'Alternative biography' to reclaim the life story of Mary, Queen of Scots

An "alternative biography" of Mary Queen of Scots is to depict how she used embroidery and textiles to advance her political agenda and make her voice heard.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 4:55 am
Clare Hunter has written the new alternative biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. Picture: Mel Lewis

The publishers of Clare Hunter's new book, which will be released in the spring, say it will unpick myths over the iconic monarch and reclaim her story from "male chroniclers.”

Hunter, from Stirlingshire, who has been a banner-maker, community textile artist and textile curator for more 20 years, aims to chart Mary’s life through textiles.

The new book – Embroidering Her Truth – has been snapped up by Sceptre, publisher of Hunter’s previous book, Threads of Life, which was named Scotland’s best “first book” in the Saltire Literary Awards. It chronicled the stories men and women who used the language of sewing to make their voices heard over centuries and across continents.

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Her new book will recall how Mary used textiles to “advance her political agenda and her faith, affirm her royal lineage and tell her own story”

Born in 1542 as the only daughter of the late James V of the ruling Stewart dynasty, Mary was crowned Queen of Scots when she was just nine months old, and had married, was crowned Queen Consort of France and had been widowed by the time she was 18.

Mary reigned as Queen of Scots until her forced abdication in 1567. After 19 years as a prisoner of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, Mary was executed on 8 February 1587.

The synopsis for Embroidering Her Truth states: “In 16th century Europe, women’s voices were suppressed and silenced.

Clare Hunter's new book is due to be published in March.

"Even for a queen like Mary, her prime duty was to bear sons. In an age when textiles expressed power, Mary exploited them to emphasise her female agency.

"From the lavishly embroidered gowns worn when she was the prospective wife of the French Dauphin to the fashion dolls she used to encourage a Marian fashion style at the Scottish court and the subversive messages she embroidered in captivity for her supporters, Mary used textiles to advance her political agenda and her faith, affirm her royal lineage and to tell her own story.”

Hunter said: “When I was doing the research for the previous book I became fascinated by the amount of material on textiles that was out there on Mary, Queen of Scots that didn’t seem to be mentioned in any other books.

“I felt there was a story to be told in tracing her life through textiles and went to Stirling University to do an MA in historical research, as I didn’t want to be laughed out of court by historians.

Clare Hunter's new book, Embroidering Her Truth: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Language of Power, will be published in March.

"It was really interesting trying to marry what she was doing with textiles with what was happening in her life.

“Mary has been represented through the prism of whoever has been looking at her. Her early biographers were mostly Protestant, mostly male and mostly wanting to tell a story that bolstered their treatment of Mary, which of course was descipable.”

Juliet Brooke, associate publisher at Sceptre, said: "For centuries, Mary’s story has been told by male chroniclers and the drama of her life – three marriages, rape, kidnap, imprisonment and execution – has overshadowed her own political agency.

"Embroidering Her Truth is an eloquent biography that unpicks the myths to give us Mary’s own story.”