The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle on the morning of February 8th 1587 was a bungled affair. The first strike of the executioners axe missed the neck and bit deep into the back of her head,smashing the skull, but leaving her conscious. She was heard to whisper 'Sweet Jesus' in agony. The second blow was more succesful and a third finally sent her into the next world. Eyewitnesses say that when her severed head was picked up and shown to the crowd the lips continued to move for a further fifteen minutes . This was not the end of the gruesome spectacle as her auburn tresses came away in the executioners hands and the head , lips still moving, fell to the floor. The auburn hair was in fact a wig, and Mary's real hair was seen to be grey and close shaved. This sequence of events had quite an unnerving effect on the spectators who fell silent. Worse was to come for as they started to carry the body away from the execution block a small Skye terrier, Marys favourite, crawled out from under her petticoat where the Queen had been holding onto it throughout the ordeal - her last remaining comfort. The wee animal crouched beside the severed head of its mistress and howled piteously.
Why you may ask all this sudden talk of history? We brought with us from Scotland to Italy a portrait of Mary. This was painted from memory shortly after her execution. After centuries of hanging in rooms with open wood fires it was lustreless, covered in grime and in need of some careful restoration. In Todi there is the most marvellous picture restorer whose grandfather used to work for King Edward VII in London in the early part of the last century.Over the last three months he has been working slowly away on the old canvas revealing under the black patina the crucifix she carried on her way to the execution, the red petticoat she wore under her black dress,and the black veil that she wore on the block. Last night there was a telephone call - " Could we come immediately?".When we got there we found him in a state of high excitement. Beneath the funeral inscription at the top of the picture he had found an older inscription which had subsequently been painted over. Did we want him to reveal it or should he leave the more recent overpainting? The 'font' has asked him to see if he can get it x-rayed to see what it says before making a final decision - it could be the earlier inscription was a botched job and the more recent inscription nothing more than overpainting some spelling errors.
The two boyz are happily dozing in the morning sunshine in the courtyard sound asleep after a hearty walk in the country. Their hair is beginning to grow again and they are slowly but surely regaining their PON shagginess with each passing day,