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Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87)


Creator: François Clouet (c. 1520-72) (artist)
Creation Date: 
c. 1560-61
Materials and techniques: 
Oil on panel
30.3 x 23.2 cm
XQG 1977 Jubilee 9
Lord Denbigh; by whom given to Charles I, when Prince of Wales; probably sold to a Mr Wright, 1650; restored to the Royal Collection during the reign of James II

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) is shown in white mourning — en deuil blanc — to mark the loss of three members of her immediate family within a period of eighteen months. Her father-in-law Henri II of France died in July 1559 as a result of a jousting accident. Next was her French mother, Mary of Guise, who died in Scotland in June 1560. Finally, in December of the same year, her husband François II died. Mary returned from France to her native Scotland in August 1561 and it is probable that this painting was painted some time between July 1559 and that date. There is a reference to a portrait of this type as early as August 1560, when Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, the English ambassador, remarking on Mary’s intention of sending a portrait to her cousin Elizabeth I, quotes her as saying ‘I perceive you like me better when I look sadly than when I look merrily, for it is told me that you desired to have me pictured when I wore the deuil’. On her return to Scotland Mary asserted her claim to the English throne as the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor. The resulting conflict led to her eventual imprisonment and execution by Elizabeth I.

There are various versions of this portrait, for which a red and black chalk study survives in Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale). It was evidently highly regarded by Mary’s grandson Charles I as he hung it in his Cabinet Room at Whitehall Palace, where Clouet’s miniature portrait of Mary was also kept. Mary was famed for her beauty and complexion, which was described during her return journey to Scotland: ‘the whiteness of her face rivalled the whiteness of her veils, and in this contest artifice was the loser, the veils paling before the snows of her skin.’

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