By Michael MacLeod
A LETTER written by Mary Queen of Scots six hours before her death is to go on display for the public next week.
Scotland’s largest library last night unveiled plans to for a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to view the 422 year-old letter.
It will be the centrepiece in a showcase of literary treasures unveiled to mark the official launch of the National Library of Scotland’s new £2.4million visitor centre.
It hasn’t been seen in public since the 70s and will be on show for one week only, as historians are worried it could fade when exposed to the light.
Chief executive Martyn Wade said: “The letter provides an incredible opportunity to see a fascinating piece of Scotland’s history.“We are delighted to be able to offer visitors the chance to see some of the real treasures from our collection including the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots.
“As well as Mary’s letter, you’ll also be able to see a complete Gutenberg Bible, the manuscript autobiography of David Hume and some original artwork from Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.”
Mary Queen of Scots penned the now priceless manuscript at 2am on February 8, 1587, ahead of her execution at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.
Written in French, the letter is addressed to Henri III, King of France, and shows Mary’s belief that she died a religious martyr and not for purely political reasons, as the English government alleged.
Despite being moments from death, she even thinks of her servants and asks Henri to ensure their wages are paid.
It was last seen in public 30 years ago and since then the library’s visitors have only been able to view a digitally enhanced reproduction of the manuscript as it is stored under tightly-controlled conditions to ensure its preservation and prevent damage from heat, light and humidity.
The letter will be on display within a glass case for seven days only and it is unknown whether the original will ever go on display again for conservation reasons.
The National Library of Scotland’s new visitor centre in Edinburgh opens to the public on Tuesday 15 September.
Mr Wade added: “The completion of the visitor centre marks an exciting new chapter for the National Library of Scotland.
“The Library is the home of the collected knowledge of Scotland, and the visitor centre gives people the opportunity to come in and find out just what that means.
“Three exhibition areas, a new shop and cafe plus an expanded events space and access to digital resources and wi-fi make the library more inviting than ever before.”