Mary Queen of 'Shots'

mary queen of scots billiards pioneer

In January 2019, the film "Mary Queen of Scots" starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, had its Scottish Premiere in Edinburgh.
A special reception, hosted by Scotland's First Minister and accomplished cueist Nicola Sturgeon, was held for the film's makers and stars at Edinburgh Castle.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is one of the best known figures in Scotland's history.
Her extensively documented life was nothing if not eventful.
You may however be surprised to discover that Mary Stuart was a pioneer of cue sports.

Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland aged just nine months, married three times and suspected of involvement in the murder of her husband Darnley.
She was also implicated in an assassination plot against her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England.

Mary was cruelly imprisoned by the English in castles across their land over a period of 19 years.
However, the silver lining to this lengthy incarceration was that it gave her ample leisure time in which to hone her billiard skills, which were said to be formidable.

It was around midday on the 7th of February, 1587 that a representative of Queen Elizabeth announced that Mary was to be executed in Fotheringhay Castle, where she was at that time held captive.

Legend has it that she spent the remainder of the day and the early hours of the following morning, prior to her execution, writing goodbye letters to friends and relatives, bidding farewell to her ladies-in-waiting and getting in some serious practise at billiards.
Such was her love for the game.

Upon her demise the executioner held high Mary's severed head to display her scalp and hair.
Ironically, her head was observed to be as round and white as an ivory billiard ball.
Onlookers were horrified by the ghastly apparition and that her lips trembled for a quarter of an hour after her globular head was removed.
It was not old age that had turned what remained of her hair white, for Mary was scarcely forty when she met her death, but the misfortune and sorrow suffered throughout her life.

After her execution, it is documented that Mary's headless body was wrapped in the blue Strachan tartan cloth which had been callously torn from her beloved billiard table.

Undoubtedly, Queen of 'Shots' is a fully deserved alternative epithet.

Mary Stuart was to gain posthumous revenge over Elizabeth.
Little can be known about what went on behind closed doors of the allegedly Virgin Queen.
What is known is that Elizabeth was a flop at billiards and died childless.
Consequently Mary Stuart's own son became King of Scotland as James VI... and King of England and King of Ireland as James I. He was the first monarch to be called the King of Great Britain.

James maintained the billiard playing tradition of his mother.
In 1605 it is recorded that he ordered a billiard table to be made by "Henry Waller, our joyner."
Henry was possibly the very first builder and distributor of billiard tables in Britain.

The painting reproduced above of Mary (after Nicholas Hilliard) with one hand resting on a billiard table (cue rack in the background) is an oil on panel.
It is inscribed 1578 and can be viewed in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

And not to be outdone, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (432 years after the execution of Mary Stuart) keeps her head and displays prodigious billiard skills in an exhibition game of blackball pool...

nicola sturgeon blackball pool player


Footnote... Lovejoy was a British television comedy-drama mystery series, based on the picaresque novels by John Grant (under the pen name Jonathan Gash).
It ran from January 1986 to December 1994.

In 1993 an episode named "The Colour of Mary" was released.
In that episode Lovejoy's former landlord, once a famous Scottish snooker player and latterly a bad-tempered drunk, gets Lovejoy's help to find the billiard table which once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.
The table is eventually discovered to be owned by a descendant of Mary's jailer in Fotheringhay (the place of her execution some 400 years previously).

The World Champion Snooker player Dennis Taylor made a guest appearance in that episode.

This image is a screenshot in which Lovejoy (played by Ian McShane) finally tracks down the very billiard table upon which Mary Queen of Scots got in some practise prior to her decapitation.

lovejoy colour of mary



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