In My End Is My Beginning – The National Museum of Scotland’s Exhibition on Mary Queen of Scots

The exhibition Opener the Blair Memorial Portrait of Marie, Queen of the Scots.

The exhibition Opener the Blair Memorial Portrait of Marie, Queen of the Scots.

For those of use who have studied history, we have come across many spellbinding and interesting characters who have left there mark on both the national and international historical stage; but there are a few of these characters who get under our skin – Mary Queen of Scots, is one of those historical figures for me.

 

Mary Stuart, or Marie as she signed herself, was one of the central themes in my undergraduate dissertation and for an academic year she was a constant presence in my life – I grew to know this woman her life story, her bravery and choices, her passions, her faith and her optimism.

The National Museum of Scotland accepts the Art Fund Card for this exhibition which is half price to card holders. A quick note about the museum itself, it is like an amalgamation of the BritishMuseum, ScienceMuseum and the Ashmolean in Oxford all in one space. The main hall in a large conservatory building reminds me of the museums in Washington and New York. A full day could easily be lost within this museum and you would still not see all its treasures. Well worth a visit in itself!

Anyone who has studied Mary will have come across read even seen pictures of many of the gathered artefacts in this exhibition. As you enter there is a picture I have known well, the Blair memorial portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. A copy of this picture is also housed at HolyroodPalace (Blog to follow on my visit there soon) The image is dark it is of Mary on route to her execution at Fotheringay castle. The image sums Mary up, brave, regal, Catholic and passionate passionate.

 On the wall that leads you to the main exhibition the famous quote from Mary herself is written “In my end is my Beginning” and she could not have been more right. Mary is the centre of myth, romanticised stories, Tudor propaganda, conspiracy theories, and tragic events keeping her memory alive.

 The information is clear and concise without dumbing it down. I loved the timeline along the wall. I also really liked the family tree on the wall – it brings home just why Elizabeth I was so worried about the threat of Elizabeth.

 A letter from Marys First husband Francis the Dauphin of France to his future Mother In Law Mary’s mother – Mary of Guise was touching. The cameos of Mary Queen of Scots were wonderful so skilled and detailed personal token to remember a daughter.

Wedding outfits of MQS & husband no 2 the cad known as Lord Darnley. Image is not my own

Wedding outfits of MQS & husband no 2 the cad known as Lord Darnley. Image is not my own

I loved the models showing the wedding outfits of Mary Queen of Scots to Henry, Lord Darnley. When writing about this in my undergrad dissertation I wrote about her wedding dress in details I had to cut all of that – I was gutted to see them like that made up for having to cut the research.     

 

On the same theme I loved the models comparing Mary to Elizabeth. The difference in there fashions. Although both were stunning my personal favourite style was the French influenced gown worn by Mary.

 I had seen the holy thorn relic that belonged to Mary before in an exhibition at the BritishMuseum about relics. In today’s secular society we forget how religion dominated peoples lives from there routine of their day around prayer what they could eat, to help comfort and support at times of hardship, this small relic reminds us why she was such a threat to protestant Elizabeth in post reformation England and why she was exiled from Scotland in the throws of Scottish reformation lead by John Knox. 

Book of Hours given to one of her ladies at her execution

Book of Hours given to one of her ladies at her execution

One of the stars of the show was a film about the death of husband number 2 the feckless Darnley. To win Mary he was charming attentive, he was young and pretty, she fell for it. Once married he was demanding, feckless, abusive and a drunk, he suffered from syphilis, chased men and women, jealous and possessive as well as a murderer. He was to put it mildly a cad and a bad un. His death is legendary and scholars have argued for years as to whether Mary knew of the plan or not weather she ordered it directly or not. This film brought the story alive showed us the suspects. Well put together combined with excellent storytelling.

Something that all meridian scholars will have seen is pamphlets of the

Mermaid Pamplet Image not my own
Mermaid Pamplet Image not my own

 

Mermaid and the plan of Kirk o field where Darnley was found. To see the originals was very exciting. Another exciting object was the controversial Casket that held the casket letters claimed to be letters plotting Darnley’s death and love notes between Mary and Bothwell. Would a rough man such as Bothwell kept love letters and poems? To say that Bothwell was Marys Bit of Rough after the gentle Francois and the pretty but then abusive Darnley is an understatement. The caskets was central to an investigation to see if Mary had plotted the death of her husband the inquiry found that the so called evidence was not convincing and cleared Mary. Historians today mostly believe that they were fakes however we can not try and prove this as the letters and papers have long since been destroyed.

 

The amazing 3D face of Mary Queen of Scots

The amazing 3D face of Mary Queen of Scots

The other really amazing video was the construction of a 3d head of Mary using dimensions from her portraits. The end result was a lovely kind face regal and I could understand why men said she was beautiful and bewitching. It was sad that the actual 3d head was not part of the exhibition.

The exhibition was a good mix of pictures, objects and film. The only niggle that I had was that as far as I could see that there was no audio guide with this exhibition. I could have happily gone back around again and spent more time. If I had the room in my new room, I would have loved to buy one of the tapestries in the shop. Move over BritishMuseum your Scottish cousin can put on an exhibition as good as you. I can honestly say it was well worth the uncomfortable journey up on the coach.

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One Response to In My End Is My Beginning – The National Museum of Scotland’s Exhibition on Mary Queen of Scots

  1. Fi Brown says:

    I agree it was a fantastic exhibition and wonderful to explore it with you Laura.

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