Prayer book with poem handwritten by Mary, Queen of Scots to go on show

The book is on loan to National Museums Scotland from the Pininski Foundation in Liechtenstein.

18 February 2022

A rare “jewel-like” prayer book featuring a poem handwritten by the young Mary, Queen of Scots is to go on show at the National Museum of Scotland on loan from Liechtenstein.

The Book of Hours, which will be on show from March 31 to August 3 in Edinburgh, originally belonged to Mary’s great aunt, Louise de Bourbon, Abbess of Fontevraud.

The manuscript includes a four-line verse in French which the teenage Mary composed in the late 1550s, around the time of her marriage to the Dauphin Francois.

She signed it with the motto Va tu meriteras (Go, you will be deserving), and her monogram, combining her initial M with a Greek letter which is the phonetic representation of F for Francois.

The book contains 40 illuminations (Neil Hanna/PA)

The translated poem reads:
“Since you wish to remember me here
in your prayers and devout orations,
I ask you first that you remember
what part you have in my affections.”

Dr Anna Groundwater, principal curator of renaissance and early modern history at National Museums Scotland (NMS), said: “It is wonderful to be able to display this rare, jewel-like book.

“It’s particularly moving to see the young Mary, writing in her best script, to one of her closest relations in her mother Marie de Guise’s absence.

“She had had to remain in Scotland when Mary came to the French court in 1548, so Mary was particularly dependent on her mother’s relatives for comfort and support.

“This poem therefore reflects the intimate bond with her great-aunt Louise.”

Written in Latin on vellum, the book contains 40 illuminations by a master artist associated with Archbishop Francois de Rohan.

It would have been used for private worship, and it is believed that the abbess gave the volume to Mary.

It is on loan to NMS from the Pininski Foundation in Liechtenstein for the duration of the display.

The book will be on display until August (Neil Hanna/PA)

Over the course of the display, six pages in the book will be exhibited, changing every three weeks.

The page with the poem by Mary will be displayed when the book goes on show at the end of next month.

Count Peter Pininski said: “There is a real fascination across Europe with the great figures of Scottish history, like Mary, Queen of Scots and Charles Edward Stuart.

“I am very pleased to be able to share this wonderful treasure and I hope many people will go to see it in the National Museum of Scotland.”

The book has been fully digitised and a QR code will enable visitors to scroll through the pages and view some of the illustrations, and these images will be accessible on the museum’s website.

The prayer book will be exhibited in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery alongside other objects on permanent display linked to Mary, Queen of Scots, including the Penicuik Jewels, recently returned from a major exhibition at the British Library, Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, and a replica cast of her tomb.

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