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Mary Queen of Scots was held captive… in the lap of luxury

Newly discovered documents have revealed in detail the luxurious treatment Mary Queen of Scots received while in captivity in England.

Mary, who had ruled Scotland from the age of six, fled south in 1568 after religious and court unrest in her kingdom. She had hoped that her niece, Queen Elizabeth I, would protect her, but instead she was imprisoned.

Elizabeth’s advisers feared the consequences of allowing Mary, who was a Catholic and had a legitimate claim to the English throne, to roam freely in England.

Still, as a monarch and relative, Mary was allowed to live in a style befitting her rank.

The British Library has obtained financial records from two of the aristocratic houses where it was housed: Wingfield Manor in Derbyshire and Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire.

Variety of luxury food items

The papers contained detailed lists of the various luxury foods Mary could enjoy in captivity.

Andrea Clarke, chief curator of medieval and early modern manuscripts at the British Library, told the Observer it was “luxury confinement.”

“The foods on the list are incredible, from the basics – bread, butter, eggs – to a huge assortment of poultry, fish and meat, some of which I had never heard of and enjoyed looking up, she added.

The luxuries offered to the exiled queen included beef, mutton, veal, boar and poultry, cod, salmon, eel and herring spiced with saffron, ginger and nutmeg.

She had also prepared exotic dishes for her, such as oranges, olives, capers, almonds and figs, as well as marmalade, caraway biscuits and fruit in syrup.

The documents also include details of the extensive housekeeping staff needed to keep Mary in luxury and items such as soap for cleaning her bedding.

Severe financial pressure

The extravagance required to keep this royal prisoner in the way she was accustomed to was so great that the nobles who undertook it often came under severe financial pressure.

The detailed financial documents, prepared by Sir Ralph Sadler, who had recently become Mary’s newest jailer, may have been prepared to cut costs, Ms Clarke said.

Mary would spend a total of 19 years in captivity before conspirators in English court finally got their way and charged her with treason and executed her.

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