear a white wedding dress! So, I’m just like, “Okay, you know what? This is why it’s good to learn things.” But yeah, anyway, so she had this purring Scottish accent which apparently added to her allure and made her seem exotic or something. Lettice’s Dad also began teaching her about Protestantism, maybe hoping that she would convert because if she stopped being the Catholic queen, maybe that would be safer for her, she wouldn’t be a figurehead anymore. Mary was like, “Oh,” you know in her cute Scottish accent that I will not try to… If I do a Scottish accent, I’m going to sound like Scrooge McDuck, [Allison laughs] so I’m going to not try. But anyway, in a secret letter, Mary wrote to the Spanish ambassador that she would sooner die than change her Catholic faith which has been a consistent thing about her, her whole life. Anyway, but she’s being nice to Lettice’s Dad, and being like, “Oh Protestantism, that’s interesting. Hm, hm, hm.”

Allison: I love seeing her back to herself in this way because when she capitulated to Bothwell to have the Protestant ceremony and now, I’m like, “Oh, this is my schemey Catholic bitch, she’s back.” And that’s satisfying.

Ann: Yeah, exactly very much. That was something that in that episode, as we’re recording that episode just came out, the tits out brigade are all still reeling from the Bothwell episode but one of the things that was especially devastating in a series of devastating events was that it was a Protestant marriage, and she was not allowed to go to Catholic mass. Her Catholic faith is so important to her in this really genuine way that that’s just… Anyway, I agree. I’m glad to see…

Allison: She’s back, we love. 

Ann: Yes, yes. Our Catholic queen is back. She also befriended Lettice’s mom, Catherine Carey. So, Catherine Carey was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister. Mary Boleyn had been the mistress of Henry VIII before Ann Boleyn was the mistress of Henry VIII so there are some people who think that the children of Mary Boleyn are maybe Henry VIII’s illegitimate children. So, there’s a theory that Catherine Carey might actually be Elizabeth’s half-sister if Henry VIII is both of their dads. So, the Lettice family is all… even if they’re not, Catherine Carey is the daughter of Elizabeth’s aunt, so they’re all really, really related, closely connected.

Allison: I’m also obsessed with the Lettice family, named after the coolest person in it.

Ann: Lettice Peniston? [laughs] So, the Lettice family, her mom Catherine Carey, Mary befriends her because Mary is really, really, really, really good at befriending people as we’re going to see, as we have seen, and as we will see over, and over again. Her personal charisma and charm are really good. So, this all led to Lettice’s Dad suggesting his wife’s nephew, George Carey could maybe be a new potential husband for Mary. And this is something I hadn’t thought about but one of the other threats that Mary represents is who is she going to marry next? Bothwell is still… Everyone’s kind of like, “Don’t worry about him.” [laughs]

Allison: “He’s gone. We will never speak his name again, he’s in Denmark.”

Ann: “He’s in Denmark in a dungeon, we assume he’s dead.” So, potentially she could marry George Carey. Another potential husband for Mary, Queen of Scots was Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Have you heard of him? I mean, those are six names.

Allison: The fuckin’ Howards. The Howards are back.

Ann: Yeah, the Howards are on the scene. So, Thomas Howard. I’m not going to get into how he’s related to other Howards, just know there are a lot of them, and he is the most powerful, wealthy guy in England right now, Thomas Howard. We’re going to call him T-Dog. [Allison laughs] T-Dog’s sister was married to Lord Scrope. So, the sister was maybe telling Mary, “Hey, I have this brother, his name is T-Dog. He’s the wealthiest man in England and he might be sympathetic to you and be a good new husband.” So, these connections are all happening. But technically, Mary was still married to Bothwell although it was a Protestant ceremony so I think she could probably be like, “That didn’t count.” Anyway, she needed to get the Pope to say she was single, like, she couldn’t just be like, “I declare that marriage doesn’t count.” She had to get somebody officially saying that didn’t happen. 

So, she’s just writing letters. Here’s what she’s doing, [laughs] she’s writing letters to everyone she can think of. She’s also spreading rumours; she’s having her people… Like, she couldn’t leave the castle, but her entourage could, so they were spreading rumours around town, telling other people. So, she spread a rumour/lie that discussions were open with Philip of Spain who was single again; this is still the same Philip who had been married to Mary I and then he married Catherine de’ Medici’s daughter Elisabeth. It’s still the same guy. I’m like, “This surely is his son, also called Philip.” No, same guy, same Philip. So, another potential marriage that she always has as an option is his insane son Don Carlos. And then also, the Archduke Charles of Austria, these are all the main Catholic royals in continental Europe. 

So, she was spreading these fake rumours perhaps to make Elizabeth and Cecil release her back to Scotland. I’m not sure why she thought that would happen but anyway, this plan misfired. 

Allison: I was going to say, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to work.

Ann: No, no. She doesn’t have advisors. [laughs] She’s just, like, thinking what she can. This just made them more determined to keep her trapped away. So, they couldn’t put her on trial because she was not Elizabeth’s subject, she was the Queen. So, instead of having a trial, she couldn’t, there’s not like a jury of your peers. It’s like okay, “We’ll get Catherine de’ Medici, Elizabeth…” Like, other queens will be your jury? No. So, they decided to have an inquiry. So, to have the inquiry, somebody had to accuse her of being involved in the Darnley murder and that is part of where Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart comes in and he didn’t want to be the one to accuse her in public in an English court of killing Darnley because if Mary ended up back in Scotland if she was declared innocent, then that would fuck him over as being the one who accused her.

Allison: And he also never wants to be in the place where a thing is happening. He always wants to be 25 feet away making someone else do it for him.

Ann: Exactly. He’s always just like, “Oh, while that murder that I arranged happened, I was off to the north with my wife.” He doesn’t sign the paperwork. His whole thing has been to stay out of these messy bits.

Allison: He’s over there on the bench while the messy stuff is happening.

Ann: But he’s the regent of Scotland now. So, like, you wanted this job, you need to step up my man. You can’t just keep slip-sliding away from everything. But also, secretly, Cecil was like, “Don’t worry, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, we’re working together, this is great.” So, I posted some pictures on Instagram because I was like, who has played Cecil in various films? So, on Reign, it was a handsome, hot man. It was Tom Everett Scott actually. 

Allison: Because everyone on Reign is the sexiest person I’ve ever seen in my life.

Ann: Also, I like on Reign they’re like, “Okay, here’s a historical character who had a beard. What if we get a man with stubble and that’s what we’re going to have.” I always think of Cecil as from the Elizabeth movie with Cate Blanchett where it’s Richard Attenborough from Jurassic Park/Miracle on 34th Street, literal Santa Claus-looking person. But also, this is where, if I’m thinking of him as the Jurassic Park guy but it’s also kind of The Wizard of Oz vibes where he’s just running everything but pretending, “Oh, I’m just this Santa Claus man.” He knew that Mary was the biggest threat facing England at this time. If she was restored to power in Scotland, she could get more Catholics on her side and could overthrow Elizabeth. So, he had to make sure she was found guilty of murdering Darnley. So, I mentioned the actors just so you can picture this diabolical Santa Claus. [Allison laughs] And when you see him in portraits, that is kind of what he looks like.

Allison: Kind of what he looks like, yeah!

Ann: Okay, so remember… [chuckles] I’ll remind you who these people are.

Allison: Thank you.

Ann: I know there are some people you’re going to remember because of their nicknames being memorable and one of those people is coming. But George Buchanan, he was in, like, Part Two of this series. He was an old man friend of Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart who Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart hired when Mary first came to Scotland to be her tutor and he co-wrote some masques with David Rizzio. Anyway, so he’s kind of this old guy who appeared briefly. So, he’s always been loyal to Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, he was also pals with Cecil because I guess if you’re an old man with a beard…

Allison: Y’all are friends.

Ann: How many people of your generation are even still alive? I don’t know. So, he set to work writing a document, one might call it a pamphlet, claiming that Mary was this femme fatale, she was 100% behind the Darnley murder, and she’d been having an affair with Bothwell since her son was born. Everyone was always really careful about that, to be like, “James was legitimate, but Mary was a whooore.” In that one month the son was conceived, she wasn’t. So, this pamphlet got into weird detail about her sexual habits with Bothwell, literally saying that he was her “Back door lover,” literally, he wrote, “She allowed Bothwell to abuse her body at the back door.”

Allison: Bro!

Ann: Is a phrase he wrote in this pamphlet. So, he also recast Darnley from being this…

Allison: Darnley.

Ann: From being Darnley to being this saintly victim [Allison scoffs] who is ill-treated by his cheating slut of a wife.

Allison: Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Ann: Yeah, it’s just like, fan fiction, it’s like erotic fan fiction.

Allison: At least with fan fiction you have some loyalty to the original character. This is just like…

Ann: It’s just fake.

Allison: This is an OC named Darnley. Come on, guys.

Ann: Yeah, so he wrote this document, I think just to kind of be like, “Hey, I was in Scotland and here’s what I saw.” Almost like, “Can you use this in this inquiry?” But there were no witness statements in it, there are no reports of how he knew any of this stuff. So, Kate Williams wrote in her book, “There was no way Cecil would persuade Elizabeth, let alone a panel of judges, with a ludicrous piece of creative writing.” [both laugh] So, this is like Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, he’s like, “I got you.” First of all, he’s like, “Hey, guess what? The Casket letters.” And it’s like, “Bro, this isn’t anything.” And he’s like, “What about this erotic fan fiction? Can this be entered as evidence?” Like, what do you think evidence means?

