Mary, Marie: correcting attribution – by Meghan Rathbun

This is the second of three blog posts by Meghan Rathbun, who did a placement with Archive Services working with the early records of the University of Glasgow while an MSc Museum Studies student in 2014/15. (She previously completed an MLitt and an MA Hons from the University of St Andrews, both in medieval history).

While researching documents in the Archive as part of my work placement, I stumbled upon a document (ref. BL486) that was listed as bearing the signature of Mary Stuart, more famously known as Mary, Queen of Scots. It is part of the Blackhouse Charter collection and was issued in order to grant the University relief from clerical taxation in the 1550s.



BL486: signature

BL486: signature

In order to satisfy my curiosity I requested the document, and when I first looked at it I was thrilled to be able to see, first hand, Mary’s signature. I spent some time taking notes on the state of the document, and as I returned to record details of the signature I noticed something puzzling. Upon closer inspection, there were too many letters in the signature to spell ‘Mary R’.

Confused by this I began to scan BL 486 for clues about who had actually signed the document. The opening line points the way, stating that Mary and her mother, Marie, “Queen Dowager and Regent of our realm”, issued the document. Was it possible that Marie, not her daughter, had in fact signed it?

BL486: 1st line

BL486: 1st line

I turned to the history books to determine where Mary Stuart was when the letter issued. In 1556 Mary was still residing in France at the court of her father-in-law. She had been there since the age of five, and would not return to Scotland until 1561. Her absence necessitated a Regent who would govern the realm in Mary’s stead and in 1556 that Regent was her mother, Marie de Guise. As the document was signed at Falkland, it is unlikely that Mary was present for its subscription.

Returning to the document, lines 16 and 17 of BL 486 provide definitive proof that Mary did not sign the letter:

BL486 - lines 16 & 17: "

BL486 – lines 16 & 17 (from 8th word in): “Gevin under oure signet and subscrivit be [subscribed by] oure said derrest moder Marie Quene Drowrear and regent of oure realme”

This shows of course that the signature at the bottom of the letter reads ‘MARIE R’, for Marie de Guise, Regent of the Kingdom of Scotland for her daughter Queen Mary Stuart. The misattribution will be corrected on the online catalogue as soon as possible.

Categories: Archive Services

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1 reply

  1. Very nice.

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