The fall of Mary Queen of Scots

Tuesday 15 January 2002

Picture Credit: Mike Wilkinson

A study by historians at the University of St Andrews has found that Mary Queen of Scots’ fall from grace was hastened by a propaganda campaign led by the French royal family.

During the course of several years, Mary sank from being the toast of French society to being discredited and despised and, ultimately, facing the axe of the executioner.

The team of historians at the University’s Reformation Studies Institute has uncovered hundreds of documents which reveal that, between Mary’s return to Scotland in 1561 and her public execution 26 years later, she was the victim of an elaborate censuring campaign. During those years, virtually everything which appeared in public print in France about her was heavily censored.

Dr Alexander Wilkinson has undertaken the task of tracking down, studying and categorising every piece of material written about Mary in France in the 16th century. He has discovered that Catherine de Medici, regent of France, and Mary’s uncle, the Duc de Guise, censored all texts written about her.

“The propaganda of the day was used to blacklist her’, said Dr Wilkinson.

“The most surprising discovery was that after all the attention paid to her in print in the 1540s she is then dropped completely.

“Even her family adhered to crown policy not to print anything about her.”

The discoveries are part of the French religious book project, an ambitious study headed by Institute Director, Professor Andrew Pettegree, which aims to track down and catalogue all French books published between 1500 and 1600.

Now at the half-way stage, the 10- year project has discovered 30,000 books, hidden away in major and municipal libraries across France. The team have also tracked down all known (around 1,000) 16th century French religious books which exist in Scotland.

It is a unique project in that it is the only project of its type managed outside the country in question. The Germans and the Dutch have done similar projects for their own books, but the French themselves have never attempted to do it.

The study, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, will culminate in a searchable catalogue of all French books published between 1500 and 1600.



Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref:MQS French project pr 140102 View the latest University news at

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