Edinburgh Book Festival: "Searching for Mary Queen of Scots" Review

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Rosalind Marshall and Linda Porter with Al Senter, Chair
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This session entitled, "Searching for Mary Queen of Scots" drew a full house to the Scottish Power Studio. Rosalind Marshall, a leading historian teamed up with author Linda Porter, whose book "Crown of Thistles" seems to be very aptly titled.

The session was enthusiastically chaired by Al Senter who opened the discussion by asking, "why some four hundred years after her death, do we still find Mary so fascinating?"

Rosalind Marshall felt that it was probably because there were still so many unknowns about Mary, who, for instance, was responsible for Darnley's murder? Are the letters in the famous casket hers? As we know they led finally to her death, but are they genuine? There remain many questions about her which it is difficult to answer.

Linda Porter agreed and added that probably Mary's one goal was to be recognised as the rightful heir to Elisabeth in which she failed.

Rosalind Marshall said she felt she was in a position to recommend the current exhibition about Mary at the National Museum of Scotland, as she had nothing to do with organising the event! She had visited the exhibition on four occasions already and expected to go at least four more times!

She said that there were a host of items on display and some of them had surprised her by their scale, some being larger than expected while others were smaller. She mentioned a small silver hand bell which had the Royal Arms of Scotland on one side with Mary's cipher on the other.

She then discussed Mary's wardrobe and her dresses of which there were fifty nine, covered in silver and gold to denote her Royal status. There was also a good deal of jewellery which had mainly been given to her while growing up in the French Court. 

There were necklaces, rings and a crucifix which she eventually gave to the Abbot of Westminster at the time of her execution Mary was a tall lady, being some six foot in height and she had the Stuart love of fine things, although she was not self indulgent. She apparently enjoyed dancing and played the harp. As with many at the time her religion was very important to her.

Linda Porter then spoke about her book, "Crown of Thistles" which she said she started back with the Wars of the Roses; this was because she wanted to correct some of the misconceptions that existed about Mary's background.

But, she stressed, Mary was actually a Queen and had been Queen of Scotland for twenty five years having acceded to the Throne six days after she was born. She had ruled, albeit with regents, throughout this period and also was briefly Queen Consort of France until her French husband died.

Crown of Thistles by Linda Porter is published by Pan Macmillan. "Mary, Queen of Scots" continues at the National Museum of Scotland until 17th November.