The utter despair of a life in captivity was summed up by Mary Queen of Scots thus – “Would that I had died in Jedburgh.”
She was thinking back to a short but memorable visit to the Border town in October 1566, where, as Queen, she was to preside and administer justice at local courts. In the event she fell victim to a fever and nearly died.
Her illness had been brought on as a result of an arduous 60-mile ride to visit her future lover and husband the Earl of Bothwell at his stronghold at Hermitage Castle. Mary, among other things, always had a fateful capacity to live life dangerously.
Her brief but eventful stay at Jedburgh, however, served to give the town another
splendid tourist attraction. The house where she is said to have lodged, a short walk from the Abbey, is now the much visited Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre.
The impressive 16-century building belonged to the Kerr family, who lived in nearby Ferniehirst Castle, and its rooms contain tapestries, oil paintings, furniture, arms and armour and some of Mary’s possessions (The house itself has an interesting feature, a left-handed staircase built for the Kerrs in the 16th century, to enable them, as left-handers, to wield their swords more easily).
It maps out her life from childhood in France, her return to Scotland to reign as Queen, her captivity in England and eventual execution at Fotheringhay Castle in Northampton in 1587. The Jedburgh display includes a lock of her hair and her death mask.
It was common practice to make a mask from the severed head as soon as possible after death.
The example (left) was found by the late Dr Charles Hepburn of Glasgow, in Peterborough, where Mary was first buried.
The memorabilia also includes jewellery, historic documents and a watch that she lost on her way to see Bothwell, amazingly retrieved from a hole in the ground some 250 years later.
A painted panel typifies the turbulence that followed Mary through life. It depicts Mary, Lord Darnley her second (murdered) husband, Lord Bothwell (later her third husband) and David Rizzio, her (also murdered) secretary.
Interest in Mary has never waned and the centre, opened in 1987 on the 400th anniversary of her death, is rated as one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions,
Mary Queen of Scots House is in Queen Street, Jedburgh, open from March to November, daily, from 10am-5pm. Admission is free.
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