©Trustees of the National Library of Scotland


At 2am on Wednesday 8 February 1587 Mary Queen of Scots picked up her pen for the last time. Her execution on the block at Fotheringhay Castle was a mere six hours away when she wrote this letter. It was addressed to her former brother-in-law, Henri III of France, and told him that she died steadfast in her Catholic religion.

Mary had fled to England in 1568 after losing a Scottish civil war. As a Catholic claimant to the English throne, she represented a focus for plotters against Elizabeth. Her fate was eventually sealed by her involvement in the Babington plot - a plot to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. Elizabeth was reluctant to execute another anointed monarch, but her ministers managed to cajole her into signing the Scottish queen's death warrant.

In her last letter, Mary claims that she is being persecuted solely for her faith and for her rights to the English throne. She asks Henri to take care of her servants. Her letter was handed to Bourgoing, her personal physician, and conveyed to the French king. It later passed into the hands of the Scots College in Paris and was bought by the Advocates Library (the precursor of the National Library of Scotland) in 1918.

Mary Queen of Scots's last letter was presented to the nation through the National Arts Collection Fund after being acquired by Walter Seton of Abercorn and others. Adv.MS. 54.1.1

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