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Mary Queen of Scots facts you (probably) never knew


The life of Mary Queen of Scots is one of endless fascination and speculation. Author and historian Mickey Mayhew presents five facts you might not know about the Stewart queen.

1.     Mary was once the subject of a Nazi war propaganda movie; ‘Das Herz der Konigin’ (The Heart of the Queen) (1940) starred Swedish chanteuse Zarah Leander as Mary, and Willy Birgel as her third husband Bothwell. Made during World War Two, the production took Mary’s story and made it a tool of Nazi propaganda. The production was blatantly anti-British, with an Elizabeth – Maria Koppenhofer – even more cold, calculating, and intent on empire-building than usual. However it’s worth watching merely for the fact of its highly unusual social significance, although Birgel makes for a slimy Bothwell miles distant from the romantic ‘bit of rough’ many fiction writers have portrayed, and Leander – who breaks into song several times during the movie – is somewhat cold and distant herself as Mary.

2.     Mary used to wash her face with white wine; it helped keep her alabaster complexion, which was the height of fashion at the times, in perfect order. The use of such fine tipple to keep the wrinkles at bay was a source of constant consternation to her English keepers the Earl of Shrewsbury and his termagant of a wife, Bess of Hardwick, who were forced to foot the bill for most of the upkeep of their ‘guest’ while she resided in England at Elizabeth’s ‘pleasure’.

3.     There have been several attempts over the years to have Mary canonised as a Catholic saint; indeed, the site of her tomb at Westminster Abbey has often been cited as a site of miracles, and many of the faithful have visited purely on this provenance alone. However, all of the various attempts to make a saint of Mary have been spoiled by the fact that there is still – some four hundred and fifty years on – no definite proof either way as to whether she was involved with the murder of her second husband Henry, Lord Darnley, in Edinburgh in February 1567.

Darnley narrowly avoided being blown up in a house in the middle of Edinburgh only to be strangled by assailants unknown in the nearby gardens. Their marriage had been far from a happy one and Mary was to marry the lead suspect – Bothwell – in the months that followed. Until the matter of Mary’s possible involvement can be ascertained either way then her file at the Vatican remains merely ‘open’…

4.     Whilst she was a political prisoner in England and in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick, Mary fell out with Bess big time; Bess apparently became convinced that her husband had more than just a soft spot for the captive Queen of Scots (Philippa Gregory made much of this in her novel ‘The Other Queen’). To get back at Bess for besmirching her name Mary wrote what has come to be called ‘The Scandal Letter’ to Elizabeth I, detailing all the dubious titbits of gossip Bess had told her over their sewing sessions.

According to what Mary had heard from Bess, Elizabeth thought herself so beautiful that she couldn’t be looked upon directly; her ladies-in-waiting would frequently find themselves convulsed with laughter at having to maintain this fiction; also that Elizabeth was sexually insatiable and had pursued one of her favourite courtiers, Christopher Hatton, and secured his favours in a threesome; and finally, and perhaps more mysteriously, that Elizabeth ‘wasn’t like other women’, perhaps physically or in some other way. Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth’s secretary of state (later Lord Burghley) sensibly saw to it that his mistress never received the letter.

5.     Despite her title Queen of Scots, Mary actually spent more of her life not in Scotland, or even France, where she grew up and was queen for a short time, but in Sheffield. Whilst in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick she resided at Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor Lodge – the two were linked by a graceful avenue of trees – with occasional breaks at Chatsworth, Wingfield Manor, Worksop Manor, and Buxton. Nothing now remains of the mighty Sheffield Castle but a few excavations, although serious archaeological work is soon to commence. The turret house of Sheffield Manor Lodge and some brickwork of the main manor house still survive and are open to visitors, sans the graceful avenue of trees leading up from Sheffield Castle, and are situated in what is now the heart of the Manor Lane housing estate.


Mickey Mayhew is the author of The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots published by History Press at £9.99. This book covers the entire breath-taking scope of her amazing life and examines the immense cultural legacy she left behind, from the Schiller play of the 1800s to the CW teen drama Reign. Temptress, terrorist, or tragic queen, this book will give you the lowdown on one of history’s most misunderstood monarchs.

Mickey is a lifelong Londoner, currently completing his PhD on the cult surrounding tragic queens Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots, with the help of Claire Ridgway and the members of the ‘Anne Boleyn Files’ forum. In the past he has written film and theatre reviews for various London lifestyle magazines and had several short stories published. More recently he co-authored three books on the Whitechapel murders, with a view to gaining better understanding and appreciation of the lives of poor women in Victorian London; even more recently than that he penned the ‘Barrow Boys of Barking’ trilogy, a tale of urban fantasy about another tragic temptress of noble bearing who was locked up for loving the wrong sort of men, all of which are available on Amazon.


Mary Queen of Scots Month

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