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Mary Queen of Scots

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Mary, Queen of Scots

In November 1569, a Catholic uprising in the north prompted Queen Elizabeth I to order the movement of Mary Queen of Scots from her quarters at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, to the walled city of Coventry. Mary was to remain in Coventry until early January 1570, when she was returned to Tutbury following defeat of the Catholic rebels.

Remarkably the original letter from Queen Elizabeth I, requesting the assistance of the mayor and bailiffs of Coventry in this matter, survives in the city archives (stored at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum).

The exact location of Mary's confinement in Coventry has been debated for many years, and it is generally accepted that she was moved between different lodgings during her time in the city. It is known that, initially, Mary was taken to the city's largest tavern, the Bull Inn, although later Elizabeth ordered that Mary be moved from the 'common inn', regarding this choice as neither appropriate for a Queen, nor sufficiently secure. Letters from one of her 'jailors', the Earl of Huntingdon, show his frustration at not being able to find anywhere large enough to accommodate Mary, her attendant servants and the guards under one roof. Letters from Mary herself at this time complain about the number of servants in her retinue being reduced, and she apologises for having to dictate one letter owing to being too weak to write it herself through lack of air and exercise.

It is known that, for a brief period, Mary was detained at the Guildhall, and, based on the cell-like appearance of the small Tower Room at the Guildhall (also known, of course, as the Mary Queen of Scots Room), popular tradition identifies this as the location of her captivity. It should be remembered, however, that Mary was a prisoner not as a punishment, but to keep her out of sight of those who might harm her as a threat to the nation, or see her as a rallying point for an overthrow of Elizabeth. As a Queen, Mary would still have been treated respectfully, and records from the time suggest that she may actually have been held in the Old Mayoress's Parlour (now known as the Drapers' Room), which had the luxury of an adjoining chamber and would have been far more befitting of her status. 

The room traditionally referred to as the 'Mary Queen of Scots Room' forms the upper storey of a strong, three-storey tower known as 'Caesar's Tower', which dates to the earliest building phases of the Guildhall, and may even be built on the foundations of an earlier structure associated with the ruined Coventry Castle.