We shall not enter into a long discussion concerning the authenticity of these letters: We shall only remark in general, that the chief objections against them are, that they are supposed to have passed through the earl of Morton's hands, the least scrupulous of all Mary's enemies; and that they are, to the last degree, indecent, and even somewhat inelegant, such as it is not likely she would write. But to these presumptions we may oppose the following considerations. (1.) Though it be not difficult to counterfeit a subscription, it is very difficult, and almost impossible, to counterfeit several pages, so as to resemble exactly the hand-writing of any person. These letters were examined and compared with Mary's hand-writing, by the English privy-council, and by a great many of the nobility, among whom were several partizans of that princess. They might have been examined by the bishop of Ross, Herreis, and others of Mary's commissioners. The regent must have expected, that they would be very critically examined by them: And had they not been able to stand that test, he was only preparing a scene of confusion to himself. Bishop Lesly expressly declines the comparing of the hands, which he calls no legal proof, Goodall, vol. ii. p. 389. (2.) The letters are very long, much longer than they needed to have been, in order to serve the purposes of Mary's enemies; a circumstance, which encreased the difficulty, and exposed any forgery the more to the risk of detection. (3.) They are not so gross and palpable, as forgeries commonly are; for they still left a pretext for Mary's friends to assert, that their meaning was strained to make them appear criminal; see Goodall, vol. ii. p. 361. (4.) There is a long contract of marriage, said to be written by the earl of Huntley, and signed by the queen, before Bothwell's acquital. Would Morton, without any necessity, have thus doubled the difficulties of the forgery, and the danger of detection? (5.) The letters are indiscreet; but such was apparently Mary's conduct at that time: They are inelegant; but they have a careless, natural air, like letters hastily written between familiar friends. (6.) They contain such a variety of particular circumstances, as nobody could have thought of inventing, especially as they must necessarily have afforded her many means of detection. (7.) We have not the originals of the letters, which were in French: We have only a Scotch and Latin translation from the original, and a French translation professedly done from the Latin. Now it is remarkable, that the Scotch translation is full of Gallicisms, and is clearly a translation from a French original: Such as make fault, faire des fautes; make it seem that I believe, faire semblant de le croire; make brek, faire breche; this is my first journay, c'est ma premiere journée; have you not desire to laugh, n'avez vous pas envie de rire; the place will hald unto the death, la place tiendra jusqu'â la mort; he may not come forth of the house this long time, il ne peut pas sortir du logis de long-tems; to make me advertisement, faire m'avertir; put order to it, mettre ordre a cela; discharge your heart, decharger votre coeur; make gud watch, faites bonne garde, &c. (8.) There is a conversation which she mentions, between herself and the king one evening: But Murray produced before the English commissioners, the testimony of one Crawford, a gentleman of the Earl of Lenox, who swore, that the king, on her departure from him, gave him an account of the same conversation. (9.) There seems very little reason why Murray and his associates should run the risk of such dangerous forgery, which must have rendered them infamous, if detected; since their cause, from Mary's known conduct, even without these letters, was sufficiently good and justifiable. (10.) Murray exposed these letters to the examination of persons qualified to judge of them: the Scotch council, the Scotch parliament, queen Elizabeth and her council, who were possessed of a great number of Mary's genuine letters. (11.) He gave Mary herself an opportunity of refuting and exposing him, if she had chosen to lay hold of it. (12.) The letters tally so well with all the other parts of her conduct during that transaction, that these proofs throw the strongest light on each other. (13.) The duke of Norfolk, who had examined these papers, and who favoured so much the queen of Scots, that he intended to marry her, and in the end lost his life in her cause, yet believed them authentic, and was fully convinced of her guilt. This appears not only from his letters above mentioned, to queen Elizabeth and her ministers, but by his secret acknowledgment to Banister, his most trusty confident. See State Trials, vol. i. p. 81. In the conferences between the duke, secretary Lidington, and the bishop of Ross, all of them zealous partizans of that princess, the same thing is always taken for granted. Ibid. p. 74, 75. See farther MS. in the Advocate's library. A. 3, 28. p. 314. from Cott. lib. Calig. c. 9. Indeed, the duke's full persuasion of Mary's guilt, without the least doubt or hesitation, could not have had place, if he