Mary Queen of Scots treasures at National Museum of Scotland

01 January 2021
Mary Queen of Scots. William Home Lizars (British, Edinburgh, Scotland 1788–1859 Galashiels
Discover facts about the life of Mary Stewart, queen of Scotland, with this guide to Mary Queen of Scots items cared for by National Museums Scotland.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1567) was the only child of King James V and his wife Marie de Guise. Mary inherited the throne at the age of six days, after her father was killed at the battle of Solway Moss.

In 1548, five-year-old Mary was sent to France with her mother, to be brought up in the French court, in preparation for her marriage to the king’s son Francis. Mary would spend the next thirteen years of her life at the royal court, returning to Scotland after the death of Francis shortly after he was crowned king of France in 1559.

Mary Queen of Scots’ jewels

Mary was a striking woman with auburn hair and a fine, pale complexion. Raised in France, at one of the most sophisticated and glittering courts in Europe, she had access to the very latest Renaissance fashions and was able to amass a sumptuous wardrobe of elegant and fashionable gowns and a spectacular collection of jewellery.

Jewels were essential currency for a 16th-century monarch and could be used in various different ways, including as a demonstration of wealth and majesty, or sold to raise cash to pay armies or debts. 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 and can be seen at the museum.

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The museum also holds a silver crucifix, decorated with niello and mounted on a plain ebony cross. It was found in a bedroom at Craigmillar Castle which Mary was known to have visited and given where the crucifix was found, experts at NMS believe it is likely that the Mary, Queen of Scots connection is true.

Mary Queen of Scots ryal

This coin, minted in Edinburgh in 1566, replaced a coin minted in 1565 which the name of Henry Stuart Lord Darnley (Mary's second husband) before that of Mary and his portrait on the left-hand side, in the space conventionally reserved for the reigning monarch. These coins were quickly withdrawn from circulation, but they proved that Darnley had pretentions to the Crown Matrimonial.

On the 1566 ryal, Mary's name now comes before Henry's. The reverse of the coin shows a tortoise climbing a palm tree, with a Latin inscription which translates as: 'Glory gives strength' while that around the edge translates as: 'Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered' (from Psalm 68).

The tortoise design was well known to Mary, and she embroidered it on the Marian Hanging during her imprisonment in England. Mary's coinage is divisible into five phases, reflecting her early life, two marriages and two widowhoods. During her reign, numerous issues appeared in gold, silver and base metal, many of them comprising denominations never previously struck.

The above items and many more relating to the life of Mary Queen of Scots can be seen at National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF; website.