Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition

The Darnley Jewel, and a portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots in mourning is prepared to go on display at the National Museum of Scotland.
Thursday, 6 June 2013

One of the most important early jewels in the Royal Collection is among a number of objects lent by The Queen to an exhibition about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The exhibition Mary, Queen of Scots explores the tragic Queen’s story through jewels, textiles, furniture, documents, portraits and rare objects intimately connected to Mary.  Opening on Friday, 28 June, it includes the famous Darnley Jewel and several paintings from the Royal Collection.

The Darnley or Lennox Jewel, an impressive gold enamelled locket, is set with rubies and emeralds and contains concealed compartments.  It is likely to have been made for Mary’s mother-in-law, Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, following the death of her husband Matthew, Earl of Lennox, Regent of Scotland in 1571.  The heart-shaped jewel was intended to be worn around the neck or on the breast.  Its complex iconography relates to the shared life of the Earl and Countess, whose son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was Mary, Queen of Scots’ second husband.  The Latin inscription around the edge of the locket also reveals the couple’s ambitions for their grandson, the future James VI. This translates as ‘Who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim’, perhaps a reassurance that James would one day take the throne.

The jewel is usually on display in Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chambers at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.  These apartments were occupied by Mary between 1561 and 1567.  Today, visitors to the Palace can gain a real sense of what life was like for the Queen from the rooms in which she lived during her turbulent reign and where the dramatic murder of her Italian secretary David Rizzio took place on 9 March 1566. 

Two portraits of Mary by Francois Clouet from the Royal Collection, one a miniature, the other a depiction of her ‘en deuil blanc’ (in white mourning), will also be on display at the National Museum of Scotland, as well as Livinus de Vogeleer’s The Memorial of Lord Darnley.  During this loan, Livinus de Vogeleer’s work will be replaced at the Palace of Holyroodhouse by another mid-16th century work, The Misers.

During the loan of the Darnley Jewel to the National Museum of Scotland, a pendent thought to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots will go on display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Made of gold and enamel, and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, the pendent is inscribed with the words ‘vie et mort’. Its design incorporates a serpent, symbolising sin, entwined around the Tree of Life, and skull cameos, serving as a memento mori, a reminder of death.  The subject is probably the vanquishing of sin.

Deborah Clarke, Curator at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, said, ‘We are delighted that visitors to the Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition will see this important group of works, as Royal Collection Trust aims to bring the Collection to as wide an audience as possible and to show objects in new contexts.  The Darnley Jewel, The Memorial to Lord Darnley and the portraits by Clouet are all key pieces in telling the story of Mary and her eventful life.’

From July, groups of 15 or more will be able to purchase special combined tickets for admission to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.

Ian Jacobs Photography, courtesy National Museums Scotland.