Allison: Well, how are they supposed to know? Evidence sometimes means drawing an elaborate picture with a naked man in the corner. [both laugh] No one knows what evidence is. 

Ann: Well, and I want to say, I don’t know if Cecil appreciated that as much as we did either. [Allison laughs] Anyway, speaking of the Casket letters, this erotic fan fiction not going to work. So, Cecil asked Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, “Do you have anything else to offer as evidence?” And he’s like, “Well, I do have these forged Casket letters we made up a couple of years ago. Do you want those?” And Cecil is like, “Great. Let’s use those.” So, he had copies made of the forged letters, nobody ever checked the originals, it’s bananas. They’re so obviously not actually proof and so many historians have looked at the letters, the minutiae of them, the handwriting of them. It’s like, “What do these letters mean?” and I’m like, “Bro, they’re all lies!”

Allison: Nothing, they mean nothing!

Ann: It’s like when Mary, Queen of Scots was trying to find sense in what the asshole lords were doing and it’s like, “It’s just dumb! It’s just dumb.” Just accept it’s dumb. But the Casket letters, so many people have written so much about the Casket letters, and it’s just lies. 

Anyway, the court of inquiry was being held. At this point, Bothwell was in Denmark being avenged by Skottefruen, Anna Throndsen, a heroine for the ages. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart sent a message to Denmark demanding that Bothwell be sent back to Scotland dead or alive to maybe come and testify in the inquiry or something? Everyone is just, like, lying all the time. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart sent a message to Denmark being like, “We demand you send back Bothwell,” but secretly, he got in the way of Bothwell coming back because he didn’t want Bothwell to come back because Bothwell would be like, “No, I wasn’t having an affair with Mary. I’m not her backdoor lover, what are you talking about?“ 

Anyway, so Mary found out that the goddamn Casket letters are back. She’s like, “These fucking letters again? Are you fucking kidding me?” She collapsed, she physically collapsed. She wrote to Elizabeth begging for a face-to-face meeting. The letter included a poem that compared herself to a lost ship, but Elizabeth was like, “Can’t stop this runaway train of a kangaroo court so let’s go.” She was still not allowed to see the letters. She would not agree to the trial or this inquiry. She was just like, “I reject this wholeheartedly, this whole concept is dumb. I didn’t kill Darnley, your only evidence is these letters. Also, I’m a queen, queens can’t be put on trial like regular humans.” And Elizabeth was like, “Oh no, you thought we were going to make you go to the trial? No. You can’t go to the trial.” Because she’s so persuasive, charismatic, and sympathetic, she herself can’t go. So, someone is just going to go there to represent her. 

Everyone knew it was a fake trial. I have to assume even Mary knew this was a fake trial because the whole thing that Elizabeth and Cecil wanted was just to keep Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart or some other man who was easy to manipulate in Scotland as the regent for her baby son. Mary was never going to be allowed back in Scotland to be queen again because that was too threatening, so they just wanted to keep her tucked away. She’s still not allowed to see the Casket letters; her lawyers were not allowed to see the Casket letters. She wasn’t allowed to attend, as I said, so she couldn’t hear the letters read out to contest them. 

And this is again, Cecil to his great credit, here’s the thing: Cecil is an adversary worthy of Mary. He’s working against her, so I hate that, but I respect that he’s so good. It’s like in any story or movie, it’s like when the villain is at this level, it forces the hero to really challenge themselves and it’s satisfying. 

Allison: This is Batman and Joker levels of, like… They deserve each other and Cecil respects Mary in a way. He’s like, “I know how good this person is, let me give her my A game,” and I’m like, “Yes, okay. Thank you!” 

Ann: Exactly. He’s the only person who knows how good she is at scheming. He knows she could switch outfits with someone else and climb out a window. He knows she’s capable of riding a horse for five hours. He knows how persuasive she is, that’s why they keep trying to let her not go. So, he’s like, she’s 100% not showing up at this trial because she is so persuasive and sympathetic. He respects how good she is, which makes me respect him. He’s not just like, “Oh, she’s dumb.” It’s not a John Knox thing where he’s like, “I hate her on principle because she’s a woman.”

Allison: No, he’s like, “I hate her because she’s way too good at this and is going to fuck up all my plans.”

Ann: And Mary is like, “God dammit,” it’s like me in university. She’s like, “But I got away with this for so long. Someone actually noticed I’m smart, dammit. I have to become even better now,” which she does. So, if she’d been there when the letters were read out, she could have disproved the letters by pointing out factual errors in them because they were such obvious lies. So, she wrote a little thing in her own defence, part of which said her handwriting was easy to copy, which, as we will learn later, is very true. But that’s, we’ll talk about that soon, that’s when we get into some more letter stuff that Allison’s going to talk about. 

Okay, so can you guess, it’s a person we’ve already mentioned in this episode, who is the head? Who could you imagine is the head of the inquiry?

Allison: A person we’ve already talked about?

Ann: Yes. With a nickname.

Allison: Is it going to be my favourite nickname of the show, WD-40?

Ann: No, it’s not WD-40. Allison, it’s T-Dog. 

Allison: T-Dog! What a terrible person to put in charge of this inquiry!

Ann: T-Dog, the man who wants to marry Mary, is in charge of the inquiry, yes. I think he’s in charge of the inquiry because he’s the most wealthy, influential nobleman in England. 

Allison: Isn’t he the only duke left in England at this point? Like, all the other dukes are gone, they’re like, “We need a duke, pick this guy.”

Ann: Yeah, T-Dog. So, he’s a widower, he’s a Protestant, he’s the most important aristocrat in England, and he’s also Elizabeth’s second cousin on the Boleyn side. He was so elevated that he considered William Cecil to be lowborn.

Allison: What an asshole. For fuck’s sake. I hate the Howards so much. I’m sorry. All of them except for Catherine Howard, I hate them all so much.

Ann: They’re all pretty terrible. So, he’s been all up in this drama for years now. So anyway, Mary knew who T-Dog was because remember, she’d gotten close to his sister and the sister was communicating with Scottish Machiavelli who all of a sudden is 100% on Mary’s side in this, meanwhile back in Scotland. Scottish Machiavelli passed on the message to Mary that if Mary married a great English aristocrat, Elizabeth might be won over to her side.

Allison: Why?

Ann: Not true. No. 

Allison: The opposite of true, I think. 

Ann: Yeah. And then also, if she married a Protestant then maybe the Scottish assholes would accept her back too… unlikely. The other thing is that if Mary and T-Dog got married, that would directly threaten Elizabeth because if they had a kid that could be the next king of England due to Mary being a queen and T-Dog’s own impressive lineage. So, T-Dog was in charge of the trial to find her guilty or innocent/also secretly trying to secretly, treasonously marry her, is what’s happening, because nothing in this story is ever straightforward. 

So, Mary told her lawyers to begin divorce paperwork between her and Bothwell so she would be free to become T-Dog’s wife. Elizabeth realized, “Wait a minute, T-Dog is the last person we should have in charge of this,” so she appointed more judges to be in charge of this inquiry, including Cecil. 

Allison: Love. We love a court-packing situation. She’s like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” 

Ann: Yeah. “T-Dog, what are you…? Wait a minute.” Okay, so T-Dog and Mary sending letters, courting each other. So, he sent her a diamond and she replied, promising to wear it in secret until they could be together.

Allison: She’s never met this man, right?

Ann: No, no. So, she did add a caveat to the letter. She’s like, “But we can’t marry unless Elizabeth gives us consent.” But I don’t know, everyone in England was marrying without Elizabeth’s consent at this time, is my understanding. Anyway, Elizabeth obviously found out about this, not because of Mary, I feel like T-Dog is just sloppy. She demanded T-Dog confess, had he been trying to marry Mary and he lied, he’s like, “What? No! I would never.” 

Anyway, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was permitted to visit Elizabeth and that hurt Mary a lot because all she’d wanted for like 12 years had been a face-to-face with this woman who she thought was her, like, person, her soulmate. And then Elizabeth meets Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart of all people. Anyway, Kate Williams writes: 

What was happening was a naked power grab by men of a woman’s crown by her former friends and half-brother. Of course, plenty of bad male monarchs had lost their crowns but Richard III, for example, had lost in battle a fair fight. Such was the structure of society that even a baby male was above her in terms of his right to rule and she was easily pushed out. 

Which is all true. Well said Kate Williams. Another reason why Mary’s lawyers were pushing to have her be allowed to go there to defend herself but also, another risk is that she might throw the Scottish assholes under the bus. She might be like, “They killed Darnley, [laughs] I can prove it.” So, she’s just too much of a wildcard. Anyway, here’s an update on a character who we’ve mentioned twice, both times ended with his death, but I have more information and it’s your old friend French Paris.

Allison: French Paris!

Ann: I forget if I told you this, but I was trying to quantify some details about French Paris and I went onto a search engine and typed in ”French Paris,” forgetting that’s not a name. [both laugh] Guess what didn’t come up? Stuff about this guy. Guess what did come up? Tourism information about French Paris. 

