Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), c.1558 

Franco-Scottish School 

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), c.1558, Franco-Scottish School
Oil on oak panel
16th Century
15 x 10 inches 38 x 27 cm
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This image of Mary Queen of Scots is unusual, and of considerable historical curiosity, in according the Queen the title of regina danglieterra, ''Queen of England''.

On the death of her father King James V of Scotland in 1542 Mary became Queen of Scotland, as her two elder brothers had both died in infancy. By 1560 Mary had briefly added the title of Queen of France, before the untimely death of her husband King Francis II.

The action which would haunt her for the rest of her life - and which would be instrumental in ending it - was her assumption of the title of Queen of England.

The death of Mary Tudor in 1558 left a confused succession. Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate in 1536, at the death of her mother Anne Boleyn. Although she had been restored to the succession by Act of Parliament in 1544, her bastardy had not been revoked. Hypothetically this left Mary Stuart heir to the throne, although no Englishman would have tolerated this or expected it, were it not for the stipulation in King Henry VIII''s will that no foreigner might succeed to the throne. For Catholic Europe, however, there was less confusion, since the marriage with Anne Boleyn without papal authority could never be recognised, and no temporal power could make Elizabeth queen. Mary Stuart was, therefore, the heir to Mary her cousin.

King Henri II recognised that there was considerable political capital to be made from pressing his daughter-in-law's claim. England was in alliance with Spain, and if they could not be prised from that, they could at least be embarrassed and irritated. Immediately on Mary''s death he proclaimed Mary Stuart Queen of England and Ireland, and caused her to assume the English royal arms in addition to those legitimately borne of Scotland and France.

French commentators considered the pretension entirely just, and Jean de Baif and Pierre Ronsard celebrated the accession to the triple crown in verse. In 1559 the canopy carried over Mary's head bore the arms of England, France and Scotland. In addition the Cardinal of Lorrraine had a set of silver plate engraved for the queen bearing the arms of England, and a great seal struck in the same year depicted Francis II and Mary with a description as King and Queen of England, France, Scotland and Ireland.

When peace was concluded between England and France in 1560 the ''injurious pretensions'' were diplomatically dismissed as the ambition of Mary's family, the House of Guise, rather than the policy of the French Crown. They would not be forgotten, however, and at Mary''s trial in 1587, one of the charges made by Lord Burghley related directly to her assumption in 1558 of the Royal titles and arms of England.

The present portrait derives in facial type from portraits of the studio of Francois Clouet. The image is datable from 1558 to 1560, as it represents Mary with the title of Queen of England, which she was -at least officially - made to give up in 1560, and in mourning, presumably for Mary Tudor. The Venetian ambassador commented in 1558: ''They have made the Queen Dauphiness go into mourning for the Queen of England.'' It is possible, though less likely, that the mourning is for Mary's husband Francois II, the cause of her mourning in other well-known images, as Mary gave up her title to the English throne (though not her claim) in the year that Francois died.

Interestingly the image compares with a contemporary portrait of Elizabeth, her first portrait as Queen (example NPG 4449).
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