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Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  3,865 ratings  ·  376 reviews
A long-overdue and dramatic reinterpretation of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots by one of the leading historians at work today.

She was crowned Queen of Scotland at nine months of age, and Queen of France at sixteen years; at eighteen she ascended the throne that was her birthright and began ruling one of the most fractious courts in Europe, riven by religious conflict and
Hardcover, 581 pages
Published April 7th 2004 by Houghton Mifflin (first published January 19th 2004)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Alice Poon
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorites
I've given this book 5 full stars. It took me an inordinate amount of time to finish it due to the humongous cast of characters and the tangled relationships that the Tudor and Stuart family trees exhibit. Now that the reading is done, I can say that I’m truly impressed by this luminous, expertly researched biography of the gracious, witty, brave and ill-fated Scottish Queen, from whom every subsequent British ruler has been descended.

Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of Scotland when she was less t
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Turning my attention to a historical figure about whom I have heard much but know little, I chose John Guy’s tome on Mary, Queen of Scots. A woman of great interest whose short life made an impact, both in her native Scotland as well as England, Mary will long be remembered in the annals of history as a strong-willed woman with something to prove. Born the daughter—and only legitimate child—of James V of Scotland, Mary ascended to the throne six days later. While Scotland was ruled by regents, M ...more
To say this was a sympathetic biography of Mary Queen of Scots would do an injustice to the word sympathetic. I hate to use the word hagiography but this is as close as it gets.

The author is a specialist in Tudor history and is to be respected but I have come away from this very readable book, and I mean very readable, profoundly confused. He has, in my opinion, let his deep research into the subject cloud his judgement in the presentation of the biography. His sympathy spoils the entire narrat
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d planned to read this prior to the movie release, but it soon became apparent with the level of in-depth research on a complicated period in British history that I wouldn’t finish this in time.

That’s a massive compliment to the author, it’s a time that I’m overly familiar with and with each chapter I was continuing to learn so much.
As Guy carefully explains what life was like for Mary, from the daily living conditions to the political climate at the time.

It’s also non-fiction, so I wasn’t to
This is a well researched and well written, detailed story of Mary, Queen of Scots. It seems to me that history has kind of pushed Mary under the carpet so to speak. There doesn't seem to be as much written about her when compared to the Tudor period in England or Russia's storied czars and leaders.

Mary truly was a courageous woman, and her life was filled with continual drama. It took extreme determination on her part to demand her claim to the throne of Scotland and later England be recognized
If only her father hadn't died and left her a queen at 6 days old with a French foreigner mother as regent.
If only Francis II of France hadn't died so young.
If only he gave her a dauphin and left her a queen mother.
If only her ambitious Guise uncles were not so pushy and used her so shamelessly as their pawn.
If only Catherine de' Medici did not hate Guise family and by extension Mary herself.
If only she hadn't married the buffoon Darnley.
And the hugest disaster - if only she hadn't married
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book but found it difficult not to be furious with Mary's stupidity and short-sightedness, not to mention her vanity which allowed her to be easily led by similarly vain and ambitious men. Guy perhaps is a little in love with Mary and the book lacks incisiveness and impartiality because of it but it's still one of the best biographies I've read. ...more
Jul 15, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting insight on what Mary was really like but the author is VERY biased in her favour and bends over backwards to show her in a favourable light, often to the detriment of others. I wonder how he feels about the recent revelations by medical historians that for it to be apparent that Mary had miscarried Bothwell's twins (rather than a single baby), she must have been at least five months pregnant - 16th century medicine would not have been able to discern twin foetuses before that stage. ...more
Colleen Browne
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history, biography
In a word, this book is brilliant! The breadth of research and expertise in writing makes this the best book I have read in quite a while. John Guy plumbed the depths of the archives to discover new evidence about Mary and constructed a great book. His attention to detail and writing ability makes it a "must read" for anyone with an interest in history.

