Mary, Queen of Scots Collections: Glasgow Life Museums

In today’s blog Anthony Lewis, Curator of Scottish History at Glasgow Life Museums, tells us about Glasgow’s long history of collecting and exhibition authentic and commemorative Marian objects, from 16th century coins to 20th century ‘Mary’ dolls.

Glasgow Life’s collection representing Mary, Queen of Scots’ life (1542–1587) and times is held by Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections in the Mitchell Library and in the museum displays, buildings and accessible stores at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, The Burrell Collection, Provand’s Lordship, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre and Kelvin Hall. Though Queen Mary never lived in Glasgow for long, using these collections makes it an excellent city from which to study her reign and its commemoration from the 1600s on.

This review focuses on the museum collection of 110 objects. The Marian collections were given wider public access than ever before in Glasgow through the city’s International Exhibitions of 1888 and 1901, which showcased private collections as loans in special halls for Scottish history and archaeology, then again in the redisplay of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in 2006, and looking forward, in the displays in the refurbished Burrell Collection in 2021.

The Grand entrance of the main exhibition building , Glasgow, 1888, in Views of Glasgow, International Exhibition, 1888 . University of Glasgow Library Archives and Special Collections Sp Coll Bh11-a.8
Cast of the Queen Mary Ryall or Cruickston Dollar, sent to the Botanic Gardens in 1817. brass. Glasgow Life 1894.158

The cast of coin known as the Cruikston dollar (1894.158) represents the popularity of manufacturing and collecting Marian mementos amongst Victorian audiences. Following the 1901 International Exhibition, a copy of Queen Mary’s harp (1902.12.d) was accessioned into the collection, another example of how mass-produced copies supplied the continuing Edwardian demand for owning commemorative art. The snuff box made from the yew tree associated with her stay at Crookston, added to the collection in 1926, and the ‘Cruikston dollar’, also represented this lasting need (1926.24).

Replica of the Queen Mary harp, Glasgow Life 1902.12.d

It is hard to verify that all the objects which are claimed to be associated with her do have an actual link, and allowance must be made for romantic fiction and drama based on historical narratives. However, although the ring (OG.1961.10.b), purse (Temp.1320) and hatchment (1927.7) are associated with the Queen’s lifetime, they require evidence to prove these assertions. The collection of 36 coins in the collection do represent her reign, and most were accessioned in 1961. There were 29 small value ‘placks’ (four pence), minted 1557 (A.1961.10.22-58); 4 ‘hardheads’ (three pence ) (A.1961.10.5 and A.1961.10.14-16); a groat ( twelve pence ) ( A.1961.10.9); a half testoon ( two shillings and six pence Scots )(3.108); and a testoon (five shillings Scots ) (A.1954.49).

Silver testoon coin of Queen Mary of Scots dated 1556 and worth four to five shillings by 1558. Glasgow Life A.1954.49

The half testoon coin of 1561 belonged to Sir William Burrell and is the one Marian coin in his collection. It aligns with the books about her and on Scottish history which he collected, his interest in Walter Scott (including the novel The Abbot, the climax of which is Mary’s escape from Loch Leven Castle), and his membership and patronage of the Provand’s Lordship Society. He donated money to the Society with which to buy objects to display – the Society claimed that Queen Mary had stayed at Provand’s Lordship in 1567 to nurse Darnley. It consequently collected and displayed Marian objects for examples, in 1927 the society purchased a portrait of a youthful Mary (PL.1927.253), and a chair associated with Pitcaple castle (PL.1927.21.6).  It even had a room dedicated to her displaying a bed, the hatchment, photographs from the Hamilton collection showing a cradle and death mask (PL.1922.317), a portrait and a panel of 1610 bearing Earl Huntingdon’s arms (PL.1932.288). These all helped the guides there to retell the story to visitors.

Carved wooden panel, Huntingdon, circa 1610. Donated to Provand’s Lordship Society by Sir William Burrell’s Fund, 5 July 1932. Glasgow Life PL.1932.288

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, 16th century, oil on panel. Donated to Provand’s Lordship Society by Sir William Burrell’s Fund, 25 May 1927. Glasgow Life PL.1927.253.

The city’s collection was significantly increased in 1927 through the purchase of a portrait of Mary, once in Earl Morton’s collection, for £7000 (1685). It was displayed at once to meet public demand. Art curator FCF Brotchie declared it among the city’s most important paintings – ‘second to none as a most precious Scottish relic’ and ‘invaluable’ to the public. Dr Caroline Rae has concurred with the view held then that it was painted in the first quarter of the 1600s. It is not the only portrait in the collection dated to this period (1086). In 1927 other Marian accessions included a pillar commemorating the place from where Queen Mary allegedly observed the battle of Langside (1927.87), a hatchment said to have been made at Falkland or Kilbryde Castle (1927.7), and a print (PR.1927.8.d).

