In today’s blog, Jade Scott (Ph.D student at University of Glasgow) and Alison Wiggins (Reader in English Language and Manuscripts at University of Glasgow) take a tour of Mary’s correspondence and reveal how her letters carry not only the story told by the words on the page, but how their visual and material features reveal stories of their original production, reception and later afterlives.
At 10am on 8 February 2017 the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots went on rare public display at the National Library of Scotland. For preservation reasons the letter was scheduled to be on view for only six hours, until 4pm, although viewing was extended to nine hours, until 7pm, due to the long queues forming on the street outside the library in Edinburgh. The demand to see the letter was beyond expectations, even taking into account the draw of the Scottish Queen. The scale of interest in seeing the letter might be explained by its intrinsic appeal and its dramatic content. It is certainly a letter that fulfils many of our modern expectations about epistolary forms and what we might hope and imagine can be found in the archives. It is written in a candid and open rhetorical style, expresses her own thoughts and fears, is addressed directly from one royal to another, from Mary to Henri III King of France, and it was written at a pivotal and intense moment of historical importance. But perhaps most important was the promise of getting close to an object with which we can be sure Mary had had actual physical contact, 430 years ago to the day of her execution. We know from the style of handwriting and large clear signature that Mary had picked up a quill and penned this letter herself, and therefore had held it in her own hands. Autograph signed documents stand out amongst all the objects from material culture associated with Marian memorialisation, because they are items with which we can be demonstrably sure Mary had direct physical contact. Letters in particular, as a document type, can give us the satisfaction of a direct line to the past and the person, not only the writer’s words but also their physical presence at a specific moment in time.
It is true that this is a very special letter. Yet in many ways it is atypical among the wider corpus of correspondence written to and from Mary during her life. This blog post takes a tour of a selection of Mary’s correspondence and points out some of the visual and physical features in the letters that have come down to us today, as well as their overlap and intersections with other aspects of material culture. These observations come from our experience of compiling a new up-to-date database of the letters written to and from Mary held in archives, libraries and private collections today — a task that is ongoing as we continue to add to our growing set of records of c.1000 letters in more than 25 repositories spread across 9 countries. The challenge for us as researchers is partly to chase down and find letters in archives. But it is also to untangle the story of how each letter came to be there in that repository and how its current physical location, state, marks and marginalia tell a story of that letter’s journey through time. The routes the letters have taken are the bridges between past and present. They are the second stories told by letters. A letter carries not only the story told by the words on the page, but also the stories of its original production, reception and later afterlives. How we extract and tell these stories are among the problems, questions and opportunities that letters present to us as objects. Many of the letters that come down to us today can seem opaque and almost intractably difficult to understand, to place historically or even to read or make any sense of at all. They are filled with unknowns, puzzles and unsolved mysteries. They are sites of intrigue and contestation that do not give up simple or clear-cut answers. What they do give to us is a wealth of material that remains wide open to a range of disciplinary approaches, questions, imaginative engagement and creative responses.
Visual features: handwriting, signatures, codes and ciphers
A letter is far more than the informational content carried in its syntax and grammar or a mine for nuggets of factual anecdote. Every letter carries a visual message communicated in the choice of forms of script, handwriting, spelling and punctuation. On encountering an original handwritten letter to or from Mary Queen of Scots, we must first ask in whose hand it is written. Just as it is a problem for curators to authenticate objects and art works, so too is it a problem for archivists and historians of letters. Securing authentication often rests upon forensic examination of the physical and visual features, such as language, seals, paper types, and most crucially, handwriting. We must further ask what we mean by an authentic letter, which could include a draft, an administrative file copy, a sent letter, an intercepted letter that has been tampered with or annotated, or another form of duplicate. Questions around establishing authenticity preoccupied Mary’s contemporaries and enemies, who were keen to gather potentially incriminating evidence against her written in her own hand as proof that would stand up in court as legal evidence. Her letters were intercepted, duplicated, extracted and collected as potential evidence and Elizabeth I’s ministers annotated parts in her hand, replicated her handwriting to force confessions from her associates, and displayed her handwritten missives during her trials. After her execution, Elizabeth’s officers feared that any items that could be physically linked to her could be used as relics. The preoccupation with finding writing in Mary’s own hand thus continued over time and has shaped the letters that come down to us today. The enduring special interest in Mary herself, combined with the desire of collectors to own autographs and signature of famous letter-writers, has resulted in frequent cherry-picking of individual letters by collectors. Given the intense interest in these visual features, it is perhaps surprising that there has not been more research into Mary’s own handwriting and that of her secretaries. Greater access to digital images is now revitalising this aspect of study.
