letterlocking: spiral locking

Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote a letter to King Henry III of France after she had been informed of the execution. After writing it, Mary used a rather unusual method of sealing the letter – letterlocking, or more specifically say – spiral locking – to seal the letter.

This testamentary letter is now in the National Library of Scotland (Adv. MS. 54.1.1).

The video shows the method of sealing as recreated by MIT researchers. Due to the limited tools at hand, Mary used a relatively simplified variant of the ‘spiral seal’.

The British Museum recently opened the exhibition “Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens”, which ends on 20 February next year. The letter and the research are also on display.


1. Dambrogio, J., Ghassaei, A., Smith, D.S. et al. Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography. Nat Commun 12, 1184 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21326-w

2. Jana Dambrogio, et al. The Spiral-Locked Letters of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. eBLJ 2021, Article 11. DOI: 10.23636/gyhc-b427  

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