TBT: Mary of Scotland (1936)

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I’ve given a capsule review of this, the earliest full movie by Hollywood about my favorite 16th-century queen, but Mary of Scotland (1936) deserves a deeper dive into the costumes designed by legendary Walter Plunkett. While definitely a 1930s aesthetic for the 1560s period, this film’s costumes are gorgeous and evocative of Mary Queen of Scots’ character (more so than certain recent flicks, IMNSHO).

I’ve given a capsule review of this, the earliest full movie by Hollywood about my favorite 16th-century queen, but Mary of Scotland (1936) deserves a deeper dive into the costumes designed by legendary Walter Plunkett. While definitely a 1930s aesthetic for the 1560s period, this film’s costumes are gorgeous and evocative of Mary Queen of Scots’ character (more so than certain recent flicks, IMNSHO).

First off, yes, the plot is, as always, highly romanticized and not historically accurate. This is a romance where Mary’s the plucky heroine, looking for love in all the wrong places. She’s attracted to Bothwell from the start, but is persuaded to marry Darnley because it’ll piss off Queen Elizabeth. Darnley is a simpering twat, which, yes, legit, though he’s very stereotypically coded as homosexual (yes, there were rumors but I can do without the gross caricature, thx). Mary regrets her marriage (except for the baby heir part) and turns to Bothwell after the fiasco of Rizzio’s murder. Obvs, the Bothwell romance doesn’t work out, so then she turns to Elizabeth. Going with the big cliche, the two queens meet at the very end, but that doesn’t change things for Mary.

Hepburn herself wasn’t a fan of this film, but maybe that’s because it was her second box-office flop in a row and got her labeled “box-office poison” until she starred in The Philadelphia Story in 1940. In her autobiography, Hepburn said, “I never cared for Mary. I thought she was a bit of an ass. I would have preferred to do a script on Elizabeth.” Hindsight is a perfect science, you know. I still think Kate brought a balance of strength and sensitivity to this character that’s been rarely matched by other portrayals onscreen. Also, Hepburn specifically requested Walter Plunkett as the costume designer for this film, even though he had taken a break from the movie industry, so we have her to thank for the excellent costumes!

While I’ve reviewed countless MQoS flicks, I haven’t written too much about what Mary Queen of Scots actually wore (though I’ve taught a class at Costume College on the subject). First, it must be said that very few images made of this queen during her lifetime have survived — unlike, say, Queen Elizabeth I, for whom there are dozens upon dozens of extant portraits made from life. Partly this is because Mary’s life and actual reign in Scotland was very short, and partly because she was a Catholic queen in a country wrapped up the Protestant Reformation. I maintain a Pinterest board linking to the small number of portraits, coins, and sketches that were made of Mary during her life, as reference.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) in an official portrait, 17th century, Blairs College

1561-1567 – Mary, Queen of Scots, by unknown artist, at Blairs Museum, Scotland.

Also, some of her records survived, including a 1562 inventory that describes Mary’s extravagant wardrobe, featuring 60 gowns with:

  • 21 black gowns
  • 10 white gowns
  • 9 crimson gowns
  • 4 yellow gowns
  • 4 blue gowns
  • 3 cloth of silver gowns
  • 2 cloth of gold gowns
  • 2 orange gowns
  • 2 grey gowns
  • 1 pink gown
  • 1 green gown

Only a third of her gowns, then, are black, which is contrary to many frock flick portrayals that show Mary Queen of Scots always wearing black. She had mostly left mourning behind in France and was simply wearing what was a fashionable color, then as now. She did wear black for her wedding to Darnley, perhaps as a sign that she was not a virgin and this was her second marriage. For example, check out this lovely portrait, which I’ve seen as both a miniature at Holyrood House and a larger version at the V&A Museum:

1558 miniature of Mary Queen of Scots by Francois Clouet, Royal Collection

1558 miniature of Mary Queen of Scots by Francois Clouet, Royal Collection

It’s been suggested that the miniature version was given to Queen Elizabeth (explaining how it’s in the Royal Collection today). The Scottish ambassador to the English court, Sir James Melville, reported in 1564 that Elizabeth ‘took out the Queen’s [Mary, Queen of Scots’] picture, and kissed it,’ possibly referring to this one.

