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Church of England buys Mary's death warrant - Mary Queen of Scots

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News.com.au - Australia

Church of England buys Mary's death warrant

February 20, 2008

From correspondents in London

Mary, a Catholic who claimed the Scottish and English crowns, was executed in 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle outside London on the order of her Protestant cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

Dressed in scarlet, a Catholic colour of martyrdom, with her pet dog hidden among her skirts, legend has it that it took two blows of the executioner's axe to kill her.

The warrant, a contemporaneous copy of the lost original, was purchased from a California auction house by the Lambeth Palace Library for $A79,409, with the sum raised from heritage organisations and wealthy benefactors.

"(We're) delighted to have played a part in saving this document for the nation," said Richard Palmer, a librarian and archivist at the library.

"The warrant is now reunited with the papers with which it belongs and accessible for the benefit of all."

Elizabeth is said to have reluctantly signed the death warrant at the behest of her privy council, who feared that having another queen living in England, albeit imprisoned, was a threat to Elizabeth's legitimacy.

"She (Elizabeth) was prevaricating. To execute a monarch was such a dramatic thing in international politics," Mr Palmer said.

Originally purchased by an American collector, the warrant had been due to leave Britain last year, but an export ban was imposed after the British Library said the manuscript was "so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune".

The warrant is a duplicate copy, complete with the annotations of the then principal clerk to the privy council.

The manuscript instructs Henry Grey, the sixth Earl of Kent and one of two commissioners tasked with the execution, to "repair to our Castle of Fotheringhaye where the said queene of Scottes is in custodie and cause by your commaundement execution to be don uppon her person".

The warrant now joins the covering letter sent to Grey by the council, which is already in the Lambeth Library.

The library is in talks with Scottish institutions about a tour of the collection, a potent part of Scotland's history.

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