Catte Embroidery of Mary, Queen of Scots

The catte embroidery, by Mary Queen of Scot. The catte embroidery, by Mary Queen of Scot. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014. RCIN 28224

The so-called catte embroidery of Mary Queen of Scots is a slip in the form of a cross, decorated with an embroidered figure of a ginger cat that is wearing a crown and is playing with a mouse, on a checked floor. The catte embroidery is now in the Royal Collection, London. It was worked by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587; her monogram of a combined MA can be seen to the left of the cat).

The embroidery dates to about 1569-1584 and was probably worked while Mary was the ‘guest’ of George Talbot, the Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Elizabeth (also known as Bess of Hardwick, a well-known needlewoman and collector of embroidery).

The embroidery was worked on a canvas ground using coloured floss silk threads. This and similar panels were probably tensioned using a small portable frame rather than being worked in the hand. The panel design was apparently drawn and then outlined in black thread by a professional embroiderer and then completed by the Queen or the Countess. The panel is worked in tent stitch. This type of work is associated with French rather than English techniques, which is not really surprising as Mary was brought up in the French court before she came back to live in Scotland.

The figure of the cat is taken from a woodcut drawing in Icones Animalium by Conrad Gesner, an illustrated natural history book (Zurich, 1553). It is likely that the panel alludes to Queen Elizabeth I (of England) as the crowned cat and Queen Mary as the mouse. At the time Mary was the prisoner of Queen Elizabeth and in 1587 she was executed on the orders of the English queen.

The production of small squares or similar shapes of embroidery was very popular in the sixteenth century. The small panels could be quickly made and when enough were ready they were sewn down onto a much larger and richer ground, such as bed curtains, valances or canopies. A number of such panels worked by Mary and her ladies are now in the collection of Oxburgh House and are known as the Oxburgh hangings.


  • SWAIN, Margaret (1973). The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhard Co.
  • WARDLE, Patricia (1981). 'The embroideries of Mary, Queen of Scots: Notes on the French background,' Needle and Bobbin Club Journal, vol. 64, 1/2 pp. 3-20. (vailable at:, retrieved 15 April 2017).

Royal Collection Trust online catalogue (retrieved 15 April 2017).


Last modified on Saturday, 15 April 2017 19:27