Margaret George has written an 800+ page historical novel of the Scottish Queen and wow, she has done a fabulous job!
This book kept my interest for well over 600 pages when I began to flag a little, but it quickly picked up again for me when Mary fled to exile in England. The years following describe her captivity, interspersed with events in Europe for the the rest of the book. Sometimes point of view alternates between Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Mary, but it was well done and I did not find it confusing to read.
The initial part of her early life was very interesting to read. The book is divided into three parts: Book 1 is Queen of Scotland, Queen of France, Book 2 Queen of Scotland, and Book 3 Queen of Exile. I especially enjoyed reading about her childhood years in France.
Mary’s lady companions, the “Marys”, (all of them have the first name of Mary), are so loyal to her that they decide to take a vow not to marry until she does.
“We will not marry until you do!” cried Lusty. “We hereby vow. Do we not?” She stood and looked around the circle at the others. One by one they stood up and clasped hands. “I vow not to marry until my mistress is wed,” said Beaton.
“I vow to stay unwed until my sovereign has taken a husband,” said Flamina.
“I vow to keep myself only to her until that day,” Seton finished.
She had to smile at the brave sacrifice they had made – in advance. “It is easy to give up something you do not yet possess”, she told them. “When it is a real person, then I fear you will regret this vow. As for me, at this time, I have no wish to marry.”
A great wave of loneliness swept over her at the implications of that decision. I wish there were someone… but not a stranger, like those men on the list… a companion, someone like me, not someone who shares nothing of my soul, my background, my language… the Marys are lucky – just such a person is waiting for them, somewhere, whereas with me, it is all politics.”
Margaret George has created a very plausible character in her book. It could not have been an easy task to get inside of this complicated Scottish queen’s heart, thinking and motivations, and yet the author seems to flawlessly grab the reader’s interest and help them to identify with her character. She writes very sympathetically of this most tragic queen and the reader must think critically in order to understand whether or not Mary deliberately sets out to commit treason and engage in plots against her English cousin Elizabeth, or whether it is merely just an attempt on her part to escape her long years of captivity.
Was Mary executed, as she claimed in her last letter, simply because she was Catholic, or was it truly because she had committed treasonous acts? could it be a plot that was actually created to destroy the Scottish Queen and protect the English throne? the reader must decide for himself.
The years of Mary’s rule are fraught with adventure, conflict and changing loyalties. Her entire cabinet often seems to be disloyal and they often work against her. Rebellions arise and are put down but eventually Mary having to flee for her life. Mixed in with these events are those of her personal life and struggles. Her tragic marriage with Darnley, his selfish and irresponsible decisions that lead to his downfall and ultimate death results in Mary herself looking for solace and companionship elsewhere. However her decision to marry a divorced Bothwell, and the resulting consequences all make for a sad story. (It is during this period that the author decides to add a few unnecessary love scenes that I could have done without! They seemed to be just stuck in there, maybe just for those who might be looking for a more contemporary slant.)
On the whole this novel kept me captivated (like the Queen) and I simply could not read anything else until I finished it.
“You know you have no legal right to try me,” said Mary calmly. “As a sovereign Queen, there are no peers to sit in judgement of me but fellow monarchs. Are the stands to be filled with the kings and queens of the earth? If so, I welcome them. If not, I refuse to appear.”
Paulet thrust a letter into her hands. “The Queen commands you to appear.”
“The Queen cannot ‘command’ me. I am not her subject.” Mary read the letter quickly and handed it back to Paulet. “I am not subject to the laws of England.”