Mary’s Wardrobe

No spoilers, but just a quick insight of the talk I’m giving tomorrow about Mary Queen of Scots’ Wardrobe.

Blair-smallSometime late last year, Loura Brooks of Edinburgh University’s Open Studies launched the idea of a combined course on Mary Queen of Scots to coincide with the major exhibition being held this summer at the National Museum of Scotland.  Above, you can see the cover of the exhibition catalogue by Rosalind Marshall.  There’s plenty of time to see the exhibition since it runs until 17 November.

The course is called “Mary Queen of Scots: From Every Angle“, and it covers… well, most of the important facets of her life: politics and religion, her image, jewellery and costume.

My contribution on Mary’s wardrobe will focus on the fabrics and their production, the tailoring and fashions of Mary’s time, as well as the rituals of dressing and undressing, and the care of clothes and, moreover, their reuse.

During the years she spent at the French court Mary became accustomed to the very best of elite fashion and the richest fabrics.  By the mid-sixteenth century some of these silks, velvets and brocades were being manufactured in France, but many continued to be imported from Italy, where exceptionally skilled Florentine, Genoese and Venetian spinners and weavers had produced these complex fabrics since the fourteenth century (think of the dresses in Ghirlandaio’s frescos for the Tornabuoni chapel, late fifteenth century).

TornabuoniMary brought her French wardrobe with her to Edinburgh and when she arrived in 1561 her subjects had never seen such costly and fabulously embellished garments: some years later, Bishop Lesley commented that,

“Attour the Quenes Hienes fornitour, hingingis, and appareill, quhilk wes schippit at Newheavin and careit in Scotland, was also, in hir awin cumpanye transportit with hir Majestie in Scotland, mony costlye jewells and goldin wark, precious stanis, orient pearle, maist excellent of any that was in Europe, and mony coistly abilyeamentis for hir body, with meikill silver wark of coistlye cupbordis, cowpis, plaite.” (History of Scotland)

Those costly garments were restricted to the nobility by detailed sumptuary legislation, but in Mary’s case such ostentation and display, although expected of royalty, nonetheless attracted the criticism of John Knox, who was always ready to pen stinging remarks aimed directly at a woman whose rule, or regiment, he deemed immoral.  Such finery and “superfluous apparell”, he wrote, was evidence of the “stinking pryd of wemen”!

About Lucy Byatt

I'm a translator, from Italian into English. I also teach Italian Renaissance history and write.
This entry was posted in Cultural history, Scottish history and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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