Vicky Garrington, History Curator at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, has created the latest exhibition on Capital Collections. We invited her to tell us about this very special collection of documents:
“A group of documents believed to have been signed by Mary Queen of Scots have recently come to light at the Museum of Edinburgh. Although information about them was held on file, they were lost in storage before being unearthed during recent inventory and conservation work. After decades spent unseen, they have been photographed ready to share on Capital Collections.
The beautifully handwritten documents, carefully dated, numbered and signed, relate to the busy commercial life of Edinburgh during the 16th century. Papers covering markets and the selling of meat sit alongside permits for London salt sellers to operate in the City and for the building of a bulwark (defensive wall) at Leith. The documents date from 1553 to 1567 (Mary reigned in Scotland from 1542 to 1567), and are signed variously by Mary, her then husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, and James, Duke of Chastlerault.
Together, the documents shed light on a key part of Scotland’s past. We all know the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots, her eventful life and eventual execution in 1587, but in these documents we see a different side to Mary. Here, she can be seen carefully managing the everyday affairs of Edinburgh, both from France and Scotland. It’s fascinating to think of her reading through these official papers before carefully applying her signature.
New information on the documents has come to light during the inventory and conservation process: two of the documents include watermarks in the paper which can only be seen when they are held up to the light. One features a goat, the other a hand holding a flower. This discovery shows how our museum objects can keep teaching us things, revealing new secrets as we work with them.”
Visit Capital Collections to see the documents and read the daily business of being Queen.