When I first watched the trailer for Mary, Queen of Scots — filled with candlelit lust, hushed intrigue, and Saoirse Ronan yelling in a Scottish accent — I found myself with two persistent thoughts. First, I really wanted Saoirse Ronan to yell at me in a Scottish accent. But mostly, I was struck by a small, particular accessory choice — the five silver hoop earrings in Mary’s right ear. They looked tough and modern, especially when juxtaposed against traditional period drama costumes. Did the real Mary, I wondered, actually look like she had just stepped out from a session at New York Adorned?
Sarah Peverley, a historian and professor at the University of Liverpool, quickly cleared up the mystery for me. “No, Mary, Queen of Scots wouldn’t have worn so many earrings in one ear,” she told me in an email. “We have a number of portraits of her that clearly show her wearing matching single earrings in each ear. Multiple earrings were not the fashion in Scotland, England, or France in this period (the three countries that Mary knew well).”
The film’s costume designer, Alexandra Byrne, also admitted that the earrings were not based in fact — but not entirely out of place during the 1500s either. Byrne was inspired to give Mary multiple piercings after coming across an Antonio Moro portrait of Maria of Portugal, Princess of Parma; in the 1550 painting, she’s seen with five gold hoops in one ear.
Byrne crafted most of the costumes in the film out of denim, a fabric choice that heavily influenced the jewelry styling. “We have portraits that we reference and research from, but that style of jewelry wouldn’t work with denim. So it’s about how to reinterpret the jewelry for the status and the power and the wealth of these two queens — although Mary wasn’t wealthy, her country was very poor,” she told me. “It was about how to find a language for the jewelry in the context of the world that we were creating.”
And the earrings did aid in communicating parts of Mary’s personality. “She was hugely charismatic and beautiful. She was quite headstrong,” Bryne explained. “She didn’t necessarily follow the rules, so I wanted that sense of independence.”
There are other parts of the film that are notably ahistorical — Mary and Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) never met in person, for instance — but this subtle detail remains my favorite.