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Enfers et délices à la Renaissance

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Franck Lessay
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François Laroque

II - Autour d’une reine sulfureuse : Marie Stuart

“This lady and princess is a notable woman”: the public persona and private personality of Mary Queen of Scots

Rosalind K. Marshall

Résumé

Les documentaires télévisés montrent généralement Marie Stuart comme une femme vêtue de noir qui forme avec sa cousine et rivale Elisabeth Ire un contraste saisissant dans la mesure où la reine d’Angleterre apparaît habillée de couleurs vives et portant de fabuleux joyaux. En fait, Marie était aussi consciente de la nécessité pour une reine de se présenter sous des dehors royaux et les inventaires de sa garde robe et de sa collection de bijoux sont aussi impressionnants que ceux d’Elisabeth. Lorsqu’elle fut accablé par un destin contraire, elle fit de ses vêtements une métaphore et une arme dans sa tentative de lutter pour sa survie, et lorsqu’elle se retrouva à genoux, au pied de l’échafaud, elle portait une robe écarlate, la couleur du martyre. Si sur ses portraits, Elisabeth s’est efforcée d’impressionner la postérité en donnant l’image de sa puissance et de sa munificence, Marie fit quant à elle passer visuellement un message par lequel elle voulait faire savoir que son destin était injuste.

Texte intégral

1Recently, Dr David Starkey presented on British television a popular and successful series about Elizabeth I of England. Naturally enough, Mary, Queen of Scots featured as one of the villains of the piece and, throughout the dramatised sequences in which she appeared, the actress who played the part was dressed in black, in sad, almost sinister contrast to the dazzling outfits of the English queen. This was, of course, an accurate reflection of our mental picture of the two monarchs, and it derives from the images they created for themselves.

  • 1 All three paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 5175, 541, 2561
  • 2 As in the full-length portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, SNPG 1073

2In the twenty-first century we are very conscious of the importance of public image and that is nothing new. Authority figures in the sixteenth century were just as much aware of the extent to which their standing could be influenced by their perceived public persona. Elizabeth I deliberately employed artists throughout her reign to devise an impressive and hopefully ageless icon of herself, from the early coronation painting by an unknown artist through George Gower’s jewel bedecked Armada portrait to the stunning full-length representation of the Queen standing on the map of England, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.1 By way of contrast, our abiding image of Mary is of the woman in black, a prisoner waiting to die.2

  • 3 Foreign Correspondence with Marie de Lorraine, Queen of Scotland, from the originals in the Balcar (...)

3While it is true that Mary, Queen of Scots spent longer in captivity in England than she lived in either France or Scotland, she was not always a dark and sombre figure. Far from it. She became Queen of Scots at six days old and by the time she was betrothed to the Dauphin and sent to the French Court it was already being impressed upon her that she must always emphasise her position, not least by her personal appearance. Her Guise relatives were obsessed by the fear that Henri II would go back on his promise that she should marry the Dauphin, and they told her that she must make sure that she always be treated like the monarch she was, not as a mere foreign princess. We therefore find that, at the age of eleven, she was insisting on having a dress made of cloth of gold and embroidered with her monogram. At an earlier royal ceremony, she had noticed that while she had been wearing silk, the French princesses had all been dazzlingly arrayed in gold and silver damask. That would never do, for she was higher than any of them in rank.3

  • 4 The State Papers and Letters of Sir Ralph Sadlered. Arthur Clifford, Edinburgh 1809,I ,84-8.

4Behaving as a queen did in public became second nature to Mary, although there is a hint that she may have been shy by nature. She grew very tall, as tall as her mother, who was“of the largest size of women’4, and in a letter of 1554 her French governess Franÿoise d’Estamville, Dame de Parroys, commented that she had a habit of stooping rather than holding herself erect. Her manner was mild, too, and she seemed eager to please, but as she grew in confidence she had no difficulty in presenting a regal appearance in public. She assembled a magnificent collection of jewels, many of which were gifts and her garments were carefully chosen to indicate her importance. We do not have any painted portraits surviving from those years, but even the charming crayon drawing in the Library of the Ossolinski National Institute of the Polish Academy of Science, Wroclaw and those in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris give an indication of the richness of her attire.

