Steven Peterson's Reviews > Mary Queen of Scots and The Murder of Lord Darnley

Mary Queen of Scots and The Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
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's review
Nov 15, 2009

really liked it
Read in October, 2009

At the close of the book, author Alison Weir puts the matter in straightforward terms (Page 577): “Her [Mary’s:] tragedy was that she was in many respects innately unsuited for the role to which she had been born. Compared with her cousin Elizabeth, she was a political; innocent, and as such she was thrust into a situation in which a seasoned, hard-headed male ruler might have floundered.” And, indeed, the juxtaposition between Elizabeth and Mary is warranted.

This book, ostensibly, focuses on who murdered Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley. He was not a very likeable or admirable person, and many would profit by his death. But to get to the murder of Darnley and its aftermath, the book begins at the start of the story, Mary’s early life and her move to serve as Queen of Scots.

Word of warning: Keep pages 670-673 dog-eared. There are two charts, outlining the relationships among key players in the history of Mary—from Kings of England Henry VII and Henry VIII, the Scots House of Stewart, the Lennoxes and Hamiltons. Many of the major figures in this work are included in the genealogies.

Mary was married to the Dauphin of France when young; he dies relatively soon after becoming King. In her life, given her family background, she had a claim as Queen of France, Queen of Scots, and Queen of England. Unfortunately, she kept pressing (and scheming) to become Queen of England. In the end, her royal cousin’s patience ended and Mary’s life ended, too.

The work described Mary’s life upon her return to Scotland (since she had been in France for so long, French was her natural language). Given her royal blood, there were many ideas as to whom she should marry. One key advisor, Maitland, wanted closer relations with England and, hence, preferred someone who could make that happen. Others preferred foreign mates. In the end, she chose Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, of the Lennox family. Indeed, he was related to Mary. However, it rapidly became obvious that Darnley was not very admirable. He was dissolute and a constant worry to Mary. They separated on a number of occasions. She was concerned that, even though he was the father to her child (who became King James I after Elizabeth’s death), he also threatened her reign.

The book well described the dizzying array of shifting coalitions. People went from champions of Mary to scheming to kill one of her advisors to scheming to kill Darnley to scheming to overthrow her and, to complicate matters, scheming to return her to the throne. Needless to say, someone as unprepared for ruling as Mary was often out of her depth.

The author does a nice job of identifying the circumstances of Darnley’s death. Some have claimed that Mary was involved. Others have specified other suspects. Weir’s case is pretty convincing to me (don’t expect a spoiler in this review!). After Darnley’s death, Mary made another terrible choice of a spouse and was ultimately dethroned. The book then chronicles her flight from the rebels and her virtual imprisonment for two decades in England.

There were some positive hallmarks of her reign. For the time she (a Catholic) was remarkably tolerant. But in an era of religious intolerance, she was looked askance at by both Protestants and Catholics.

All in all, a very well detailed and generally well written biography of Mary Queen of Scots and her star-crossed relationship with Darnley. If interested in the history and players of this era, this is a good resource.
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