James Drummond, Marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Earl of Bothwell, circa 1836-1877. Bequeathed by Robert Cochran, 1937. Glasgow Life 2079.

The majority of the Marian art collection dates to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including works by Scottish painters James Drummond (1816–1877) presenting her marriage to Bothwell (2079), David Scott (1806–1849) depicting the moment the warrant for execution was served (1687), and Robert Herdman (1829–1888) her execution (812). The most recent acquisition was a watercolour by a Glasgow artist Sir John Lavery (1856–1941) showing her retreat after the battle of Langside (PR.2017.4).

Robert Herdman, Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, 1867, oil on canvas. Bequeathed by Adam Teacher, 1898. Glasgow Life 812
Sir John Lavery, Night After the Battle of Langside, circa. 1886, watercolour Glasgow Life PR.2017.4.

The collection of prints and watercolours also depicts similar episodic scenes animating and commemorating her story. Among them are the eighteenth century’s Francesco Bartolozzi (1727–1815) who painted Mary as widow of King Francis II (Temp.2720) with her son James (PL.1938.233) and her flight into England (Temp.9666); and John Boydell (1720–1804) her abdication (Temp.2943); and the nineteenth century’s French artists Drouart (1824–1861) and his engraving of Marie Stuart aged 38 (Temp.2477); Henry Fradelle (1778–1865) and his Mary with Rizzio (U.202.a); Thomas Gaugain (1756–1812) and his Mary receiving her death sentence (PR.1960.12.aci); Beaudran (1795–1866?) and his death of Mary (Temp.8911); and Eugene Lami (1800–1890) and his  vignette of Loch Leven (PR.1970.3.e). These denote the solid French interest in Stuart Scotland, and the production of prints as a collectable series for visualising rather than reading the historical story.

Francesco Bartolozzi after Hans Holbein, Mary Queen of Scots as widow of Francis II , Stipple engraving. Glasgow Life Temp.2720

Scottish and British artists also produced similar art, of events such as Mary’s escape from Loch Leven by William Home Lizars (1788–1859) (PR.1953.6), the parting of Mary and Bothwell by Thomas Southard (1755–1834) (PR.1980.24.e), Mary’s abdication by Sir William Allan(1782–1850) (PR.1945.5.a), Mary mourning Langside by Charles Landseer(1802–1873) (PR.1945.5.f); and of locations associated with her, such as her bedroom by Samuel Dunkinfield Swarbeck(1799–1863) (U.197.a) or Stirling house (Temp.19239). Then there are portraits by Deuchar (1743–1808) (PR.1961.7.lh) and James Pettendrigh Macgillivray (1856–1938) (PR.1927.8.d).

James Struthers Stewart after William Allan, Mary Queen of Scots compelled to sign her abdication in the castle of Loch Leven, Engraving. Glasgow Life PR.1945.5.a
Plastic Mary doll. Glasgow Life HC.1982.77

Later accessions, of objects made in the last quarter of the twentieth century, show the continuing attraction of Mary in play and in dance. These include dolls of Mary and one of her maids (HC.1982.77 and ME.2014.117) and a ballet dress and cap made in 1976 (E.2007.12.18.1 and E.2007.12.18.2) for the performance at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on 3rd March. These latest accessions from the 1960s to 2017 show that despite the ‘boom’ period of the 1920s to 1930s, the importance of commemorating Mary, Queen of Scots has not been lost on museum curators. We look to develop our collections in ways which satisfy the demands for the facts and fictions of Mary’s life and reign, be they through objects which can be associated directly with her, or ones which were always intended to be playful and personal, and to show that learning history in Glasgow’s museums is fun.

6 thoughts on “Mary, Queen of Scots Collections: Glasgow Life Museums”

  1. Thank you so much for this insight into how the world is still
    bewitched by the compelling story of the last queen of Scotland.
    We still commemorate her life in strange ways:- adding items to the collection that are actually made in quite recent times.

    1. Hi Tina,

      Thank you very much for your comment!
      Yes, it is fascinating that material representations of Mary are still being manufactured and collected today. We remember and re-imagine her in so many different ways.

      Best wishes,
      Mqs Project Team

  2. Hi, the watercolour by John Lavery is beautiful. I would love to have a copy. But when I Google it I get a similar painting that is very green and looks like it has been done with oils. This is very confusing!

    Anyway, do you know of any books which contain bookplates of the watercolour?

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