The fourth major show to use the National Museum of Scotland’s dedicated space and the first to feature a subject of local as well as international interest, Mary, Queen of Scots is an outstanding, insightful and at times moving exhibition.
Featuring around 200 objects collated from dozens of national and private collections, it provides an extremely rare opportunity to trace the life, times and death of what was perhaps Scotland’s most famous monarch, next to objects she herself owned, touched and created.
Indeed, some of the actual documents on display are remarkable: many written in Mary’s own hand, such as the inventory of her jewellery, made in case she died during childbirth; or the coded messages she sent to her supporters during her long imprisonment prior to her execution.
The exhibition — curated by the National Museum of Scotland — does a wonderful job of putting Mary’s life into context: with artefacts, models and documents all giving a real sense of the period. Some have weighty provenance, such as the Book of Hours allegedly in Mary’s possession at the time of her execution. Others — such as Mary’s own jewellery, or the tapestry she created during her incarceration — show a less bloody side to her eventful and intrigue-laden life.
The strikingly designed space guides visitors on a chronological journey, from Mary’s childhood and marriage in France, to her often tumultuous time in Scotland, then to her long period of captivity ultimately leading to her death in 1587.
A replica of her tomb, watched over by a portrait of her son James VI of Scotland, provides a poignant end to the exhibition, whilst the animated display of Mary’s descendants shows that the legacy of Scotland’s most famous queen lives on to this very day.
Mary Queen of Scots is at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street until Nov 17. More details are on the museum website.