Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, has been imprisoned by the English queen Elizabeth I for several years and is to be executed for high treason. While she is desperately trying to avert the already proclaimed death sentence, various political camps are grappling for either amnesty or execution. Elizabeth I wavers, but after a failed murder conspiracy and an attempt at freeing the prisoner, she finally signs the execution warrant.
After an adventurous life, first as Queen of Scotland and then in French exile, Mary Stuart sought asylum with Elizabeth, who was also of Tudor heritage, and became a pawn in the wars of religion between Protestantism and Catholicism. Elizabeth I, after all, is at loggerheads with the Catholic Church, who consider Mary to be the rightful heir to the throne. And to make things worse, both women have desired the same man since youth: Lord Leicester.
In this royal drama, Friedrich Schiller not only casts a skeptical eye on the relationship between power and morality, but renders a powerful description of how personal interests can influence both.