  • 5 Discours du Grand et Magnifique Triomphe faict du Mariage ed. W. Bentham, Roxburghe Club 1818)

5We know from a written description that when Mary married the Dauphin at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1558, she did not wear the customary cloth of gold or cloth of silver. Instead, she was in white, an unconventional choice, since it was the traditional mourning colour for Queens of France. Her dress had a long train, and as well as a diamond necklace she wore a gold crown set with pearls, rubies, sapphires and other gems.5 A gold-framed miniature in the British Royal Collection gives another fleeting glimpse of her at about this time. She wears a carnation pink dress sewn with clusters of pearls and gold braid. There are pearls in her hair, she has small, pendant pearl earrings and a magnificent long rope of pearls is knotted round her neck. Her belt consists of another string of pearls, and on the small finger of her right hand she wears a gem-set ring. She is in the act of placing another ring on the third finger of that hand - the finger where a jewelled wedding ring was worn.

  • 6 The drawings are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris and the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, (...)
  • 7 Quoted in Helen Smailes and Duncan Thomson, The Queen s Image, Edinburgh 1987, 33.

6Mary was no doubt a majestic figure at the very centre of the opulent French Court during her brief months as Queen of France. With the death of her young husband Franÿois II, she had to lay aside all her finery, of course, and put on ceremonial white mourning. Franÿois Clouet drew her at least twice in this attire.6 A painting based on his drawings is in the British Royal Collection, and Ronsard composed his famous poem, describing her walking in the park at Fontainebleau with her white veils “billowing like sails from a mast.”7 By that time, she had decided to return to Scotland. Her friends warned her against going, telling her that she, a Roman Catholic monarch, could only hope to rule over her officially Protestant kingdom if she went back at the head of an army. Mary did not take an army, but she took rather different weapons — her sumptuous garments and her internationally famous collection of jewels.

7She sailed into Leith on a foggy August morning in 1561 and in the days that followed she received a surprisingly enthusiastic welcome from her Protestant subjects. Not only were they pleased to have their queen back in her own country again, but they must have been impressed by the very sight of her. One of the elusive elements in social interaction is the part played by appearance. We automatically assess people by how they look and dress and, from time to time, there are somewhat dubious surveys trying to prove that, for example, tall people have more successful careers than small people. We may read these theories with some scepticism, but there is no doubt that first impressions at least are influenced by personal presence. It is therefore instructive to remember that in an age when most men were of what we would regard as middle height, the Queen of Scots was not only young and beautiful but, at about six feet tall, must have been head and shoulders above the majority of her courtiers.

  • 8 Inventaires de la Royne Descosse Douairière de France (Bannatyne Club 1863), 60-74,185-6.

8When she arrived in Scotland, Mary was still wearing her mourning for Franÿois II, but December saw the first anniversary of his death and after that she was able to put away her widow’s weeds and dress as a queen should. No portraits from her time in Scotland survive, and this is a great lack, but in February 1562, Mary ordered one of her French valets-de-chambre, Servais de Condé, to draw up an inventory, in French, of the clothes in her wardrobe and this is still extant, preserved in the National Archives of Scotland.8 The list is long, detailed and shows that the Queen of Scots presented as colourful and magnificent a figure as her rival, Queen Elizabeth, ever did.

9The list of Mary’s apparel begins with “robbes”, which may be translated as “dresses”. Mary’s dresses were made up in colours specifically associated with royalty and there were no fewer than fifty-nine of them in all. Two were made of cloth of gold, and three were cloth of silver, each sewn with coloured silks and wire braid. Twenty-one were black and ten were white. From time immemorial, black and white had been associated with royalty and had been thought to possess almost magical qualities. Henri II's mistress Diane de Poitiers had chosen black and white as her personal colours and indeed so did Queen Elizabeth.