Anyway, previously I had mentioned, French Paris was one of the people executed for Darnley’s murder, which he was. But it wasn’t until now that that actually happened. So, here’s what French Paris did. After Mary was taken to Lochleven, French Paris fled to Denmark, which again, it’s like, I don’t know, is this the Las Vegas of its era? That’s the place? I don’t know. Anyway, everyone is always going to Denmark. Anyway, the asshole lords tracked him down and brought him back. 

The thing about French Paris is he had been the messenger who brought letters between Mary and Bothwell. So, he could say, “This is what they said, this is what they didn’t say.” French Paris had that information. So, they were like, “Did you send love letters between them?” And he was like, “No,” because they did not exchange love letters. But then he was tortured and was like, “Yes, they did send love letters!” But this “proof” was so weak that when Cecil read the confession he was like, “Don’t even execute this guy. Clearly, this is not true.” Elizabeth wanted French Paris brought to London to be questioned about the role of other lords in the Darnley murder conspiracy and how much Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart knew about it but the asshole lords in Scotland were like, “Eugh, French Paris could reveal everything.” So, that is when and why French Paris was hanged without trial almost immediately after his “confession.” On the scaffold, he shouted that he had never delivered those letters. So, French Paris.

Allison: Poor guy.

Ann: I know, I know. So, with his death, that was the last person who could have… He and Bothwell were the only people who could have proven the Casket letters were fake and neither of them was available to show up. 

Eventually, Elizabeth was like, “This trial is ridiculous, these letters are ridiculous,” but also, she didn’t want to be blamed for what went wrong and we’re going to get into Elizabeth in this and the next episode. Her big thing and this is, like, to her credit, this is how she is still alive and the queen, she never says yes or no to anything. Just always kind of like… It’s very Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart but smart. She never wants to commit to any side of anything, because she’s never sure which side… She’s just skating above everything all the time.

Allison: It reminds me more of the modern monarchy than it does, like, trying to keep her hands clean. It’s like, “I’m not taking a position, no one can be mad at me, y’all are in charge of this.” Except she’s really behind the scenes pulling the strings and doing everything and having that kind of Queen Elizabeth II façade on the front.

Ann: Yes! It’s very Queen Elizabeth II where it’s just kind of like…

Allison: “I am neutral, and I am merely a figurehead.” Wildly not true.

Ann: Exactly. She was always at risk, and she knew she was always at risk of being usurped because she was a woman, because she was a queen, because there were these allegations that she was illegitimate. She had to always be playing everything so carefully that she could never take a strong stance. But also, she didn’t want to take the blame for this. If Mary was executed or something, that could fall back on her somehow. So, basically what she did…

Allison: Then she’d piss off the Pope, and she’d piss off Spain, and she’d piss off probably one-third of England who would be like, “You know what we should do now is invasion rebellion.” So, yeah.

Ann: Exactly. If she let Mary back to Scotland Mary would probably raise an army against her but if she had Mary executed or put in jail, that would make Spain mad. So, she was just kind of like, “I’m just going to suspend the tribunal.” Anyway, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was permitted to return to Scotland with a loan of £5,000 from Elizabeth which was basically a bribe to make sure that Scotland’s Protestants remained indebted to England. Mary encouraged her followers to prevent him from returning home. She arranged for malicious rumours to be spread in Scotland that Elizabeth was planning to set up her own garrison of English people. That got more Catholics to support Mary but then Elizabeth retaliated by threatening to publicly reveal the contents of the erotic fan fiction which would ruin Mary’s reputation. [both laugh

At some point, while this was all going on, I just read this in one source and I want to believe it’s true but whatever… Allegedly, perhaps, Mary made an escape attempt from Bolton Castle, lowering herself from a window, mark that on your bingo card.

Allison: That’s our girl!

Ann: With the help of Mary Seaton, who, how many times has Mary Seaton helped Mary lower herself out of a window?

Allison: So many times! Mary Seaton must have the forearms of a god at this point, she’s always lowering her out of a window. [laughs]

Ann: I don’t know, it’s like, Mary Seaton is like, “Do the thing?” “Yeah. Plan Alpha Alpha Omega.” Okay. So, legend has it, “Mary made her way on horseback as far as Leyburn, several miles away, before being recaptured. In the process, she mislaid her shawl and so the cliff edge running westward from Leyburn is called The Shawl.” So, the country, the entire island, the British Isles, should just be renamed Mary, Queen of Scots because every part of it is now named after her. Maybe she lost her shawl here! 

Okay, so she was found not guilty and also not innocent and so she’s caught in this holding pattern. So, she’s moved to a new castle with a new babysitter, this castle is Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire which is even more isolated and further from the England-Scotland border, also more distant from England’s northern Catholic regions and Mary’s supporters. It was also derelict, drafty, and damp, situated on a marsh. So, it was just straight-up gross, it was moist.

Allison: No one wants to be here. 

Ann: It’s damp and gross. So, her new supervisor was George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. He had recently taken a wife whose name is Bess of Hardwick. 

Allison: Bess of Hardwick!

Ann: Bess of Hardwick is going to get her own episode later on. So, we’re going to talk about all this stuff but just know, Bess of Hardwick is a very interesting person herself.

Allison: I just yell the names of cool people when they show up. I don’t know enough about her to tell the story, but I’m just like, “I know Bess of Hardwick kicks ass.”

Ann: Oh no, she’s great. Yeah. She was maybe, I think she’s the wealthiest woman in England not named Elizabeth I. 

Allison: Except her name was Bess so she was named Elizabeth. [laughs]

Ann: She was named Elizabeth. Elizabeth I was not her name, her name was Bess of Hardwick. So, she made her fortune through a series of good marriages and real estate, kind of, flipping houses sort of vibe.

Allison: HGTV motherfucker, I love her.

Ann: Which I know you’re really into that stuff.

Allison: I am.

Ann: So, she’s just building houses, flipping houses. So, that’s why they own this shitty castle, I think she’s going to flip it. It’s not like they live there because they were extremely rich people with lots of properties but it’s just like, this is their property that’s the furthest away from the Catholic supporters, it’s on a marsh, they’re like, that one? You want us to live there with her? This castle in a swamp? Okay. 

So anyway, she and George Talbot had recently just gotten married, later in life. They were both in their forties, they had been married before, and they both had children from before. They owned several properties as a couple, Tutbury was the worst one, obviously. I’m going to call her husband Mr. Bess of Hardwick because she’s the main person in this relationship as far as I’m concerned. 

So, they had been chosen, because they were rich, because Mary had to be kept in her queenly style and Elizabeth wasn’t going to pay for that, someone else had to. But also, Elizabeth trusted them. So, Bess of Hardwick I believe I mentioned several seasons ago in the Jane Grey season. She was caught up in the Lady Katherine Grey secret sexy marriage situation in some capacity, so she was out of favour with Elizabeth. So, I think at this point, this was a way that it’s like, “Bess, you kind of owe me from the Lady Katherine Grey situation.”  

Allison: “Do me a favour and you’ll be back in my good books.” And she’s like, “This shitty house in the swamp? Fine.”

Ann: Yeah, so being trusted was also key. They had to follow Elizabeth’s directions and report everything back to her and to Cecil. Also, in terms of wealth, Mr. Bess of Hardwick was the highest-ranking peer in the realm after T-Dog, so he was wealthy and also influential and important. 

So, keeping Mary in the state in which she was accustomed was really expensive. It cost somewhere around £4,000 a year, which I put into a currency calculator, which is about £1.7 million, which is $2 million per year, just to keep Mary living like she wanted to live. And these are details I did not know about how Mary was living but I have these details now. 

This money went to pay for her 50 servants, her 10 horses, each with groom, all the food required for her household. She expected two courses at every meal, both with a selection of 16 dishes from which she could choose. She wanted her own wine along with bread, salad, and fruit. 

So, every meal is like, “Okay, here are your 16 options,” and she wouldn’t eat them all. You couldn’t be like, “Here’s what you get today.”

Allison: That was surprising when you said it out loud but then it clicked one more in my brain and I was like, “I bet you Elizabeth was doing like 58 choices and 6 courses. That’s just how royalty was. and she’s like, “No, I’m still Queen, you still better serve me the way that you would have served anybody else who is in power.” 

Ann: Yeah. So, she was getting… This is why it’s $2.1 million. “Her ladies were allowed nine dishes per course, her secretaries got six or seven, and eight for the gentlemen.” She lived, like, her court was second only to Elizabeth’s. It was, like you just said, she’s living like literally the queen that she is. And Bess and Mr. Bess are paying for it. Mr. Bess kept asking Elizabeth to chip in more, the English treasury covered a bit but never enough to cover everything. It’s kind of like when people are like, “Oh yeah, you send $500 in child support every month but the child costs $5,000 a month.” But it’s like, “Mm, yeah you just get this $500.” So, Mary refused to pay for anything herself because she was being kept against her will. Fair enough. 

At Tutbury, the swamp mansion, “She was allowed outside only under strict supervision, she was not allowed too far from the house for security concerns,” but again, her entourage was allowed into town, and this is how she was secretly sending messages back and forth. “She was closely guarded, watched by armed guards under her window, who followed her closely when she went out riding or hunting,” and I guess they all had to be paid as well. “She was not permitted to exercise outside of the gates or to talk to people Mr. Bess had not approved.” Mr. Bess had a son called Gilbert who appears every now and then, he wrote records of things. So, Gilbert wrote, “Unless she could transform herself to a flea or a mouse it was impossible that she should escape.”