Mary’s own handwriting can be seen in her famous ‘last letter’, where the choice of her own italic hand was appropriate to the content and to the high-status royal recipient. This is the letter that was sent, although it may well have been copied from a draft, so is a ‘copy’ in that sense. The draft itself, which we not longer have, itself may or may not have been in Mary’s own hand. The letter is Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv.MS.54.1.1, and images available via the NLS Digital Gallery https://digital.nls.uk/mqs/.
Mary often collaborated closely with her scribes and secretaries, who might have been involved not only in penning the letter but also developing the content. This example from 25 June 1586 is a letter penned by a scribe from Mary to the Laird of Smeaton to which she added her authenticating signature. An image and recording of the letter being read aloud are available from the National Museums Scotland web site:
An intercepted letter copied by Thomas Phelippes
A copy of a letter could have a range of functions: there are autograph and scribal fair copies for sending, administrative file copies for record-keeping, intercepted copies made surreptitiously, handwritten facsimiles to be used as evidence in court, modernised transcriptions, faithful replicates suitable for research or for preservation and access, and there are deceptive fakes and forgeries. There are numerous letters among Mary’s correspondence that are ‘copies’ of one sort of another, and questions of authenticity and memorialisation require that we understand the status and function of the copy in question. Mary was aware even as she wrote her letters that they were being copied and gathered to be used in evidence against her as well as being kept for posterity. Even in the moment of their authorship her letters were being written as a form of self-conscious memorialisation — while it can be tempting to think of letters as giving us a transparent window into writer’s thoughts, we must remember they are rhetorical constructions often written for more than one reader and with an eye on future reception circumstances. [Images available from SPOnline https://www.gale.com/intl/primary-sources/state-papers-online]
Mary’s ciphers by an unknown hand
There are numerous examples of Mary’s ciphers and of letters or parts of letter written in cipher. In the catalogues these ciphers are attributed to Mary because they were found with her papers and examples exist of letters sent by her using these ciphers, but the ciphers themselves are not identified as being in Mary’s hand. Usually a secretary would create the cipher (such as Mary’s secretary Gilbert Curle), again leading to the question of authorship and mediation:
TNA SP 53/22. Ciphers used by Mary Queen of Scots in 1586 https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/spies/ciphers/mary/ma1_x.htm
TNA SP 53/18/55 and SP 12/293/54. Postscript and cipher from the Babington Plot
Examples from: Secrets and Spies, The National Archives Online Exhibition, authors: Claire Bertrand and Eleanor van Heyningent [no date given] Date of last access: 29 August 2020
TNA SP 53/14 f. 30, Mary to the Master of Gray, 1584 [Images available from SPOnline https://www.gale.com/intl/primary-sources/state-papers-online]. This is a particularly lengthy example of correspondence in cipher running to 6 pages. There is no signature but that is not unusual or unexpected in a coded letter. We can observe the contemporary decipher about the line of coded text. In the catalogue this letter is recorded as Mary’s, but we must ask: is it the original or a copy that was then deciphered? There is no immediate sign of a seal. Closer examination of the manuscript (and the pack it was sent with) might help to establish if this was the original.
An eighteenth-century forgery?
