Earliest Mary Queen of Scots' letter centrepiece of exhibition

The earliest surviving letter written by Mary Queen of Scots is to go on display from today as part of a historic exhibition.

The earliest letter written by a young Mary, Queen of Scots 1550. Picture: SWNS
The earliest letter written by a young Mary, Queen of Scots 1550. Picture: SWNS

The letter was written by Mary to her mother Mary of Guise in 1550 when she was only seven or eight years old.

Child queen Mary, who had been sent to France in 1548 to be raised with her husband to be, the dauphin Francis, son of King Henry II of France, was reunited with her mother in France in October 1550.

The letter from the young Mary was intended to introduce her mother to the king of France’s envoy, Arthus de Maille, seigneur de Breze.

De Breze had accompanied her to France in 1548, and following the delivery of the letter to Scotland two years later, he is thought to have been part of Mary of Guise’s escort when she travelled to France to see her daughter.

Dr Alison Rosie, National Register of Archives for Scotland, said: “It is charming. This is a classic child’s letter saying as little as possible and leaving a lot of the paper empty. Paper wasn’t cheap. The writing is scrunched up at the top, with a large gap and her signature at the bottom. She signs off ‘your very humble and very obedient daughter, Marie’.”

Dr Rosie added: “This is the earliest surviving letter by Mary, Queen of Scots. She writes it in Italic script, which is a new script coming in and was widely used at Renaissance courts.


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“And she writes in French - she is engaged to be married to the dauphin and she is going to be a French queen, so they want to make her a French princess rather than a Scots.

“She had been separated from her mother for about three years at that time. She doesn’t say that she is missing her mother, but Mary of Guise went over later in the year and spent about a year there. She was enormously well treated.”

The artefact is among the highlights of “Famous Scots from the Past”, a new month-long exhibition of treasures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS), on display as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Objects and documents on free to view in the Matheson Dome at General Register House offer an insight into the lives of well-known Scots.

The items, which have never been exhibited together before, range from the parish register entry for Robert Burns’ irregular marriage to Jean Armour in 1788, to poison bottles and love letters from the infamous Victorian murder trial of Glasgow socialite Madeleine Smith.

Also on display will be photographs and papers from the construction of the Forth Bridge.


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The venue itself is described as “one of the most important public buildings to grace the capital of Enlightenment Scotland”.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “These items offer an insight into the personal lives of some of the great characters of Scotland’s past, and tell us more about our rich history and heritage.”

Tim Ellis, the NRS chief executive, said: “This exhibition is an opportunity to view just part of the historical materials held by NRS.”

Famous Scots from the Past will run from today to 1 September.