What should Elizabeth do with Mary?

Mary was a clear threat to Elizabeth, and potentially England, but Elizabeth had to think carefully about what to do, weighing up the potential political consequences of each option. These included:

Elizabeth's options for dealing with Mary Queen of Scots
  • Getting Mary out of the country - sending Mary back to Scotland or France could backfire, allowing her to gather more support to challenge Elizabeth.
  • Keeping Mary imprisoned – this would reduce the risk of Mary gathering more support back in Scotland or France and allow Elizabeth to keep tight control. But unlawfully imprisoning Mary could provoke international outcry and attacks anyway.
  • Executing Mary – whilst this would remove the figurehead for Catholic challengers, it could also provoke international attacks and set a precedent for killing a queen.

In the short term Elizabeth decided to keep Mary as a closely guarded royal ‘guest’, moving her from castle to castle so she would not be the focus of plots.

MPs advise execution

Alongside Mary’s challenge, Elizabeth faced many challenges and plots against her. Most of them were led by Catholics aiming to get Mary on the throne and return England to Catholic rule. By 1572 MPs were pressurising Elizabeth to have Mary executed in order to keep England secure.