Mary's story at once allows the reader to understand the obstacles faced by female rulers. Her dynastic parentage meant that she would be sought
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Mary, Queen of Scots, doesn’t have the best reputation. Said to have ruled with her heart rather than her head; Mary Stuart was surrounded by drama, heartbreak, forced to abdicate her throne, and eventually beheaded after being held captive in England. Yet, there is much to credit Mary that many people overlook. Historian John Guy attempts to rehabilitate this infamous woman in, “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart”.

Guy presents “Queen of Scots” as a full-fledged biography beginning wi
Jul 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone more interested in hagiography than the truth
Shelves: history
Good read but too biased and tries to present Mary as a far better person than the evidence suggests she could possibly have been.

What are we to think of a woman who, when the husband she loathes is murdered, gives his horse and some of his clothes to the man EVERYONE says is the killer?

What should we think when she refuses to allow more than a "show" trial at which the court is surrounded by armed men employed by the defendant, who threatens to kill anyone who speaks out of turn?

What should
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this is a bit of an understatement. I was a bit skeptical going into this biography, considering I didn't enjoy Guy's biography on Elizabeth I very much because I don't think he painted her in an exceptional light (mostly focusing on the men in her life). However, I do think he did Mary much better justice.

There is SO much information here, and every question seems to be answered, without the text becoming too dry or boring. I had watched the movie before read
Margaret Sankey
Supposedly a revisionist view of Mary Stuart with new information that sets her decisions in a better light...I read it hoping for this and came to the conclusion that nope, she's still an idiot. A better documented idiot, but still an idiot. ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary was in my estimation was still a nitwit, but I enjoyed this book immensely.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary Queen of Scots, when she's not being muddled up with Mary Tudor, is generally known as a scandalous Queen. She is the emotional, flighty counterpart to Elizabeth I's steely calculation. John Guy does a wonderful job of rubbishing this stereotypical view.

He is obviously a fan of Mary and does his best to show the other, lesser known facets of her character. Unlike her English cousin, Mary became the Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old and she left Scotland to marry the French Da
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately Mary was just not a smart or well-connected woman.

Even though Guy is incredibly sweet towards her in his descriptions there is no way he can truly hide the fact that Mary's lineage represented the perfect triangle of power to the thrones of France, England, and Scotland but had absolutely no one looking out for her or any family and was just shuttled from one aggressive political fiend to the next.

Mary's mother sent her to France thinking this would benefit her, but could not fores
Roman Clodia
This is the best book currently available on Mary Queen of Scots. Guy effortlessly straddles the chasm between precise and nuanced scholarship and popular history offering us a narrative which is as thrilling and articulate to read as it is academically dependable.

The pace is brisker than Antonia Fraser's now classic study Mary Queen of Scots and Guy is a sympathetic reader of Mary without ever becoming sentimental or romanticising her. He points out the extent to which the more usual unthinking
Jamie Collins
This is a pretty good biography of Mary which staunchly defends her reputation and resents the commonly held belief that Mary was a weak-willed victim of her emotions. It finds unfair the longstanding unfavorable comparison with her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary was born a queen, almost; she inherited the throne of Scotland upon the death of her father when she was six days old. (“It came with a lass, and it will pass with a lass,” supposedly said her disappointed father on his deathbed, referring to th
Mari Biella
Centuries after her execution, Mary Queen of Scots remains one of the most divisive and enigmatic figures in British history. Was she manipulated and betrayed by those around her? Or was she conniving, untrustworthy, and perhaps even a party to the murder of her own husband?

