There's Something About Mary

Recently I wrote a post about the plethora of books on Henry VIII since The Tudors and the 500th anniversary of his coronation. I've also begun to notice that there have been a spate of books about Mary, Queen of Scots lately, both fiction and non-fiction. What is about the reign of Mary that keeps writers and readers so interested? Is it the murder of Darnley and her subsequent hasty marriage to Bothwell? Her years in imprisonment in England and eventual beheading? Her life is tragic but also kind of sexy compared to Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Mary was Queen of two countries, married three times, the last marriage possibly forced. She was tall, with red hair, and Catholic living in a country where danger lurked behind every corner, not knowing who to trust, living amongst squabbling nobles who refused to bow to a woman as sovereign.

Not only have there been a lot of books, but there was a revival of Schiller's Mary Stuart on Broadway recently with Janet McTeer (magnificent) as Mary and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth. I picked up a book called A Question of Guilt by Julianne Lee at the RWA conference in July in DC. This book is very reminiscent of the great Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time in which a detective, while convalescing examines the evidence against Richard III.

In a Question of Guilt, it is three days after the execution of Mary Stuart and the streets of London are buzing with the news. But not everyone is convinced that the scandalized Queen of Scots was guilty of plotting against her cousin, Elizabeth I - or that she was involved in the murder of her husband, Henry Darnley. Scottish-born Lady Janet de Ros, wife of a wealthy English merchant, thinks the ravishingly beautiful Mary was merely an innocent bystander, betrayed by the machinations of a disloyal court. Determined to uncover the truth, Janet travels from Fotheringhay Castle to Edinburgh to pursue an investigation that could endanger her life - and bring disgrace to her own family.

As Janet investigates, the story is told from the point of view of the people that she is interviewing. Part historical fiction and part mystery, the story is also a portrait of an Elizabethan marriage. Janet risks not just her life but her marriage to her husband Henry to find out the truth.

Philippa Gregory's novel wrote a novel of Mary Queen of Scots called The Other Queen. In September, noted historian Carolly Erickson's book the Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots will be released. Here's a description of the book:

Born Queen of Scotland, married as a girl to the invalid young King of France, Mary took the reins of the unruly king dom of Scotland as a young widow and fought to keep her throne. A second marriage to her handsome but dissolute cousin Lord Darnley ended in murder and scandal, while a third to the dash - ing Lord Bothwell, the love of her life, gave her joy but widened the scandal and surrounded her with enduring ill repute. Unable to rise above the violence and disorder that swirled around her, Mary escaped to England—only to find herself a prisoner of her ruthless, merciless cousin Queen Elizabeth. Here, in her own riveting account, is the enchanting woman whose name still evokes excitement and compassion—and whose death under the headsman’s axe still draws forth our sorrow.

I haven't read Carolly Erickson's historical fiction but I have read many of her biographies over the years, and I'm eager to see what she does with Mary.

A new biography of Mary was also released just this month. I was intrigued by the title 'An Accidental Tragedy.' I haven't read this one yet but the author, Roderick Graham is not only Scottish, educated at Edinburgh University but he was also the producer of Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson, a BBC series that was shown on Masterpiece Theater in the 1970's and is now available on DVD.

There is still supposed to be a major film about Mary starring Scarlett Johansen. I'm hoping that it only concerns itself with Mary's early years up to her imprisonment in England but Scarlett is way too young to be playing the middle-aged Mary, nor does she have the acting chops for the part.


She's one of those historical figures (like Richard III) whom people either seem to adore or despise, it seems. When she comes up for discussion on various groups, there's inevitably a to-do between her defenders and her detractors. It'll be interesting to see what Erickson makes of her story in a novel.
The Beading Gem said…
Mary Queen of Scots lived a life of pure drama, what with tales of love, betrayal and murder, her story makes for a good historical soap opera.

Queen Elizabeth I was to regret that execution for the rest of her life.
BurtonReview said…
I heard that the film was officially scrapped due to lack of funds. Mary's story is interesting because of the decisions she had made in her life. There are conflicting opinions about whether she was naive or just too snobby.. she is fascinating to me as well.
You have the BINGO AWARD here at The Burton Review to do with as you would like, I just wanted you to know it was there & that I appreciate your blog posts.
Anonymous said…
I still prefer Antonia Frazier's biography of Mary - well written and well researched. Her life reads like a combination of train wreck and soap opera. While we may think that the conspiracy that ultimately brought Mary down was pretty pathetic, the people around Elizabeth's throne didn't think so. I also doubt if Elizabeth genuinely regretted Mary's execution after the first shock. She knew very well what danger Mary posed to her throne and her life, as well as the survival of Protestant England.
Let's hope and pray that Scarlett Johanson never gets picked to play Elizabeth. Elizabeth as a pouty and wet lipped slut? I think not.
I adore Antonia Fraser's biography of Mary as well. I agree that her life was a combination of train wreck and soap opera. It appears that the nobles of Scotland, in between fighting amongst themselves, didn't take to having a woman rule them. I don't think it mattered who Mary married. The sad thing is, that apart from her bad taste in men, she wasn't a bad Queen. She was tolerant of Protestantism, which the Pope didn't like, and she tried to rule fairly.
caroline watson said…
This site and the book review are really good,and so far I have noticed the books that are featured are not known as much about in the UK where I am from.
They are always a good selection and I think maybe some of the titles are printed in the USA before elsewhere even though most are about British royalty and our Historical scandals women.
The best TV/film I have watched about Mary queen of Scots is called Gunpowder Treason And Plot which starts with her coming back from France to take her throne,and goes right through to her son James being on the throne and nearly being blown up because of the Gunpowder plot.
I found this to be an excellent version because its not just all about Mary,and was shown on TV in the UK about 3 years ago in two parts and then I managed to get it all by buying the DVD,if there is anyone who has not seen it I highly recommend you watch it.
I did hear about the Scarlett Johanson film version which is based on Philippa Gregory's book of the same name,but have not been able to find out when it will be released.
Mary Queen Of Scots was a brave woman of her time,and books/films will be made about her for sometime I think because she really was a queen who put her faith highly at the start and that never changed throughout all she did and lived.
Thanks Caroline. I tend to buy books both from the UK and the US on I've been meaning to buy Gunpowder Treason and Plot since I have a region-free DVD player. I wish they would show it on BBC America or on PBS, so that everyone could see it.

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