History of The Queen's Head

The Queens Head Inn through history should be associated with Mary Queen of Scots, however, the wrong picture was hung recently (2006 DJW) of Queen Elizabeth 1.

The portrait dates from around C1600 and is known as the Coronation portrait to commemorate Elizabeth's accesion to the throne in 1558.

It must have been difficult for Inn keepers of the time to chose names for their premises as they did not want to be seen as being disrespectful to the landowners whose land the Inn was built, and as Queen Elizabeth 1 at the time owned both Nassington and Fotheringhay, the Queens Head must have been seen as a safe bet as a name for the Inn and may relate to her being the "head of the nation" at the time. (just a guess!!)

It was thought that the Hotel was originally named after Mary Queen of Scots due to her execution at nearby Fotheringhay, whereby she was beheaded, hence the Queens Head!

Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1 never actually met during their lifetime despite being Cousins.

Elizabeth was always suspicious of Mary as she regarded her as the true heir to the throne as she had a truer Royal lineage than Elizabeth. The closest they ever came to each other was when Mary was at Fotheringhay in 1586 for her trial and subsequent execution. Mary was transferred to the Earl of Huntingdon's (Henry Hastings) estate in Ashby-de-la-Zouch prior to her journey to Fotheringhay for her trial and subsequent execution.

The route from Ashby may have taken her through Leicester along what is now the A47 which joins the A1, or the Great North Road, at Wansford. Local history tells that Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the Haycock Hotel at Wansford prior to her arriving at Fotheringhay Castle.

The Haycock Hotel is situated alongside the Great North Road (A1) and was a substantial coaching Inn and an obvious resting place for Mary en-route to Fotheringhay. The route from Wansford to Fotheringhay passes through Nassington and ironically past the Queens Head Hotel(Inn), the very Inn that was/is named after her cousin, Queen Elizabeth 1, the very same person that signed her death warrant, whether this was noted or noticed by the doomed Royal or her entourage may never be known.

Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Fotherighay Castle on the 25th September 1586, so it can be assumed that this was the date that she passed the Queens Head Hotel. Her trial commenced on 14th October 1586 and Queen Elizabeth sent her a letter (1) at the beginning of the trial, the trial lasted only two days where Mary was found guilty and sentenced to death, Queen Elizabeth 1 eventually signed her Death Warrant on the 1st February 1857.

It is said that Queen Elizabeth was misled by her council and that the information she was given that finally convinced her to sign the death warrant was not entirely truthful and that she was "grief stricken" when she found this out after the execution had taken place, a letter (2) to Mary's son King Jame IV of Scotland where she asserts her innocence of his mother death, from Queen Elizabeth seems to bear testament to this, but others seem to think that Elizabeth had orchestrated the whole affair herself, Mary was finally executed in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle on February 8th 1857.

Her body was not buried and for some weeks lay in a lead casket at the Castle before being eventually buried. Some of her internal organs were said to have been buried in an unknown place within the Castle grounds.
Queen Elizabeth 1 eventually sold both Nassington and Fotheringhay in what is believed to be an attempt to distance herself from Mary Queen of Scots execution.

(1) To Mary, Queen of Scots, October 1586
You have in various ways and manners attempted to take my life and to bring my kingdom to destruction by bloodshed. I have never proceeded so harshly against you, but have, on the contrary, protected and maintained you like myself. These treasons will be proved to you and all made manifest. Yet it is my will, that you answer the nobles and peers of the kingdom as if I were myself present. I therefore require, charge, and command that you make answer for I have been well informed of your arrogance.

Act plainly without reserve, and you will sooner be able to obtain favour of me.


(2) To King James VI of Scotland, 14th February 1587
My dear Brother, I would you knew (though not felt) the extreme dolor that overwhelms my mind, for that miserable accident which (far contrary to my meaning) hath befallen. I have now sent this kinsman of mine, whom ere now it hath pleased you to favour, to instruct you truly of that which is too irksome for my pen to tell you. I beseech you that as God and many more know, how innocent I am in this case : so you will believe me, that if I had bid aught I would have bid by it. I am not so base minded that fear of any living creature or Prince should make me so afraid to do that were just; or done, to deny the same. I am not of so base a lineage, nor carry so vile a mind. But, as not to disguise, fits not a King, so will I never dissemble my actions, but cause them show even as I meant them. Thus assuring yourself of me, that as I know this was deserved, yet if I had meant it I would never lay it on others' shoulders; no more will I not damnify myself that thought it not.

The circumstance it may please you to have of this bearer. And for your part, think you have not in the world a more loving kinswoman, nor a more dear friend than myself; nor any that will watch more carefully to preserve you and your estate. And who shall otherwise persuade you, judge them more partial to others than you. And thus in haste I leave to trouble you:  beseeching God to send you a long reign.

Your most assured loving sister and cousin,

Elizabeth R.

February 8 1587

Mary, Queen of Scots is beheaded at Fotheringhay

Nothing but a grassy mound remains nowadays to mark the site of the Great Hall of Fotheringhay Castle but in 1587 this was the impressive scene of legalised royal murder. True, Mary did pose a threat to Elizabeth I. True, she did appear to be plotting to overthrow the Virgin Queen. Nevertheless, execution is murder, however it is authorised. Elizabeth had signed the document only days before and her advisers were only too ready to act swiftly in case she changed her mind.

The actual execution took place shortly after 8.00a.m. witnessed by about three hundred spectators. Mary herself was calm and dignified, remarking to her attendant ladies, 'Thou hast cause rather to joy than to mourn, for now shalt thou see Mary Stuart’s troubles receive their long expected end'.

She was helped to undress down to her satin bodice and scarlet velvet petticoat, and when the executioner asked her forgiveness she granted it, saying 'I hope you shall make an end of all my troubles.' However, it took the poor man two strokes of the axe, and it was reported that the queen's lips were still moving even quarter of an hour afterwards. Then, as her head was lifted up for all to view, her cap and red wig fell off, revealing surprisingly short cropped grey hair.

A pathetic incident then ensued. According to one account, as the executioner bent down to take off her stockings (he had orders that her body was to be stripped, so that no souveniers should remain to be kept as relics):

...he found her little dog under her coat, which, being put from thence, went and laid himself down betwixt her head and body, and being besmeared with her blood, was caused to be washed, as were other things were on any blood was. The executioners were dismissed with fees, not having any thing that was hers. Her body, with the head, was conveyed into the great chamber by the sheriff, where it was by the chirurgeon embalmed until its interment.

Her great lead coffin was not taken for burial in Peterborough Cathedral until July 30 - a delay of almost six months.

Mary Queen of Scots