10Dresses of this period had a high or a square neck, long sleeves, a long, smooth bodice stiffened with whalebone and a wide skirt smoothed over a farthingale petticoat. The petticoat had sewn into it hoops of whalebone, the smallest just below the waist, the largest at the hem. Queen’s dresses usually had a train. Winter dresses often had a quilted lining for extra warmth and there were most elaborate trimmings. One of Mary’s black dresses had great sleeves covered with embroidered bands of gold thread and cord, the rest of the garment being sewn with wavy lines of the cord. Another black dress had fancy slashes, with a silver fringe and silver braid. A third black velvet dress was described as being in the Spanish style and had its bodice slashed to show the scarlet lining. It was edged with bands of gold chevrons. A white net dress was sewn all over with artificial roses and little silver balls while a crimson velvet dress with great sleeves had the cuffs trimmed with wolf-skin. Two years later, Mary would have the wolf-skin transferred to a black velvet cloak before giving the dress away to one of her ladies. Crimson was another royal colour, and it is no surprise to find that the Queen had nine crimson dresses.

11Only fourteen of the fifty-nine dresses were in colours of which at first sight had no particular significance. Four were yellow, four blue, two were orange, two were soft grey, one was carnation pink (perhaps the one in the carnation miniature) and one was green. The ornamentation could, however, have special significance and one of the blue satin dresses was embroidered all over with silver palms, symbolising victory. Very often, the dress was left open so that a triangle of petticoat could be seen, and these were always highly decorative. Eight of Mary’s petticoats that winter were made of cloth of gold and five were cloth of silver, each trimmed with gold fringe, silver braid or coloured silk threads. A further fifteen were made of rich fabric in crimson, black, orange, blue, yellow and white, again with elaborate trimmings. A blue petticoat in the Spanish style was sewn with bands of gold and silver embroidery, and the seven petticoats which had “no enrichment” were nevertheless decorated with fancy slashes and perforations. Some of the petticoats had matching sleeves, for these were not part of a dress but were detachable. Often in a colour that contrasted with the dress itself, they were held in position by laces threaded through eyeholes in the lining.

12In summer, a complete petticoat would have been uncomfortably hot, and at any time of year these garments were heavy to wear, with all their fancy trimmings. Ladies therefore often wore a petticoat of a thinner, plain material with a foreskirt — a triangular piece of rich, embroidered fabric — tied round the waist under the dress, almost like an apron. Glimpsed beneath the skirt of the dress, it gave the illusion of being a complete petticoat. Mary had sixteen foreskirts, four of them cloth of gold, three cloth of silver and the others heavily embroidered satin. Some matched her cloaks (‘manteaux’), of which she had thirteen. Most of these must have been designed for indoor wear, or for summer time, as they were made of silk or taffeta and they were embroidered all over, trimmed with gold buttons and bunches of ribbon, fringed and banded with expensive braid. The first one on the list, however, is described as being “a royal mantle of violet velvet”.

  • 9 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland ed. J. Balfour Paul, Edinburgh 1877-, XI, 108-439.

13Round her neck, the Queen usually wore a ruff, the long, narrow strip of fine linen and lace which had been starched and then wound round short rods to give it the characteristic figure-of-eight appearance. It was fastened in front with short strings called bandstrings, and sometimes small ruffs replaced the lace-trimmed cuffs usually worn at the wrist. On her head, Mary wore fine lawn caps and head-dresses. Her accounts9 mention linen caps in a variety of styles, a high, horned head-dress, hoods and a coif of black jet. Out of doors, she wore velvet hats. Interestingly, her Scottish expenditure includes mention of masks costing £1 each. These may have been intended for court entertainment, but in France it was customary for highborn ladies never to be seen out of doors without a fancy mask, presumably in the interests of modesty. These were not intended as a disguise, for everyone recognised the wearer from her general appearance and her place in a procession.

  • 10 Inventaires, 3-4.