Mary’s wardrobe also included many elaborate items such as:

  • 34 kirtles (a fitted under-dress)
  • 8 petticoats (skirts) in cloth of gold
  • 5 petticoats in cloth of silver
  • 15 petticoats in various crimson, black, orange, blue, yellow, & white, all with trimming
  • 7 petticoats with slashes & pinkings (decorative cutwork)
  • 16 stomachers (V-shaped, pinned-in, bodice fronts) in cloth of gold & silver
  • 14 cloaks in silk & velvet
  • 36 pairs of velvet shoes
  • Satin doublets (jackets) in black, white, tawny
  • Silk hose trimmed in gold & silver
  • Linen for smocks & veils
  • Black velvet caps

Plus at least 180 pieces of jewelry items with:

  • 31 finger rings, 13 set with diamonds, 11 set with rubies, 4 set with emeralds, 3 set with sapphires
  • 13 girdles (belts) jeweled with diamonds, rubies, & pearls
  • Ropes of pearls, one with 530 large pearls, also rare black pearls

Much of her clothes were brought with her from France, but she also had items made for her in Edinburgh. The Scots upper-class wore fashions quite similar to the English at the time, but English court fashion had been influenced by French styles since the days of Anne Boleyn so there was crossover. During her short personal reign in Scotland from 1561-1568 (which is what this and most movies of her life focus on), Mary dressed in the highest fashion of her day, which combined French and English styles. During her captivity in England (from 1568-1578, which is only briefly touched on in this film), she still wore as fine of clothes as possible, but with more restraint as her circumstances were restricted.

Walter Plunkett’s costumes for Katharine Hepburn as Mary are a mix of 1540s through 1560s fashion elements, mostly in dark colors and often with symbols related to her country of Scotland. These costumes are distinct from those worn by Florence Eldridge as Elizabeth, who has more elaborate, highly decorated gowns, though also with some mixing elements from different decades. The overall shape and silhouettes are reasonably correct for the period, and hair is worn up, though styled in 1930s looks as often as 16th-century designs, while hats are intermittently worn (and mostly by women).

 

Mary Queen of Scots’ costumes in Mary of Scotland

When Mary first arrives in Scotland, she’s wearing a really lovely velvet gown trimmed in gold, with a ruff and the heart-shaped cap she’s later known for (more about the hat at the end of this post). While each element is beautifully done on its own, they don’t quite go together historically. The gown has big, wide turn-back sleeves that were still just barely in fashion through the 1550s but really would have been gone by 1561 when this event happens. And that style generally isn’t worn with a ruff or this type of cap.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Her half-brother, James Stewart, greets Mary, while David Rizzio looks on.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Doesn’t look like much corsetry or a historically accurate stiffened bodice here, but the fabrics & trims are excellent.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Good view of the (earlier period) sleeve shape, plus what looks like an embroidered or quilted petticoat.

This gown is what Mary’s shown wearing in the portait her ambassador gives to Queen Elizabeth (so not the historical pink gown). Not one of those shitty historical portraits, at least.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The next outfit we see Mary in is real a stunner! Straight out of a painting — and while not a portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, one that had long been considered to be of her, so I’ll let it slide.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo pic shoes the gown clearly.

1570 - portrait by unknown artist from National Portait Gallery

1570 – portrait by unknown artist from National Portait Gallery

I like how the movie’s version recreated the white contrast fabric — if you zoom in on the 1570 portrait, you can see the pattern between the little rectangular “spots.” That had to have been specially made for the movie, so pretty amazing!

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Her lady-in-waiting wears a nicely shaped velvet gown.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

One of the ladies-in-waiting is wearing that heart-shaped cap.

Next, Mary decides to marry Darnley because he’s Catholic and their marriage will annoy Queen Elizabeth. But Mary really has the hots for Bothwell (gag). She wears a very typical “Elizabethan” type gown for these confrontations.

Mary of Scotland (1936)
Mary of Scotland (1936)

Darnley is always in very fancy outfits, often pale fabrics, in contrast to Mary’s dark gowns.

The film doesn’t show their marriage, but it jumps to a council meeting where Mary argues with Darnley. She’s wearing this brilliant red gown, which on screen, of course, just looks slightly lighter grey. But the gold thistle motifs are clear — she is the queen here.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo pic of red gown.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo gown in catalog for Debbie Reynolds auction.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Close-up of gown’s thistle trim, also an embossed (?) fabric above the neckline in a faux partlet look. There’s a lot of detail & richness in these costumes that manages to come through even in black & white!

Red gowns were popular in the 16th century, and this one reminds me of several portraits. The color, shape, and trim placement of the movie costume is evocative of these historical examples.

