The late nineteenth century movement to canonise Mary Queen of Scots was a curious episode in Scottish Catholic history. Initially, this had all the hallmarks of yet another public relations triumph on the part of the Scottish bishops. Then, as quickly as the question of her beatification had arisen, the supporters of Mary’s cause melted away.

If Abbotsford was at the core of the Scottish Catholic cultural psyche, the Church’s association with Mary Queen of Scots gave Catholics added legitimacy through this connection with royalty. The Catholic bishops of Scotland were the guardians of a number of important relics of the Queen — who also featured in Sir Walter Scott’s early novel, The Abbot (published 1820); these relics included her prayer book, crucifix and the ‘Blairs Portrait’, all in considerable demand for national exhibition.1

Nearly ten years after the restoration of the hierarchy, the Scottish bishops welcomed the opportunity to cement their relationship with the British royal family (as well as the Anglican establishment) by participating in the celebrations for the tercentenary of Mary Queen of Scots in an exhibition mounted ‘with proper honours,’ as the Stonyhurst Jesuit, Reginald Coley, put it — Coley even offering to loan Archbishop William Smith a small prayer book traditionally thought to have been used by the Queen at her execution.

The exhibition was planned for the autumn of 1887 at Peterborough; it would feature portraits, rings, manuscripts and missals associated with the Queen; a later showing at Holyroodhouse was proposed.

The celebrations appealed to a significant cross-section of the British public but it also inspired some excessive adulation from less mainstream religious quarters, notably the Countess of Caithness in her spiritualist rhapsody, A Midnight Visit to Holyrood (1887).

The Scottish bishops (encouraged by moves to canonise more than 250 English and Welsh martyrs who were put to death between 1636 and 1679) went a step further by testing support for Queen Mary’s beatification.

Opinions were, however, divided. One of the first hostile reactions came in September 1886 from the Marquess of Bute, who wrote with thinly-veiled distaste: ‘it is not a subject which I have specially studied, and it is one of which I am rather afraid, as it seems impossible to handle it without losing one’s temper’.

Pressed by the bishops, Lord Bute elaborated his views with ominous finality: ‘To enshrine such a person as a Saint, it seems to me that more is required than to regard her as one purified by affliction nobly endured … I do not think anything could justify her marriage to her husband’s murderer.’

In similar vein, Bishop John Macdonald advised that ‘perhaps it would be inopportune to seek for her Beatification. I should somewhat fear that it might tend to bring discredit on canonization and the cultus of the saints generally in the eyes of many of our prejudiced fellow-countrymen, and the question suggests itself, is it worth while incurring this risk?’

When they heard of the Scottish bishops’ campaign, the London newspapers were also scathing, accusing the bishops of fanaticism and of trying to distract attention from the dubious nature of Queen Mary’s candidature by associating her with more illustrious English causes, such as those of Sir Thomas More and John Fisher.

Elsewhere, however, there was unqualified approval for Mary’s beatification: Cardinal Herbert Vaughan took ‘her case up warmly’; John Monteith of Carstairs asked ‘Will not the Church exist in Scotland more nobly when she has recognised Mary as a Martyr …?

‘Ralph Kerr of Newbattle referred to what he saw as the bias inherent in previous historical interpretations of Mary’s career: ‘my feeling is that she has been so villainously handled by adverse or bigoted historians that it is due to her to do all that lies in our power to clear her fame from the depth of prejudice which exists against her.’

The Scottish bishops were, however, very active in collecting material for the forthcoming exhibition (notably the Blairs Portrait of Mary) and in promoting her beatification. In this, the network of influential Scottish convert aristocrats made the bishops’ efforts easier. Mrs Maxwell Scott of Abbotsford, for example, advised Archbishop Smith on how to market Mary’s cause:

I think you will like to have the result of my talks with the Duchess [of Argyle] and Lady Lothian about the Tercentenary. They are both interested and keen about a celebration in Edin. and are quite ready to patronise it …The Duchess says that Lady John is very keen — She possesses many Stuart relics … With regard to Holyrood, the Duchess says that Lord Lothian (as Secretary of State for Scotland) is the right person to ask the Queen for permission … we feel sure he would be glad to ask, he is himself anxious that Scotland should have its own celebration. Lady Lothian thinks the Lord Provost of Edin. should be asked to co-operate in the Movement.

The Duchess suggests that if your Grace liked to put a notice in the papers to invite contributions of pictures … The Duke of Norfolk is I think sending his Queen Mary Rosary to Peterborough with the proviso that it shall go on to Edin. if desired.

