Mary, Queen of Scots About the exhibition Arguably the most famous and controversial figure in Scottish history, Mary Stewart has become something of an enigma. Intrigue and romance have often obscured the hard facts of her life and reign. This exhibition aims to shed new light on her story. The only daughter of the late James V of the ruling Stewart dynasty, Mary became Queen of Scots at only six days of age. She reigned from 1542 until her forced abdication in 1567. After 19 years as a prisoner of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, Mary was executed on 8 February 1587. Unlike Elizabeth, there was never any doubt that Mary would be a queen. Born in the middle of the momentous 16th century, Mary was to play her own significant part in this dramatic era. The expectation that she was born to rule extended to her burning ambition to be named as Elizabeth’s heir to the throne of England. This desire came to dominate Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth and, ultimately, it would prove to be a dangerous obsession which would bring about her death. This is the first exhibition on the life and times of Mary to bring together objects from a wide variety of media, including jewellery, textiles, furniture, paintings, drawings, maps and documents to illustrate Mary’s story, and the wider world in which she lived. This comprehensive selection of around 200 objects has been drawn from the collections of National Museums Scotland, augmented with many loans from major public collections in Scotland, England and France. To further enrich the exhibition a number of key loans have been drawn from private collections, often from families with direct links to Mary. A large proportion of these loans have never before been on public display in Scotland. In my end is my beginning The Blairs Memorial Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots. © Blairs Museum Trust The exhibition is divided into nine sections, encompassing episodes in Mary’s life and casting light on the thrilling, and often dangerous, times in which she lived. The introductory area is dominated by a single object: the Blairs Memorial Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots. One of the most iconic images of Mary, it was commissioned by Elizabeth Curle, one of Mary’s closest companions during the final years of her English captivity. It represents Mary in preparation for her Catholic martyrdom on the executioner’s block. Towards the end of her life, during her time in captivity as Elizabeth’s prisoner, Mary embroidered the following epitaph-like motto: “In my end is my beginning”. This has proved to be somewhat prophetic. Even more than 400 years after her death, Mary’s legacy still provokes passionate and heated debate: was she a willing agent or a wronged victim in some of the more controversial episodes of her life? Auld and New Alliances This model of the Michael, James IV’s huge warship, reveals the aspirations of Scotland’s Renaissance monarchs. Early-modern Europe was dominated by large dynastic monarchies which sought alliances with each other to further their power. Marriage was a key element in cementing these alliances, and Mary was no exception. Despite the fact that Scotland was the poorer relation of the major European powers, Mary was important dynastically. She was used as a marriage pawn, first with England and then, more successfully, with France. In a section of the exhibition known as Auld and New Alliances, we consider Scotland’s place in Europe, reminding our visitors that both James IV and James V saw themselves as Renaissance princes, intimately connected to events in Europe. Renaissance and Reformation Mary’s Europe was experiencing the great ferment of two far-reaching changes in society: the Renaissance, and the Reformation. The former had a huge impact on art, architecture, literature, philosophy and science, and mainly affected Europe’s literate elite, while the Reformation was a dramatic revolution in religion. These movements influenced not only everyday life, but also dramatically transformed European geopolitics. The continent was now divided into two hostile camps: Catholic and Protestant. In Scotland, France and England, Mary was a contemporary of some of the most influential personalities of the Renaissance era. Along with Catherine de Medici, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I, Mary was one of a small group of women, Renaissance queens who – in an era still largely dominated by men – wielded considerable power. In the exhibition, an audio-visual programme compares the relative merits, demerits and strengths of six of these remarkable women. Costume and jewellery The Penicuik jewels, said to have been given to one of her supporters during her captivity, jewels being useful gifts to bind supporters to the Crown. Mary was a striking woman who knew how to present an eye-catching and regal appearance. Tall, beautiful and graceful, with auburn hair and a fine, pale complexion, even one of her archenemies, the Protestant Reformer John Knox, described her features as “pleasing”. Raised in one of the most sophisticated and glittering courts in Europe, she had access to the very latest Renaissance fashions. She loved fine clothing and amassed a spectacular wardrobe of elegant and fashionable gowns. The exhibition includes costume models and drawings by Jasper Conran for a production of Donizetti’s tragic opera, Maria Stuarda, which show how contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the costume of Mary’s era. Mary owned a spectacular collection of jewellery. Jewels were essential currency for a 16th-century monarch: they displayed the majesty of monarchy and could be sold to raise cash to pay armies or debts. From our own collections, the gold necklace, locket and pendant, known collectively as the Penicuik jewels, are exquisite examples of some of the finest pieces of jewellery associated with Mary. Life and Deathline A central feature of the exhibition is a graphic Lifeline, which presents some of the main events and personalities of Mary’s life both in France and Scotland. It also features objects with close links to her, including two beautiful enamels, by Léonard Limosin, of her Guise uncles, Charles and Francis, the younger brothers of her mother, Mary of Guise. In the latter stages of the exhibition, the Lifeline becomes the Deathline, as we count down the last 19 years of her captivity towards her execution. We include objects which testify to Mary’s Catholic faith, such as a stunningly illustrated Books of Hours and the famous Holy Thorn Reliquary from Stonyhurst College. Prime suspect The Memorial of Lord Darnley, 1567-68. © Royal Collection Trust / @ 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The exhibition tells the story of the notorious event which took place in the small hours of 10 February 1567. An enormous explosion destroyed the lodgings at Kirk o’ Field in which Darnley, Mary’s husband and King Consort, was staying. The bodies of Darnley and his servant were found in the rubble of the building. Darnley had been murdered in mysterious circumstances, and Mary herself was implicated in the plot. The prime suspect was the man who was to become Mary’s third husband: James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. How Mary dealt with this incident sealed her fate. Here at the National Museum of Scotland we have the advantage of a tremendous sense of place, as the crime scene is only a few hundred yards from the exhibition gallery. Rejoice don’t weep The exhibition concludes with a section entitled Rejoice don’t weep, words of comfort spoken by Mary to one of her servants as she faced execution. In a sense Mary won through in the end; her son James VI of Scots became James I of England on the death of Elizabeth in 1603. Thus, every reigning British monarch since then has been descended from Mary, rather than from Elizabeth, who died childless. The centrepiece of this final area is the replica of Mary’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. A portrait by the court painter, John de Critz, of James from around the time of his Coronation gazes down on his mother’s tomb. An audio-visual presentation of the British Royal Family’s genealogical tree further emphasises their lineage back to Mary. So perhaps we can indeed agree with Mary’s prophetic epitaph: “In my end is my beginning”.