14Impressive as Mary’s garments were, they were made even more dazzling by the jewellery she wore. In the mid-sixteenth century there was no notion of being discreet or subtle with accessories. Ladies decked themselves out with jewelled caps, gem-set edgings to their dresses, earrings, brooches, lockets, necklaces, bracelets and rings, not merely to add to their personal allure but to impress all beholders with their wealth and status. Mary had inherited a small number of jewels from her father. After his death in 1542, these had been held in trust for her by Scotland’s Regent, James, 2nd Earl of Arran, but in the summer of 1556, as Mary approached her fourteenth birthday, Arran sent his cousin Sir James Hamilton to France to deliver them to the young Queen.10 She signed the list which acted as a receipt, and from it we know that she received thirty-one finger rings, thirteen set with diamonds, mostly table-cut, eleven with rubies, four with emeralds and three with sapphires. There were also some buttons set with diamonds and pearls, gem-set points for fastening garments, jewelled collars and various “jewels” which would be brooches or pendants. One of these was in the form of a Cupid with a great heart of rubies.

  • 11 Ibid., 7-17, 75-9.

15Most of Mary’s jewels, however, had been given to her by her husband François II and his family, as well as her own Guise relatives and her friends in France. Her father-in-law Henri II had given her a jewel in the shape of the letter H, set with a ruby and a huge diamond. The French King had also presented her with a costly jewelled girdle or belt from which was suspended a jewelled miniature of himself, and it was he who had provided her wedding ring when she married his son the Dauphin. In accordance with current fashion, it would have been set with diamonds. Before Mary left France, she had her valuables listed, and another inventory, compiled during her First winter in Scotland tallies with that list.11

16Her collections were splendid indeed. There were sixteen great necklaces, listed in order of importance and beginning with one was set with a pointed diamond, eight table diamonds and sixteen pearls. Next in the list were ruby necklaces set with diamonds and pearls and there were sapphire and emerald parures as well as pieces studded with turquoises, garnets, lapus lazuli and coral. There were also the great ropes of pearls for which Mary was famous. One had no fewer than 530 pearls in it. There were thirteen jewelled girdles, encrusted with diamonds, rubies, pearls and semi-precious stones. One girdle consisted of 206 great pearls and two were strung with pomander beads, sometimes called paternoster beads. These were made of gold filigree, and they were in two halves, so that they could be unscrewed at the centre and a little ball of perfumed musk put inside. The paternoster beads were so called because they were often used to make up rosaries. One of Mary’s rosaries had fifty-one of these beads divided into groups by six little pillars set with garnets.

  • 12 Part of the Penicuik Jewels in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
  • 13 In the Duke of Hamilton’s Collection at Lennoxlove.

17None of Mary’s garments has survived and very little of her jewellery. There are a few gold paternoster beads, now strung like a bracelet, in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, which are reliably believed to have been given by her to one of her serving women just before her execution.12 The British Museum has a signet ring with her coat of arms and in private collections there are a sapphire ring sent to one of her supporters,13 an intricate sixteenth-century enamelled necklace said to have been hers and one or two other small items. Otherwise nothing is left of the collection that was the envy of both Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I of England.

18Only the evidence of the inventories affords us a real glimpse of Mary as she was when she came back to Scotland to be welcomed with surprising enthusiasm by her Protestant subjects and guided by Scottish statesmen who in these first years found her biddable, eager to oblige and anxious to follow their advice. She must have provided a truly regal presence as she opened parliament, rode in processions and presided over banquets in her palaces of Holyroodhouse, Linlithgow and Falkland and her castles of Edinburgh and Stirling. She wore her striking outfits at the time of her courtship by Lord Darnley, on the night when David Riccio was murdered in her supper chamber and when she made her greatest mistake by marrying the Earl of Bothwell.