No time was lost: an Edinburgh Mary Stuart Exhibition Committee was formed, comprising the Duchess of Buccleuch, the Marchioness of Lothian and Mrs Maxwell Scott, with the artist Sir Joseph Noel Paton (the Queen’s Limner for Scotland) as secretary; the Earl of Hopetoun promised support, as did Lord Rosebery.

Then, unexpectedly, the venture came to a halt — the bishops learned that an international exhibition (to be held in Glasgow the following year) had already made arrangements to show the same relics of the Queen; reluctantly, the Edinburgh exhibition was postponed.

Nevertheless, the move to have Mary beatified continued. Early in 1893, James Campbell, rector of the Scots College, Rome, assured Archbishop Angus MacDonald that Queen Mary’s name could, without any difficulty, be inserted into a forthcoming address to Pope Leo XIII, then celebrating the 25th anniversary of his episcopate — the Pope was already known to be strongly in favour of Mary’s cause.

The Queen’s cause was argued in the archdiocese of Westminster from 24 August 1888 to 13 August 1889.15 The outcome was a decision to proceed: Campbell’s successor in Rome, Robert Fraser, was instructed to forward the petition for Mary’s beatification to the Sacred Congregation of Rites.

The lengthy process towards canonisation for Mary and the other 250 (English and Welsh) candidates began to move forward; it took until 1970 for 40 of the English martyrs to be canonised. Queen Mary’s cause, to save time and improve its chances of success, was handed over to the hierarchy of Scotland, and there it apparently remained. Although her beatification had the public approval and support of Pope Benedict XV (1914-22), whether for reasons of political sensitivity or simply the absence of miracles, it remained unresolved and was allowed to slip quietly into oblivion.

For a contemporary view of the importance of the ‘Blairs Portrait’, see Mario Conti, Oh Help! The Making of an Archbishop, (Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing, 2003), 33-33

2 SCA ED4/81/1 Fr R. Coley to Abp W. Smith, 23 Oct 1886

3 SCA ED4/81/4 Programme of Tercentenary of Mary Queen of Scots Exhibition, 19 July to 9 Aug 1887

4 Marie de Pomar, A Midnight Visit to Holyrood (London: C. L. Wallace, 1887)

5 SCA ED4/84/1 Lord Bute to Abp W. Smith, 30 Sep 1886; SCA ED4/130/3 H. Buccleuch to Abp W. Smith, 28 Nov 1886

6 SCA ED4/84/10 Lord Bute to Abp W. Smith, 19 Feb 1887

7 SCA ED4/85/3 Bp J. Macdonald to Abp W. Smith, 9 Mar 1887

The Times, 9 Aug 1887

9 SCA ED4/84/5 J. Morris to Abp W. Smith, 3 Jan 1887; SCA ED4/84/8 J. Monteith to Abp W. Smith, 18 Feb 1887

10 SCA ED4/84/7 R. Kerr to Abp W. Smith, 14 Jun 1887; see also Ian Donnachie and Christopher Whatley, The Manufacture of Scottish History (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1992), 6

11 SCA ED4/81/10 Mrs Maxwell Scott to Abp W. Smith, 7 Jul 1887

12 SCA ED4/82/6 Noel Paton to Abp W. Smith, 26 Sep 1887; SCA ED4/82/8 Earl of Hopetoun to Abp W. Smith, 30 Sep 1887; SCA ED4/82/9 Lord Rosebery to Abp W. Smith, 30 Sep 1887

13 SCA ED4/82/14 Meeting of Mary Stuart Exhibition Committee, 18 Oct 1887

14 SCA ED5/49/9 Fr J. Campbell to Bp A. MacDonald, 22 Jan 1893; Peter Hancock. ‘Promoting the Beatification Cause of Mary Queen of Scots,’ Journal of the Marie Stuart Society, No 22, (Spring 2001), 19

15 Ibid., 18

16 ASV Arch. Congr. SS Rituum: Processus 5087-5088

17 Bede Camm (ed.), The English Martyrs (Cambridge: Heffer & Sons Ltd., 1929) 12; 69

One thought on “Mary Queen of Scots was a Saint not a sinner!

  1. Reblogged this on Maryqueenofscots1587's Blog and commented:

    The lengthy process towards canonisation for Mary and the other 250 (English and Welsh) candidates began to move forward; it took until 1970 for 40 of the English martyrs to be canonised. Queen Mary’s cause, to save time and improve its chances of success, was handed over to the hierarchy of Scotland, and there it apparently remained. Although her beatification had the public approval and support of Pope Benedict XV (1914-22), whether for reasons of political sensitivity or simply the absence of miracles, it remained unresolved and was allowed to slip quietly into oblivion.
     

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