We must wonder about the source of this letter. It comes down to us only in this copy written in the hand of Edinburgh historian, poet, collector of manuscripts and forger John Pinkerton (1758-1826). Is it a copy of a genuine sixteenth-century version? Or is it some kind of forgery intended to deceive? The letter is now Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS 1710, fols 23-24. Further discussion and an image are available at https://www.bessofhardwick.org/background.jsp?id=150 and https://www.bessofhardwick.org/image.jsp?letter=220
Agnes Strickland (1796 –1874) produced multiple volumes of edited and annotated letters and biographical commentaries, published in the 1840s and 1850s, that include translations and ciphered letters presented to us in modernised form. Strickland’s editions mediate the letters through a nineteenth-century cultural viewpoint and set of conventions, providing a compelling insight into Victorian views of the Scottish Queen. The editorial process does not always indicate where or how a letter has been translated, transliterated or modernised, although there are indications in the content, such as the letter from Mary Queen to Scots to the Archbishop of Glasgow, from Tutbury 30 April 1570: ‘…the rest I write to you in cipher, but this I wished to signify with my own hand, to inform you of the need that I and mine have of prompt assistance. … So, referring to my cipher, and what you will hear from the bearer of this…’. Letters of Mary, queen of Scots: now first published from the originals, collected from various sources, private as well as public, with an historical introduction and notes, ed. by Agnes Strickland, Vol. I (London: Henry Colburn, 1844), scan available from the Internet Archive [Last Date of Access: 29 August 2020] https://archive.org/details/vol1lettersofmar00mary/page/210/mode/2up, pp. 129-130.
Souvenir facsimiles of the ‘last letter’
Mary’s ‘last letter’ is available as a souvenir from the National Library of Scotland gift shop. Or, at least, accurate facsimiles are on sale. Facsimiles and models make great souvenirs, teaching resources, research tools and gifts. They are part of a long tradition of memorialisation for fans, tourists and visitors. You can buy yours here:
Physical features: locks, wax, packets and caskets
In order to authenticate a letter and reconstruct its story over time, we must consider its material boundaries. In the era before envelopes, letters were folded up to be sent, ‘locked’ with wax, thread, paper tabs, stitching or other mechanisms, were sometimes left ‘unlocked’, or could be delivered in a larger bag or container. A letter would, thus, change its shape, spatial dimensions and placement at different stages of its delivery and reception. The meanings carried in its folds, delivery receptacles and collection contexts can be lost once the letter is flattened out, removed from its packet or its casket, or redistributed into a collection. In reality, it was the letter packet rather than the individual letter that was the Early Modern unit of delivery. Early Modern letters were sent grouped together with other letters and documents in a dossier, diplomatic bag, or packet of materials which could relate to each other in any number of ways. One letter could function as a ‘covering note’ to authenticate and contextualise the others or could function to introduce the subject matter to an intermediary who would then present the materials. To try to reconstruct retrospectively the relationships between items in a packet has been described as like trying to do a puzzle with an unknown number of missing pieces. There is often a tendency, today, to imagine letters being sent one at a time and from one person to another, based on our understanding of modern epistolary models. Archive and library catalogues likewise tend to record letters individually, rather than in related groups. All of these processes of flattening out, preserving, boxing up, separating and storing letters are part of how they have come down to us and these preservation measures have been essential to their survival and accessibility. But these archival processes are also part and parcel of the memorialisation of Mary Queen of Scots and carry cultural information from their own eras.
The Spiral Lock for the ‘last letter’
The intricate lock used for the ‘last letter’ has been reconstructed by Jana Dambrogio, demonstrated here in her remarkable video that has had more than 40,000 views.
It is a rare and complex lock, highly skilled to create, used by a number of high profile individuals from the European Renaissance including Elizabeth I and Catherine de’ Medici, and is the subject of research captured in a forthcoming publication by the Letterlocking team http://letterlocking.org/. Their reconstruction of the spiral lock will feature in the British Library’s major exhibition on Elizabeth and Mary https://www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary. Other Early Modern letter locks identified by the team include the Butterfly, Dagger-Trap, Triangle and Anti-Spy locks. The nature of the lock chosen can give us information about the identity of the sender, the level of security required or can signify a hidden message. The use of video gives us a digital re-animation of the letters and an entirely new way to see this letter in three dimensions, one that also transmits to the viewer a sense of the haptic experience of letters.
Letter packets distributed across repositories
In 1566 Mary wrote to Elizabeth I in French and in her own hand. The letter was enclosed and sent with another letter from Mary, written to Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil, penned by her secretary and in Scots (TNA SP 52/12 f. 14 and f. 15 [Images available from SPOnline https://www.gale.com/intl/primary-sources/state-papers-online]). In order to understand these two letters, we need to appreciate that they acted in concert with one another. Once we realise they were sent together they prompt us to ask further questions:
- When Mary addressed Cecil did she assume that this letter would be read only by him and not by Elizabeth?
