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  • History Girls:Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Historiography and the Case of Mary, Queen of Scots

This essay argues that the compelling figure of Mary, Queen of Scots represented in conventional schoolroom textbooks inspired Jane Austen, Queen Victoria and Marjory Fleming to write counter-narratives about her life. These examples of private writing both absorb and resist the ideologies of nation, gender and causation that official histories promote.

In 1828, fifteen-year-old Anne Chalmers accompanied her sisters to a phrenologist and had her head examined. The diagnosis that the lively and good-natured eldest daughter of Reverend Dr. Thomas Chalmers (well known as a leader in the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland) received, however, was unwelcome: in a letter to a friend the teen related that she had been told that "I have too much romance & that there must be nothing but reality! reality! reality! for us. No fiction but all truth. I don't relish that much, because the chief pleasure in life is living in an ideal world & giving yourself up to your imagination" (51). Contemplating writing a novel, another young Scot, Jane Baillie Welsh (1801–66), playfully confided to a relative in early 1822, four years before her marriage to Thomas Carlyle, her belief that imagining and manipulating characters would give her more satisfaction than "real life" could provide: "I will be happier contemplating my 'beau idéal' than a real, substantial, eating, drinking, sleeping, honest husband" (43).

The natural tendency of the young to fantasize and romanticize makes unsurprising Anne's preference for the ideal over the real, and Jane's desire to spend time with a fictional rather than an actual spouse. Yet their education would have supported the phrenologist's assessment: for middle- and upper-class girls of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain and America, dominant educational policies and practices emphasized the restriction of fancy in favor of a steady diet of facts, the acquisition of desirable "feminine" accomplishments (such as needlework, drawing, musical training, and foreign languages), as well as the development of religious devotion and regular habits of mind. In addition, the study of history—emphasizing dates and principal events, biographical sketches, and moral and patriotic interpretations, in particular—played a significant role in the curriculum for most [End Page 1] educated girls. By setting letter and journal excerpts in the context of nineteenth-century educational practice, a tension between ideology and girl emerges, a tension that was addressed, by some girl readers, in privately "writing back" to various history lessons. For example, the home-educated Emily Shore (1819–39), a prolific diarist and budding naturalist who died of consumption in her twentieth year, wrote in her 1833 journal that "at one time I used to relate histories of imaginary Kings of England or France," dating the beginning of her history (as it turned out), from the year after her death and concluding it in the year 2354 (33).1 In linking history with storytelling for her younger siblings, Shore authoritatively performed the work of the historian—but by setting her monarchical history in the future, Shore also creatively subverted the typical parameters and intentions of that work.

In this essay I will discuss in general the historical education that girls such as Chalmers, Shore, and Welsh would have received, and some real girls' responses to the official history promoted in the school-room. Mary, Queen of Scots forms the case study for my discussion: upon the figure of this fascinating, larger-than-life character—typed by turn as harlot, victim, martyr, and traitor—public official history and private creative retelling coalesce. I suggest that ideologies of gender, "heroism," and progress found in didactic and nationalistic overviews of British history written for the young inspired Jane Austen, Marjory Fleming, and Princess Victoria to employ sanctioned methods of historical interpretation—empathy and appreciation, judgment, national pride, and moral lessons—in writing personally satisfying counter-narratives. Furthermore, I believe that reading these counter-narratives with attention enlarges and informs our view of nineteenth-century girls' fantasies of empowerment.

It is very difficult to ascertain how many girls wrote about Mary, Queen of Scots in their diaries, letters, or schoolwork, as such writing is rarely preserved unless the young writer becomes famous as an author or historical figure. Although I am not claiming an ultimate exceptionalism for either the Queen of Scotland or my three girl writers—I am confident that other historical figures (perhaps Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, even Queen Victoria herself) have similarly inspired girls to talk back to their history books—I argue that the particularly tragic, thrilling, and controversial life of Mary, Queen of Scots and the myths that have grown from it make her an especially alluring figure for this type of private juvenile historiography.2 That is, "Mary, Queen of Scots" functions as a "floating signifier" with multiple points of access that can [End Page 2] be attached and reattached to different ideologies, making her story open to conflicting interpretations. By appropriating the story of a queen who failed to fit the model of feminine behavior promoted in books by such mainstream male authors as Goldsmith, Hume, Robertson, and Sir Walter Scott, girls "re-membered" Mary, Queen of Scots, and actively engaged in scripting a version of the past that combined acts of private writing with public events.

