Amazing Historical Underwear: Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chemise

There are numerous undergarment relics to be found around the world. One of these can be seen in Warwickshire, England, at Coughton Court. This manor house is the seat of the famous English Catholic family, the Throckmortons, who have been in residence there for six hundred years.

The relic is purportedly the chemise worn by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots during her execution on February 8th, 1587. This Catholic queen was beheaded in Scotland on the orders of her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I, due to various plots by Mary which threatened her seat on the throne of England as well as her life.

The queen’s death was anything but clean and precise. Her beheading required three attempts before it was achieved, and the whole spectacle was a very grisly end to the life of a woman and an aristocrat.

Considered to have been worn for the occasion, the long white linen chemise was worn as an “underdress”.  Low in the collar and wide across the shoulders (which, if genuine, might explain the absence of bloodstains), it has been carbon dated to the year of the Scottish queen’s death in 1587, and it is stitched with the words, “of the holy martyr, Mary, Queen of Scots”. It has been taken very seriously as a genuine relic by devout Catholics ever since the sixteenth century.

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Whether the chemise is genuine we will never know – though that likelihood is somewhat questionable. Not only due to the absence of any stain. Contemporary reports stated that her undergarments were all crimson red – to represent a Catholic martyr. Whether this is true of fabricated is a mystery.

There are also reports that everything connected with the execution was ordered to be burnt – from the block and the scaffold to the queen’s clothing. Yet it is not a stretch to imagine that loyal supporters would not have secreted away whatever they could to be kept as relics of the event.

We will never know. Personally, I think it more likely that, yes, the chemise was owned and worn by the Scottish queen – just not on that last grisly day when she lost her head.