  • 14 Inventaires, 185-6.
  • 15 Calendar of State Papers Foreigti, ed. J. Stevenson Elizabeth vu, London 1863, 384
  • 16 J. Stevenson, Selections from unpublished manuscripts in the college of Arms, Maitland Club 1837,1 (...)
  • 17 Diurnal of Occurrents ed. T. Thomson, Bannatyne Club 1833, 87.

19For those whom we would now term “celebrities”, there is always tension between the public role and the private personality, and much of Mary’s illhealth during her Scottish years may be attributed to stress. There are theories about porphyria, of course, but it seems likely that she suffered from a duodenal ulcer. As an accepted means of escape from the relentless pressures of being a queen, Mary had always enjoyed dressing up. At the French Court, she had taken part in the masques that were part of the regular entertainment and she brought masquing clothes with her to Scotland. They feature in a special section of Servais de Condé’s list14: a red dress in the Picardy fashion, two Spanish-style dresses and a white, pink and blue satin dress fringed with silver. At Easter 1565, when she was in Stirling, the Queen dressed as an ordinary burgess’s wife15, and sometimes she had fun dressing as a man. On the eve of her marriage to Lord Darnley she roamed the streets of Edinburgh with him in this guise,16 and a month before Riccio’s murder she and her ladies were in male costume for a masque held in honour of the French ambassador.17

  • 18 Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland ed. J. Bain, Edinburgh 1898, II, 322.
  • 19 Sir James Melville of Halhill: Memoirs ed. Francis Steuart, London 1929,156.
  • 20 R. Keith, History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland down to 1567 (Spottiswoode Societ (...)
  • 21 Claude Nau, Memorials of Mary Stewart ed. J. Stevenson, Edinburgh 1883, 95.

20These innocent pleasures took on a new and ominous significance as the strain grew too much. Mary’s life disintegrated and her costume became a metaphor for the troubles she confronted and a weapon in her desperate struggle for survival. According to the Protestant soldier Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, he heard Mary remark some time after the murder of Darnley that she did not care if she lost her kingdom because of her friendship with Bothwell. She was ready to part with France, Scotland and England, she said, and follow the Earl to the world’s end in a white petticoat18. When we recall that sumptuous wardrobe, her exclamation — if she really did make it — is all the more telling. After she surrendered to her Protestant lords at Carberry on 15 June 1567, Kirkcaldy and the others brought her back to Edinburgh, a prisoner, her hair unpinned and straggling round her shoulders, her red petticoat filthy with dust.19 Held prisoner in the island castle of Lochleven, she tried to escape the following year, disguised as a washerwoman, and finally did so in May 1568, wearing a countrywoman’s clothes.20 She was defeated at the Battle of Langside and she fled, cutting off her long hair to make herself unrecognisable.21 As soon as she reached what she thought was the safety of England, however, she resumed her royal appearance as best she could.

  • 22 Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland, II, 428

21This was not, of course, a mere faÿade, but a real expression of her personality, and when Elizabeth I’s emissary, Sir Francis Knollys, went to see her, he was impressed in spite of himself. He must have been expecting some sort of raffish, distraught fugitive. Instead, he reported to Sir William Cecil, “This lady and princess is a notable woman. She seemeth to regard no ceremonious honour besides the acknowledgement of her estate royal. She showeth a disposition to speak much, to be bold, to be pleasant, to be very familiar. She showeth a great desire to be revenged of her enemies. She showeth a readiness to expose herself to all perils in hope of victory for victory’s sake, pain and peril seem pleasant unto her, and in respect of victory, wealth and all things seem to her contemptuous and vile.”22

  • 23 For example, by Nicholas Hilliard in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Royal Collection, a (...)

22There was to be no victory for Mary. At twenty-five years old, she was to spend the next nineteen years as Elizabeth I’s prisoner. During that time, she wore only black. She was as insistent as ever on the symbols of royalty, such as her cloth of State, but her outfits were austere, without ornamentation, rosaries, crucifixes, enamelled jewels with a religious theme or tiny jet beads her only decoration, as we can see from the miniatures painted during her captivity.23 When she was fïnally tried for plotting Elizabeths death, she refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the court and went to her execution on 8 February 1587 declaring that she died for her Roman Catholic faith. When she removed her black dress to kneel at the block, the onlookers saw that she was wearing a bodice and petticoat of scarlet, the colour of martyrdom.

