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Which is correct:

  1. Mary Queen of Scots birthplace
  2. Mary Queen of Scots' birthplace?
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  • Why would one not use the possessive with a title? – TaliesinMerlin Jan 11 at 14:37
  • In this example, the birthplace relates to Mary or Queen, not Scots. To put the apostrophe after Scots suggests it's the birthplace of Scots (plural). – Pamela Thornton Jan 11 at 14:42
  • Ah, I see. I'll try to answer why that's not the case. – TaliesinMerlin Jan 11 at 14:44
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If you wish to make a possessive of a longer title — grammatically a noun phrase consisting of a noun and an appositive — you may attach an ’s to the end of the phrase. Since Scots is plural, however, you only add an apostrophe:

Their demands were equally uncompromising, including the restoration of traditional Catholic worship, the trial of Cecil, the release of the Duke of Norfolk and the recognition of Mary, Queen of Scots’ title to the throne. — J. Derek Holmes, Bernard W. Bickers, A Short History of the Catholic Church, 1984, 158.

The comma after Mary really shouldn’t be there.

A surprising number of publications grammatically reduce Mary’s sovereignty to a single Scottish subject:

These allies lost and Mary Queen of Scot's future was apparently to be the daughter-in-law of Henry VIII. — Gerard Lacey, The Legacy of the DeLacy, Lacey, Lacy Family 1066–1994, 1994, 88.

Needless to say, this is the wrong way to form a possessive of Queen of Scots.

Whether Mary Queen of Scots’ birthplace or (the) birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots is a better stylistic choice depends on how you’re using it in a sentence. If it’s clear you’re only talking about the ill-fated queen, you’d probably be better off with Mary’s birthplace or some such.

  • Isn't Mary entitled to her comma? The British convention is that women who are former holders of titles who no longer hold them, e.g. because they are widows, divorced, etc are known as FirstName [comma] Former Title, thus Diana, Princess of Wales, Sarah, Duchess of York. Mary abdicated in 1567 and spent very nearly 20 years as an ex-queen. – Michael Harvey Jan 11 at 18:43
  • @MichaelHarvey: Either Mary gets no commas or she gets two (bracketing a nonessential appositive), but not just one. – KarlG Jan 11 at 21:17
  • Pls provide example. – Michael Harvey Jan 11 at 23:19
  • @MichaelHarvey: example of what? It's either Mary, Queen of Scots, or Mary Queen of Scots. One comma makes no sense. – KarlG Jan 11 at 23:31
  • OK you misunderstood me. You said there "should be no comma after Mary". I said that convention in Britain requires one. Other ones may be demanded by punctuation. – Michael Harvey Jan 12 at 9:15
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Use "Mary Queen of Scots' [or Scots's] birthplace."

When a title is integral to the name, it still takes a possessive case. Hence:

Alexander the Great's horse

Catherine of Aragon's husband

The King of the Britons' [or Britons's] retinue

There's at least one example of a writer's guide from the early 20th century prescribing this usage for Mary Queen of Scots. This combination makes sense since in each of the cases the title (whether referring to a people or not) is a part of the identifying proper noun. (See rule 5 on compounds here.)

The concern you express in the comments is interesting. What if you need to distinguish the people (the Scots) from the title (Mary Queen of Scots)? First, I'd suggest this shakes out from usage and context: seldom would one say "Mary Queen," since "Queen" as a title by itself usually precedes the name, as in "Queen Mary" or "Queen Elizabeth." Second, if ambiguity were a worry, there is a great way to avoid the possessive case:

The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots

Finally, I've been putting an alternative in brackets. Because the total name is a singular name, some style guides would insist that one use the singular possessive form ('s) rather than the plural ('). However, some guides allow for the use of (') alone when the singular name ends in "s." As someone who has an "s" name who vacillates back and forth between the usages, I leave that up to you.

  • Yes, and grammatically, I'd take [Mary Queen of Scots'] as a shortened form of [Mary Queen of Scots's]. – Greg Lee Jan 11 at 15:23

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