The Busy Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots

The Busy Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots  Ghostly death mask Mary Queen of Scots

The Busy Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots The death mask of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed on this day in 1587, was, and is one of the world’s most beloved historical characters. She also is one of the most popular reincarnees (is that a word?) and an exceptionally wide-ranging ghost. I’ve previously written about her screaming ghost appearing at the Tower of London as an omen of death.

From the moment the axe descended, her cult flourished–a company of champions, romantics, apologists, and those who worshipped the doomed Queen. Beautiful, royal, martyred, misunderstood: Mary, Queen of Scots was perfectly cast to be a spiritualist icon. Let us look at some of her manifestations in and out of the séance room.  

The Queen put in an appearance at an Eddy Brothers séance.

Fact Meeting, Aug. 17,1882.


Of San Francisco. Cal.

I am not here to solicit converts to spiritualism, but to relate facts. On the 1st of June I left San Francisco for Boston. Just before leaving I went to a medium, Mrs. King, formerly of New York. While there, a spirit came and controlled Mrs. King, stating that she was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. She said that she wished to convince me of a fact, the fact of materialization. She said to me that she thought she could materialize with the Eddy Brothers on this ground. So I came and attended the Eddy séance, the second one held here. The second form that came out of the cabinet was a lady dressed in pure white. She reached her hand towards me. I went up and shook hands with her, and she gave her name as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and asked if I remembered her promise in California? I will state that the appearance of the form and features was that of a beautiful lady. Of course, I could not identify her as Mary, Queen of Scots. Since that, she tells me through another medium, that she has controlled here on these grounds many times. She says a stranger would hardly recognize her, but that it is the best she can do under the circumstances. Facts, Volume 1 1882 

There are surprisingly few detailed reports of the Queen’s spontaneous apparitions in the 19th-century literature.  This is one of the few.

Mary, it is said, spent two nights at Nappa Hall, one of the oldest houses in Wensleydale, where she fascinated her host, Sir Christopher Metcalf; and she is said to have repeated her visit since then, as a ghost, not as a guest. One lady, in the year 1878, gave the following account to Mrs. MacQuoid:

“I was in the hall, playing hide-and-seek with the farmer’s little girl, a child about four years old. The hall was dimly lighted by a fire, and by a light from a candle in a room in the east tower. While at play some one entered the hall from the lower end, and walked towards the dais. Thinking it was the farmer’s wife, I ran after her, and was going to touch her, when she turned round, and I saw her face. It was very lovely. Her dress seemed to be made of black velvet. After looking at me for a moment, she went on, and disappeared through the door leading to the winding stone staircase in the angle turret of the west tower. Her face, figure, and general appearance reminded me of portraits of Mary Queen of Scots.” As the portraits in question are rather ugly than pretty, while this apparition was beautiful, I know not what to think of this story. Still, it is a welcome incident that adds to the interest and fame of Nappa Hall.

There is no other house in Wensleydale with the charm that this one has for all travellers. The Metcalfs lived there for centuries; and among the memorials of Mary Stuart which were treasured by the family, at Nappa or elsewhere, we may read of an autograph letter, a pair of hawking-gloves, and a great oak bedstead. Perhaps the ghost wished to claim these relics, and was too shy to ask for them in the twilight. Old England: Her Story Mirrored in her Scenes, Walter Shaw Sparrow, 1908

Relics of the Queen were eagerly collected. A psychometrist describes one of them.

