Before Her Execution, This Jailed Queen Lived Like the 1%

Newly revealed papers show Mary, Queen of Scots ate like, well, a queen during 19-year imprisonment
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2022 12:35 PM CST
This Famous Queen Ate Well While Imprisoned
Stock photo of Mary, Queen of Scots, who apparently still lived it up foodwise while imprisoned.   (Getty Images/GeorgiosArt)

Of all the news hitting us this week, we didn't expect to hear too much about Mary, Queen of Scots. But here we are, finding out that, if the 16th-century monarch imprisoned by her cousin for nearly two decades had had to write a Yelp review of her treatment during those years in captivity, she likely would've given it five stars. The Guardian reports that the British Library in London recently got its hands on official paperwork documenting the Scottish's queen's "deluxe imprisonment" at both Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire and at Derbyshire's Wingfield Manor, an incarceration that began after she fled Scotland for England in 1567. Mary had become queen of Scotland in 1542, when she was just six days old, after her father's death expedited her ascension to the throne.

But Mary was eventually forced to abdicate the throne to her own infant son, which is when she took refuge in England, hoping that her cousin, Elizabeth I, could shield her from political turmoil. Elizabeth, a Protestant, locked up Mary instead, as Elizabeth's advisers feared Mary, a Roman Catholic with a claim to the British throne, could "invite an invasion from Catholic countries," per the Times of London. A British Library blog post details the two documents that are just now shedding insight into Mary's nearly two-decade-long incarceration, which doesn't sound half bad. During one two-month stretch of her confinement during the winter of 1584-85, Mary consumed multicourse meals, with 16 dishes per course, according to expense reports from that time.

Bread, butter, and eggs were in ample supply, as were various types of meats, poultry, and fish. A variety of spices, "exotic items" (think almonds, figs, and oranges), and "sweet luxuries" such as marmalade, fruits drenched in syrup, and caraway biscuits were also abundant, as was wine and ale. "These [papers] provide a really colorful snapshot of [Mary's] existence in prison," Andrea Clarke, the library's head curator of medieval and early modern manuscripts, tells the Times. She adds that Mary's royal repasts sounded "incredible," and that some of the more obscure edibles required her to look them up. Mary was also apparently allowed to entertain and even to head out on occasional horse-riding excursions. Still, tasty meals aside, things didn't end well for her: After 19 years of imprisonment, the deposed monarch was beheaded in 1587, at the age of 44. (More Mary Stuart stories.)

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