Thank you to Penelope Wright for reviewing Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, which is a whopper of a book being 800+ pages! Over to Penny…
Phew! This novel about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots is similar in size to War and Peace. Although it takes some reading I did enjoy it.
I first learned about Mary during studies of the Tudors and Stuarts for my O’ level History exam. (It’s an age thing, you would now class it as GCSE) I learned that Mary was the villain of the piece and that Elizabeth I, although reluctantly, was forced to sign the death warrant. She was in fear for her country and her life because of the plotting that Mary was involved in with Catholics from abroad and at home. My Father, being a Scot, strongly disagreed. Margaret George starts the novel at the time of the execution in 1587 but then flashes back to Mary’s birth. Her father James V of Scotland died after the battle with the English at Solway Moss. It is said that James just faded away, he was devastated by the defeat although he wasn’t there, and died when Mary was just six days old after he was told he had a daughter not a son.
Margaret George appears to side with my father and treats Mary more as a victim in the machinations and turmoil in Scotland at that time. She is sent to France at a very young age in preparation for her marriage to the Dauphin. She leaves her mother Mary of Guise, a Catholic, as regent in a Scotland that is becoming a staunch Protestant country. The Guise family was a very strong force in France and George uses them as the influence which shaped the character of Mary, Queen of Scots during her young life. When Mary returns to Scotland after the death of both her French husband Francois II and mother, Mary of Guise, she enters a world dominated by Protestantism and John Knox, well known for his abhorrence of Catholics and women in authority. He wrote a pamphlet entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. This angered Elizabeth I and it is believed she never forgave him.
George follows the life of Mary through her marriages to Darnley and Bothwell, and in my view treats her as a woman of passion and not much common sense. Perhaps she was, she certainly couldn’t see that her people had little sympathy for her. She expected Elizabeth to welcome her with open arms but Elizabeth, being a very shrewd Queen, kept her, not only imprisoned but at arm’s length.
In some respects I have changed my view of Mary after reading this novel. I now think that as Mary allowed her heart to rule her head, she became embroiled in events that she couldn’t control, neither could she envisage the effects her involvement in them would have on Scotland and England, let alone on her own life.
George has obviously researched Mary in depth, although she does, in the Author’s Afterword, explain that she has had to build up a composite picture of Mary and has used some artistic licence in explaining Mary’s ‘involvement’ or knowledge of the murder of Darnley. One wonders why Darnley was murdered when it was said he was riddled with syphilis and dying anyway, but if he was indeed planning to murder Mary it is understandable that he needed to be ‘dealt with’.
If you enjoy historical novels with a serious amount of historical fact I can recommend this book, even though it is long. If you have the patience to go from start to finish it is well worth while.
Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles is the story of a woman born to rule a nation – and the glorious pageant of love and tragedy that followed in her wake. Mary’s beauty inspired poetry – yet her birthright engendered hideous treachery and terrible, bloody murder.
This novel is Margaret George’s magnificent recreation of the life of one of history’s greatest legends. A woman accused of murdering her husband to marry her lover. A woman who became Queen six days after her birth in 1542 – only to be beheaded forty years later on the orders of her cousin, Elizabeth I…
Paperback: 896 pages (870 pages US edition)
Publisher: UK – Pan; New Edit/Cover edition (10 May 2012). US – St. Martin’s Griffin; 4th ed. edition (April 15, 1997)
ISBN-10: UK – 0330327909, US – 0312155859
ISBN-13: UK – 978-0330327909, US – 978-0312155858
ASIN US: B00I1W5HOI (This is my affiliate link for Amazon.com and I may receive a small payment if you buy the book through this link).
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.
Originally posted on March 11, 2015.