The next case I mention is an interesting one. A cross was the object in question. It suggested little in the rather dim light we have at our sittings, except that it was embossed and made of some white metal. Shamar stated that it was made in Italy, the metal being a mixture of bronze and silver. It then came to France, and was sold to a woman who always wore it as a “kind of amulet.” She described this woman as beautiful, and a Princess or noble person. She stated that this woman had brought the cross with her to England; that there she had been unhappy, and had met her death suddenly. She was killed by a “knife,” and had no time to prepare her soul for its journey to the other world, as she only knew she was to die a few hours beforehand. The owner of the cross was present. He knew it was said to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots; it was a reliquary made of some white metal (not pure silver) enameled. Strangely enough, the word “Scotland” was in my mind during the whole sitting, though I did not associate the object with Mary, Queen of Scots—in fact, her name never occurred to me. The word “Scotland,” however, was never spelt out on the board, which tells against the subconscious theory. Voices from the Void: Six Years’ Experience in Automatic Communications, Hester Travers Smith, 1919

The Queen’s character was not universally beloved in the Spirit World.  The following dialog took place between “F”—“Fidelio,” one of the author’s spirit guides and “E”–“Ermengilda,” who is prompting the automatic writer “Tarquinia,” a medium with “strains of Highland and Hindoo blood…a combination extraordinarily auspicious for occult purposes.”  

E: Did you know Mary Queen of Scots ?

F: No, she left before I came.

E: Was she good-looking?

F: So, so. Queens’ looks are always overrated, but she had wit and quarrelled with everybody because of her caustic, sarcastic remarks.

E: Was she as bad as history makes her out?

F: Perhaps. I do not like to give an opinion, but considering the corruption of the French court and the evil souls that had directed her youth I think it is most likely. She was not bad naturally I have heard, but the life she led was terrible. She had many lovers before she left France. I knew three men who boasted of her favours and certainly two were right, for they gave intimate details. It was a wonderful time. Colloquies with an Unseen Friend, Lady Walburga Ehrengarde Helena von Hohenthal Paget, 1907  

Mary, Queen Of Scots, made her presence known in a bold and haughty manner. She maintained this proud demeanor for some time, ridiculing, in the most scornful style possible,the plainness and simplicity of eveiy thing which met her view, affirming that she was deserving of more honour and favour than was bestowed upon her. It was with difficulty that she could be brought to entertain a knowledge of her true situation.

Being questioned as to what kind of a state she had been in, since leaving the world, she seemed unconscious of the fact that she had died, although she said she had endured much tribulation and affliction of spirit.

Queen Anne accompanied Mary; and they seemed to enjoy each other’s company marvellously well. Anne was acquainted with Mary’s history, while Mary was entirely ignorant of hers; and it was amusing to hear these two queens conversing about matters and affairs of state, as though they were still in the body. They were, however, soon weaned from their attachment to subjects of worldly excitement, and directed their attention to a consideration of the necessity of adopting measures to secure the salvation of their souls.  A Return of Departed Spirits of the Highest Characters of Distinction, as well as the Indiscriminate of All nations, Into the Bodies of the “Shakers,” or “United Society of Believers in the Second Advent of the Messiah,” by an Associate of said society, 1843 

The Queen was quite a chatty spirit. I will give just two samples of her spiritualistic blather, omitting the usual admonitions to think “kind thoughts.”   


Amid the orange groves of Nice, the lovely spirit of Mary, Queen of Scots, visited the medium. Her influence was very gentle, casting a soft glow over the spirit of the Sensitive.

In life I was attended by an evil spirit, who presided over my birth, and followed me to the scaffold.

In youth I might have chosen a good guide, but I succumbed to the evil spirit of my destiny. I was saved from being entirely lost, by a long imprisonment, and by my final execution; otherwise one more lost spirit might have been added to the multitude who wander up and down the earth, seeking whom they may devour, delighting in evil, in discord, ruin, and crime.

Happily I am not of them. Years of penitence on earth, as a spirit, has saved me from such a career. I am the favoured guide to a few whose lives I influence for the benefit of humanity. My pilgrimage on earth is pursued by their side. I suffer when they suffer, and rejoice when they rejoice. The Next World Interviewed, Susan G. Horn, 1885 

August 28.—”Friends of another land, Mary Steuart, once Queen of Scots, now a happy spirit in the heavenly world, would commune with thee.

