Scotland's largest library is offering what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the last letter ever written by Mary Queen of Scots, later this month.
The 422-year-old letter will be one of the key exhibits in a showcase of literary treasures unveiled to mark the official launch of the National Library of Scotland's new visitor centre, which opens to the public on Tuesday 15 September.
The new visitor facilities are the result of a £2.24 million investment programme, undertaken over the last three years to make the library more accessible - works included the extensive redesign of the library's public areas to create a more welcoming environment, with a new café, shop and expanded exhibition and events spaces.
Martyn Wade, CEO of the National Library of Scotland, said: 'The completion of the visitor centre marks an exciting new chapter for the National Library of Scotland. The Library is the home of the collected knowledge of Scotland, and the visitor centre gives people the opportunity to come in and find out just what that means. Three exhibition areas, a new shop and café plus an expanded events space and access to digital resources and Wi-fi make the library more inviting than ever before.
'To mark the opening of the new facilities, we are delighted to be able to offer visitors the chance to see some of the real treasures from our collection including the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots. Written just six hours before her execution, the letter provides an incredible opportunity to see a fascinating piece of Scotland's history. As well as Mary's letter, you'll also be able to see a complete Gutenberg Bible, the manuscript autobiography of David Hume and some original artwork from Alasdair Gray's Lanark.'
Since it was last on display, the library's visitors have only been able to view a digitally enhanced reproduction of the manuscript as it is stored under tightly-controlled conditions to ensure its preservation and prevent damage from heat, light and humidity. For this reason, the letter will be on display within a glass case for seven days only - it is unknown when, or even if, the original will go on display again for reasons of conservation.
The priceless letter was written on 8 February 1587 to Henri III, King of France (brother of her late husband Francois II). It shows her belief that she died a religious martyr and not for purely political reasons, as the English government alleged. And although just hours from death, she even thinks of her servants and asks Henri to ensure their wages are paid.
The precious manuscript will join 10 other fantastic exhibits on display in the library's new public areas from 15 September to 8 November. Each of them is a treasure in its own right.
Amongst the collection will be the Gutenberg Bible, one of the first books ever printed with moveable type. Printed in Germany around 1455 by Johannes Gutenberg and Johannes Furst, and the Library's copy is one of only 20 complete copies known to survive anywhere in the world.
Also on display will be the Forman Armorial (a reference book depicting coats of arms) compiled around 1562, featuring paintings of John Balliol and the kings and queens of Scotland from Malcolm III to Mary Queen of Scots, who is depicted just after her marriage to Francois.
Other highlights will be the autobiography of philosopher, economist and historian David Hume in both manuscript and book form, as well as a display of 17th century silver bindings contrasted by an example of modern bindings by controversial artist Damien Hirst.
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Tel: 0131 623 3700
5 September 2009