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Category: History & Historiography, National Library of Scotland

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In 1603, two very different nations were brought together by the curious fact that they only had one monarch between them.

On the death of England's Queen Elizabeth I without children, the next in line to the throne was the reigning king of Scotland, King James VI. James won the backing of the English establishment as he was a Protestant, he had sons who could be king after him, and his 36-year rule in Scotland had largely been a success.

However, he was also a Scot, who spoke a different language and had a different cultural background. How would he be able to bring the two countries together?

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Explore almost 1,000 years of Scotland's history via the National Library of Scotland's interactive timeline. Trace events as they happened by reading the first-hand accounts of observers, from the death of St Margaret to the opening of the new Scottish Parliament. Digital facsimiles of some of the most important documents in our collections help to illustrate the story of the shaping of the Scottish nation.

This website is based on an exhibition of manuscripts and printed material held in the National Library of Scotland in the summer of 2000. It uses extracts from the book Reportage Scotland, edited by Louise Yeoman and published by Luath Press in association with NLS.

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At 2am on Wednesday 8 February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots picked up her pen for the last time. Her execution on the block at Fotheringhay Castle was a mere six hours away when she wrote this letter. It is addressed to Henri III of France, brother of her first husband.

As well as the English translation, Mary's last written words are available here in a French transcription. You can also read the historical background to this letter.

The letter is part of the National Library of Scotland's manuscript collections. (NLS reference: Adv.MS.54.1.1)

Shown here is an image of Mary shortly after her marriage in 1558. With her is her husband, Francois. As eldest son of the French King, he took the title of Dauphin (or 'Dolphin') of France. He became king in 1559.

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Early documents relating to events of the past make essential - and fascinating - reading for anyone interested in Scottish history. But these primary sources are often not readily accessible.

Fortunately, many of these rare documents have been published by historical clubs and societies, and are available at the National Library of Scotland.

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