- The letter to Elizabeth is not individually sealed (though it has been folded) and therefore it is likely it would have been read by Cecil before being presented to Elizabeth. Is this something which goes against modern yearnings to find intimacy in letters and to understand the interpersonal relationship between Mary and Elizabeth?
- The more formal of these two letters is addressed to Cecil and there is a further degree of distance established by using a secretary. Conversely, the letter to Elizabeth is in the language with which she was most at ease (French) and appears less composed in its letter-forms, with text squeezed into the bottom of the page and indeed even her signature barely fitting. Can we read these letters on multiple levels not simply as two distinct examples, one ‘intimate and private’ and the other ‘formal and public’?
In some cases, we find that letters have been catalogued individually and are now held at two different repositories, even through they were originally delivered together. This is the case with the packet of letters sent in 1569 and now distributed between the The National Archives (TNA) and the British Library (BL): TNA SP 53/3 f. 70 (Shrewsbury to Cecil), BL Cotton Caligula C/I f. 413 (Mary to Cecil), and BL Cotton Caligula C/I f. 409 (Mary to Elizabeth). The layers of diplomacy often mean that one person did not write directly to another, but would write to that person’s secretary or chief administrator and would do so via a trusted bearer. The role of letter bearers included presenting a context for letters, performing part of the content and providing additional information required to read the letter, so a bearer might carry a letter of introduction, supporting documentation or further letters functioning as passports. The digitisation of catalogue data is starting to create links between previously siloed collections, and the dissolving of barriers between collections will potentially give us more accurate and meaningful ways to connect disparate documents.
The Lennoxlove Casket
There are further digital opportunities to link the letters with their physical spaces, locations and containers, which include boxes, rooms, containers and chests. Most famous are the so-called Casket Letters, which have long been associated with discourses of memorialisation surrounding the Lennoxlove Casket https://www.lennoxlove.com/
Performativity and ephemeral material contexts: ruby rings, living things, laundry and linen
Many of Mary’s letters were sent with objects, either durable or ephemeral, which functioned as gifts, items of recognition, diplomatic tools, or where the object was the main item being sent and the letter functioned as a brief covering note. In most cases we do not know what happened to these objects, or at what point the object and letter became separated or where each part ended up. Many were ephemeral or their link with the letter was short lived. The range of objects and delivery contexts is extraordinary in the case of the Scottish Queen’s correspondence, not least because of the pressure to send letters by secret and ingenious means during her nineteen years of captivity. The references to objects prompt us to ask where the boundaries of the letter lie. Letters were sent tucked into, wrapped around, accompanied by or pinned onto a range of items that included jewellery, walking sticks, linen, blankets, clothing, pots of jam and baskets of small dogs. Exhibitions can be an opportunity to see letters reunited together with objects from physically disparate repositories — something that will be a feature of the British Library’s much-anticipated exhibition on Mary and Elizabeth. When letters are featured dramatised in film, literature or on stage, depicting aspects of the life of the Scottish Queen, they are sometimes performed in ways that help to give us a sense of a vibrant material world. Furthermore, there are digital opportunities to bring together objects and documents from their repository siloes to allow them to speak to one another in ways that can bring the two to life and give entirely new perspectives to the histories they tell. The possibilities are wide ranging when it comes to bringing in the sense of a world cohered by letters and international connections, linked by diplomacy, trade, collections, communications, family and politics.