“You know my end on earth; all are familiar with it. Some condemned; some loved me; but none knew the mental sufferings I endured. In my early years I lost my husband, the only one to whom I was sincerely attached. Then came the separation from my adopted land— then my far severer trials in the cold-hearted land of the hills, and then my last hope on the battle of Langside, wily to lose it. None could understand my feelings. I freely forgave Elizbeth before I left the earth; for my imprisonment gave me ample opportunity to fit myself for the spirit world, and though a devout Romanist, yet was I brought nearer to God by my reflections when alone.

My spirit left the form. When I awoke, it seemed to me I was once more in the land of the vine, and once more gazing upon the garden I so much loved. At first I was alone, and it seemed to me a dream. Ere long I saw a band of children coming towards me, each one bearing in its hand a bunch of lilies, the emblem of my much loved home. They were clad in white, but a simple little forget-me-not was entwined in the hair of each. As they came near I recognized them all; they were those I had loved in France. They passed on, and soon I saw another group, but very different: they were clad in the Highland plaid, and instead of the lily they carried their native thistle. They, too, passed on, and I was alone.

“I could not but think I dreamed. I turned and saw the earth below, and felt bewildered. But my attention was soon drawn to the sound of music, and I heard the national airs of both countries alternately, and it seemed both were sweeter than I had ever heard on earth. What was my astonishment, on turning round, to see the two groups of children united, thus teaching me that all differences were forgotten, and that even the barrier of bigotry could be laid aside.

”Francis of France, with my mother and some loved friends, then came to welcome me and tell where I was. Oh, how blessed I felt: Earthly pains were forgotten, and the joy of the present moment only remained.

“My religious principles were soon changed, for I was willing to be instructed; and when Elizabeth was called to come on high, I was cleansed from my false doctrines and fitted to receive her.

“We are now friends, and together we pursue our studies. Elizabeth was intelligent, and that intelligence now shows itself in her face: She is now handsome; but the moral change in her is great; her thoughts no longer dwell on such follies: every effort is to remove her remaining errors and to become as the little children who seem so happy here.

“Adieu, my friends, I will come again; believe that Mary Steuart often watches over you, and is one of the many spirits who surround your Circle.” My Experience: Or, Footprints of a Presbyterian to Spiritualism, Francis H. Smith, 1860 

The Queen also deigned to write her autograph in the Church of St. Denis for the Count d’Ourches. The location was near the column of Francis II, a monument erected by Mary Stuart to the memory of her young husband.

A message from Mary, Queen of Scots, with her monogram.

A message from Mary, Queen of Scots, with her monogram.

Robert Dale Owen adds: “Count d’Ourches personally confirmed to me the authenticity of these two examples of spirit-writing when I called on him October 1, 1858.” The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next, Robert Dale Owen, 1872 

An early devotee decided on a strange experiment in maternal influence:

Miss [Maria] Foote, the actress, got married to Lord Harrington. She tried to produce quality. During gestation she directed her will-power to secure that the unborn child should be a girl. She further directed her desire vehemently that the girl might be the born image of Mary Queen of Scots, and to this end she hardly ever averted her adoring eyes from a very handsome portrait of the beautiful and ill-starred Queen. The child was born. It was a girl. It was the very picture of Mary Queen of Scots. And—it was an idiot. Theosophical Review, Volume 12, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky et al, 1893

If true, the “idiot” was Lady Jane St. Maur Blanche Stanhope. I can find no confirmation of any mental challenges. The lady married the Marquis of Conyngham and had six children.

There were, of course, the skeptics, with their cynical comments on the multiple appearances of the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and Cleopatra. This commentary is from medium Daniel Dunglas Home.

“We sit awhile gazing at the curtain. A face appears. It is a lovely face, all aglow with life and beauty. An angelic smile is upon the lip; the eye is alight with sweetest tenderness; the whole expression is one of universal love. Upon the forehead is a star of glistening jewels. The diamond, ruby, sapphire, chrysolite, and oriental pearl sparkle and blend, and blend and sparkle in symbolic harmony.”

