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Mary Queen of Scots (1969)

by Antonia Fraser

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,872264,824 (3.95)83
Mary Queen of Scots passed her childhood in France and married the Dauphin to become Queen of France at the age of sixteen. Widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as Queen after an absence of thirteen years. Her life then entered its best known phase: the early struggles with John Knox, and the unruly Scottish nobility; the fatal marriage to Darnley and his mysterious death; her marriage to Bothwell, the chief suspect, that led directly to her long English captivity at the hands of Queen Elizabeth; the poignant and extraordinary story of her long imprisonment that ended with the labyrinthine Babington plot to free her, and her execution at the age of forty-four.… (more)
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English (24)  Italian (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
The life and death of Mary Stuart remains one of the most movingly tragic life stories I know. More than fifty-five years after publication, and forty years after I picked up a copy at a library sale but only now got around to reading, Antonia Fraser’s biography is apparently still the best “life and times” for the general reader. Fraser provides a readable narrative, covering Mary’s mistakes yet remaining overall sympathetic. As far as I can tell, she also did an impressive amount of research, resulting in a detailed narrative that runs 555 pages without counting an appendix, notes, and index. That makes for a thick book, perhaps one reason it took me so long to set aside the time to read it. And even now, I’ll confess I skimmed her discussion of the casket letters, crucial though they are to how one views Mary. I took in enough of Fraser’s discussion to trust her conclusion at the end of the chapter.
Fraser presents Mary as an attractive personality. She had barely been born when her father died, making her queen of Scotland. Her actual reign was brief, though, starting when she returned, still a teenager, as the widowed dowager queen of France. It did not go well, but what are you to do if you are destined by birth to rule an ungovernable country?
Perhaps Mary’s worst blunder was when she escaped her Scottish imprisonment and fled to England rather than France. This presented her cousin Elizabeth with an intractable problem whose solution seems inevitable in retrospect. For Many was, in addition to being the deposed queen of Scotland and the dowager queen of France, the next in line to the throne of England. A fatal complication was that Mary was Catholic. Thus, in the eyes of all the English who clung to the old faith, she—and not the excommunicated Elizabeth— already was the legitimate queen. As long as Mary remained alive, she was thus a factor in every plot to assassinate Elizabeth.
This led to framing a law that made not only assassins but also those in whose name they concocted their plots guilty of treason. Clearly, the law was meant to bring the downfall of only one person, leading to a trial that Fraser calls “one of the strangest judicial proceedings in the history of the British Isles.”
In a chapter entitled “The Uses of Adversity,” Fraser describes how Mary’s character was deepened by the long years of captivity in ways typical of the long line of imprisoned philosopher-monarchs. She also shows how Mary ensured that the death she knew she could not escape would fit the pattern of “the classic Christian manner of martyrdom and triumph.”
To that extent, Mary won. Her execution remains a blot on Elizabeth’s reputation. Meanwhile, as Fraser points out, all subsequent British monarchs, beginning with Mary’s son James, have descended from her, not Elizabeth.
My only reservation about Fraser’s portrayal of this remarkable person is that Mary comes off as more modern than the times in which she lived. She is clearly Fraser’s kind of Catholic — tolerant, discrete, yet unwavering. Fraser’s sympathy for Mary makes not only Elizabeth but even more so Scottish reformer John Knox inimical to her. Perhaps Fraser has accurately depicted Mary (she presents her case convincingly). But it’s also true that biographies inform us not only about their subjects but also about their authors. ( )
1 vote HenrySt123 | Feb 23, 2024 |
This is an interesting biography of the life of Mary Queen of Scots and a really good read. I have one criticism, hence only 4 stars there isn’t consistent translation of the French and Latin and I appreciate that the book was originally written in 1969 and both were probably taught at school back then. I was born in 1969 and went to a comprehensive school and did not do Latin and the foreign language I did study was German. So it was at times frustrating. I would like to read another biography on her life so that I can compare ( )
  LisaBergin | Apr 12, 2023 |
2/10/23
  laplantelibrary | Feb 10, 2023 |
read this on Ashfield - donated to PV library April 2022 ( )
  Overgaard | Apr 13, 2022 |
I was inspired to read this book after seeing the film about Mary last year and I really enjoyed it for a detailed and balanced view of a woman with a fascinating life. ( )
  mari_reads | Nov 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Lady Antonia Fraser is young, beautiful, and rich, an earl’s daughter married to a busy and successful politician, the mother of a large family; yet she has surmounted all these handicaps to authorship to produce a first-rate historical biography.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, J. P. Kenyon (pay site) (Nov 6, 1969)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Antonia Fraserprimary authorall editionscalculated
Piggott, ReginaldIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strong, RoyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Un re è schiavo della storia. La storia, che è l'inconscia vita collettiva dell'umanità, sfrutta ogni istante della vita dei re come strumento per i propri fini. (Lev Tolstoj) //

Tutti gli uomini deploravano che il reame fosse rimasto senza un successore maschio. (John Knox)
Dedication
To Hugh, with love and thanks
for Lila de Nobili
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The winter of 1542 was marked by tempestuous weather throughout the British Isles: in the north, on the borders of Scotland and England, there were heavy snow-falls in December and frost so savage that by January the ships were frozen into the harbour at Newcastle.
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Despite her lonely position without counsel, Mary never for a moment lost her head.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Mary Queen of Scots passed her childhood in France and married the Dauphin to become Queen of France at the age of sixteen. Widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as Queen after an absence of thirteen years. Her life then entered its best known phase: the early struggles with John Knox, and the unruly Scottish nobility; the fatal marriage to Darnley and his mysterious death; her marriage to Bothwell, the chief suspect, that led directly to her long English captivity at the hands of Queen Elizabeth; the poignant and extraordinary story of her long imprisonment that ended with the labyrinthine Babington plot to free her, and her execution at the age of forty-four.

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Warmth, sympathy and compassion blend magnificently in this remarkably human biography of one of history's most controversial figures. In this monumental work, Antonia Fraser depicts all the romance, color, comedy, and tragedy that tempered the life and times of Mary Stuart, a woman who survived religious revolt and political opposition in her native land only to be denied her freedom and eventually her life, by her rival and kinswoman, Elizabeth.Mary Queen of Scots convincingly repudiates the popular notion of Mary as a violent and tyrannical ruler. Instead, she is seen as an intensely feminine, regal yet tragic figure, a woman consistently and treacherously betrayed by those closest to her. Her golden years as a French princess, when she was cherished and protected by her mother's House of Guise, and her brief marriage to the French king Francis II present a vivid contrast to the bitterness and unrelenting hatred she faced when she left her adoptive land to reenter Protestant Scotland as its Catholic ruler. Her ill-fated marriages to Darnley and Bothwell, her incessant struggle with political and religious saboteurs, her flight to England and subsequent imprisonment--all provoke the fierce religious and personal loyalties that led to her execution at Fotheringhay--Front flap.
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