1560 - Elisabeth of Valois by Alonso Sánchez Coello

1560 – Elisabeth of Valois by Alonso Sánchez Coello

1567 - Portrait formerly attributed to Steven van der Meulen

1567 – Portrait formerly attributed to Steven van der Meulen

1568 - Claude de Valois by Ambito Francese

1568 – Claude de Valois by Ambito Francese

For the pivotal scene of Rizzio’s murder, Mary is wearing what The Tudor Tailor book calls an English fitted gown. This is one of my favorite styles of the period, and it was ubiquitous among both middling-class and upper-class women in 16th-c. England and thus Scotland. Worn over a full gown or petticoat, this style is ideal for an intimate setting such as this private dinner in Mary’s rooms with her favorite courtiers — which is rudely disrupted. Walter Plunkett did a nice job of recreating the look; compare with these period images:

1570 - English bourgeoisie & merchant women, by Lucas de Heere, via Wikimedia Commons

1570 – English bourgeoisie & merchant women, by Lucas de Heere, via Wikimedia Commons

1560 - Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln, attributed to Steven van der Meulen, via Wikimedia Commons

1560 – Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln, attributed to Steven van der Meulen, via Wikimedia Commons

Then in the film:

Katharine Hepburn - Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo pic

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Darnley confronts Mary before the lords of Scotland come in & attack Rizzio.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Good side-view of Mary’s fitted gown as she’s being harassed by one of the lords.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Good view of her sleeve as Darnley tries to make up with Mary.

Suddenly, baby James is one year old, and Darnley has been gone for a year but returns, to everyone’s displeasure. Bothwell has been playing daddy (ew). Mary is wearing this space-age satin gown and a pearled net cape that’s either nicked from a Romeo & Juliet production or 1930s eveningwear.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The piping on her gown is a bit much, no?

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The shape of the gown is fine & I like the sweep of that train.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

But the fat, stuffed piping kills it for me.

Darnley is killed, Mary implicated, she runs away with Bothwell, and she wears a leather doublet with a plaid sash plus ye olde Scots bonnet. All of which would be unlikely, especially the plaid and the hat, but it sure does give that “romantic Scots queen” look.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Compare sketch to outside promo pic.

Katharine Hepburn - Mary of Scotland (1936)

Inside promo pic.

Mary and Bothwell are challenged by James Stewart, Bothwell is sent away, then Mary’s forced to abdicate. All this happens while she’s wearing this smart little velvet doublet and skirt ensemble. Only thing is, I hate the buttons — they’re the sewn-through style, and while I can’t say those were not used in the 16th century, shank buttons were far more commonly used, plenty have survived, they’re shown in period imagery, and someone of her high status would be more likely to wear the fancier shank buttons, either in metal or thread/fabric-covered ones.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Compare catalog image & promo pic.

1936 Mary of Scotland

Promp pic close-up.

For comparison, this 1600-10 men’s doublet at the V&A has thread-wrapped shank buttons that are typical of the time. While it’s a little later and a man’s garment, the context is similar to what Mary would have worn.

1600-10 - close-up of doublet buttons, V&A Museum

1600-10 – close-up of doublet buttons, V&A Museum

Notice anything about the Scotsmen behind Mary? Yup, modern kilts in matching tartan plaid. While Brenna Barks mostly addressed 18th-century use of tartan plaid in relation to Outlander, her post has some older history as well, and let’s just sum up by saying that this level of precision wouldn’t be a thing in Mary’s reign. Go read her post for more though!

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Soon enough, Mary is imprisoned in Lochleven, but escapes, and is then imprisoned in England by Elizabeth. All whilst wearing another black gown and one of those little white caps.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo pic.

This one, in particular, but most of her gowns have exaggeratedly pointy and big shoulder rolls / puffs. While yeah, that’s a theatrical thing, it also reminded me of Northern Mannerist portraits of the 16th century from the Netherlands that also showed upper-class women in gowns with exaggeratedly big shoulder puffs.

Left: 1568-72 - portrait of a lady by Gillis Claeissens; Right: circa 1575 portrait of a lady by a follower of Anthonis Mor

Left: 1568-72, portrait by Gillis Claeissens; Right: circa 1575, portrait by a follower of Anthonis Mor

After some undisclosed amount of time in English prison, Mary is accused of plotting with Anthony Babbington to kill Queen Elizabeth, and she’s judged guilty. While pleading her case, she’s in black with a black cap and veil.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

I think they used organza for the veil, making it stick out a lot. Chiffon would have been soft & drapey, & more pretty IMO.

Mary of Scotland 1936

Pretty sure this is a promo pic of that gown.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

And I believe this that same gown on display.

Finally, the night before Mary’s execution, Elizabeth visits — because everyone loves showing this onscreen, even though it never happened. For this scene and her execution, Mary wears a black satin gown with elaborate full sleeves.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Two queens face off.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Interesting slashed sleeves.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

 

 

The “Mary Stuart” Cap aka Attifet aka Wired Cap in Mary of Scotland

This curved-front style of headgear has later been named after MQoS because of her final portraits wearing it. But she didn’t invent it, nor was the style unique to her — it was just a type of structured cap with veiling commonly worn by widowed and older French women in the period. There are lots of variations on this type of headgear in other regions as well.

