HISTORY: Mary Queen of Scots: Virtual course bids to boost profile of monarch

The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots by Gavin Hamilton
The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots by Gavin Hamilton, part of the Hunterian’s Collection at the University of Glasgow. Picture courtesy University of Glasgow.

By Bill Heaney

BBC Scotland is reporting that a new survey has revealed more than half of Britons were unable to identify Mary Queen of Scots when shown her portrait.

Researchers, who examined her connections with Dumbarton Castle and the French Prison there in which she was held before being taken to FRance, also found that only 27% could correctly state how old the monarch was when she was executed.

And just 18% of respondents knew that she was only six days old when she became Queen of Scotland.

But a new free online course from the University of Glasgow is aiming to bridge the knowledge gap.

‘Great opportunity’

Dr Steven Reid, senior lecturer in Scottish history, said: “We’ve found over 2,000 different objects, ranging from art to personal relics, that tell us how Mary was remembered and how stories about her were told throughout centuries.

“These stories tell us as much about the cultural biases of the people who tell them – their views on gender, on religion, and on power, for example – as they do about how Mary has lived on in the popular imagination.

“This course provides us with a great opportunity to share that research with a global audience, and we’re excited to see it launch.”


Who was Mary, Queen of Scots?

Mary Queen of Scots was held in captivity for 19 years before she was executed
  • Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace in 1542 and became queen when her father died soon after her birth
  • However, Mary was taken to France in 1548 and Scotland was ruled by regents
  • She returned in 1561 to begin her reign as Queen of Scots but was forced to abdicate at the age of 24 after six tumultuous years
  • After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, Mary fled to England, seeking the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I
  • Mary had once claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign by many English Catholics
  • The Scots queen was held in captivity for 19 years before she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, at the age of 44
  • Her son James became king of Scotland and England

Almost two thirds (63%) of survey respondents were aware Mary was accused of killing her second husband, Lord Darnley, and 62% were able to identify her famous red hair.

Despite this more than half (51%) did not recognise her portrait, over three quarters (77%) did not know Mary was held captive for 19 years and 48% were unaware which century she ascended the throne.

And nearly three quarters (73%) of the 2,000 interviewees did not know how many children Mary had.

The three-week course, The Life and Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots, is free to access from FutureLearn and examines how Mary Queen of Scots left a lasting legacy on Scotland and the Royal Family.

‘Fascinating life’

It tells how the keen jam maker was married three times and widowed twice before she was 25.

And it highlights the belief that her third husband killed her second and forced her to marry him.

Mary was ultimately betrayed and imprisoned by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, for almost two decades before she was executed.

Astrid deRidder, director of content at FutureLearn said: “We are thrilled to announce the launch of our new course built in partnership with the University of Glasgow’s leading academics, which dives into the fascinating life and legacy of Mary Queen of Scots.”

Dumbarton children visiting the French Prison on the Rock where Mary Queen of Scots was held.


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