Mary, Queen of Scots suffered betrayal, torment and imprisonment - now, as two dramas tell her story, forensic experts recreate what she really looked like
We imagine her dressed in martyr’s black, with a gold cross and a Catholic rosary around her doomed neck.
And when Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in Scotland from France in 1561 she did indeed own more than 20 lavish black gowns, which were the height of French fashion.
But she wasn’t always dressed in black; she had gowns of gold and silver, carnation and crimson; a blue satin gown embroidered with silver palm trees. Indeed, it took 12 ships to carry all her clothes, furniture and gold and silver plate.
Mary was 18 and a beautiful widow. Queen of Scotland by birth – she had acceded the throne at just six days old on the death of her father James V of Scotland – she was also dowager Queen of France by marriage, since the death of her husband, Francis II, eight months previously.
We imagine Mary Queen of Scots dressed in martyr's black, with a gold cross and a Catholic rosary around her doomed neck
And so began seven hectic years, during which Mary would experience betrayal, her second husband’s assassination, possible premarital rape by her ruthless third husband, then civil war... culminating in imprisonment for 19 years and her execution at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, ordered by her cousin Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen of England.
Mary’s dramatic story still resonates and now a younger generation is about to be beguiled as a new film and TV series re-examine her life. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan is set to play her in Mary Queen Of Scots next year, while former Neighbours actress Adelaide Kane takes the role in TV drama Reign, premiering on US networks this autumn and due to air here afterwards.
Meanwhile, a new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh tells Mary’s story through her intimate treasures.
There’s a letter from Mary, aged eight, signed with a little girl’s shaky signature, to her mother in Scotland from the French court where Mary was brought up until she was old enough to marry the then Prince Francis; there are family jewels; and a wardrobe where she may have stored those magnificent gowns.
Adelaide Kane as the queen in Reign
No contemporary portrait survives from Mary’s turbulent years in Scotland. But facial anthropologist Professor Caroline Wilkinson – who reconstructed the face of Richard III recently – was commissioned to create a possible likeness of Mary for the exhibition, working from portraits of her painted before and after that time.
Her features, including her strong nose and chin, pale skin and red hair, were put into 3D modelling software which adjusted the image for her age – about 25 – and the ways in which a person’s skin and muscle tone are affected by stress. The result shows a woman still young, but with signs of severe strain. ‘Mary is beset by troubles and you can see it in her features,’ explains curator George Dalgleish. ‘She looks older than she is.’
No wonder Mary’s cares were etched on her face. As a young widow, she had to remarry to produce an heir, and in her handsome cousin Lord Darnley she found a new husband who strengthened her claim to the English throne.
Only 19, Darnley was fun; together, the couple enjoyed incognito evenings out, with Mary dressed as a man. But he was vain, petulant – and ambitious to be more than King Consort. He desired the Crown Matrimonial, which would give him equal status with Mary.
When she refused, his friends insinuated she was having an affair with her secretary, David Rizzio. On 9 March 1566, Rizzio was murdered in the presence of Mary – by then five months pregnant – as they dined at Holyrood Palace. Darnley, emerging from behind a tapestry, seized Mary to restrain her as Rizzio was stabbed by a band of conspirators.
A few months later she gave birth to a healthy baby, the future James VI of Scotland and I of England. But Darnley was a problem; it was impossible to divorce him in the eyes of the Church, or to seek an annulment that would render her only child illegitimate.
Then, a year later, Darnley was murdered by the Earl of Bothwell, who within weeks had contrived his own divorce to become Mary’s third husband. At the time, Mary and Darnley had effected a marital truce. But on the night of 9 February, 1567, the Old Provost’s Lodging in Edinburgh, where Darnley was staying, was reduced to rubble in an explosion.
Next morning two corpses were found in a garden below – Darnley, in his nightshirt, and his valet… but their bodies were unmarked. They must have escaped before the explosion but then been killed, possibly by asphyxiation, by Bothwell’s men. The exhibition has a fascinating contemporary crime scene reconstruction of the site, sketched for Queen Elizabeth’s statesman William Cecil by one of his spies.
Fearing for herself and her child, Mary agreed to wed Bothwell, who’d allegedly raped her so she’d have to marry him to save her honour. Now the Scottish lords were jealous of Bothwell, and Mary was on a rollercoaster to ruin. She escaped to England in May 1568, hoping for sympathy from Elizabeth – who arrested her. Ahead lay 19 years in captivity. But already her suffering had begun to tell on her face.
The exhibition is at the National Museum of Scotland until 17 November, National Museums Scotland.
Read more: Mary, Queen of Scots suffered betrayal, torment and imprisonment - now, as two dramas tell her story, forensic experts recreate what she really looked like | Mail Online
I'd love to go and see that exhibition. Sounds pretty interesting.