|The emblem of Mary, Queen of Scots|
Today we’re happy to have back Maine author Lea Wait who writes the Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries and the Shadows Antique Print Mysteries, as well as nineteenth century Maine-set historical novels for young people. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website.
When I started writing the Mainely Needlepoint mystery series two years ago, one of the first things I learned was that Mary, Queen of Scots, had been a famous needlepointer. I’d grown up hearing stories about Mary: my grandmother had come from Edinburgh, where her family (the Stewarts/Stuarts) had lived for generations. She’d always believed Queen Mary was somehow related to us. (Our family home was just down the street from Hollyrood Castle.) So, of course, I started reading about Mary’s needlepoint.
I’d known castle walls were warmed by woven tapestries. But I learned that some were stitched by professional embroiders (most of them men) who lived and worked in castles. The clothing of noble ladies was also embroidered, as were bed hangings, curtains, valences, pillows and cushions, panels, purses ... almost any cloth that could be decorated. Wealthy and noble women also did needlepoint, although on a smaller scale.
Scotland-born Mary was sent to France when she was five, destined to be the bride of Francis, the Dauphin. She and her ladies learned needlework at the French court from her future mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici. One of the tasks of the court embroiders was to draw designs on canvas, silk or satin, for the noble women to embroider.
As an antique print dealer, I was fascinated to learn that the designs of flowers, birds and animals the women embroidered were copied from natural history engravings of the period.
Mary did marry Francis when she was sixteen and briefly was Queen of France, but Francis died only a year after their wedding. When she returned to Scotland to become Queen of the Scots, she brought with her a few servants from her French household – including two embroiders. Their work was needed in the cold stone Scottish castles.
Mary herself did needlepoint all of her life, but she is best known for the work she did during her long years of captivity. (Her cousin, Elizabeth of England, fearing Mary would act on her claim to the English throne, had her isolated in an English nobleman’s home.) Mary and the wife of her “host” in England, Bess Hardwick, spent hours each day embroidering. It was one of Mary’s few amusements.
Once she even covered a red satin skirt with embroidery of flowers as a gift for her cousin Elizabeth, hoping it would soften the queen’s heart. She embroidered gifts for friends. And before she was executed, she arranged for her needlework to be distributed among her friends and family.
In my latest book, Thread and Gone, I’ve managed to connect Mary’s needlepoint to the coast of Maine. How? To find out, you’ll have to read the book! (There’s a link to a free prequel on my website, www.leawait.com)
And if you want to know more about Mary’s needlework, I suggest Margaret Swain’s The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots, Santina Levey’s An Elizabethan Inheritance: The Hardwick Hall Textiles, or George Wingfield Digby’s Elizabethan Embroidery.
Thread and Gone
When a priceless antique is stolen, murder unravels the peaceful seaside town of Haven Harbor, Maine. . .
Angie Curtis and her fellow Mainely Needlepointers know how to enjoy their holidays. But nothing grabs their attention like tying up loose threads. So when Mary Clough drops in on the group's Fourth of July supper with a question about an antique needlepoint she's discovered in her family attic, Angie and her ravelers are happy to look into the matter.
Angie's best guess is that the mystery piece may have been stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots, famous not just for losing her head, but also for her needlepointing. If Angie's right, the piece would be extremely valuable. For safekeeping, Angie turns the piece over to her family lawyer, who places it in a safe in her office. But when the lawyer is found dead with the safe open and ransacked, the real mystery begins. . .