City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Documents Show Mary Queen of Scots Getting Down to Business


By edg - Posted on 08 March 2019

Signature of Mary Queen of Scots

Documents believed to have been signed by Mary Queen of Scots have recently come to light at the Museum of Edinburgh.

Filed away after being gifted in 1920, the documents were lost in storage until curators unearthed them during recent inventory and conservation work.

The ornately, handwritten documents, carefully dated, numbered and signed, relate to and provide a fascinating insight into the busy commercial life of Edinburgh during the 16th century.

Papers covering markets and the selling of meat sit alongside permits for London salt sellers to operate in the City and for the building of a bulwark (defensive wall) at Leith.

The documents date from 1553 to 1567, and are signed variously by Mary, her then husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, and James, Duke of Chastlerault.

Curators were taking the documents out of the frames they were displayed in many years ago, when the information came to light: two of the documents include watermarks which can only be seen when the paper is held up to the light. One features a goat, the other a hand holding a flower.

“The documents provide us with an amazing bridge to the past,” says Vicky Garrington, History Curator at Museum of Edinburgh.

“It’s incredible to think of Mary Queen of Scots reading through these documents before carefully applying her signature. We all know the story of Scotland’s Queen, her eventful life and eventual execution, but in these documents, we see a different side to Mary. Here, she can be seen carefully managing the everyday affairs of Edinburgh and Scotland. These documents help us to better understand her reign”.

About Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots reigned over Scotland from December 1542 to July 1567. After spending much of her early life in France, she returned to Scotland in August 1561.

Following the murder of her husband King Francis II, she married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in 1561. After Darnley’s murder in 1567 in the Kirk o' Field, in Edinburgh, Mary married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, whose signature appears on one of the documents in this collection.

Following her forced abdication in 1567 and imprisonment in a string of English castles and houses, Mary was eventually beheaded in 1587 at Fotheringay Castle.

The re-discovered documents, which can be viewed online, will remain in safe storage at the Museum of Edinburgh due to their fragile state.

Future plans are to have the documents assessed by a conservator and for further research to be done on them by experts on Mary’s reign, after which the hope is to publicly exhibit them.

The Museum of Edinburgh is open Monday to Sunday, from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free.