  • 24 The Blairs Memorial Portrait at Blairs College Museum, Aberdeenshire and on a lesser scale, a prim (...)

23Was this merely a cynical attempt to distract attention from past crimes or had Mary turned more and more to her religion for solace in the last difficult years? Could she always have been a truly devout Catholic, innocent of the murder of Darnley and of all the other sins imputed to her or did a proud woman find that this was the only way she could confront the humiliating circumstances of her death? Historians will probably go on arguing for another five hundred years over questions such as these. There is no doubt, however, that while Elizabeth I accurately portrayed herself for posterity as an unassailable monarch blazing with colour and precious jewels, equally potent is that final, tragic image of her cousin and rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, in black, on the scaffold at Fotheringhay, her regal garments long since cast aside in a poignant insistence that her fate was unjust.24

Notes

1 All three paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 5175, 541, 2561

2 As in the full-length portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, SNPG 1073

3 Foreign Correspondence with Marie de Lorraine, Queen of Scotland, from the originals in the Balcarres papers 1548-1557 ed. Marguerite Wood, Edinburgh 1925, 252-6

4 The State Papers and Letters of Sir Ralph Sadlered. Arthur Clifford, Edinburgh 1809,I ,84-8.

5 Discours du Grand et Magnifique Triomphe faict du Mariage ed. W. Bentham, Roxburghe Club 1818)

6 The drawings are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris and the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, USA.

7 Quoted in Helen Smailes and Duncan Thomson, The Queen s Image, Edinburgh 1987, 33.

8 Inventaires de la Royne Descosse Douairière de France (Bannatyne Club 1863), 60-74,185-6.

9 Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland ed. J. Balfour Paul, Edinburgh 1877-, XI, 108-439.

10 Inventaires, 3-4.

11 Ibid., 7-17, 75-9.

12 Part of the Penicuik Jewels in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

13 In the Duke of Hamilton’s Collection at Lennoxlove.

14 Inventaires, 185-6.

15 Calendar of State Papers Foreigti, ed. J. Stevenson Elizabeth vu, London 1863, 384

16 J. Stevenson, Selections from unpublished manuscripts in the college of Arms, Maitland Club 1837,119.

17 Diurnal of Occurrents ed. T. Thomson, Bannatyne Club 1833, 87.

18 Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland ed. J. Bain, Edinburgh 1898, II, 322.

19 Sir James Melville of Halhill: Memoirs ed. Francis Steuart, London 1929,156.

20 R. Keith, History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland down to 1567 (Spottiswoode Society 1844), II, 790.

21 Claude Nau, Memorials of Mary Stewart ed. J. Stevenson, Edinburgh 1883, 95.

22 Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland, II, 428

23 For example, by Nicholas Hilliard in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Royal Collection, and by an unknown artist at the Blairs College Museum, Aberdeenshire

24 The Blairs Memorial Portrait at Blairs College Museum, Aberdeenshire and on a lesser scale, a primitive little painting of Mary with two large angels hovering above her, in a private collection and until recently on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. See Rosalind K. Marshall, “Mary, Queen of Scots: a Flemish Connection” in The Flemish-Scottish Connections, Bruges, 1996, 42-7

Auteur

Écrivain et historien
A fait des études d’histoire à l’Université d’Édimbourg où elle a soutenu une thèse sur “La vie de la duchesse Anne”. Depuis, elle a publié dix livres et de nombreux articles sur l’histoire des XVIe et des XVIIe siècles, dont des biographies de Marie de Guise, de Marie Stuart et de John Knox. Pendant plus de 25 années, elle a occupé le poste de directrice des archives à la Scottish National Portrait Gallery à Édimbourg. Son dernier livre est intitulé Les reines d’Écosse de 1034 à 1714.

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