Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles By Margaret George
This is a novel - historical fiction - of Queen Mary of Scotland, but also a history of Scotland and England during the years 1542-1587. This Queen Mary was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth I. One of the few advantages of my poor memory is that I had forgotten the fate of Mary Stuart and therefore there was a certain suspense to this novel for me - I knew she was likely to come to an unfortunate end, but was not sure how it came about. We meet Mary as a child in France where she lived a rather idyllic life - but apart from her mother who was regent in Scotland – until Mary came of age to take the throne herself. During these years, England had become a protestant country as Henry VIII took it upon himself to ban Catholicism. Scotland is sharing this experience as the leader of the new protestant religion is John Knox. It is not a peaceful change and the Scots of the time are a bloodthirsty people. There are some very harrowing descriptions of executions thankfully few in number (the descriptions, not the executions). We clearly get the picture that it was a cruel time, and the people accepted the new faith or accepted death.
Many practiced as Catholics quietly in their homes and there was the hope among them that when Mary became Queen she would restore Catholicism as the faith of the country.
John Knox and his followers did everything within their power to prevent this with success, but with many bloody battles and constant intrigues.
As I read all of this it only confirmed my feeling that the conflict of religious belief is the unfortunate cause of too many lives lost, then and now.
We follow Mary to Scotland where she arrives as a young Queen, idealistically expecting to be welcomed and to rule with benevolence. She plans to bring the culture of France with its music and literature to Scotland. She is completely unprepared for the cold and the harsh rule of the clans and lairds of the country and she is not accepted by the lords who have taken power in her absence.
They plan to use her for their own agenda. But she is charming and she does win some friends to her cause. She is able to remain a Catholic Queen in a Protestant country, but it is very precarious and does not last. Mary is never able to take control and somehow is never able to understand that she can trust no one, unlike Queen Elizabeth I in England. It is an interesting comparison between the two Queens, the Monstrous Regiment of Women, as John Knox called them, along with the Queens of France and Spain who ruled in the same years.
Mary is the Queen of Scotland, but she is also a woman - her marriages are all unfortunate in different ways - but she provides an heir to the throne in her son, James, who is the only child of this generation of female monarchs and becomes heir to both the thrones of England and Scotland. This is a big book, a door stopper, but never lags in interest. We do care about this often misunderstood woman, and I found the history of the time fascinating. Good, accurate, well written historical fiction is a pleasurable means of acquiring some little education of a time and place.