An example of letterlocking — where people doubled letters as envelopes to ensure the security of a document — the fallen monarch used a spiral locking process to seal a message that was “a last will and testament and a bid for martyrdom,” the research published on Friday says.
‘Powerful and moving’
She used a series of intricate folding and slitting techniques to close the letter, which researchers describe as “one of the most spectacular examples of spiral locking” in the article.
A “powerful and moving” testimony, the letter was likely folded by the monarch herself while she was in her prison cell. There are also blotches on the letter, which some historians suggest could be evidence of Mary’s tears staining the paper, according to the research.
Mary became a political target under the reign of Elizabeth I, and was executed at the age of 44. Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images
“I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally,” the letter says.
“I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning,” the letter adds.
As Mary did not have access to most of her possessions at the time, including her letter writing utensils, she would have had to slit the letter using an alternative blade — and was perhaps aided by her ladies-in-waiting Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle.
Mary used a spiral locking technique to seal the last letter she wrote before her execution. Credit: National Library of Scotland/Unlocking History/British Library Journal
It played a crucial role in the “history of secrecy systems,” enabling “global correspondence in the early modern period as fundamentally as computer coding underpins digital communication today,” the research paper says.