Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mary Queen of Scots - Antonia Fraser

Though this biography is a recent newprint and Fraser no novice in the field, it felt very conventional, no doubt because it is almost as old as I am.

On the plus-side : Rich in detail and local colour .

(Just as an illustration of the general atmosphere in 16th century Westeros Scotland, Fraser mentions the Protestant preacher who was burned to death in the forecastle of St Andrew's, the cardinal and his bishops watching from the castle walls. The subsequent punitive expedition ferreted out the cardinal after a night with his mistress, killed him and hung his mutilated body naked from the castle foretower before pickling him in salt and keeping his corpse in a barrel for over a year... Edifying!) 

On the down-side : Fraser shamelessly and ceaselessly advocates Mary's cause, excusing every one of her exceedingly stupid choices.


Just like Mary's life, the book falls into three major parts :

1. Her youth in the French court, adored and admired fiancée then wife (and soon widow) to the French Dauphin, Francis II.

2. Her tumultuous love life, once returned to and Queen of Scotland : Her passion and ensuing disgust for her second husband, Darnley; the stabbing (in her presence!) of her secretary David Riccio; Darnley's murder; her abduction and rape by, then marriage to, one of his murderers, Bothwell (who ended his days insane in a dungeon in Denmark).

3. Her 20 years as a prisoner in England, before Queen Elizabeth finally plucked up her courage to have Mary beheaded. She probably had good reasons to do so, what with Mary plotting to take the English throne, even though Fraser takes considerable pains to defend the Queen of Scots.

The first and second parts were compelling, the third was someting of a yawn, for obvious reasons.


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