- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart
Mary Stuart is a queen about whom much has been written over the previous four centuries. After so much verbiage it is hard to have something new to say about Mary. And it is pro forma that authors of works on Mary Queen of Scots must answer several standard questions. Why did Mary fall from power inScotland? Was she an active participant in the plot to kill her second husband, Lord Darnley? Why did she so actively support and later marry the main suspect in the murder, the Earl of Bothwell? John Guy certainly does his duty in this new biography of the most famous of Scottish queens. He answers all the standard questions. But what is most surprising in this very readable and remarkable book is how much new information he has uncovered and how satisfying his answers are.
Guy paints a picture of Mary as a woman boxed in from all sides. For much of her life, she was a pawn, sometimes of her Guisan relatives in France, sometimes of the English, and finally of the Scottish nobility. Mary had the active support of her uncles, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, only as long as she served their dynastic purposes and submitted passively to their will. After the death of her first husband Francis II and her return to Scotland, the Guises largely lost interest in her. Her cousin Elizabeth I of England saw Mary as both a rival and the junior queen of the island. As such, Elizabeth tried to control Mary's policy decisions in Scotland as well as her matrimonial endeavors. The English queen was assisted in this by the intrigues of William Cecil. Guy suggests that Cecil saw the Catholic Mary as the greatest threat to Elizabeth's throne (and to Protestantism) and worked actively against her interests until her death. He describes Cecil as "the spider weaving his web in London" (352).
Mary finally broke away from the control of others when she chose her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. It was an act of independence that cost her dearly, especially in the support of both her family in France and the Queen of England. According to Guy, this is critical because it left Mary at the mercy of Scottish noble factions. A woman without the support of her family, whether commoner or queen, was buffeted about by the ambitions of the powerful. Guy weaves a remarkably clear way through the twists and turns of the constantly changing alliances of the Scottish nobility. He shows how the Earls of Moray, [End Page 709] Morton, Lennox, and Bothwell, although each was an ally of Mary at one time or another, were all ultimately out for their own aggrandizement. Mary could not trust them. She tried, without success, to keep her independence by finding someone in whom she could place her full trust. She loathed betrayals and highly valued loyalty.
Guy argues that this explains many of Mary's later actions. First, it shows why she fell so swiftly into hate for Darnley, whom she discovered was scheming to get the crown matrimonial at her expense. But Guy suggests that assassinating him was the furthest thing from Mary's mind in 1567. Once she had been delivered of her son James, she entered into negotiations with the English to name Elizabeth as the boy's "protector" in the event of Mary's death. According to Guy, this was a "masterstroke" (266) that brought the English queen over to Mary's side, even to the extent that Elizabeth was willing to review Mary's claim to the English throne. Darnley's murder stopped these negotiations in their tracks. Guy surmises that it was Bothwell and Morton who engineered the plot without Mary's knowledge. Her desire to reward loyalty also explains her subsequent attachment to Bothwell, to whom she...