Mary Queen of Scots: Fact and Fiction

Past beyond the gallery archive
26 February - 30 October 2011

Lyme Park


  • Partnership exhibition

Mary, Queen of Scots
by Adolphe Pierre Riffaut, after François Clouet
published 1848
NPG D13123

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) was a source of intrigue during her lifetime and popular fascination ever since. She was married to the king of France aged fifteen and widowed at seventeen. Her short reign in Scotland was marked by scandal, plots and murder. She was overthrown in 1568 and spent the final nineteen years of her life imprisoned in England. Her Catholicism and her claim to the English throne made her a threat to her cousin Elizabeth I. Following repeated charges of treason, Elizabeth reluctantly signed her death warrant and she was executed aged forty-four in 1587.

This display of prints from the Gallery’s archive looks at the ways in which Mary was depicted both during her lifetime and after her execution. Although she remained a focus of some interest in the century after her death, the popular fascination with Mary greatly increased in the eighteenth century, due to a growing interest in the past. Her reputed beauty and dramatic life story made her particularly appealing to artists and during this time, attempts were made to track down her true likeness. In the nineteenth century a number of artists painted imaginary scenes from her life, in which historical accuracy was less important than creating a sense of high drama and emotion.

Lyme Park

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