Queen Elizabeth I is toying with a marriage proposal from a French prince when her court asks what she intends to do about her cousin Mary Stuart, former Queen of France and then of Scotland, who has been condemned to death for conspiring against Elizabeth. Talbot, who hosted Mary Stuart during the first part of her long house arrest in England, encourages Elizabeth to be lenient, but Elizabeth’s trusted advisor Cecil fears that Mary is a threat to Elizabeth’s throne. Talbot then asks Leicester, Elizabeth’s favorite, to intercede on behalf of Mary, whom Talbot and Leicester both love. In the duet “Era d’amor l’immagine,” Leicester begs Elizabeth to meet Mary face to face. Reluctantly, she agrees.
Accompanied by her attendant, Hannah, Mary enjoys the park of the castle where she is imprisoned and recalls her happy childhood in France (aria: “O nube che lieve”). Leicester