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Prayer book once owned by tragic queen to be sold at auction for up to $434,000

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Written by Amy Woodyatt

A prayer book that once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots and contains an inscription by the tragic monarch is to go on sale, with an expected price of up to £350,000 ($432,000).

Mary Stuart was famed for her tumultuous romantic life, political controversy and most of all for her death at the hands of her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

The detailed manuscript, which will be sold by auction house Christie’s, was originally made for Louise de Bourbon-Vendôme, Abbess of Fontevraud, who passed it on to her grand-niece, Mary, between the years of 1558 and 1561.

De Bourbon left her monogram and her motto in one of the book’s endleaves. An inscription in Mary’s handwriting is also found in the book, along with her anagrammatic motto, “VA TU MERITERAS.”

The book bears an inscription in Mary's handwriting.

The book bears an inscription in Mary’s handwriting. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020

The manuscript is decorated with 40 miniatures by an artist known as the Master of François de Rohan. According to the auctioneers, de Rohan was one of the most sought-after artists of the court of King Francis I.

Born to King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise, Mary became queen of Scotland at just six days old, following the death of her father.

At the age of 15, she married Francis, the heir to the French throne. Her husband — the first of three who predeceased her — became king a year later, in 1559.

Seen by Elizabeth I as a threat to the English throne because of her Roman Catholic faith and Tudor ancestry, Mary was held captive in England for 18 years, before being executed in 1587 after the discovery of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Christie’s said Mary probably brought the prayer book with her to Scotland in 1561, after spending a large portion of her young adulthood in France.

The book spent time in England in the late 18th or early 19th century, and was rebound by the Edwards family of Halifax, in northern England.

Mary is thought to have brought the book back to Scotland from France in 1561.

Mary is thought to have brought the book back to Scotland from France in 1561. Credit: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020

“This is a fleetingly rare opportunity to acquire a lavishly illustrated royal prayerbook that was owned and affectionately inscribed by one of the most intriguing figures in Scottish and European history: Mary Stuart, at a time when the Queen of Scots had already become Queen of France and was soon to meet her tragic fate,” Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s specialist in Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, said in a statement.

Christie’s will sell the prayer book at an evening sale in London on July 29.

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