A ruby ring
On several occasions Mary and her correspondents sent rings as tokens of identification that authenticated (or were authenticated by) accompanying letters. They could indicate to the recipient assurance over the veracity of the bearer’s verbal message or the content of the letter. We know about these rings because they are referred to in the letters. For example, ‘Believe, in particular, a person who will give you, in my name, a ruby ring, for I assure you, upon my conscience, that this person will tell you the truth agreeably to my desire’ (Mary to Mauvissière, September 1584, Strickland, Vol. II, p. 186). Other examples can be found in Strickland, Vol. I, p. 78; Vol. I, p. 114; Vol. 1, p. 200; and TNA SP 53/11, f.44. Some of the precious objects associated with Mary and now held by National Museums Scotland are discussed at: https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/mary-queen-of-scots/mary-queen-of-scots/objects-associated-with-mary-queen-of-scots/
Baskets of little dogs
In the to-and-fro of exchanges of letters we find numerous references to ephemeral items, from everyday necessities of blankets, food and medicine to luxury treats, comforts and the latest fashions (‘Send me the head-dresses from Possy’, Strickland, Vol. 1, p. 215; ‘I am highly pleased with my watch, and admire it so much for its pretty devices’, Vol. 1, p. 216). These references, paired with similar ones in the financial accounts, give us glimpses into daily life during Mary’s captivity, as well as the operations of diplomacy, political negotiations, community building and the navigation of interpersonal relations. Domesticated animals were among the special deliveries Mary asked for and received from her supporters: ‘If M the Cardinal of Guise, my uncle, is gone to Lyons, I am sure he will send me a couple of pretty little dogs; and you must buy me two more; for, besides writing and work, I take pleasure only in all the little animals that I can get. You must send them in baskets, that they may be kept very warm’ (Strickland Vol. 1, p. 205, Mary to the Archbishop of Glasgow 22 September 1575, at p. 209). She sent a subsequent reminder on 13 November 1575 to ‘send my little dogs’ (Vol. 1, p. 212) and had evidently received them by 12 February 1576 when she said ‘I am very fond of my little dogs; but I am afraid they will grow large’ and would also like some ‘barbets [now called poodles] and sporting dogs’ (Vol. 1, p. 216).
Letters in linen and bundles of laundry
Letters, which could be tiny and carried in almost any object, resulted in a climate of restless surveillance. Famously, we know letters were sent to and from Mary during her captivity in beer barrels. In another example, rumours had reached Mary’s keepers that two Scottish supporters were bringing hidden letters disguised as linen sellers — an ideal cover for gaining entry to a household and infiltrating slips of paper: https://www.bessofhardwick.org/letter.jsp?letter=084
Messages were sent not only as paper and ink but also as verbal messages, and Mary’s female attendants were especially important channels of news and intelligence. Gender played a key role in intelligence networks and diplomacy, not least because women and women’s letters were (mistakenly) regarded as being less suspicious.
Dangerous objects: reading the letters of Mary Queen of Scots in the time of Covid19 and future steps
Our discussion has emphasised that letters are objects and that they carry meaning not only in their syntax and grammar but in their visual features, spatial dimensions, material contexts and their lively surrounding animate moments of reception. How Mary’s letters functioned as objects was vital to their use, as they could bear hidden messages concealed in invisible ink, secret codes, signs, symbols, folds, enclosures and gifts, capable of building accord or of sparking controversy or revolt. Given our focus on the materiality of letters, it has been extraordinary to be writing this blog post in the time of the Covid19 Pandemic. During the spring and summer of 2020, we were not able to visit any of the letters in person as we were locked down and archives and libraries were closed. The situation has been a substantive reminder of the physical presence of letters, capable of carrying pathogens and genetic materials in their surfaces and fibres. The potential of paper to transmit a virus when physically handled by different readers, has resulted in books and documents becoming quarantined objects. The potential of a letter to draw a crowd (as we saw in 2017 when Mary’s ‘last letter’ went on display) has also been an issue during the public health crisis when physical distancing is the rule. Letters will no doubt be a highlight of the British Library’s Elizabeth and Mary exhibition, which was scheduled for this summer but has had to be postponed until better times. The physicality of letters means they can be dangerous objects in the sense of being vectors that carry a virus or draw a crowd, and their agency as objects continues right up to this present moment.
The time of Covid19 has shown us what research is like without visits to a reading room or exhibition space, when we are dependent upon our own caches of digital images taken during previous visits to archives, combined with what is available online in digital form. Institutional closures have included lack of access to some subscription-only digital resources that are only available on-site in libraries and archives. It is an experience that has heightened our sense of urgency around the nature and quality of digital archival resources and reminds us that digitisation is not synonymous with accessibility. Digitisation has made out-of-copyright Victorian and 18thc resources more accessible — the catalogues, finding aids, editions, and biographies of this era are now more readily available to us, transferred into digital form, although not always with the details of their origins clearly apparent to users. There is a risk that the result of digitisation will be to take us back more firmly and regularly to the 18thc and 19thc sources and their accompanying frameworks of knowledge. The great potentials of digitisation have been mentioned in this blog post — which include access to images, cross-collection searching, linking items and objects from across cultural institutions and repositories, and the use of video and performance to imaginatively engage with documents. But these are not the automatic or guaranteed results of digitisation. As we look to the future, how we structure and access sources will shape the version of Mary Queen of Scots we see today and the memorialisations we in our own era add to her evolving story.