Truly, it was an unkind cut on the part of the spirit to “dematerialize” that star. The “glistening jewels” would, doubtless, have been an acceptable present to the circle, and especially to the writer of the sentimentality above quoted, who has given evidence on other occasions of the interest he takes in precious stones. But by what name are we to hail the wearer of the star? Our enthusiast proceeds glowingly to enlighten us. “The form retires and reappears many times, each time growing in brightness and beauty. The hand is waved in graceful salutation. The well-shaped arm is projected, with its pendant drapery. The finger is placed upon the jewelled star on the forehead. And there before us is the form of Mary, Queen of Scots!” Certainly, this revelation surprised me. I have had the honour of speaking face to face with some six or seven Marys of Scotland. Each of them, although reincarnated in a less exalted condition of life, retained a distinct recollection of the days when she feasted with her courtiers in Holyrood, or listened yieldingly to the suit of Bothwell. These “sad, discrowned queens” were of all ages and appearances, and the only thing difficult to discern amongst them was the slightest trace of anything queenly. Besides these substantial Mary Stuarts there are any number of Marys yet in spirit-land, whose presence has been manifested at a thousand different circles. Surely, however, we have at last hit upon the consort of Darnley. The reporter of the seance in question exhausts a whole vocabulary of amazed negatives in raptures regarding the “spirit’s” charms. “No wonder that such beauty led captive the hearts of men. No wonder that a Bothwell could intrigue to possess himself of such a form. No wonder that a Norfolk paved his own way to the scaffold to call her wife. No wonder that an ugly English queen should be jealous of such a Scotch sister. No wonder that history played out so tragical a drama in the person of one from whose every feature such gleams of other than human beauty shone forth. There she was; the Mary Stuart of what precise date I know not, but some time before A.d. 1587, back again among us in material form, after nearly three centuries of spirit life! Visibly back again! Nay, more; audibly so. She speaks to us. From those lips come words; few, it is true, but sounding to us across the ages as:—’ I, Marie Stuart, whose head was laid upon the block, and whose blood was lapped by a dog, am not dead, but alive for ever.’ Is it possible? Can this be a real spirit form?” Strange doubt to intrude on such a mind!” Watch that aperture in the curtain,” continues our interlocutor, authoritatively. “The invisible spirit clothes itself with a visible form before our very eyes. We trace its growth—watch yet longer.” In the attitude of “watching yet longer” I leave the reporter in question. A second Truthful James, he stands exclaiming:—“Do I sleep?—do I dream? Do I wonder and doubt? Are things what they seem? Or are visions about?”  Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism, Daniel Dunglas Home, 1878 

One of Mary’s most ardent adorers was Lady Caithless AKA the Duchesse de Pomar, dubbed by the spirit of the Queen as the “Vice-Regent of Mary of Scotland.” This woman, who was both devotee of the Queen and said to have believed that she was the Queen’s reincarnation, built a séance room at “Holyrood,” her Parisian palace. Here is William Stead on the lady: 

For long, the name and the face of Mary Stuart had exercised upon her a magic attraction. Her thoughts dwelt continually upon her beauty, her charms, and her misfortunes. It seemed to her that she had perhaps been one of those young girls of noble family who had been attached to her service, and who had followed her about from Court to Court, from exile to exile, from prison to prison, throughout a life of romance and tragedy. . . . Little by little she felt herself in communication with this beloved Being. Her warm breath enveloped her. She heard her soft voice, “sometimes in the silence of midnight in her own room, sometimes on the wild hills of Scotland, and upon the high cliffs of Caithness which dominate the stormy Portland Firth.”


One day, the gentle voice which spoke within her, ordered her to go at midnight to the Chapel of Holyrood at Edinburgh. She did not doubt for a moment that this was her dear Queen who made this appointment, and whom she should see. “The thought that I was going to meet this being so beloved gave me courage to go alone, and without fear, in the middle of the night to the place indicated, my feet among the tombs of my ancestors.”

She means, presumably, those of her second husband.

She entered, and knelt upon the stones, deeply moved by the lugubrious aspect of the ruined cloister lighted only by the stars.

