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Rare painting of Mary Queen of Scots to go on display at Hever Castle

By William Janes

A rare painting of Mary Queen of Scots is set to go on display for the first time ever.

Today, exactly 432 years after she died in 1587, the portrait has been unveiled at a special event at Hever Castle but the public will be able to view it from tomorrow.

The extremely rare painting of the monarch – whose life story has been dramatized in the hit movie, Mary Queen of Scots, with actress Saoirse Ronan portraying her - will be officially unveiled in the castle’s Staircase Gallery by one of the world’s leading experts on Tudor history, Dr David Starkey.

Tudor expert David Starkey with the rare portrait
Tudor expert David Starkey with the rare portrait

Paintings of Mary created during her lifetime are few and far between, as Dr Starkey explains: "In Scotland, which she ruled in person as queen-regnant from 1561 to 1568, there were few painters of talent; while in England, where she spent the rest of her life, she was a political prisoner - though in 1578 she did manage to sit for an important portrait miniature by Nicholas Hillyard, which is the basis of almost all her subsequent images.

"This elegant portrait shows the 19-year-old Mary, as she was on her return to Scotland at the beginning of an extraordinary adventure which turned two kingdoms upside down and ended in her own execution at Fotheringhay 26 years later."

The majority of images portraying her are romanticised portraits commissioned by her son James I, following his rise to the English throne in 1603.

Hever Castle’s portrait was recently rediscovered in France, where it was unidentified and thought to date from the 17th century.

The painting will be open for viewing by the public from tomorrow
The painting will be open for viewing by the public from tomorrow

However, examination of the oak panel on which the portrait is painted, revealed that it was created after 1547 five years after Mary's birth.

Stylistic analysis further confirmed that this portrait was painted in the mid-15th century, making it a highly significant addition to her visual historical record.

The work is believed to come from the studio of François Clouet, a French Renaissance miniaturist and painter, particularly known for his detailed portraits of the French ruling family.

The discovery has special importance as there are only two portraits of her in mourning - the second one is in the Royal Collection.

The Hever work shows Mary in a form of mourning, but not the full mourning seen in earlier portraits.

Hever Castle chief executive Duncan Leslie says "I am delighted that we have been able to purchase this painting and enrich the Tudor story we are telling here at Hever Castle.

"It has proven most fortunate that, unknown to us at the time of our purchase, a film would be released at the same time we have been able to hang the portrait, further increasing the public’s interest in this infamous Scottish Queen."

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