References and further reading:
On the 2017 display of the last letter:
- ‘Last letter of Mary, Queen of Scots on display for six hours’, 6 February 2017, BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38826244
- ‘Last letter of Mary, Queen of Scots: Display extended by three hours’, 8 February 2017, BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38907013
- ‘Display of Mary, Queen of Scots’ last letter extended by 3 hours’, 8 February 2017, The Scotsman https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/display-mary-queen-scots-last-letter-extended-3-hours-1456471
On autograph handwriting:
- Alford, Stephen, The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I (London: Penguin, 2012), discusses how objects owned by her have always had ‘special significance’ for those who saw Mary as a victim of Elizabeth and tyranny of the Protestant state.
- Historical letters in a writer’s own hand as ‘catnip to collectors’ and ‘the holy grail for biographers’ are discussed by Alan Stewart, ‘Early Modern Lives in Facsimile’, Textual Practice, 23: 2 (2009): 289-305, doi: 10.1080/09502360902760273
- Cathy Shrank, ‘Manuscript, Authenticity and “evident proofs” Against the Scottish Queen’, English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700, Vol. 15: Tudor Manuscripts 1485-1603, ed. by A. S. G. Edwards (London: The British Library, 2009), pp. 198-218
- Alison Wiggins, ‘The Handwritten Fictions of the Archive: Handwriting as Authentication, Encryption and Forensic Evidence in Elizabethan Letters, Post-Truth in the Archives, ed. by Michael Moss and David Thomas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press for 2020)
On letter locks, packets and collections:
- The comparison between letter packets and puzzles to crack is made by Arnold Hunt, ‘“Burn This Letter”: Preservation and Destruction in the Early Modern Archive’, in James Daybell and Andrew Gordon (eds), Cultures of Correspondence in Early Modern Britain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), pp. 189-209
- The forms and uses of diplomatic bags, with particular reference to Margaret Tudor, grandmother to Mary Queen of Scots, is discussed by Helen Newsome, ‘The Function, Format, and Performance of Margaret Tudor’s January 1522 Diplomatic Memorial’, 5 May 2020, Renaissance Studies https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12678
- The Casket Letters are discussed by John Guy, ‘The Legitimacy of the Letters’, 2018 https://almeida.co.uk/the-legitimacy-of-the-letters
On gender and secret letters:
- Akkerman, Nadine, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)
- On delivery of Mary’s letters through various means is the chapter by James Daybell, ‘Secret Letters in Elizabethan England’, in James Daybell and Peter Hinds (eds), Material Readings in Early Modern Culture: Text and Social Practices, 1580-1730, Early Modern Literature in History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 47-64, especially p. 57.
On textual science and libraries:
- Research to establish the detectability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus over time in circulated library materials is the subject of the REALM Project: https://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/COVID-19-research-project.html; I am grateful to Louisa Coles and Robert MacLean from Glasgow University Library Special Collections for this reference.
- The Folger Shakespeare Library project that is swabbing old books for DNA from historical readers is described at: https://www.washingtonian.com/2019/04/25/shakespeare-dna-hiding-folger-library-vault-project-dustbunny/
This research was enabled with the support of an AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Project title: Archives and Writing Lives, PI Alison Wiggins, RA Jade Scott, University of Glasgow 2017-19 (AH/P009735/1). We are grateful to contributors to the RSE Project ‘In the End is my Beginning’: The Memorialisation and Cultural Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots, 1567-2019, especially Steven Reid and Anne Dulau Beveridge for the opportunity to participate in this and other events during 2019-20. We are grateful to archivists and librarians for their contribution to the development of this research, in particular Andrea Clark at the British Library. We thank those participating in and attending the event ‘What did it Mean to be a Queen of Scotland?’, 26 August 2020, Lucy Dean, Amy Hayes, Helen Newsome and Jade Scott, Renaissance Society crowdcast event https://www.rensoc.org.uk, available at: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/what-did-it-mean-to-be-a/1. For their insight and for taking the time to talk with us about these letters, we thank Clara Cohen, Jana Dambrogio, Danial Starza Smith and Emily Wingfield.