Rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots to go on display

In the portrait she is a young widow, mourning a husband who had died not long after their wedding and whose death left her free to pursue the power she had been born to wield. Almost five hundred years after it was painted, an image of Mary, Queen of Scots at a crucial moment in her tumultuous royal career is going on show.

The painting, by Francois Clouet, was only recently confirmed to be of Mary. It’s been bought by Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and hangs in its new Stuart Room.

The portrait shows Mary in 1561 as she prepared to return to Scotland to begin her personal rule. She had become Queen of Scots on December 14th 1542 at the age of six days, following the death of her father, James V, with regents ruling in her place. At the age of five she left for Paris following her betrothal to Francois, heir to the throne of France, with their wedding taking place in 1558.

Mary became queen consort of France in 1559 when her new husband succeeded his father but his reign would be short. Francois died on December 5th 1560, almost six months after Mary had lost her mother, Marie de Guise. The painting was done at the height of her mourning. But behind the widow’s garb is a young woman preparing to claim back power.

Mary’s personal rule would be far from straight forward but she would change the course of Scottish and English history forever. The painting shows her at a time when many still thought of her as a puppet, a notion she would soon displace. Her turbulent rule would end in forced abdication and Mary ending up as a prisoner of her cousin, Elizabeth I.

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed on February 8th 1587 at Fotheringay Castle after being found guilty of treason. Exactly 432 years on, an image of the young monarch as she began the path that would lead to glory and ultimately her downfall has been unveiled in its new home. From tomorrow, visitors to Hever will find themselves face to face with one of the most famous queens in royal history.

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Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.