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Mary, Queen of Scots

6 of 151 portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Mary, Queen of Scots

after Nicholas Hilliard
oil on panel, inscribed 1578
31 1/8 in. x 35 1/2 in. (791 mm x 902 mm)
Purchased, 1876
Primary Collection
NPG 429

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Miniature painter. Artist associated with 34 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait, which was once in the Royal Collection, is probably based on an image from the life. The Latin inscription records that she has been a prisoner for ten years. The cross attached to her rosary bears the letter 'S' (possibly for Stewart) on each of its arms. At its centre is an enamelled scene of Susannah and the Elders surrounded by a Latin motto which can be translated as 'troubles on all sides'. Although this portrait was once thought to be later, recent analysis of the panel support has dated the wood to the mid-sixteenth century, indicating that it was made during her lifetime.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 28
  • 100 Portraits, p. 27
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 43 Read entry

    The daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, Mary, Queen of Scots married Francis II of France in 1558 but returned to Scotland following his early death, ruling there for seven turbulent years. Her brief marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, produced her only child, later James I of England and VI of Scotland, but ended with Darnley’s murder in 1567. Only months later Mary married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who had been implicated in Darnley’s death. Forced to abdicate in favour of her son, Mary fled to England. As Elizabeth I’s cousin and immediate heir, she became the focus for Roman Catholic rebellion and was eventually executed for treason following years of house arrest in England. This portrait was formerly in the collection of Charles I and bears a ‘CR’ brand on the reverse of the panel. A note in an inventory made in 1637 records that it had been brought to England from Scotland, which suggests that it was originally commissioned by a Scottish patron, possibly to mark the tenth year of Mary’s captivity in England. Although it is now a three-quarter-length portrait, the inventory records that it was originally full length. The pose differs from other surviving versions, which are likely to date to the revival of Mary’s reputation in the early seventeenth century during the reign of her son, James VI and I; however, the right-hand board is a replacement, presumably due to damage, that dendrochronology dates to after 1670.

  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 129
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 13
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 12 Read entry

    As the inscription says, the portrait marks ten years of Mary’s captivity in England. This posthumous version, appearing some twenty years after her execution, commemorates her martyrdom.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 21
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 21
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 28
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 417
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 215
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 60 Read entry

    The daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, Mary Stewart was raised in France as a Roman Catholic. She married the dauphin, subsequently Francis II of France, in 1558 but, following his early death, returned to Scotland, ruling for seven turbulent years. Her brief marriage to Lord Darnley produced her only child, later James VI of Scotland and I of England, but ended in Darnley’s murder in 1567. Forced to abdicate in favour of her son, she fled to England. As heir to the English throne, Mary became the focus for Roman Catholic rebellion. In 1586 she was declared guilty of treason and executed the following year.

    This portrait, which was once in the Royal Collection, is probably based on an image from the life. The Latin inscription records that she is shown having been a prisoner for ten years. The cross attached to her rosary bears the letter ‘S’ on each of its arms (possibly for ‘Stewart’) and is surrounded by a Latin motto that translates as ‘troubles on all sides’. At least one third of the original panel to the right has been lost and replaced with an addition and repainted.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 101
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 104

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1578back to top

Current affairs

The heir to the French crown, François, Duke of Anjou visits England to court Queen Elizabeth I. Public opinion is against a marriage due to his nationality and Catholic faith.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert receives letters patent that entitle him to explore and colonise 'remote heathen and barbarous landes' on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.
King James VI of Scotland assumes personal control of the realm, without the aid of a regent, aged eleven.

Art and science

The writer and playwright John Lyly publishes Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit: Very Pleasant for All Gentlemen to Read, one of the most popular books of the period.


Death of Don John of Austria, Governor of the Netherlands. He is succeeded by Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Palma.
The Battle of Wenden - Sweden defeats Russia, marking a turning point in the Livonian War.
Sebastian I of Portugal leads a disastrous crusade against the Moors in northern Africa. He is defeated and killed at the Battle of Alcácazarquivir.

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