Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

I've spoken before of my childhood obsession with Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.  I went back and forth between the two queens anxiously trying to align my loyalties, but I remained conflicted.  Even my immature ten-year old self could see that Mary, Queen of Scots was ruled by emotion, far too trusting, and was no match to Queen Elizabeth's brilliance.  I guess you could say that my head was for Queen Elizabeth (pun intended) but my heart went out to Mary.

I picked up Alison Weir's focused biography of Mary, Queen of Scots on a whim.  The cover was pretty and I've been so immersed in The War of the Roses, that I hadn't thought about Mary in quite some time.  I was quickly captivated by Weir's analysis of Mary.  In fact, I read the last 200 pages in one sitting; something I never accomplish with most non-fiction.

Weir's book specifically follows the events leading up to and following the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary's second husband and father of King James I of England.  Essentially, Mary was raised in French courts (which didn't go over well in Scotland), found herself in the midst of religious conflict (the Reformation and Counter-Reformation) and was manipulated by nearly every man close to her (Lord Darnley, her third husband Lord Bothwell, and her entire council), and was far too trusting of her dear cousin Queen Elizabeth.

She witnessed the murder of a trusted servant, had numerous plots against her life, was a victim of kidnapping and imprisonment several times over, suffered from grave illnesses and a miscarriage, and was reviled as a harlot and murder when all was said and done.

Weir does an excellent job of reclaiming Mary's reputation; Mary made many mistakes and showed poor judgment, but Weir points out that she had very little options available.  Protecting her heir, her honor, her throne, and her health was complicated by the fact that she was being manipulated by those in positions of trust.

Conjectures and explanations are not the only proofs offered in Mary's defense.  Weir carefully cross-examines each piece of evidence -- especially in the case of the infamous Casket Letters -- contemporary letters, journals, and accounts are double-checked for inaccuracies, contradictions are traced, translations reexamined, and personal vendettas aired.

At the close of the book, it is apparent that Mary did not have a hand in murdering her husband, but, rather, Darnley was murdered by the very men who tried to pin the murder on Mary.

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley, is truly enlightening and reads as smooth and as fast-paced as fiction.  I will certainly be checkout more of Weir's non-fiction work in the future.

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