Allison: Give her time, she’ll figure that out.

Ann: You know what? She will. So, Mary and Bess struck up a friendship because Mary is a, I don’t know if it’s necessarily an extrovert thing, but I think she liked being around people. She had always been around people, and she and Bess were just cool ladies who hung out. Bess was like, 15 years older, so like, of an older generation but Bess knew Elizabeth really well and they bonded over their shared love of embroidery, and we’ll talk about their embroidery in detail shortly. Mary, who has various health concerns, which we have discussed numerous times, and like anyone would living in this swamp house, she became sick, from mould spores presumably.

Allison: Which is why no one lived in this house.

Ann: Yeah. So, she had a pain in her side, likely a recurrence of the gastric ulcer situation from before. Mr. Bess also fell ill with gout, this house was literally, like, destroying everybody’s immune systems. So, he asked permission to move Mary and therefore himself and Bess to one of the nicer homes and Elizabeth agreed they could move out but just briefly while the house was what they called “sweetened” which kind of means, like, renovated and improved a bit. 

So, they moved around, and they would keep for the next little while moving from house to house as the previous one was sweetened. But this constant moving made people– It was harder for someone to try and rescue Mary because they never knew quite which house she was in and when. But every time they moved it was this huge production to move her entire household, which was, like, furniture, tapestries. [laughs] It’s like, I’ve heard about Taylor Swift who, when she goes on tour she has various properties, and after the concert ends, she flies back to the closest one, so her things are always there, she’s never staying in a hotel room, it’s always her things. So, Mary wanted her things with her always so she’s just, like, a concert tour bus travelling around with her with all these things. This includes a chair she brought with her everywhere which was her chair of state which had an embroidered phoenix on it and her motto, “In my end is my beginning.”

Allison: Which is so fucking badass! Are you kidding me? It’s so badass!

Ann: Oh yeah. It’s like, “If you kill me, I will burst into flames, come back and be even stronger.” 

Allison: And then I will fuck you up because I’m Mary, Queen of Scots. God, I love her so much.

Ann: Exactly. So, by this point, which is shortly after she’s been staying with Bess and Mr. Bess, she had around 240 staff members, all of whom Mr. Bess was paying to feed six courses per meal. She sent to Paris for the latest designs, she wanted to stay fashionable. I’m sure Mary Seaton was on top of all that, she’s reading their version of Vogue magazine, pamphlet version. She wanted the latest fashions, cloth and crowns but also, she was smuggling letters in these packages of fabric and things. 

Okay, so schemes. We’re getting into some schemes. So, a scheme came up created by a guy called Leonard Dicker who was a cousin of Mr. Bess’, He lived nearby, and he was a Catholic. He wanted to do a Lochleven patented switcharoo with Mary Seaton and Mary, Queen of Scots switching outfits.

Allison: Mary Seaton is like, “We literally just did that 8 months ago. Do not make me do that again.”

Ann: But at this point, Mary, Queen of Scots was like, “No” because she didn’t want to escape in that way. She’s in a new era for herself and she’s like, I want to do things officially. Her plan is to wear Elizabeth down, to be on her side, is Plan A. Plan B is to marry T-Dog. So, she’s like, “Me running away does not go with any of this.”

Allison: Because where is she going to go?

Ann: Yeah, exactly. 

Allison: What’s the endgame here? She’d have to leave England if she escaped, and she didn’t want to do that yet. 

Ann: Yeah, she really wants to make things work here. She also, by the way, kept lots of little pets including little dogs and she was writing lots of letters to Philip in Spain, Catherine de’ Medici in France, her de Guise uncles in France, and other de Guises elsewhere. But basically, no one was answering or was really in the mood to help her. Honestly, early on in this, friend of the podcast, Lana Wood Johnson, was talking about the de Guises and that was a side of the story I never really understood but now I do. It’s like, they put her in this mess. When they got her to make the heraldic arms, called her Queen of England, from that point on Cecil was like, “This bitch.”

Allison: Yeah, fuck you de Guises! You made this mess, get her out of it.

Ann: Yeah, exactly. But they’re not answering her letters. Her divorce from Bothwell still not coming through so she couldn’t marry T-Dog yet, but T-Dog was busy moving ahead with his plans getting other nobles to support this marriage including Bobby Duds, Robert Dudley, who supported this match.

Allison: You know I bet he did so he didn’t have to end up in a weird threesome at Elizabeth’s house.

Ann: [laughs] So yeah. Anyway, T-Dog is getting frustrated that Mary’s divorce is not coming through, so he even contacted Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart to ask him to help speed things along, a wildcard move.

Allison: What’s he going to do?

Ann: Anyway, meanwhile, back in Scotland, the assholes voted 40 to 9 against Mary returning, not that it was up to them, and they denied the dissolution of her marriage to Bothwell. Again, I keep getting ahead of myself. This is when French Paris was killed.

Allison: RIP French Paris.

Ann: For the fourth time, yes. In my defence, the books that I’ve read are mostly not written chronologically.

Allison: Or from the point of view of French Paris, probably.

Ann: You know what? I’ve got so many ideas for historical fiction writers. Again, I know you’ve got other projects. But other people, I think French Paris would be an interesting book to write and you could call it French Paris, although that wouldn’t be good for Google searching.

Allison: That’s terrible SEO.

Ann: [laughs] So meanwhile, Elizabeth is basically pretending Mary doesn’t exist and she’s just living her life. She’s Elizabeth, whatever. Things in Scotland seem to simmer down for now with Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart in charge and a new man came on the scene who was named Sir Francis Walsingham!

Allison: My man! I’ve been waiting for him this whole time. 

Ann: Okay, Allison, can you please explain who this is?

Allison: Sir Francis Walsingham is Elizabeth’s very first official spymaster, which was his secret job title. He came in as, I believe he started as royal secretary, he might have worked his way up into that role. So, officially, he was the guy who kind of replaced Cecil in international relations management.

Ann: Cecil is still on the scene, just Cecil transferred to a different job.

Allison: Yeah, he is promoted into a different job because I think he’s now pushing like… I think he’s tired. So, Walsingham comes in and he’s just the most head-of-the-CIA kind of guy. Bro, he’s scheming on every cylinder, it’s delightful. 

Ann: And you know a lot about him because you’re a fan in general but also because he’s a character in your novel, A Tip for the Hangman.

Allison: He is. So, I am very emotionally attached to this man.

Ann: A couple of notable things about him, he has a daughter who he named after himself, Frances which…

Allison: Legend. That’s not quite what the Vulgar History bingo card says but the spirit of it is there: daughter named after the queen Francis Walsingham. Love it.

Ann: Yeah. So, Walsingham enters the chat. So, he’s again, I did not realize– I’ve watched the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movie like once, 20 years ago, but somehow my understanding of many of the characters is based on that movie. In that, Geoffrey Rush plays Walsingham so I just picture Geoffrey Rush.

Allison: I picture him as Mark Rylance from Wolf Hall as Thomas Cromwell, they’re very similar kinds of characters. You just come in here quietly in the shadows, smarter than everybody else, manipulating things behind the scenes. To be clear, those are two different people, but they have the same energy.

Ann: Absolutely. So, he was bringing in what I wrote as the “Kingsman Tudor era vibes.”

Allison: Yes! [laughs]

Ann: Which would be a good movie; when this writers’ strike ends, someone should write that movie. So, he was great at spy shit, and he trained and recruited amazing spies. And his spies provided intel that T-Dog and Mary had talked about betrothal. 

So, Mary and T-Dog… Okay, Allison, I sent you some pictures. There’s a picture, I don’t know how much you can see, it’s the first one. It’s a very cluttered image, can you see that in our chat?

Allison: Yeah.

Ann: Can you decipher anything in it? Can you describe any of what you’re seeing?

Allison: It looks like I’m looking at two trees coming out of a magic beanstalk and there’s a little palace in the middle going up into the clouds and there might be pears in the trees? Ann, I have no idea what I’m looking at. [laughs]

Ann: It’s also to be fair, very faded, because it is an embroidery made by Mary, Queen of Scots like, hundreds of years ago. I’m going to describe it to you. This is treason embroidery. 

Allison: Okay. [laughs] I just see the trees, show me the treason.

Ann: Tree-son. I was going to be like, where’s Waldo? Spot the treason! But I’ll explain it to you. And this is again Clare Hunter’s book Embroidering her Truth, explains this really, really well; she knows all the symbolism. So, she sent this cushion.

Allison: We love a treason cushion!

Ann: Treason cushion. So, it depicts, if you can see, in the middle, that’s a hand. That’s a hand reaching down from the sky. 

Allison: Okay, holding, like, a sickle?

Ann: Yes, but it’s got like a lace cuff on, the hand. So, it’s holding a pruning knife. “The pruning knife is cutting out the dead growth of an old vine to allow a younger, fertile vine to flourish and bear fruit.”

Allison: I see the treason, Ann! [laughs]

Ann: [laughs] Treason embroidery. Just to make it even more treasoningly obvious, she also included several symbols including, oh where is it? Somewhere on here, there’s a stag which is the symbol of Catholic victory over nonbelievers. There’s also a butterfly, the butterfly is over on the tree on the right, next to it. The butterfly is a symbol of resurrection. And in case this is still too subtle for T-Dog who like, bless, it probably was, she also included Latin text which says in translation, “Virtue flourishes by wounding.”

