Helen (Helena/Nell)'s Reviews > Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
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Oct 22, 11

Read from October 16 to 20, 2011

I won’t hiver-haver here: this is a wonderful book. From about page twenty onwards (it took a little while to get me into the swing of things) I was riveted. I arrived at page 691, on my third day of reading at 1.30 a.m., having been unable to put the volume down for the final three or four hours. As I lay in bed at the end of each day of reading, my mind returned to this astonishing woman, who was a Queen in the sixteenth century, and acquired mythic status. Which she deserved—which indeed she deserved.

It seemed to me suddenly that the history plays of Shakespeare, the murders and plots, the naked power struggles I always thought exaggerated in drama, were hardly exaggerated at all: this was how it was. These brutal ‘nobles’ of sixteenth century Scotland, plotting like contemporary gangs to get the upper hand, to knife or be knifed. And Mary herself, brought up and educated in France—a woman culturally finer, and a nicer person—not, despite best efforts, equipped to deal with the brutality, the cunning of it all.

Antonia Fraser is fascinated by her: and yet one doesn't feel she is manipulating the evidence in the interests of intensifying heroic stature. She has a dry way of commenting which is very appealing. When Mary celebrates her disastrous marriage to Darnley—seduced by his youth, his good looks, his height—Fraser says simply of their first night in bed together: “It is to be hoped that Mary Stuart, who had sacrificed so much for this match, found at least this part of the ceremony to her satisfaction”.

How sad—how deep the irony—that she fell for Darnley because she nursed him while ill. She had a strong motherly streak—and he was young, and good-looking, and weak, and grateful, and well-born. And thoroughly silly and spoilt. It seems likely that the illness which gave rise to her infatuation was probably syphilis, presumably acquired during Darnley’s well-trumpeted life style. He was a horrible young man and he met an ignoble death, in nothing but a night-gown in the garden of the house where assassins had intended him to die in an explosion. He tried, and failed, to escape.

And Bothwell, who kidnapped and probably raped Mary herself, met a much more gruesome end, while Mary herself died magnificently, with phenomenal courage. Oh what a death! She was larger than life. She was amazing. And this book, which recreates the complex events leading up to the execution, in which Mary’s own son James could have—but chose not to—save her from death, is a wonderful piece of narration. My head is still buzzing from it.

“Remember”, she said to her ‘judges’ in October 1586, “that the theatre of the world is wider than the realm of England.” And so it is, and so it is.
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message 1: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn Well Said ! Always drama at court among the royals and wherever they so gathered . They were even civil in their games at war. Amazing what barbarians they were beneath and the strength of their women behind the men is what really made the country. I find this history so much more exciting! Maybe because it is just so different because we Americans have plenty of plotting and backstabbing going on in our own world of politics. We may never know some of the truly horrific stories that have occurred in our past to secure such high places in our country.

Interesting thoughts !

Dawn Copley


Helen (Helena/Nell) Maybe we are all barbarians underneath. I fear so...


message 3: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn Helen - you are so funny!!! Please join me as journey through my reading world. I think you would be good company to keep me thoroughly advised with tidbits and comments I would love to hear. Maybe I might say something of interest too! Dawn


Helen (Helena/Nell) Following you now, Dawn. ;-)


message 5: by Dawn (new) - added it

Dawn February 3, 2014

Dear Helen ,

I am so glad that we may chat some about our reads along the way. You seem very clever and I need to have the strictness of a proper book review to keep me from missing all of the goodies that make up a story. I tend to lay emotional claim to some parts of every book I read and I sometimes miss out on key action because of the stars in my eyes for what theme has uniquely been displayed . I find I miss things a bit and can always use another perspective .

I hope you will find that my weakness in my reading habits may help you discover new messages in your reads too. I will always try to open a mind for my mind is either like an absorbing sponge or trash dump! LOL ! My curiosity will get the best of me yet!

I do hope you will not peruse my shelves just yet for they are a mess! They say nothing about me . I was hacked last spring and I am still typing on an iPad and had to reopen a Goodreads account. I can not wait to get my new MAC computer to get everything straightened. My life feels so chaotic when all of my organizational helpers are on the technological blitz.

I had a brand new HP Windows 8 computer when I was invaded and after all of my research online and asking experts, I have decided the safest way to go now and for me ever will be Apple IMAC. I just wish my tiny salary would save money faster than it is now. I can say , please beware lately when shopping or using social media ( Twitter , Facebook) . That is how the cat got this wee mouse. I do not have Facebook anymore and that is the saddest feeling. I now have not an address or phone of old friends or even some family because all have gone cellular.

Well, thank you again to follow me. Please point out anything that will help me along and do not hesitate to ask for any help I may have. I will be working on my messy shelves and reading now a bit about The Great War in the new group on this challenging subject. I am so excited to start.

Goodreading and good evening, Dawn


Helen (Helena/Nell) Good luck with reading programme. IMAC recommended. I am always terribly busy (see www.happenstancepress.com) so not likely to scan your shelves but will keep an eye on your updates. Have fun! :-)


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