Those wanting to find out the truth (insofar as "the truth" can be recovered after so much time) could do far worse than to read John Guy's scholarly, masterful biography. Guy presents Mary as a sympathetic, generous woman wh
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'll admit it: the reason I wanted to read this book is because I watch (and love) the CW show "Reign," which is loosely based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. How loosely? Pretty darn. But one thing is the same-I am Team Mary forever and ever, amen. She may occasionally make some pretty bad decisions about her love life, but that doesn't change my love for her. She was an awesome lady. And if everyone around her hadn't sucked so much (if you don't believe me, read the book. They were all th ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
*3.5 stars

A very insightful and detailed biography on Mary, Queen of Scots. Honestly, I can’t really fault this as a biography. John Guy was very meticulous and detailed in the life of this great yet tragic Queen. As a read, however, it was a little dense. I listened to this on audiobook, which I definitely think helped me get through, but it meant that I wasn’t retaining all the information I was being fed. Probably should have sat and dedicated time to simply listening to it, rather than liste
Aug 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Biographies are not typically my "thing." However, I found this a fascinating read, and while some of the day-to-day is obviously fictionalized dialogue, etc., it kept it interesting for me. ...more
This was slow, boring and unnecessarily detailed.
Good info here but the author treats both Mary Queen of Scots and Bess Hardwick with a large dose of sexism.

Mary's relationship with Bothwell can't be removed from his kidnap of her. We have no way to judge if Mary married him out of trauma bonding or fear. There's certainly no reason to believe that a grown woman, who was twice widowed, a mother and a queen in 2 Nations would fall into bed with her low born, already married, protestant Lord. He s
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary, Queen of Scots Biography

This is a very good biography of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. It starts off a bit slow but then became more interesting as it went along. Mary was sent to France to marry the Dauphin at age 5 and a half. She was raised with a great education to be Queen of Scotland, Queen consort of France and maybe ruler of England. Her King husband was dead before she turned 20 and her return to Scotland was rough. A ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I Cecil, turned out to be her lif
Brittany Nelson
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
John Guy’s biography is hailed as a sympathetic biographyl s0 I was excited. Indeed, I did enjoy the first 300 pages. It established Mary as a complete capable as a political player, whereas she is usually seen as tone deaf to politics. While also pointing out her flaws, like to trustworthy of people she considered family. It shows her dealing with Elizabeth and also setting up her band of councilors and battling the different factions in Scotland. After her marriage to Lord Darnley, his strengt ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.75 Stars.


I've never read a biography before this one, because I didn't think I'd like the plain retelling of a life as a story very much. But over the last couple of days I've become quite invested in Mary Stuart - mostly because I watched a couple of Reign videos on Youtube (and I'd forgotten how much I liked the show). Anyway, I searched for the most popular and well-liked biographies on this particular Queen's life and Queen of Scots seemed like a common favourite. Since the revie
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
I returned from Scotland and a visit to the National Museum of Scotland wanting to read a biography of Mary Stuart that wasn't through the Tudor lens. This was a great one. Inherently readable. I learned a lot. I always had the Darnley/Bothwell timeline screwed up in my head. I also now understand much better why Mary was seen as such a threat to Elizabeth. That being said, William Cecil is an ass. I had no idea Mary made such an effort to have a positive working relationship with Elizabeth. I f ...more
Noah Goats
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography of Mary is sympathetic to its subject and tells the story of her life without delving into too much detail. Her life was too interesting and this books is too short for there to be any boring bits. I listened to the audiobook version, which I believe was read by the author himself, and he did a solid job. He has the kind of posh English accent that you like to hear reading this sort of book.
Feb 26, 2020 rated it liked it
This one is a little hard to get through. It has moments where it is very interesting and you get sucked in. Then there are large pieces where it gets weighted down. Overall it was worth the read once.
Janet Wertman
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tudors-medieval
Eminently readable but I don't buy his take on the Bothwell episode and I tend to view Cecil in a better light than he does... ...more
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John Guy is recognised as one of Britain's most exciting and scholarly historians, bringing the past to life with the written word and on the broadcast media with accomplished ease. He's a very modern face of history.

His ability for first class story-telling and books that read as thrillingly as a detective story makes John Guy a Chandleresque writer of the history world. Guy hunts down facts with

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