Allison: Oh shit, Mary! [laughs]

Ann: So, this is Mary’s treason cushion. 

Allison: Jesus Christ, it’s so much worse than I thought.

Ann: Listeners, I’m going to share this image, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes, this is at the V&A Museum in London. I’ll also post it on Instagram. But Allison, on the left, next to the left tree, do you see there’s a circle with a little up and down, sort of like an M.

Allison: Like two Xs in it?

Ann: Yeah, that’s like her signature that she puts on her embroidery. That’s her signature thing. That’s like, “This was done by me.”

Allison: “Me, this is my treason.” The more I look at this, the more it’s like, that hand coming down with the knife, it’s got the biggest Monty Python energy and I’m obsessed with that. But I can see what it’s supposed to be. 

Ann: It does actually yeah. As I mentioned, T-Dog wrote to Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart being like, “Guess who is going to marry your half-sister? It’s me T-Dog!” Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart obviously told Cecil who he was working for, who told Elizabeth. Elizabeth freaked out. Her lover, her pal Bobby Duds, tried to calm her down with his own symbolic art-based gift.

Allison: Yes! Did he embroider a pillow? 

Ann: No. I think he commissioned this. So, it’s “A jewel which depicted Elizabeth on the throne, with Mary chained to one of its legs, and France and Spain drowning under waves.”

Allison: Oh my god man, that’s too much.

Ann: It’s like, do you understand what symbolism means, Bobby Duds? 

Allison: That’s not a symbol.

Ann: No, that’s not subtext. Anyway, Mary was caught. Her room was searched by men with pistols, her armed guard was doubled and some of the little fun things she could do were taken away but not embroidery. Anyway, Elizabeth was shocked that Bobby Duds had supported the T-Dog plan, and T-Dog was thrown into the Tower of London. Mary’s entourage size was decreased, and she was forbidden to write to anyone, to the extent that when Mary Seaton fell ill and Mary Seaton’s mom wrote to Mary asking could Mary Seaton come back to Scotland, please, Mary Seaton’s mother was thrown in prison for writing to a captive.

Allison: Jesus Christ!

Ann: Yeah. Mary Seaton remained with Mary. Anyway, so her status, Mary, was not less like, “She’s our guest in England,” and more like, “She’s a dangerous conspirator/prisoner.” 

So then, we’re in 1569, Mary has been in England for like, a year and a half, maybe not even that. So, a thing happened called the Northern Rebellion/the Rising of the North. This is just northern English earls loyal to the Catholic cause/to Mary went into Protestant churches and started ripping up prayer books, sort of vibes. Mary knew that this was happening because she, as much as Walsingham had his spies everywhere, Mary – and you write this very well in your book Allison – she always knows what’s happening. Even though she can’t leave this house, she has people everywhere so she’s on the ball constantly.

Allison: She’s at most half a step behind and just waiting for the mail to get there and then she’s going to know everything.

Ann: So, Mary refused to support this or to be involved in it because she was still hoping that Elizabeth would come through for her and she wouldn’t need to be rescued by Catholics. Anyway, so the goal of these earls was the have Mary and T-Dog usurp the crown from Elizabeth, this of course did not work. Elizabeth sent 15,000 men north, rebels were hunted down, 800 were executed gruesomely, very gruesomely, like, dragged through the streets, vivisected, to the point that people were like, “Eugh, Elizabeth, maybe not?” The vibes are a bit like her older sister Mary Bloody Mary I and it’s kind of, like, this is a bit much. 

Allison: “We didn’t love this the last time this happened.” 

Ann: No. When the Pope heard about this, he officially excommunicated Elizabeth and declared that Mary should be Queen of England in her place. 

Allison: Which, yikes for Mary. She’s like, “That is not what I requested. You have just made my life so much worse right now.”

Ann: But also, yikes for Elizabeth because this meant any attempt to push Elizabeth off the throne to put Mary in her place was like, “I’m doing what the Pope said.” It’s like the Pope signed off on assassinations.

Allison: It’s a real reverse crusade. This is your Pope-ordered, “Go kill this person because god has told you to do it.” I mean, not a reverse crusade, that’s just what a crusade is.

Ann: It’s like a one-person crusade. It’s like go kill, not this group of people, this one person.

Allison: One individual person, yeah. 

Ann: So, anyone, any rebel from a noble leading an army to a servant who poisoned her soup, would be engaged in what the Pope called “Glorious work.” So, he was calling for Catholics to kill Elizabeth. 

Allison: So, you can imagine, no one is thrilled by this. My boy Walsingham is like, “I have so much work to do. Oh my god. [laughs] Suddenly, the Pope has just ordered every random Catholic in the world to try and assassinate the person I am supposed to protect. I do not have enough spies for this business.”

Ann: Have you seen any of the John Wick movies? 

Allison: No.

Ann: Okay, this happens in, like, two or three of the John Wick movies. There’s a part where this call goes out, it’s just like, “Hey, there’s a bounty on John Wick’s head: $7 billion.” And then suddenly, every assassin in the world is going after him simultaneously. It’s like, “Wait, so everyone in Paris is an assassin? Everyone in this café is an assassin? They all just got this beep on the pager? Okay.”

Allison: Exactly.

Ann: So, it’s like that, exactly that. Except again, Tudor era. So, Elizabeth demanded Mary be relocated somewhere even more obscure, so she was sent to Coventry Castle but this, again… Okay, so I don’t know a lot about castles in England, but it seems like there are an awful lot of abandoned ones.

Allison: Yeah, because it’s incredibly hard to maintain. They made a lot of sense when you were defending yourself against an army of people from Wessex, trying to come and storm your lands but now that you’re not actively engaged in a civil war with armies when you’re fighting with people not at home, it’s incredibly expensive and they’re not comfortable; they’re drafty, they’re cold, no one wants to be there. You want to be in your nice little manor house where you can hang your walls with tapestries, get cozy, and go to court on the weekends. No one wants a castle. That’s why you can still buy an old, abandoned castle for not that much money because they are terrible to live in.

Ann: It’s interesting because when I look up the castles that people go to in this story to be like, “Oh, is this a tourist destination?” Some of them are ruins and some of them are hotels now or whatever but even in Mary’s time, there were abandoned castles. So, she was sent to– I think Elizabeth just has some map, maybe it’s like, from 200 years ago she’s like, “Ooh, that castle.” So, they go to that castle, but it was abandoned, [laughs] no one can stay there. So, Mary ended up staying at a nearby inn, which is like a room above a pub, vibes.

Allison: Which is an ideal place to escape from if you are Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Ann: Yeah, Philippa Gregory wrote a book that takes place during this weekend, and she imagines that what if Mr. Bess of Hardwick was in love with Mary and what happened this weekend at this pub? Honestly, Philippa Gregory, her story concepts are great.

Allison: The only problem with that concept is that if I was married to Bess of Hardwick there’s no way you would cheat on Bess of Hardwick. I cannot suspend my disbelief that far.

Ann: No, exactly. So, they’re staying in this inn. The Philippa Gregory book is called The Other Queen. So, while staying in Coventry, Mary got a new babysitter who went to a guy called Henry Hastings, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, Triple H is what I call him, and he was a distant claimant to the throne of England. So, he was jealous that Mary had supporters and he did not have supporters. Remember when Elizabeth got smallpox that time and it was like, “Oh no, is she going to die? Who is going to be the heir?” Triple H was like, “This is my time, I’m going to be King.” 

Allison: Spoiler, it was not his time.

Ann: No. This made Elizabeth mistrust him because he was way too excited when she got smallpox that time. So, under his care, Mary was moved from the room above the pub to St. Mary’s Guildhall into a room that is now called Mary, Queen of Scots’ Room. So, Triple H was also brother-in-law to Bobby Duds, being married to his sister. So, he wrote to Bobby Duds being like, “What if I, Triple H, marry Mary and help her escape?” So, everyone is related to each other, and everyone is scheming ineffectually. Walsingham has a lot to do, really.

Allison: This is some asshole Scottish lords-level scheming, I have to say. This is not high-quality scheming. There was bad scheming in England as well.

Ann: Exactly. You know what, yes, that’s important to say. It’s not like people in Scotland couldn’t scheme well and people in England could scheme well. There’s good and bad in both places. 

Allison: There are a couple of really, really good English schemers and Mary is the good Scottish schemer and then there are a bunch of dummies all over.

Ann: Yes, yes. Oh my gosh, and we’re going to– Yes. We will talk about many of them. Anyway, Mary was just like, “No, I’m not going to run off with Triple H. My plan is to marry T-Dog and not upset Elizabeth and just get on with it.” Anyway, this is where I had to– These episodes are so long but you’re going to want to know this. So, one of the guys when they did the northern rebellion was sent off to be a prisoner at Lochleven Castle under the care of WD-40.

Allison: WD-40, my man! A Douglas!

Ann: [laughs] Which I didn’t realize this. So, after Mary had escaped from Lochleven, WD-40 in fact tried to kill himself out of shame and disgrace.

Allison: Oh shit.

Ann: He was not successful, which I mean, whatever. But he tried to stab himself with a dagger, so I don’t know if it’s like, “Oh, I missed. Well, that’s my suicide attempt.” 

Allison: Yeah. Oh man, poor guy. I feel bad for him, he was in a bad spot.