As my examples of girls creating a personal historiography will demonstrate, studying public history's sanctioned narratives inspired counter-narratives. Whatever unity of vision had been attempted within schoolroom classics, such as Mrs. Markham, to compress History into digestible, "healthy" bites of truth was readily undermined by girl readers in the act of rewriting history. Yet why did Mary, Queen of Scots—or monarchs more generally—draw the attention of these girl reader/ writers? Although impossible to know their motivations for certain, Princess Victoria's interest is probably the easiest explained: perhaps she judged the queenly behavior of her predecessors in anticipation of the judgments she would one day receive. Austen and Fleming seized upon the history of England and Scotland and their past sovereigns and elevated Mary, Queen of Scots to personal heroine. These writers' fantasies involving the Queen of Scotland reanimated someone whose complicated and passionate life could be flattened by even-handed accounts closely tied to facts found in dry history or to gendered readings that did not entirely satisfy their own interpretations or needs to create romance and celebrate celebrity. Indeed, Mary's status as imprisoned victim may have been particularly attractive for these young women who all lived constrained lives, yet whose containment could perhaps be transcended, or at least resisted, through indulging the heart with strongly-colored fantasies.3

A brief recitation of the facts of the Queen of Scots' life will help set the scene for the discussion to follow: Mary Stuart was born in 1542, and succeeded her father, James V, becoming Queen of Scotland just days after her birth. As a young child she was sent for protection to Catholic France, her mother's country, and there was engaged to the dauphin, the eventual Francois II. Her French mother, Mary of Guise, remained in Scotland as regent. In 1561, still a teenager and now a widow, the Catholic Mary returned as queen to a Scotland in turmoil and under Protestant control. All agreed that she needed a husband, but these alliances proved disastrous: her unhappy marriage to comely Lord Darnley produced an heir (the future James I of England) but [End Page 3] ended in his murder and the accusation that Mary had participated in planning Darnley's death; her third marriage, to the brutish Earl Bothwell in 1567, a Protestant who had been tried and acquitted for the murder of Darnley, effectively ended after rebel nobles seized the upper hand and Bothwell was forced to flee. Mary was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, escaped in 1568, and threw herself on the mercy of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth, for complicated reasons having to do with maintaining her own political power, imprisoned Mary for nineteen years only to have her executed in 1585 after Mary's supposed plots against her life and crown came to light. The sheer drama of Mary's life—political intrigue, power plays, religious intolerance and fervor, bloodshed, dysfunctional royal families—coupled with competing versions of historical events, have all contrived to keep her memory alive.

The story of the Queen of Scots cannot be told in isolation from that of her cousin and jailer, Queen Elizabeth I. Certainly, judging the two rival queens constitutes much of the fascination in the case for girls and others. These two "mean girls," locked in a catfight to the death, explode myths about feminine delicacy and the bonds of sisterhood to reveal the true womanly power that both fascinates and terrifies historiographers and girls alike: political prowess, rhetoric and posture, ambition and revenge.

Girls Reading History

The perception that British girls' historical understanding compared poorly to that of sophisticated (if frivolous) French young ladies might have helped to fuel the interest in providing examples of appropriate historiography for young readers.4 Indeed, as twenty-two-year-old Mary Capper noted in her diary of 1776–77, written while in France to recover her health: "I cannot but observe how ill-informed we English females find ourselves in comparison with the French ladies; they appear perfectly acquainted with the rise and progress of all material events in the history, both of their own and other nations" (60). In addition to the distrust of fantasy and the nationalist competition sketched above, much of the appeal of history as a suitable subject for girls resulted from its status as "truth," its lessons leading to "reason." Popular late eighteenth-century women writers, such as Hester Chapone in her 1773 Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, and Hannah More's Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799), focused on the twin development [End Page 4] of reason and morality aided through the study of history's lessons about human behavior. In the early nineteenth century, these works were joined by books written by Sarah Lewis and Emily Shirreff, among others, who argued against the traditional female education of drawing-room accomplishments and in favor of more serious, academic curricula for girls. By the late eighteenth century, the study of history appeared to be, if certainly not gender neutral, at least welcoming to the young women whose foremothers had been warned that with learning would come pain in the form of lost modesty, innocence, simplicity, and health. However, if one reads only the proliferation of women writers supporting an enlarged female education, one might think that the debate over modifying female education had been largely decided. Not so. Male writers such as Thomas Gisborne in his successful An Inquiry Into the Duties of the Female Sex (1797), while advocating history as an appropriate subject for young women to read, assumes a context in which females are always in competition with each other, and in which learning is just another form of adornment.5

Gisborne is one example representing the gender divide that formed over the subject of History: between female writers and "women's history" on one side, and male (or male-identified) historians, critics, and History—which was considered to be masculine—on the other. This divide had not been breached even by the mid-nineteenth century. In 1851, a male reviewer of Harriet Martineau's History of England wrote dismissively in the Athenaeum, "we cannot exactly point to [Martineau] as furnishing an exception to the case of no woman having been a first-rate historian. None of the fair sex have ever taken that rank in history . . . the truth is that history is acted by men, and the historian has to narrate manly transactions in a manly spirit" (qtd. in Johnston and Fraser 242). Even Charlotte Yonge, herself a popular historian for young readers, in a three-part essay published in Macmillan's Magazine in 1869 considers an array of children's books and commends Sir Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather not for its morals supplied or missing, but for his ability to write history for a juvenile audience that holds the attention of the boys, or even men, who might read it: "[Scott's work] thoroughly fulfill[s] its design of being easy enough for childhood and yet of not being too puerile for manhood to be interested in" (307).

