Mary Queen of Scots: 10 things you (probably) did not know

Mary Queen of Scots. PIC: Creative Commons.
Mary Queen of Scots. PIC: Creative Commons.
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A new blockbuster film that tells the sensational story of Mary Queen of Scots will examine the high drama of her life, from her return to Scotland from France to the murder of her husband, her 19-year incarceration and her fascinating and dangerous relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth I.

Much has been written about one of the most intriguing characters in Scottish history. Here we look at some of the lesser-known details from the Queen’s troubled life.

1. The Queen washed her face with white wine

Mary used white wine to wash her face given the belief it would help maintain her fashionable alabaster complexion. According to Mickey Mayhew, author of The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots, the cost of her expensive beauty regime became a bone of contention for her keeper, the Earl of Shrewsbury, whose allowance to keep Mary in custody was cut by Elizabeth I.

2. She ordered the execution of her French poet stalker

Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard (1529-1563) was a French court poet who travelled with Mary on her return to Scotland in 1561.

The two became close, sharing a kiss and swapping romantic rhymes, but Chastelard was doomed when he was twice found hiding in the Queen’s bedchamber, once at Holyrood Palace and then two days later at Rossend Castle in Burntisland,

Then, the poet was discovered carrying a dagger or a sword. Some believed he was spying for the English while others say he was simply besotted by the Queen.

Chastelard was hanged at Mercat Cross in St Andrews in February 1563.

READ MORE: Jewellery gifted by Mary Queen of Scots goes on show

3. Mary loved her animals

It is said Mary enjoyed the company of 22 lapdogs while living among the French court. When she was beheaded for treason at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1587, her Skye terrier was hiding in the petticoat of her dress.

Following her death, the dog refused to leave the side of its master and it died shortly after the execution.

4. Mary allowed the execution of witches...

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made the practice of sorcery and consorting with witches a capital crime. It led to the execution of up to 2,000 people over the next 150 years.

5...then she had a spell put on one of her friends

The Queen may not have been adverse to witchcraft herself. Mary experienced a difficult birth on the delivery of her son, the future James VI, in 1566. To relive the agony, the Countess of Atholl used her experience of witchcraft to transfer the Queen’s pain onto Margaret, Lady Reres, who then took to her bed given the pain she experienced, according to Ron Holliday in his book Famous Scots and the Supernatural.

READ MORE: Mary Queen of Scots and her turbulent Christmas times

6. The cross-dressing queen

According to Mayhew, Mary was a great fan of the fashionable court pastime of masquing, when people dressed up as mythological and biblical characters to put on a play or to appear in disguise.

Mayhew wrote that Mary and her ladies on occasion ventured onto the streets of Edinburgh in disguise to see what the ordinary people of the city were up to. She dressed as a man on one or two of these occasions.

“At almost six feet in height she would, from a distance, probably have been most convincing,” Mayhew wrote.

7. She liked a good party

Just before Christmas 1566, Mary arranged a three-day celebration at Stirling Castle to mark the baptism of her son. According to Sally Gall of Historic Environment Scotland, there were masques – stylised theatrical performances – penned by George Buchanan. A pasteboard enchanted fortress was erected, which guests watched being attacked by Moors, centaurs and fiends. A grand feast was served from a mechanical moving stage, operated by centaurs and nymphs. Finally, fireworks lit the night sky and cannon fire proclaimed the end of the festival.

8. The sickly queen

It has been widely speculated that Mary suffered from Porphyria, a metabolic disorder that causes abdominal pain, vomiting, neuropathy and mental disturbance. The Queen’s descendant, George III, was also a sufferer, some believe. The Queen was also prone to nervous exhaustion, fainting fits and sickness said to be caused by overeating of rich food, Mayhew wrote.

9. She dressed for mourning - at her first wedding

Mary caused a scandal when she married her first husband, Francis II of France, in Notre Dame in 1558, dressed in white - then regarded as the French colour of mourning.

10. She and Queen Elizabeth I never met

A meeting between the two Queens is a key scene in new film Mary Queen of Scots but the cousins never met in real life, with letters between the two confirming that they never saw each other in person. A potential meeting near Nottingham was discussed, but it never happened.