“Where are you?” asked the visitant, after a fervent prayer.

“Here, with you,” said a sweet voice, and turning she beheld a vague and uncertain form which little by little became more precise in outline. The visitant supposed that the spirit of the Queen of Holyrood was about to speak of her terrestrial adventures, to give her new details upon her life and misfortunes. But the voice, now become grave and solemn, proceeded to discuss the different spheres of spirits in nature, the angelic circles and their desire to manifest themselves to men, predicting to her a new religious cycle for the earth, in which humanity would again have consciousness of the Invisible, realising in itself, and becoming the reflection of, its Image.


One cannot but regret that “the visitant’s” expectation should have been altogether disappointed, as even one or two “new details of her life and misfortunes,” could they have been verified (as in the story Mr. Lang tells about her jewels), would have provided us with at least a trifle of the sort of internal evidence which would have made criticism possible. However, those most concerned are probably content to receive the story in simple faith. It is one “to take or to leave,” like “the spirits in nature” and “the angelic circles.”


Finally, the voice asked if she would consecrate herself to the service of God. She replied with an overflowing heart: “I swear to consecrate my life and all I have received to His service now and always.”

We are not told whether the duchess was unbaptised and unconfirmed, as this inquiry would suggest!

And the voice replied, “I charge thee as my representative on earth to keep firm and pure the white banner of the Truth which I place now in thy hands. . . . Know that aspiration is inspiration. Inspiration brings growth, and without aspiration there is no growth. . . . The flower of the centuries is now about to expand.”


The sketch now before us does not tell how, as the outcome of this, the Countess established a Parisian Holyrood, a lordly pleasure-house, of which the decoration was intended to recall that of the mouldering palace of the kings of Scotland, a reproduction in the gayest and brightest capital in Europe of the atmosphere of Auld Reekie. What money could do was no doubt done (it is more abundant in the West Indies than “within a mile of Edinbro’ Town”), and the pictures and decorations and sculptures and tapestries were very expensive indeed. Every known portrait of Queen Mary was copied and reproduced and a Presence Chamber dedicated in which the Countess had audience of her royal mistress and learnt all the secrets of Christian Theosophy, and Spiritualism, and Esoterism and Psychology and the dawn of the new day!

Some of these are reproduced for us in L’Aurore, where we can learn how the fin de Siecle as represented by a West Indian lady in a Parisian Holyrood was philosophised over by a wronged and suffering and devout gentlewoman of the sixteenth century. Borderland: A Quarterly Review and Index, Volume 3, edited by William Thomas Stead, 1896 

The Theosopists also claimed the Duchesse as one of their own.  

Like most of us, she had her illusions, but they were harmless, the chief one being that she was a reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots. She published one brochure entitled ” A night at Holyrood,” in which she describes a meeting between her and the spirit of the unfortunate Queen. H. P. B., with characteristic frankness, posed her with the question how she could be at one and the same time the embodied Lady Caithness and the disembodied Mary. Her “Star Circle” was held in an exquisite little chapel in her Paris palace, built expressly for it. At the place where the altar usually is, was a niche at the bottom of which was a really splendid picture, in full- length, of Mary, Queen of Scots. From gas-jets masked behind the side pillars, an admirably arranged flood of light was thrown upon the picture, and, the chapel being in deep shadow, an effect of startling realism was produced: it seemed almost as though Mary would step out of the canvas and advance to receive the homage of her adorer. The Theosophist, Volume 22, 1901  

The cult of the Queen continues today. I once ordered a couple of British books on the ghosts of the Queen of the Scots. One, which told of the author’s multiple sightings of her spirit in various locations, was a bit overwrought in its descriptions of the Queen’s beauty. I shrugged this off, until I came to a scene in which the Queen had been very very naughty and the author pulled up her skirt, revealing pink knickers. Spanking ensued.

Oh my.

Have you had any personal encounters with Mary, Queen of Scots? Keep it clean, please. Chriswoodyard8 AT

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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