Mariae reginae Scotorum epitaphium (1602)

These two verses, and the 'Gathelus' (see d2_MelA_001), were published as part of John Johnston's Inscriptiones historicae regum Scotorum (Amsterdam, 1602; see also d2_MelA_030 and d2_MelA_045). Written on the eve of the Union of the Crowns (1603), Melville suggests (l.8-9) that Mary's greatest achievement was to hand the kingdom to her Protestant son, who was about to go on to rule the British Isles as James VI and I. Although it might seem remarkable that Melville could write so sympathetically about a Catholic queen, it must be borne in mind that King James insisted, both in law and in his own writings such as the Basilikon Doron, that his mother's memory be treated with respect. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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Mariae reginae Scotorum epitaphium

1Regibus orta atavis, et dignis aucta Hymenaeis, 1
Gallo nupta, Anglo prognata, atque edita Scoto,
sum Maria, amborum regnorum nobilis haeres.
In lucem genitori, in regnum fratribus haeres, 2
5in patriam matri, in thalamos suffecta marito,
regum adii fortunam omnem, rerumque labores:
aula etiam dubio voti vim credere Marti 3
pulsa, viris animos feci. Tibi debita, nate,
sceptra dedi, sic ulta patrem, sic ulta maritum.
10Non fracta exilio, regnavi in carcere; regnum
spe tenui inconcussum animo sperare licebat 4
dum licuit spirare. Et nunc cervice securim 5
accipio secura. Metum moritura relinquo
hostibus, exemplum regnis, atque aurea regna
15haeredi: ingeniis sylvam scenisque virentem.


Regibus orta, auxi reges, reginaque vixi.
Ter nupta, et tribus orba viris, tria regna reliqui:
Gallus opes, Scotus cunas habet, Angla sepulchrum.

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The epitaph of Mary, queen of Scots

Descended from ancestral kings, and made powerful by worthy weddings, married to a Frenchman, related to an Englishman, and produced by a Scotsman, a I am Mary, noble heir of both these kingdoms. Heir to my father in respect of his splendour, to my brothers in respect of the kingdom, b to my mother in respect to the country, c the equal of my husband in marriage, d I approached all the good fortune of kings, and the distresses of circumstance: but even when the court had been driven to entrust in the power of a prayer to doubtful Mars, I put spirit into men. e To you, my son, f I gave the sceptres owed, thus avenging your father, and my husband. g Not broken by banishment, I ruled in prison; h with slender hope my mind used to permit itself to hope for an undisturbed kingdom i while I was permitted to breathe. And now free from all care I accept the axe upon my neck. j About to die I leave behind fear to my enemies, an example to kingdoms, and golden kingdoms to my heir: and a flourishing mass of material to literary talents and theatrical representations. k


Descended from kings, I increased the number of kings, and I lived as a queen. Three times married, and bereft of three men, I left behind three kingdoms: a Frenchman has my wealth, a Scot has my cradle, an Englishwoman my tomb. l



1: Sannazaro, De Partu Virginis I.65-6

2: Virgil, Aeneid X.704

3: Virgil, Aeneid XI.153

4: 'dum anima est spes esse dicitur'; Cicero, Epistulae Ad Atticum IX.3.19. See also the motto of the town of St Andrews: 'dum spiro spero'.

5: Virgil, Aeneid II.224


a: Francis I, Mary's first husband; presumably Henry VIII, Mary's great-uncle; and James V, Mary's father, respectively.

b: Mary's brothers, James Duke of Rothesay (b.1540) and Robert Duke of Albany (b.1541), both died in infancy in April 1541.

c: Mary of Guise, Mary's mother, was not an heir to the kingdom of France or Scotland; it seems more likely that Melville is referring here to Margaret Tudor, Mary's grandmother, through whom her lineal claim to the English throne came.

d: Melville could mean here that Mary was equal in rank to her first husband, Francis, since both were royalty. Melville could also be referring to Mary's second marriage to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Darnley had an equally strong claim to the English throne (both he and Mary were descended from Margaret Tudor), and Mary briefly undertook a policy of raising Darnley to joint rule with her, until she realised how weak and inept he was.

e: A rather oblique reference to the civil war (1567-73) that followed Mary's abdication in favour of her infant son James VI, and which saw a faction of 'queen's men' (predominantly comprising the Seton, Gordon and Hamilton families) attempt to restore her to her throne. 'Dubio Marti' is a common epithet for Mars, the Roman god of war, second only in importance to Jupiter in the Roman Pantheon; however, Melville seems to be thinking more of Ares, Mars' Greek counterpart, who was viewed ambivalently as the embodiment of the destructive nature of war (compared to Athena, the goddess of military cunning and strategy).

f: James VI.

g: Melville is echoing the popular belief that Mary was complicit in the murder of Darnley at Kirk O' Field in Edinburgh in February 1567, where his body was found naked and strangled outside his dwelling, which had been blown up with gunpowder.

h: Mary was warded in various locations in England from 1568 until her execution in 1587.

i: That is, a kingdom still under her rule.

j: Mary was executed by beheading for treason against Elizabeth I (for her involvement in the Ridolfi Plot) in February 1587.

k: Propaganda for and against Mary was substantial from the moment of her abdication. The most notable anti-Marian literature was George Buchanan's Ane Detectioun of the Duinges of Marie Quene of Scottis (1571, published in Latin as the Detectio Mariae Reginae Scotorum, 1569); the pamphlet that became Buchanan's 'Dialogue on the Law of Kingship among the Scots' (De Iure Regni apud Scotos Dialogus, 1579) was also drafted as an apology for Mary's forced abdication. Mary's trial and execution was a cause celebré across Europe that was discussed in a wide range of media; see Alexander S. Wilkinson, Mary Queen of Scots and French Public Opinion, 1542-1600 (Basingstoke and New York, 2004).

l: Probably a reference to Charles IX, who succeeded Mary and Francis on the French throne; the cradle of the infant James VI who was left behind after Mary fled to England; and Elizabeth I.