Last year I went to stay in Northamptonshire. On my way down, having an hour at Peterboro' station, I visited its magnificent old cathedral - the largest and most important Norman building that I have ever seen. I know nothing really about architecture, but I suppose it must have been built just at the Transition period, for all the arches are round, except just across the nave, where they are slightly pointed, probably the better to carry the weight of the tower. The whole effect of the church is most remarkably simple and dignified. When I got home, I looked it up, and found that Peterboro' Cathedral took more than half a century to build - from 1118 to 1193. The eastern aisle, which is Perpendicular, was begun in 1438 and not finished till 1528. Katharine of Arragon was buried there, and her remains are there to this day. Peterboro' stands on the old North road, but though I remember that my mother, in speaking to us as children of her many journeys from London to Newcastle, often talked of York Cathedral, I do not remember her ever having mentioned Peterboro'. This perhaps means that, although an important place, they only changed x horses there in the old posting days; just as we now, in trains, pass the most interesting places, only staying three minutes at the railway station. During my visit to Northamptonshire, I stayed in a most beautiful old Jacobean house, not much spoilt and well maintained. My kind hostess drove me about to see the sights of her neighbourhood, and we went first to the village of Fotheringhay. The name remains, though the castle has ceased to exist where Mary Queen of Scots ended her days. The village has evidently shrunk in importance; the church is very large, and alone retains a certain old-world magnificence. A farmhouse is pointed out as being one in which the soldiers were lodged during the time of the trial. We walked a short distance down narrow lanes, between farm-buildings, to see the site of the old castle. Even when we have read of a certain place in a novel, and afterwards visit it, the scene becomes alive with the imaginary characters of the book and the whole story is at once a reality, as I mentioned before when I visited Brams Hill. How much more is this the case when we stand on a spot where the prominent figures in history lived, and looked with their eyes on what we now see to-day! The general effect of nature never changes; a stream winds as it has always wound, and the long shadows of evening are cast by the sun in the same manner at the same time of year as they were cast three hundred years ago. I had this feeling at its highest pitch when visiting Fotheringhay last autumn. All trace of the castle is absolutely obliterated, except for a huge grass-grown mound, verily a grave. Standing on the mound, it is possible to trace the double moats which surrounded Mary's last prison, and one huge mass of conglomerate stone lies on the surface of the field below. The landscape is very fair - a lovely, winding river crossed by a stone bridge of a more recent date than the one erected by order of Elizabeth after her stay at Fotheringhay and whichfell into ruin.The broad green meadows, the cattle grazing, everything is just as it might have been when Mary arrived, full of forebodings, in September 1586. As the meadows flooded, the fogs of autumn arose and surrounded her, her case becamemore hopeless, and, crippled with rheumatism, she began to lose heart, poor thing! In February came the cruel end, just after her forty-fifth birthday.The story told in so many history books that her son James razed the castle to the ground seems to be a fiction ; for, although his filial affection caused him to move her body to Westminster Abbey from Peterboro' Cathedral, where she had firstbeen buried, it did not extend tothedestructionof thecastle,asthere are documents to show it was standing and in good repair after his death.Its owner, Sir Robert Cotton, removed the woodwork of the hall, where Mary was executed, to Connington Hall, in Huntingdonshire, where it still exists. Froude gives many interesting details of Mary Queen of Scots' last days, but I think it is clear he never visited the place himself, as his description is not quite correct. He says that the village was nearer the river than the castle was; this is not the case. He leaves out the second 'h' in Fotheringhay, and calls the river 'Nen' instead of 'Nene.'Froude, though so notoriously Protestant in his views, givesMary a splendid testimony whenhesays :'In point ofform and grace,Mary Stuart had the advantage of her rival everywhere. Elizabeth, with a general desire to do right, could condescend to poor andmeanmanoeuvres.MaryStuart carried herself,in themidst of her crimes, with a majesty that would have becomethe noblest of sovereigns.'Froude, in the twelfth volume of his history, gives a most interesting description of Mary's dress on thescaffold.It must have been prepared beforehand and required much thought. True woman to the very end, she made the most of her last opportunity of creating an effect. Froude says: 'The lawn veil was lifted carefully off not to disturb the hair, and was hung upon the rail. The black robe was next removed. Below it was a petticoat of crimson velvet. The black jacket followed, and under the jacket was a body of crimson satin. One of her ladies handed her a pair of crimson sleeves, with which she hastily covered her arms; and thus she stood on the black scaffold with the black figures all around her, blood-red from head to foot.' Froude describes how, when she placed her crucifix on a chair, it was seized by one of the executioners. He was made at once to replace it, and everything she had worn was burnt at the huge hall fire before the spectators left the room, every precaution being taken to prevent the keeping of relics. This adds immense interest to the fact that, in the year (about) 1830, an old man digging in the castle grounds found Mary's ring bearing her initials and Darnley's tied with a true-lover's knot. This ring is now to be seen in the Waterton collection at the South Kensington Museum. The supposed explanation of the finding of this ring is that it dropped unperceived from Mary's finger at the time of her execution and was swept up and thrown into the moat with the bloody sawdust. The moats are dry now, but in winter the Nene still floods the lowlands. It is said that many medicinal plants are still found about the castle grounds, and a peculiar thistle is known locally as 'Queen Mary's Tears.'
Another of the places in the neighbourhood which I went to see was the well-known Kirby Hall, the fairest and most Italian of Elizabethan houses. It has shared, in these latter days, the fate of Fotheringhay in the time of Charles I. The owners, I suppose, finding it expensive to keep in repair, removed all the valuables, including the panelling and chimneypieces, and allowed this beautiful Elizabethan gem to fall into decay. Oh, the pity of it! In Jones's 'Views of the Seats, Mansions and Castles of England,'published in 1830, he gives two views of Kirby Hall, taken, in my opinion, from the least beautiful sides, and in no way doing the house justice. But these prints represent the house as well-roofed and showing no signs of ruin. No doubt fifty years ago a comparatively small sum would have kept it weather-tight and preserved it. Now thousands of pounds would hardly restore it. This magnificent pile of buildings was founded by one of Elizabeth's favourites, Sir Christopher Hatton. The guide-books attribute the early part of the building to that somewhat mythical genius, John Thorne, who gets the credit of having designed all the best houses in England for about a hundred years. However much he may have been consulted about the planning of this house, it is very different and far more remote and Italian in style than either Holland House or Bram's Hill. A later owner called in Inigo Jones to ' modernise and improve ' it. Sir Christopher Hatton died a bachelor before Elizabeth, in 1591, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.
I wonder in what the wealth of England consisted in Tudor times that enabled people to build such splendid residences. In Suffolk, I am told, there were rich clothiers and woollen merchants. Perhaps it was the same in Northamptonshire, where the pastures are very rich. Or shall we dare to think that the money was mostly ground out of the wretched peasantry of the country ? I noticed, driving about in Northamptonshire, several large old pigeon-houses like those that existed in France, and which were part cause of the Great Revolu-tion. The pigeons fed on the grain sown by the peasants, and the peasants were paid in kind by gifts of these same pigeons.