Ann: He was, I mean to be the guy who was watching Mary, Queen of Scots when she escaped by walking out the front door that was left unlocked.

Allison: She just left man, she got in a boat, and she rode away.

Ann: Yeah, so I just wanted to let you know what WD-40 was up to.

Allison: I’m glad he’s okay.

Ann: Anyway. So, in response to the Northern Rebellion and all this stuff, there was, I don’t know if it’s acts or laws or whatever, but a rule was made in England by Cecil and Walsingham making it high treason and thus punishable by death to imagine the death of Elizabeth. [laughs]

Allison: It’s one of my favourite pieces of legislation in history. [laughs]

Ann: You can’t even think it. Thought crime.

Allison: “We’ll know because we’re Cecil and Walsingham and we’re paying attention.”

Ann: They would! So, it’s high treason to “Publish, write or speak that she was not the rightful monarch. It was treason to guess how long she might live, to do her horoscope…”

Allison: This is where we get into her weird astrologist John Dee, which is a separate conversation, but he was the only person who could do her horoscopes because everything else was death. 

Ann: You did a whole Dirtbags newsletter about John Dee.

Allison: He’s such a weirdo! He thought he could speak to angels and had a weird free-love situation with his wife who was not into it.

Ann: I want to mention something to the listeners. I know there are lots of listeners and some of them follow me on Instagram. But just this week I discovered there is this Spanish/British mini-series called Reinas, or in English, Queens: The Virgin and the Martyr. It’s from a couple of years ago and it’s a Spanish language mini-series about Elizabeth and Mary; it looks super sexy, and it includes more Spanish characters than you would imagine but, you know what? Spain was not uninvolved in this. They have a very sexy Philip II actor.

Allison: Ooh, surprising. 

Ann: I haven’t watched it. You can watch it on Tubi which is a streaming service. Anyway, this is the first thing I’ve seen when just looking at the character list, John Dee is in this! I was like, “Oh my god, John Dee. He’s never in things!”

Allison: I know and he’s so weird! Now I’m going to have to watch this, I’m excited.

Ann: I was excited about John Dee being in it but the reason I found it was because it’s the only on-screen version of Skottefruen, Anna Throndsen, is in this.

Allison: Which is insane because she’s the best! Good for her.

Ann: Philippa Gregory, write a book about her, is my request. So yeah, there’s this thought crime. No one can talk or even think that Elizabeth shouldn’t be the Queen and who would be her heir. 

Allison: And think about that she might die, ever, for any reason. So, the official legal statement is, “Queen Elizabeth will live forever and if you disagree, we’re going to kill you,” which is just wild.

Ann: Yeah. Anyway, Mary is brought back to the swamp castle of Tutbury. She has now been in, effectively, house arrest for two years. But then, good news, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart was assassinated.

Allison: Yay!!

Ann: Good news to her, to us, to everybody. Here’s what happened, and this really illustrates something that I was thinking about this week which was that Mary was the scapegoat. When she went to Scotland, they were like, “She’s a woman and she’s Catholic so we hate her.” If she’d been a woman and Protestant, they would have hated her. If she’d been a man and Protestant she wouldn’t have gotten along because these guys are just chaotic. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart worked so long to become regent, he served as regent for two years and then was assassinated. I was thinking of it as a toxic family dynamic where you’ve got the scapegoat. If that person leaves the family, it’s not like the people left now get along. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart became the new Mary. People just started hating him. So, it’s just beautiful…

Allison: Karma. Lovely.

Ann: It’s beautiful to me. So anyway, what happened is, he was walking through the streets of Edinburgh when, JFK vibes, an assassin fired through a window and shot him to death.

Allison: Those people of Edinburgh don’t fuck around. 

Ann: So, you remember how Darnley, that was the first time gunpowder had ever been used in a non-war situation. This is the first gunshot assassination in the history of everything.

Allison: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Ann: It’s the first time a political figure had been assassinated with a gun. Elizabeth, Catherine de’ Medici, everybody was just like, “Wait, what? This could happen?” So yeah, they all started getting more guards, and they started being not so close to the public. Yeah, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart. “The assassin was never found but was assumed to be somebody from the Hamilton family,” who I will remind you, their whole deal was like, “When there’s a baby king of Scotland, we are the regents of that baby.” [laughs]

Allison: Fuck you, man! A Hamilton, a Hamilton.

Ann: I love that they were just mad that they couldn’t be– They’re like, “Our whole deal is that we’re the regents to the baby kings of Scotland. How dare you, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, dare to be regent to the baby king of Scotland? For five generations a Hamilton has been…” Anyway, so when I say the assassin was never found I mean the assassin was never officially caught but everyone knew who it was, to the sense that Mary knew who it was and provided a pension to the assassin in appreciation for doing such a good thing for the world.

Allison: [through laughter] Oh my god, she’s so fucking petty!

Ann: Thank you for your service. So, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart is dead, not RIP. And I just, like, the delicious stupidity of he worked so hard to get Mary out of there and then he couldn’t even reign, like she was there for what? Six, or seven years? He was regent for two-ish years and then he was assassinated. She did so much better than him! He worked so hard to get that job and then he was assassinated because he couldn’t handle his shit! 

Allison: She did so much better than him while he was actively working to like, take the knees out from under her. He couldn’t even thwart her okay and then he couldn’t hold it for, like, a year.

Ann: Yeah. So, Elizabeth was like, okay. Scotland was kind of their little subkingdom that they were in charge of because BJ, Baby James is still a little kid, there needs to be a regent. So, she’s like, “Okay, who can be the new puppet who will do what I say?” And she chose Lennox, who is Darnley’s dad, to be the next regent. He did not last long. He was in fact, also assassinated and then a guy called the Earl of Mar took over who had been Baby BJ’s guardian for a while. The assholes, I just wanted to make sure everyone knows, it’s not like Mary left and everything was cool in Scotland. Everything is still chaos in Scotland. It was the least chaos when she was there, actually.

Allison: It only got worse. 

Ann: Yeah. So, all these guys we talked about last time who are all scheming, just one after another keep being the regent, get assassinated, be the regent, get assassinated. Mary had so many rules, she couldn’t go outside and exercise and stuff so it’s like, what can she do? Embroidery. As described by Clare Hunter in her excellent book, “Many of her embroideries,” this is describing Mary’s embroideries. I’ve sent several to you Allison to look at and we can discuss them. 

Many of Mary’s embroideries are unsettling, containing images of destruction and violence, a sword with a curved blade slides through a knotted rope. A vine is watered with wine to make it die. A snake falls into a fire of sticks. A leopard holds a hedgehog in its mouth accompanied with the motto ‘It presses on it, and it sticks.’ There is a tree being cut down by a scythe, vines being pruned, a field growing spears and helmets instead of corn. Many of Mary’s embroideries are filled with images of destruction: splintered ship masts, torn sails, felled trees, broken ropes, heaps of feathers from a dead bird.

Allison: So, how’s our girl doing Ann? [laughs]

Ann: It’s like, I just know from movies and things, when children go to therapy and it’s like, “Draw a picture of your family,” and it’s like, “Oh nooo.” So, Mary is letting out her feelings in these quite graphic embroideries. One of her best-known embroideries from this period, which is currently on display at Holyrood House is called “A Catte.” Allison, can you please describe this?

Allison: It’s a perfect embroidery. It is a cat with mostly chest, really chest-forward kind of a cat, staring, I think, at a dead mouse on a parquet floor and there’s a little blue banner on the side that just says, “A Catte,” and I love it.

Ann: And Mary’s little motto is back there, the little M in the circle.

Allison: Yes, this is my cat, Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Ann: It’s very much like people, I don’t know, when I was in junior high people would make a little thing of their initials and draw it with a marker on the bathroom stall or whatever, it’s just got like, “Mary.” 

So, I do want to reveal to everybody that I have made merch inspired by this embroidery. Allison you’ve seen the merch.

Allison: It is top 10 merch of any cultural artifact of all time, it is spectacular. 

Ann: I preemptively got– So, Jan Jupiter, who I’ve collaborated with several times on merch, who is this amazing artist from the Netherlands who really gets the vibe. I was like, “Here’s Mary, Queen of Scots’ embroidery. Could you redo this but instead of this orange cat could you make it be my cat Hepburn who is tortoise shell?” And we were going back and forth. So, Mary’s embroidery, it says, “A Catte” and then it’s kind of Hepburn but drawn in this style. And then I was like, “Eughhh, can you make the cat look happier?”

Allison: This cat doesn’t look thrilled.

Ann: No. Mary’s cat looks pretty upset. And then in Mary’s, the mouse is just this lump. So, obviously, the orange cat is Elizabeth, it is Elizabeth having mastery. The mouse is Mary, and the mouse is just this lump. It’s not well defined, it’s just sort of how she perhaps sees herself as this kind of helpless blob. So, in my merch, I was like, “Can you make the mouse also be happy?” So, the mouse is just like, laying back with its hands behind its head, legs crossed just being like, a happy mouse with Hepburn and instead of the Mary sigil, there are just cute little hearts drawn all over it. Anyway, you can get this merch on a t-shirt, on a sticker, a magnet, or a pin. What I’ve ordered for myself, on a pillow.

Allison: Treason pillow!

