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Despite Controversy, Edinburgh Salutes Mary, Queen of Scots

January 11, 1987|ELISABETH INGLIS | Inglis is an Edinburgh free-lance writer.

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scottish historical circles are indignant that the British Post Office has refused to issue a commemorative postage stamp to mark the 400th anniversary in 1987 of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The grounds for the Post Office Board's decision is that the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, still arouses controversy. Certainly, while she lived and for long afterward, historians have argued as to how far Mary was responsible for the tragic, often bizarre events that marked her reign.

Some events were beyond her control. It was unfortunate for Mary that she was a staunch Roman Catholic at a time when both Scots and English supported the reformed Protestant religion. Unlucky for her, too, that she was heir to the English throne, because during her long imprisonment Mary became involved in Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I of England and that led to her execution.

Controversial or not, in 1987 Scotland intends to celebrate the tragic queen's memory in style, with plays, pageants and banquets, exhibitions and lectures, all on the theme of Mary's life.

Like a Soap Opera

Mary's life had all the ingredients of a 16th-Century soap opera. She was married three times, and was only 18 when she was first widowed. Her second husband was a jealous man who was implicated in the brutal murder, in her presence, of Mary's favorite secretary. He in turn was murdered in mysterious circumstances, and Mary came under suspicion. The Scottish nobleman whom many believed was responsible for the crime then abducted Mary, and he became her third husband.

That was the last straw as far as her Scottish subjects were concerned. Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, and she was imprisoned. (Her son became James VI of Scotland and later James I of England).

She escaped and raised an army but was defeated in battle. She escaped again, this time to England, where she was imprisoned for 19 years, accused of plotting with Roman Catholic conspirators against her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, and finally she met her death on the scaffold, a death that she faced with courage and dignity.

In spite of her follies and misfortunes, Mary was greatly loved, for she had charm in abundance. She was attractive, lively and warm-hearted, and inspired life-long devotion in courtiers and servants. Maybe she would have charmed her cousin, the Queen of England, but the two never met.

Outdoor Pursuits

Mary enjoyed outdoor pursuits such as hunting and golf, which endeared her to Scotsmen. She loved dancing, billiards and backgammon and other popular pastimes. An aura of romance about Mary lingered after her death.

Scots this year will be recalling events in the life of a queen who spent only six years of her adult life as a reigning monarch in Scotland. From the age of 6 to 18 Mary lived with her mother's family, the powerful Guise clan, in France, where her first marriage was to her childhood sweetheart, Francis, heir to the French throne.

Castles and palaces where Mary lived or visited during her time in Scotland are mounting special displays, exhibitions and banquets throughout the anniversary year, re-enacting scenes that took place in them four centuries ago.

Linlithgow Palace is to be the site of a festival Aug. 15-23. Mary was born there on Dec. 8, 1542, and became queen at 6 days old on the death of her father, James V. Medieval banquets are scheduled for Aug. 20-22 in the Great Hall, seating 200 people each night. Guests will be served with food and entertainment as in Mary's time.

During that August week Chiari's play, "Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland," will be performed. The play was first presented at the 1954 Edinburgh Festival. Tickets and further information about these events are available from the Secretary, Linlithgow Festival Link, 8 Burgess Hill, Linlithgow, Scotland.

Fifteenth-Century Stirling Castle, where Mary was crowned at age 9 months, will celebrate the anniversary of her coronation with a banquet on Sept. 5. It is to be a re-enactment of the original coronation banquet as far as possible, and it is hoped that descendants of guests at the 1543 banquet will attend this year. Tickets also will be available to other guests. Contact David Wyles, Tourist Information Centre, Dumbarton Road, Stirling, Scotland (phone Stirling 75019) for price and other details.

Stirling Youth Theater

During the Stirling Festival July 25-Aug. 6 six performances of a play featuring Mary's time in Stirling Castle will be staged. They will be given by Stirling Youth Theater in the Chapel Royal where Mary was crowned.

The castle, which is far from being a ruin and has much of historic interest, will host a play in September on the life of Mary, together with a coronation theme.

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