not a book

Not a Book: Elizabeth and Mary

I had a day out! And there are bookish things ton talk about after it. And so, voila!

The British Library has got an exhibition on at the moment about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. The two women never met, but their lives were intertwined from the moment that Mary was born. If you’ve never studied the Tudors (hi non-Brits!), both women were descended from Henry VII. Elizabeth’s father was Henry VIII, of six wives fame (Elizabeth’s mother Anne was a beheaded if you know the rhyme) and because of his complicated marriage situation and because she was a woman, her place in the order of succession was always in doubt. Mary was descended from Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, who married James IV of Scotland and thus had a claim of her own on the throne. Mary was queen of Scotland in her own right and married the heir to the French throne, so had a lot of power in her own right. And of course when Elizabeth I didn’t marry, the succession was always an issue.

Anyway with all that background sorted, this being an exhibition at the British library it’s based around documents written by, for or about the two women. So if a lot of 500 year old documents appeal to you then this will be exactly your jam. It was absolutely mine. Check out Elizabeth’s very distinctive signature! Check out Mary’s and her sixteenth century French! There is also old school coded letters. And letters with fancy paper locks to keep letters secure. And old books and proclamations.

It was delightful, I had a blast – and I remembered a lot more detail from my Tudor history classes than I was expecting! I particularly liked the maps and aerial drawings and trying to work out what everyone had written. I was in there for more than 90 minutes – and it was only the knowledge that I was going to have to carry everything around with me all day that stopped me buying a lot of stuff in the shop!

And finally a question for you: how much time did Mary have on her hands when she was being held prisoner by Elizabeth?

Answer: a three metre by two metre tapestry amount of time! This was made by her and Bess of Hardwick across the span of 15 years. It’s big. And complicated.

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