Clockwise from top left: 1560s-1570s, Jacqueline de Rohan, Duchesse de Longueville; 1570s-1590s, Francoise Babou de la Bourdaisiere; 1570, Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre by François Clouet; 1570s, Catherine de Medici by François Clouet

Clockwise from top left: 1560s-1570s, Jacqueline de Rohan, Duchesse de Longueville; 1570s-1590s, Francoise Babou de la Bourdaisiere; 1570s, Catherine de Medici by François Clouet; 1570, Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre by François Clouet

Mary was painted wearing this hat only twice — as a young woman when she was mourning her first husband, Francis II of France, and again at the very end of her life, when she was imprisoned in England.

1560 - Mary, Queen of Scots, by François Clouet, the Royal Collection.

1560 – Mary, Queen of Scots, by François Clouet, the Royal Collection.

Mary Queen of Scots, 1578, by Nicholas Hilliard

1578 – Mary, Queen of Scots, by Nicholas Hilliard.

Of the few images available of Mary made during her life between those two times, either she’s bare headed, wearing a crown, or wearing a small cap such as this.

Mary, Queen of Scots, by unknown artist, circa 1560, National Portrait Gallery.

circa 1560 – Mary, Queen of Scots, by unknown artist, at the National Portrait Gallery.

But she has several of the wired caps in this film:

Mary of Scotland (1936) Katharine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland 1936

And one or two of her ladies-in-waiting in Scotland wear some variety of these caps:

Mary of Scotland (1936)

I don’t know what’s going on in the front with that line of cord / beading, but the back construction is fine.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

But the one on the right is way too Mickey-Mouse ears!

 

 

Queen Elizabeth I’s Costumes in Mary of Scotland

The other costumes of note in this film are worn by Mary’s rival. The first we see of Queen Elizabeth I, she’s tromping through her court, hiking her skirt, so I just had to share:

Mary of Scotland (1936)

This irritates me!

But she’s wearing a gown strongly reminiscent of the Pelican portrait, so props there.

1936 Mary of Scotland
1573 - Queen Elizabeth, Pelican portrait, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

1573 – Queen Elizabeth, Pelican portrait, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

In her next scene, Elizabeth has another elaborate gown — I think the idea is that England is ridiculously rich, and Elizabeth owns everything, in comparison to Mary. But this gown has those big, wide turn-back sleeves that would be out of fashion now, plus the shoulders are adorned with puffs, and she’s wearing a ruff, both of which are elements belonging to later decades. Oh well!

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The shoulder rolls on top of the turn-back sleeves are a bit much.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Elizabeth is happily dancing in this next gown when she learns that Mary has born a healthy son. That ends the party, natch.

Mary of Scotland (1936)
1936 Mary of Scotland

On display, the gown isn’t pinned closed, which shows there’s a full red bodice underneath — essentially, that’s a period construction style, cool!

Then Elizabeth learns of Mary and Bothwell running away. She gloats, knowing this won’t turn out well, and she wears an amazing velvet gown stenciled with giant Tudor roses.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The sleeves are vaguely Italian.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Hard to see details in screencaps, but the fabric of this gown is really amazing. The drape is glorious.

1936 Mary of Scotland

The gown on display.

Wearing her finest gown yet, Elizabeth learns Mary has abdicated.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Classic QEI curled hair, a shitton of trim on her gown, & a billion ropes of pearls.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Promo pic.

Then there’s that meeting between Elizabeth and Mary. QEI is all blinged up, because she can.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Encrusted with jewels.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

The gown on display — without any of the jewels though!

 

 

The Men’s Costumes in Mary of Scotland

I usually don’t bother with men’s costumes because suits and uniforms aren’t my thing. But just a couple here worth noting. Portraying Darnley as a prissy, effete, fancy-pants fella is a big part of this flick, so he has several elaborate suits. I quite like them because they really show a lot of the typical elements of men’s 16th-century fashion without resorting to cliches.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

His light-colored suit has nicely done narrow slashing across the front.

Mary of Scotland (1936)

You can just barely see it, but this suit has a brocaded (?) pattern of thistles in the fabric — it’s one of his last scenes, so perhaps that’s symbolic of how much he wants the Scottish crown.

Then there’s Bothwell (ugh). Historically, he’s a scoundrel and a rapist, so that this and so many frock flicks paint him as a romantic lead is disgusting, but then, movie-makers love an easy out instead of the complicated real history. He’s contrasted with Darnely by always wearing armor or leather (gag). And he wears a lot of tartan plaid because he’s soooooo Scottish eyeroll

Mary of Scotland (1936) Mary of Scotland (1936)

It’s not the best story of Mary, Queen of Scots’ life — that has yet to be filmed, but I believe the costumes are worth watching for because Walter Plunkett got the essence of the period.

 

 

 

What do you think of Mary of Scotland (1936)?

One Response

  1. Roxana

    Katherine Hepburn is always worth watching, otherwise this movie is unhistorical twaddle. The costumes on the other hand are pretty good, if much too slimline.