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Casket Letters is the name generally given to a group of eight letters and a sequence of irregular sonnets said to have been addressed by Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Earl of Bothwell, between January and April 1566 or 1567. If authentic throughout, they would provide definite proof of Mary's complicity in the murder of her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The letters are, however, only one detail of the whole problem, and even if they are accepted as fake, this fact in itself does not imply that Mary was innocent, as long as other circumstantial evidence is not taken into account.

Political background

After Mary Stuart's flight into England, Elizabeth I ordered an inquiry into the question of whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Darnley. A conference was held in Yorkmarker and later Westminstermarker between October 1568 and January 1569. The accusers were the Scottish Lords who had deposed Mary the year before, and they presented the Casket Letters to underpin their argument. For overriding political reasons, Elizabeth neither wished to convict Mary of murder nor acquit her of the same. So the conference was intended as a political show. The outcome was that the Casket Letters were accepted by the conference as genuine after a study of the handwriting, and of the information contained therein. Yet, as Elizabeth had wished, the inquiry reached the conclusion that nothing was proven.

The Letters were purportedly found by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton in Edinburgh in a silver box engraved with an F (supposedly for Francis II), along with a number of other documents, including the Mary-Bothwell marriage certificate. The originals were probably destroyed in 1584 by Mary's son, King James. Only copies exist, one in French, the others are translations from the French into Scots and English. The nature of these documents—authentic, forged, or only partly forged—has been the subject of much discussion for more than a hundred years.



Bingham, Caroline: Darnley: A Life of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots Constable 1995

Further reading

  • Guy, John: My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots Fourth Estate 2004 ISBN 184115752X
  • Henderson, T. F.: Mary, Queen of Scots 1905
  • Lang, Andrew: The Mystery of Mary Stuart 1904
  • Thomson, G. M.: The Crime of Mary Stuart Hutchinson 1967

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