had found Lidington or the bishop of Ross of a different opinion, or if they had ever told him that these letters were forged. It is to be remarked, that Lidington, being one of the accomplices, knew the whole bottom of the conspiracy against king Henry, and was, besides, a man of such penetration, that nothing could escape him in such interesting events. (14.) I need not repeat the presumption drawn from Mary's refusal to answer. The only excuse for her silence, is, she suspected Elizabeth to be a partial judge: It was not, indeed, the interest of that princess to acquit and justify her rival and competitor; and we accordingly find that Lidington, from the secret information of the duke of Norfolk, informed Mary, by the bishop of Ross, that the queen of England never meant to come to a decision; but only to get into her hands the proofs of Mary's guilt, in order to blast her character: See State Trials, vol. i. p. 77. But this was a better reason for declining the conference altogether than for breaking it off, on frivolous pretences, the very moment the chief accusation was unexpectedly opened against her. Though she could not expect Elizabeth's final decision in her favour, it was of importance to give a satisfactory answer, if she had any, to the accusation of the Scotch commissioners. That answer could have been dispersed for the satisfaction of the public, of foreign nations, and of posterity. And surely after the accusation and proofs were in queen Elizabeth's hands, it could do no harm to give in the answers. Mary's information, that the queen never intended to come to a decision, could be no obstacle to her justification. (15.) The very disappearance of these letters, is a presumption of their authenticity. That event can be accounted for no way but from the care of king James's friends, who were desirous to destroy every proof of his mother's crimes. The disappearance of Morton's narrative, and of Crawford's evidence, from the Cotton library, Calig. c. 1. must have proceeded from a like cause. See MS. in the Advocates' library, A. 3. 29. p. 88.
I find an objection made to the authenticity of the letters, drawn from the vote of the Scotch privy-council, which affirms the letters to be written and subscribed by queen Mary's own hand; whereas the copies given in to the parliament, a few days after, were only written, not subscribed. See Goodall, vol. ii. p. 64, 67. But it is not considered, that this circumstance is of no matter of force: There were certainly letters, true or false, laid before the council; and whether the letters were true or false, this mistake proceeds equally from the inaccuracy or blunder of the clerk. The mistake may be accounted for: The letters were only written by her: The second contract with Bothwell was only subscribed. A proper accurate distinction was not made; and they are all said to be written and subscribed. A late writer, Mr. Goodall, has endeavoured to prove, that these letters clash with chronology, and that the queen was not in the places mentioned in the letters, on the days there assigned: To confirm this, he produces charters and other deeds signed by the queen, where the date and place do not agree with the letters. But it is well known, that the date of charters, and such like grants, is no proof of the real day on which they were signed by the sovereign. Papers of that kind commonly pass through different offices: The date is affixed by the first office; and may precede very long the day of the signature.
The account given by Morton of the manner in which the papers came into his hands, is very natural. When he gave it to the English commissioners, he had reason to think it would be canvassed with all the severity of able adversaries, interested in the highest degree to refute it. It is probable, that he could have confirmed it by many circumstances and testimonies; since they declined the contest.
The sonnets are inelegant; insomuch, that both Brantome and Ronsard, who knew queen Mary's style, were assured, when they saw them, that they could not be of her composition. Jebb, vol. ii. p. 478. But no person is equal in his productions, especially one whose style is so little formed as Mary's must be supposed to be. Not to mention, that such dangerous and criminal enterprizes leave little tranquillity of mind for elegant, poetical compositions.
In a word, queen Mary might easily have conducted the whole conspiracy against her husband, without opening her mind to any one person except Bothwel, and without writing a scrap of paper about it; but it was very difficult to have conducted it so that her conduct should not betray her to men of discernment. In the present case, her conduct was so gross as to betray her to every body; and fortune threw into her enemies' hands, papers by which they could convict her. The same infatuation and imprudence, which happily is the usual attendant of great crimes, will account for both. It is proper to observe, that there is not one circumstance of the foregoing narrative, contained in the history, that is taken from Knox, Buchanan, or even Thuanus, or indeed, from any suspected authority.