Ann: So, I can have my own treason pillow. Because Mary, yeah, she made this embroidery, she put it on a pillow. Anyway, you can get that at When I first started doing this season, I asked on my Instagram Stories, I was like, “What do you know about Mary? What are you excited to hear about?” And someone was like, “Can you talk about her weird cat embroidery?” And I was like, “Oh, we’re going to talk about her cat embroidery.” It’s like she invented memes.

Allison: It’s so good. Augh.

Ann: It’s so good but also, just psychologically, in terms of the devastation of so many of her embroideries, the cat is great.

Allison: They’re all extremely upsetting but a lot of them are also really cute. 

Ann: Yeah! It’s sort of like the art of Frida Kahlo or somebody where it’s, like, you’re going through some shit, you can see that in the art, but also, it’s charming. 

Allison: Ann also sent me one that’s two frogs and it says, in the same kind of banner lettering, “A Frogge.” And it’s just two little frogs, one of them has got its mouth open like he’s doing something shocking and I’m going to get that printed on a T-shirt because it’s great.

Ann: They’re so cute. I’m going to put a link to it in the show notes because a lot of these are at the V&A Museum in London. She also did one of the phoenix. I’m just going through the ones I sent you, Allison, on the pyre. If the next one, there’s like six all together, there’s “An Unicorne.”

Allison: Classic Scottish sigil, we love it.

Ann: The next one is “Rhinocerote” which is like…

Allison: Mary, Queen of Scots has never seen a rhinoceros, let me clarify for the listeners at home. I am not sure if this animal can walk or swim or is a dragon. 

Ann: The rhinocerote kind of looks like a sideways seahorse mixed with a crocodile. The rhinocerote. She has a tiger. A dolphin, but she made a pun, she used the word “Dauphin” like her first husband who was the Dauphin of France, she made the dolphin. 

Allison: And she did the little crown at the bottom there.

Ann: Yeah. And then do you reckon this is one, “A Byrd of America.” Have you seen things like that where you live?

Allison: No, but I love it. It’s kind of like a toucan-pelican-falcon, with one big ol’ staring eye. It’s very weird to me to see Mary, Queen of Scots write the word “America.” That doesn’t overlap in my brain as things that existed at the same time so that’s wild.

Ann: Yeah, her embroidery is amazing. I’m talking about this in-depth with Clare Hunter in a later episode.

Allison: Can you please ask Clare about the rhinocerote? Because I need to know.

Ann: [laughs] It’s lovely. So, the embroideries are incredible, you can see some of them at Holyrood House. You can see some of them at Hardwick Hall, which is a house that Bess of Hardwick built later on. Mary never stayed there but because Bess of Hardwick was a really, really talented embroiderer. Mary’s have got a lot of vibe to them but her stitchery is not perfect. Bess of Hardwick is, like, so good at it. Anyway, so they’re sitting around, they’re stitching, this is what she’s doing. Eventually, she’s moved out of the swamp house to Chatsworth House and T-Dog was freed from the Tower of London after other nobles pressed Elizabeth to free him.

Allison: A mistake.

Ann: Yes, yes. So, William Cecil at one point came to visit Mary in person. Can you imagine? This is like, there’s some classic theatre plays that are just imagining a meeting between two– I want a play, maybe it exists, Mary and William Cecil, two that as a two-hander play. 

Allison: Oh, that would be so good.

Ann: It would be so good! You’d get like, Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, I just said their names because they just did a thing together. 

Allison: I’m sorry, Oscar Isaac as William Cecil is inspired casting. I can’t stop thinking about that now. 

Ann: Thank you. And I can see Jessica Chastain as Mary as well.

Allison: Yeah. 

Ann: Maybe just because she’s red hair.

Allison: I would do Jodie Comer as Mary. 

Ann: Oooh, Jodie Comer as Mary, yesss! So good. 

So, by the fall, Mary’s health is getting worse. Never good, she’s living in a swamp. She can exercise, and that’s been a thing that has always been helpful for her psychologically but also physically, I think. She was moved to a different– Bess and Mr. Bess own a lot of properties, so they moved to their other place, Sheffield Castle. So, at this point, she had lots of pain and inflammation on her left side, again the gastric ulcer thing. She was basically bed-bound, she didn’t sleep for 12 days, never good for anybody. Fresh air and exercise were suggested but Mr. Bess was under strict instructions not to let her go outside. 

But even so, she’s like struggling, obviously health-wise, but she’s writing letters, writing letters, writing letters to everybody. Elizabeth, Cecil, she even wrote to Bobby Duds. She’s just like, “Let’s get this figured out,” and then goddamn T-Dog got involved in a little thing called the Ridolfi plot. 

Allison: Oh, T-Dog. 

Ann: So, Ridolfi. I know you know the Babington plot, that comes later. Do you know much about the Ridolfi plot?

Allison: I know the basic shape of it, but I think you will tell a better story and I will pop in as we go.

Ann: Please pop in as we go. So, there was a Florentine Catholic banker, I find this interesting because there’s that whole thing about “Christians can’t be bankers, only Jewish people are bankers.” But this is a Catholic banker named Roberto Ridolfi a Florentine, a small, delectable cookie of a person. [Allison laughs

The other thing that’s crucial to me, it’s like how in Scotland everyone is like, “Now this person supports Mary, now they support Jimmy Stewart.” Everyone is flip-flopping and everyone in England also is and a lot of them are double agents and I don’t think they even know who they work for at times, really. So, Roberto Ridolfi, now I’m just thinking of the guy from Sweeney Todd.

Allison: “The king of the barber, the barber of kings. Buon giorno, good day.” 

Ann: “The banker of kings!” So, he’d been living in London for many years, he was pals with William Cecil. Was he working with him? Was he a double agent, both simultaneously? No one knows. 

Allison: Yeah, because he’s a very odd figure because Italians, almost universally Catholics at this period, and Catholics almost universally are enemies with Elizabeth but now he’s hanging out with her right-hand man, being friends, which is weird. And then the whole business of it unfolds. He’s a real wildcard of a guy and I’d love to know his whole deal.

Ann: I like the mysteriousness of him. If a later reveal was like in a Lola Montez way, “Actually, he’s from Ireland, he’s not even Italian. He just put on an accent and learned a dance.”

Allison: I wouldn’t be surprised even in the slightest because Roberto, it’s such a spooky name, I love it. 

Ann: So, he had been vaguely, in a Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart way, he’d been vaguely involved with the Northern Rebellion, but no charges were brought against him perhaps because he was pals with Cecil and maybe he was double-dealing. Or maybe he agreed to a deal with Cecil at that time. There’s a part of this story where Ridolfi was taken to Walsingham’s house for interrogation where it’s like, which side is he on? No one really knows.

Allison: Yeah, because if he’s friends with Cecil but Walsingham is like, “I don’t trust your friend,” 100% there’s something messy.

Ann: Yeah, he’s never sent to jail despite being involved in this rebellion for which numerous people were publicly vivisected. Anyway, “His job as a banker was a perfect cover story to crisscross continental Europe in search of sponsors for a plan to unseat Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne as the Queen of England.” This lined up nicely with Mary and T-Dog’s plan, but they needed some huge investors to make this happen because they needed an army, they needed to fund an army of Catholics.

Allison: That’s the thing that I feel like we don’t ever talk about when we’re talking about treason is how expensive it is to do it. Like, you can’t just go, “Ah, I’m going to walk into London and kill Elizabeth and I am Queen now and no one will fight me on that.” You need an army and to get an army you need money to pay your soldiers and your mercenaries, and you need money to feed them, and you need money to house them. Of course, only queens and noblemen ever laid a rebellion, no one else can afford to do it. 

Ann: And that’s part of why… There are so many letters, there’s so much back and forth because it’s not just like, “Hey, these six guys are going to come rescue Mary.” It’s like, “And then what?” The whole thing with Spain and with Rome is they’re all like, “Okay, if England’s Catholics successfully mount a rebellion, we will then bring our soldiers over, but England’s Catholics have to do that first.” But England’s Catholics, just having seen a bunch of themselves be murdered and now it’s illegal to talk about Elizabeth, they’re like, “We’re not going to do that unless we know Spain is coming.” And Spain is like, “We’re not going to come…”

Allison: Right, because if Spain or Rome comes in, that’s a foreign invasion provocation for a war. If you make the first move. You don’t want to make the first move. You want to be like, “These people, I’m supporting them, but this is a homegrown thing. I’m not coming in and staging a religious coup,” which is, like, going to bite you in the butt with probably every other Protestant country in Europe, which is increasingly more of them.

Ann: So, Ridolfi’s job, this is either what he’s doing or what he’s pretending to be doing to catch people. But basically, he needed to get, at this point, a bunch of English Catholics to start another rebellion so that the other countries could come in and not be the aggressors. 

Allison: Or his job was to get them to do it and then tell Elizabeth that they were doing it so that they could get caught because who knows, this man is slippery.

Ann: Exactly. So, the whole thing was discovered in sort of parts. So, letters are being exchanged. There’s a guy called John Leslie, a bishop who had been Mary’s go-between. I think he was, god, there’s so much spy shit, whatever. I think he was going between where Mary was and London because she’s out in the swamp or whatever. Anyway, a letter from Ridolfi to John Leslie, Mary’s guy, was intercepted by Walsingham, this is how they linked Mary to Ridolfi. Then a coded letter from Mary – and we’re going to talk about the codes in the next episode extensively – was discovered in T-Dog’s house under his doormat. 

