I enjoy reading about the underdog characters throughout history. Their stories retold keep them alive and preserve their characters from being forgotten or erased from memory. Mary, The Queen of Scots, is one of those characters. We still have a Queen of England, so that royal family is easy to trace. However, one island cannot have two queens.
Young Mary is daughter of King James V and Mary of Guise. Her father, the King, dies when she is an infant and young Mary ascends to the throne. Her mother sends Mary to grow up in the French court after an attempt on her life ends up killing one of young Mary’s servants. Young Mary marries the French Dauphin, Francis. When he becomes the French King, Mary serves as Queen Consort until his untimely death. She returns to Scotland as a widow, after her mother, dies to claim the Scottish throne. As the only legitimate child of King James V, even though he had several other children with other women, Mary takes the throne despite her older half-brother, James Stuart, who has been present and ruling in the Scottish court since her father’s passing.
As Queen of Scotland, Mary attempts to pacify the growing tension between the Catholics, which Mary claims to be, and the Protestants, which the majority of Scotland is. Queen Mary navigates through debates, execution orders, assassination attempts, religious pressures, and passions the best that she can. Despite her infatuation with Lord Bothwell, she marries her cousin Henry Stuart. Mary thinks that Henry is the most beautiful man she has ever seen, but even beautiful men have their flaws. Soon enough, Queen Mary gives birth to their son, James, but that cannot keep the royal couple’s troubles away. Their marital discourse becomes obvious throughout the castle and an ongoing joke in the realm. The Protestants are okay with divorce, which would preserve the future King James’ legitimate claim to the throne, but Mary’s Catholics would never allow divorce. Somehow and suddenly, Henry Stuart’s castle is blown up and he is found strangled nearby. Lord Bothwell is the prime suspect, since he has been having an affair with the Queen. When he is acquitted and divorces his wife, Queen Mary and Lord Bothwell marry. This infuriates and divides the Scots, many of whom loved their King Henry as well as Mary’s half-brother James Stuart. The novel ends with Lord Bothwell and Queen Mary losing their uprising to James Stuart and are imprisoned in Loch Levin Castle, which we all know that Mary then ends up in her cousin’s, the Queen of England, captivity.
This is a complicated plot that involves a lot of characters and storylines, and none of it takes place in a recent time with customs and traditions that are no longer practiced. Once the reader can put all of that into perspective, this story is captivating. It has all of the elements of a great novel – interesting plot, unique characters, murder attempts, love lost, forbidden desires, battles, struggle for power! Frederic Fallon has done a great job with tying in known facts about Queen Mary and her family with a dialogue that could have actually taken place. This novel is informative and dramatic about a character that has intrigued me, which made it hard to put down. My only wish was that the novel continued to Mary’s captivity under Queen Elizabeth. I would highly recommend this novel if you are interested in struggling kingdoms and old royalty.