8th February 1587
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings
Mary, Queen of Scots, wore Guernsey stockings for her beheading. She was executed on 8 February 1587, and the socks themselves didn’t only use wool from Guernsey, but were knitted on the island, too.
She had been convicted in October the previous year of plotting the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I, and imprisoned. Elizabeth desperately wanted not to execute Mary. The two were related, after all, and Mary had many supporters, who might rise up if she was killed. She could have been seen as a martyr for the Scottish cause, and her religion.
However, the longer she kept her in prison, the more serious the issue grew. Mary was passing coded messages out of the prison which, unknown to her and her messengers, were being intercepted. The code itself wasn’t particularly strong, and her messages were leaking out.
Finally, unable to come up with any suitable alternative, Elizabeth had no choice but to order Mary’s death. She signed the death warrant on 1st February – one week before she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamtonshire.
Executions – particularly royal ones – often attracted a crowd, and it seems that Mary had dressed to impress. Aside from the stockings, she wore a black bodice, and crimson-brown petticoat and sleeves.
These, along with the stockings, were burnt after the execution. So, too, was a wig, that no-one had known she was wearing. It only became apparent when the executioner picked up her head by the hair and it fell away, leaving the wig in his hand. Mary didn’t have the full head of ginger hair that everyone thought, but actually short grey hair.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Mary had been wearing Guernsey stockings upon her execution, as contemporary reports suggest that both she and Elizabeth had worn Guernsey knitwear during their lifetime. Elizabeth’s were embroidered with silk, as befitting her position.