Allison: Wait, where you hide your house key when your plant waterer is coming? Come on.

Ann: I think T-Dog, a basic thing about spy shit is you read the letter and then you burn it. You don’t just like… T-Dog.

Allison: Burn after reading, that’s what they named the movie. Come on man.

Ann: Yeah. So, this further linked her to the conspiracy. T-Dog was found to have funded Scottish Mary supporters. All that Mary was known to have done was to have borrowed money from Ridolfi. We don’t know if she was involved. The only thing that links her to Ridolfi was he was a banker, and she got some money from him, which he might have contacted her to do that just to make her look guilty. Ridolfi is real shady. 

So anyway, T-Dog was arrested and sent back to the Tower of London. Leslie, the bishop, was apprehended, tortured, and he, under torture– I feel like this is what I would do under torture as well, it’s like, “What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say more?” He just said more than was even true.

Allison: That would be me.

Ann: He was like, “Mary was behind the rebellion where they rip up the Bibles. The Pope is funding everything. A foreign invasion was planned! Mary killed Darnley, she also killed her first husband Francis. She tried to murder Bothwell. She’s planning to kill T-Dog!”

Allison: [laughs] “Do you want more? What else can I tell you?”

Ann: But crucially, he spilled the beans about the treason cushion. 

Allison: Treason cushion! I love that he was so desperate that he was like, “Do you want to hear about the pillows? I don’t know. Let’s talk about that.” 

Ann: So, the embroidery was cited in the trial. This treason cushion was literally entered. “As evidence: This pillow.” Where it’s like, “Explain the symbolism to me.”

Allison: Is this a stag? Uncertain.

Ann: And they’re like, what does this part mean here? And it’s like, “Well, that’s just a hand doing some gardening.” It’s just so funny to be like, “Can you prove that this symbol represents this?” Imagine having that in a court where it’s like, “To me, it’s just a pretty picture.”

Allison: Instead of lawyers you need two English majors yelling at each other about the symbolism.

Ann: Bring in Clare Hunter, she can explain. Mary was not the first royal woman to have embroidery cited in a treason trial, fun fact. The first person where that happened was Margaret Pole from a previous episode of this podcast, I think the Women Locked in Towers.

Allison: What else do you have to do but embroider treason? There’s not a lot of other activities. 

Ann: Yeah. Anyway, Mary didn’t hear about this right away. So, this is like Walsingham is, at points, able to cut her off from some information although more and more of her staff are secretly double agents working for Walsingham, to the point that later on, I think they all are.

Allison: A surprising percentage, yeah.

Ann: Anyway, her security detail was increased at one point Mr. Bess was told to switch her to a different room without windows so she couldn’t climb out. Again, Cecil knows what she does. Just like, don’t give her a room with a window, she will climb out.

Allison: She will tie a sheet together and fall out onto a horse. Do not do this.”

Ann: Yeah. So, Mr. Bess also decreased the amount of her staff, I believe Yung Willy was able to stay as was Mary Seaton. Around the same point, a young man came to the house whose name was Anthony Babington who was a young boy taken in by Mr. Bess as his ward after the death of his dad. So, Anthony Babington, AKA Tony Babs is a little boy on the scene. I feel like at this point, everyone in the house is working for Mary because she needs 16 meals a day and is just like, “Hey, you’re my ward but also, guess what? You’re also going to like…”

Allison: “Can you carry one of the nine courses? There are a lot.”

Ann: Anyway, this is where Tony Babs gets to meet Mary in the first place, he’s just a little boy. So, T-Dog was sentenced to death at a trial where one of the judges was Mr. Bess because there were two nobles in England. It’s either going to be Mr. Bess and it can’t be T-Dog because he’s the one on trial. So, Mary was like, “I didn’t plan this conspiracy, I didn’t approve of this conspiracy, all I want is freedom.” Elizabeth in her way was just like, “Eugh, should I sign T-Dog’s death warrant? Should I not?” She just really, pathologically, she doesn’t want to commit to anything either way.

Allison: Well, she would be courting civil war with the nobles if she’s like, “There’s only one Duke left in England and I killed him, personally.”

Ann: Yeah. It’s relatable in a way that she’s just always frozen with indecision. She just can’t– And she’s kind of like, “If I don’t decide, maybe eventually, this will sort itself out, doo-doo-doo.”

Allison: It’s such a mood, it’s such a mood. That’s how I do my taxes Elizabeth.

Ann: [laughs] What’s the thing with Shakespeare in Love? I don’t know, it just always works out. Yeah.

Allison: It’s a mystery!

Ann: Also, Geoffrey Rush. Anyway, Mary began fasting. Her Catholic faith is really legitimate and strong, it’s where she gets her strength from. She’s fasting and praying, hoping that T-Dog won’t be killed, basically. But you know, when she doesn’t eat that triggers her various health conditions so that is a choice that she made. And the prayers did not help T-Dog, “He was executed and Mary’s right to the English succession was revoked. She was warned that if there was even a hint that she was ever involved in any future plot, she would face trial.” And this is like, even if someone did a plot on her behalf, she would be responsible for that. So, “She was left heartbroken, weeping, and refused to leave her room.” #understandable. 

Allison: That’s such an incredibly worded royal proclamation that even if she didn’t know about it, if someone else was doing it for her, on her behalf, without her knowledge, she was going to be held responsible for it, when, by the way, three countries and a third of the country’s population here are like, “I’m going to do a scheme.” There’s no way out of that.

Ann: Or it’s treason to think Elizabeth might die. So, is it treason if someone thinks they might scheme on behalf of Mary?

Allison: Probably. 

Ann: So, just to end things with a nice thing. So, Mr. Bess came back from being the judge in the trial that killed her fiancé, and he was like, “Hey Mary, do you want to go outside and walk? You haven’t been outside in months and months and you’re really sad. Even though it’s snowy and winter,” he might have thought she would say no but she was just like, “Fuck yes.” And she went outside and romped around and had a nice time and I like that for her. 

And then just to wrap this up, Ridolfi himself went to Paris, got a job working for the Pope [laughs] and then later became a senator in Florence.

Allison: What the fuck was his deal? I would love anyone to tell me.

Ann: It’s wild. So, I knew this was going to be long and this was long, and this is the end of this episode. 

So, a couple of things I’m going to mention. First of all, there are now transcripts of the most recent episodes of Vulgar History available. If you go to and click on the episode where you want to see the transcript, it should just be there for you to see. Thank you very much to Aveline Malek of The Wordary for transcribing a variety of place names, people names and ridiculous nicknames. She does the lord’s work. 

Also, if you want to get your “A Cat Named Hepburn” merch, which you should not be… Oh my gosh, I’m really excited. By the time this episode comes out, I don’t know, I ordered myself one of the pillow covers. I want to take a picture posing actual Hepburn, who is right here right now, with the pillow. That’s my goal. Anyway, the merch is available at Oh, and also, the way it happens is when new merch is added it’s on sale, it’s like 20% off for the first couple of days. I will have just posted the day this episode comes out so you can get your cat merchandise on sale. Anyway, Also, if you live not in the US, anyone can order from, the shipping can be a bit high depending on where you live. If you’re elsewhere, you can get your Hepburn A Cat merch at for better shipping. 

I also have a Patreon page which is where you can get early ad-free access to all episodes. Also, Vulgarpiece Theatre episodes where Allison and our friend Lana, talk about costume dramas. I also do So This Asshole and other special bonus episodes and I will hold up to my promise of if and when I have 500 people, members of the Patreon, I will do So This Asshole John Knox. I think currently I’m at like 400, so we’re getting there. If you want to just, like, tip me over into that, you can get a 7-day free trial. So, if 100 of you all get a 7-day free trial simultaneously and leave, that’s fine and I respect it.

Anyway, I’m also on Instagram. All these pictures that we’ve talked about, there will be a link in the show notes but also on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod, I’m on TikTok @VulgarHistory. Allison, tell everyone about your book which includes Tony Babs, it includes Walsingham.

Allison: Yes. Hepburn’s paw, listener, just came right into the side of our chat and tapped Ann on the cheek which was very sweet. So, she thinks you should buy merch as well. And while you’re shopping you can go for my book, A Tip for the Hangman, featuring Tony Babs, Walsingham, and Mary in all her England schemey glory. You can also pre-order book number two which is Let the Dead Bury the Dead, coming in October. And you can find me and my newsletter and all of my online nonsense at my website,

Ann: So, your newsletter is “Dirtbags Through the Ages,” and I don’t think there’s enough known about Ridolfi to do one about him.

Allison: No. That’s, like, Mysterious Weirdos Through the Ages, which is a very hard newsletter to research but I’m adding some to the list.

Ann: Yeah. I don’t know. He’s such a fascinating person. Anyway, thank you very much everyone for listening to this extremely long episode. We will be back again next week to begin to slowly wrap up this ongoing saga that I ridiculously thought I could cover in four episodes, not true. Anyway, thank you so much for joining me, Allison. Everyone, keep your pants on, tits out, et cetera. 


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and her Greatest Rival by Kate Williams

Embroidering Her Truth: Mary Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter

Imprisoning Mary, Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Mickey Mayhew

Learn more about Allison Epstein and their books at and follow them on IG and Twitter @ rapscallison

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