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Explore Mary, Queen of Scots' Chambers

Mary lived in the Palace of Holyroodhouse between 1561 and 1567. Her private chambers can be found in the north-west tower, which was originally built for her father James V, nearly 500 years ago. This is the oldest section of the Palace, reached by a narrow, steep and winding staircase.  

Explore the rooms and the objects inside them.

Bedchamber

Photograph of Mary, Queen of Scots' Bedchamber

Mary, Queen of Scots' Bedchamber ©

This was a very important room for Mary, where she would have felt safe and secure. Her room was decorated with items she brought back from France, as well as furniture she inherited from when her parents lived at the Palace.  The oak ceiling is one of the oldest in the Palace. It is decorated with her mother’s and father’s initials. 

Today some visitors to the Palace have to duck to get through the low doorway – it reminds us that when this room was built in the 1500s, people were a bit shorter than they are now. Mary was very unusual for her time – she grew to be six feet tall. She may have needed to duck to get in here too!

Private closet

Photograph of Mary, Queen of Scot's dressing room

Mary, Queen of Scot's dressing room ©

Mary had two rooms in the turrets of her Bedchamber.

Small rooms like this were known as closets and these were Mary’s most private rooms.

Mary may have used the room in the south-west turret as a study or a dressing room.

​Supper room

Photograph of Mary, Queen of Scot's Supper Room

Mary, Queen of Scot's Supper Room ©

The other closet was Mary’s Supper Room.

She spent time eating, relaxing and listening to music with her closest friends in this room.

Mary was in here on 9 March 1566 when she witnessed the murder of her secretary, David Rizzio.

Rizzio was dragged from the Supper Room and stabbed 56 times in a plot organised by Mary's jealous husband, Lord Darnley, and a group of powerful Scottish lords.

His body was left next door in the Outer Chamber.

​Outer chamber

Photograph of Mary, Queen of Scots' Outer Chamber

Mary, Queen of Scots' Outer Chamber ©

The Outer Chamber was a private room where Mary met important visitors to discuss the running of the country.

There were many divisions in Scotland at this time. Mary, a Catholic queen in a newly Protestant country, had to have many difficult conversations in here, including several heated exchanges with John Knox. 

This room could also be calm and tranquil. Can you see the alcove with a stained glass window at the back of the room? This is called an Oratory. It was a quiet space where Mary came to say her daily prayers.

​Blood stain

Photograph of plaque where David Rizzio's body was left after his murder

Plaque where David Rizzio's body was left after his murder ©

After he was dragged from the Supper Room and attacked, David Rizzio's body was left in here.

It was a shocking sight for those who found him.

In fact, it is claimed that his bloodstains are still visible on the floor by one of the window.

Look closely - can you see if you can spot the infamous red marks?

You can also see Rizzio's portrait hanging on the wall.

Objects up close

Today the rooms in this historic tower are filled with objects associated with the Mary.

Let’s look at some of these up close.

POMANDER

Pomander said to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots

Pomander 1500 - 1600, RCIN 28182 ©

This silver object is called a ‘pomander’ and it is said to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. 

It is shaped like an orange and it has segments that can be filled with sweet-smelling herbs and spices – like cloves, cinnamon or lavender. 

In the 1500s, flushing toilets had not been invented so people threw their sewage out onto the streets of Edinburgh – and some people didn’t take too many baths either!

To cover up these horrible smells, ladies hung pomanders from a chain around their waist. 

If Mary encountered someone who was a bit pungent, she could smell her pomander instead!

Darnley Jewel

The Darnley Jewel

The Darnley Jewel ©

This is one of the most spectacular jewels in the Royal Collection, made from rubies, gold and emeralds.

We think it was made for Lord Darnley’s mother, the Countess of Lennox – she was Mary, Queen of Scots’ mother-in-law.

It is decorated with emblems and symbols linked to Lord Darnley’s family.

It even has little hidden compartments.

One of the decorations shows how the countess hoped her grandson would one day rule all of Britain.

This did indeed happen in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England.

'A Catte'

Embroidery of a cat and mouse by Mary, Queen of Scots

A catte, by Mary, Queen of Scots, RCIN 28224 ©

Embroidery has been a pastime of royalty for many centuries.

Mary sewed many pictures while she was imprisoned in England by her cousin, Elizabeth I.

This embroidery is now on display in Mary's Outer Chamber.

It shows a ginger cat and a mouse sitting on a chequered floor.

Mary has also sewed the words ‘a catte’ to describe her picture.

Look closely, can you see what the cat is doing to the mouse’s tail so that it can’t escape?

Some people think that the little trapped mouse represents Mary and the ginger cat is Elizabeth. 

Portraits

Portrait of Lord Darnley and his brother Charles Stewart

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and his brother Charles Stewart, Earl of Lennox by Hans Heworth, RCIN 403432 ©

Portraits like this can tell us much more than just what somebody looked like. Let’s take a closer look.

This portrait was painted when Lord Darnley was seventeen, two years before he married Mary, Queen of Scots in the Palace chapel.

He stands beside his six year old brother Charles.

Darnley was known to be quite vain and he spent a lot of money on his outfits.

Here he is wearing a tight fighting jacket (called a ‘doublet’) and pumpkin shaped trousers (called ‘hose’).

You’ll see he also wears a ruff around his neck made from white linen.

Ruffs were worn by men and women and were very fashionable at the time.

They also acted as a status symbol – the bigger the ruff, the more important you seemed!

 

Did you know?

At this time, young boys (like Darnley’s brother, Charles, in this painting) wore dresses until they were 4–8 years old.   

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, British School, RCIN 404408 ©

This full-length portrait shows Mary, Queen of Scots standing in mourning costume.

This was painted after her death and the choice of outfit might be linked to the small scene painted within the portrait.

Look to her left – can you see the artist has included a painting of Mary at her execution? 

Perhaps this explains the mourning clothes she is wearing.

She is surrounded by things that were important to her – the Royal Arms of Scotland, two of her ladies-in-waiting and objects linked to her Catholic faith (a crucifix, a prayer-book, a cross and a rosary).

Get creative! Make your own ruff and pomander, design an embroidery or decorate your own precious jewel inspired by the objects in Mary's chambers

Make a ruff

Make a pomander

Design an embroidery

Design a jewel