22 April 2012

Hammerhead shark embroidery - by Mary, Queen of Scots (~1570)

From the collections of the Victoria and Albert:
[A panel from] The Oxburgh Hangings. Hanging with applied panels of embroidery, formerly at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk.

Inscriptions: A ZYDRACH ' 'ZYGAENA' hammer headed shark from C Gesner Icones Animalium Aquatilium Zurich 1560 p 150

Mary Queen of Scots' troubled reign in Scotland ended in 1568 when the Scottish Lords forced her to flee across the border into England. As Elizabeth's cousin Mary had long claimed the English throne, leading Elizabeth to see Mary as a threat and place her in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary was held captive in various English country houses for 19 years. She was finally executed in 1587.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) embroidered these panels with Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) and ladies of the household, during her imprisonment. Mary may have intended the large central panel as a cushion for Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel (1557-1595), an English Catholic courtier imprisoned in London by Elizabeth I.
I was startled to learn that she was even aware of the existence of hammerhead sharks, much less that she would embroider one (reasonably accurately). 

Via A London Salmagundi. (Image cropped and brightened from original).


  1. This looks to be needlepoint more than embroidery, but I could be mistaken.

  2. Surely needlepoint *is* embroidery, though? It's wonderful, either way.

    1. It's really beautiful, you're right. Embroidery is more 'free-hand' decorative stitches and can be done on any type of fabric, from sheer to burlap. Needlepoint, on the other hand, is done on an open weave canvas (usually starched and somewhat stiff), with stitches going from one hole to another located diagonally. Not to put too fine a point on it (ha!), but this is such a great blog with so much info, just thought I'd add something about the needle arts. - Kelly

  3. Needlepoint, Embroidery; both are the same thing, it's just a matter of what stitch is used.

  4. "Needlepoint" is the term generally used to refer to a type of embroidery that is often called "canvas embroidery." It is usually done in wool or synthetic wool yarns on a fabric of even weave with fairly large holes but may also be done in silks on a much finer canvas, and is then referred to as "petit point." The main difference between needlepoint and other embroidery is that in needlepoint the ground material is completely covered by the stitches. So yes, this would now be considered needlepoint.
    Basically this ends up as a "squares vs rectangles" thing - all needlepoint is embroidery, but not all embroidery is needlepoint.
    This is a great blog! Glad I was directed to this.

    1. And I'm glad to have another knowledgeable person on board. Welcome. :.)

  5. Fishermen would have caught hammerhead sharks. Mary had lived in France and Scotland before she was confined in England. No doubt, when a child, she enjoyed freedom of movement and visited market-towns and saw all kinds of oddities. The French kings maintained private menageries as well. Mary,Queen of Scots did have more freedom in her youth than Elizabeth I was permitted to have.

    On 17 May 1568, one of my Tudor-period ancestors, Henry Fletcher, gifted Mary with 13 ells of crimson velvet to make a new robe, as her clothes were muddied and torn from her escape across the Solway. It was common practice for embroideresses to repurpose clothing in their projects, usually as backing or padding. I bet that crimson velvet is preserved in those embroideries she and Bess of Hardwick crafted.


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