Christina Crosby has argued that history in the nineteenth century was "produced as man's truth, the truth of a necessarily historical Humanity, which in turn requires that 'women' be outside history, above, below or beyond properly historical and political life" (1). This same [End Page 5] argument could be advanced about the late eighteenth century. Thus, the gender divide within the field of historiography created difficulties for early nineteenth-century professional women historians whose work was often restricted to "women's stories" and marginalized within the parameters of "manly" history. Conservative histories of female sovereigns, whose participation in capital-"H" History could never be in doubt, constituted a large portion of these sanctioned histories. Some examples include Lucy Aikin's Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth (2 volumes, 1818); Anna Jameson's Memoirs of the Celebrated Female Sovereigns (1831); Hannah Lawrance's Historical Memoirs of the Queens of England (1838 and 1840); and Agnes Strickland's 12-volume Lives of the Queens of England (1840 and 1848). Strickland also published the Lives of the Queens of Scotland (1850–59) and Letters of Mary, Queen of Scots (1842, enlarged edition 1848).

Yet these many volumes of memoirs tended to translate public lives into private histories, circumscribing the female monarch in conventional ways, distilling and packaging these figures for female readers. Even those writers and educationalists who advocated serious study for girls understood this scholarship to be congruent with the goals of imparting proper morals to girl readers and inseparable from lessons promoting virtue and denigrating vice. In 1820, the poet Jane Taylor wrote in the Youth's Magazine or Evangelical Miscellany: "The grand end which we ought to propose to ourselves in every intellectual study [for girls] is moral improvement'" (qtd. in Davidoff and Hall 289). A common view was expressed by Charlotte Yonge in the preface to her second volume of the Landmarks of History series published in the mid-nineteenth century: the "true purpose of history" is to provide "great lesson[s] in principle, rather than a mere record of dates, names, and events" (iv).

Even the wildly popular Sir Walter Scott was taken to task by the Westminster Review for failing to provide a moral with his history in the second Scottish series of Tales of a Grandfather (1829)6: "An historical work composed for the instruction of youth, should, above all things, be careful to point out what is commendable, and what is reprehensible, in the actions recorded.—The work, in this respect, falls far short of the character of a good work of education. Censure and commendation are often not dealt out at all, or are not adequately explicit; and sympathy is wanting with the interests, the characters, and the principles, with which it is for the good of mankind that every man should sympathize" (qtd. in Scott, History of France xiv). Life lessons about valor, greed, [End Page 6] self-sacrifice, patriotism, barbarism, and progress were emphasized in history written for the empire's rising generation of girls.

Mary Wollstonecraft's instructive anthology of prose and verse intended for the "improvement of young women," The Female Reader (1789), also reflects this convention of tying history to didacticism. The Female Reader reproduces character sketches of both Mary and Elizabeth published in the orthodox histories of William Robertson and David Hume, respectively (295–99).7 In the excerpts Wollstonecraft reprints, Hume is fulsome in his praise for Elizabeth's "rigour," "constancy," "magnanimity," "penetration," and "vigilance." Yet he also faults her for her feminine weaknesses in "lesser infirmities": "the rivalship of beauty, the desire of admiration, the jealousy of love, and the sallies of anger" (295–96). Robertson can find only womanly attributes to praise (and pity) in Mary's character: "Formed with the qualities that we love, not with the talents that we admire, she was an agreeable woman rather than an illustrious queen" (298). The details of Mary's early years, in particular, were used to illustrate moral maxims about heedlessness, selfishness, and immodesty. In another didactic example, the mother character in Elizabeth Helme's The History of Scotland: Related in Familiar Conversations By a Father to His Children (1806), prefaces the story of the queen of Scotland within a cautionary interpretative framework: "[Mary's history] will prove, that youth, beauty, learning, genius, and power, are of no avail, without prudence" (175).

What specific lessons did popular histories teach late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British girls about Mary, Queen of Scots? Two things, primarily: first, that the young Mary was beautiful and talented, but weak and heedless; and second, that the imprisoned Mary was a misguided yet tragic victim. These interpretations of the queen's character and actions urged young readers to learn from Mary's mistakes and to pity her plight while at the same time admire her bravery and composure on the scaffold. Her faults, most histories for the young concede, directly relate to her education in the corrupt French court and to her tenacious adherence to the Catholic religion while attempting to rule a Protestant country.8 Biographical sketches of Mary, Queen of Scots (as opposed to Scottish history) or those histories written by Scots, tended, not surprisingly, to view Mary sympathetically and to emphasize her innocence and Queen Elizabeth's treachery. The summation of the 1815 The History of Mary, Queen of Scots Who Was Beheaded in the Nineteenth Year of Her Captivity makes this point well: "Thus fell, by an illegal stretch of power in England, Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland in her own right, [End Page 7] dowager of France, and heiress of the crowns of England and Ireland. In the profound knowledge of policy and government she was inferior to Elizabeth; but, in generosity, magnanimity, and other royal virtues, she excelled her celebrated rival" (68).

As various journal entries, poems, stories, and letters of Jane Austen (1775–1817), Marjory Fleming (1803–11), and Princess Victoria (1819–1901) demonstrate, reading such official histories of Mary, Queen of Scots led to private written responses. As I have suggested, how typical or widespread this kind of "writing back" might have been is difficult to judge given that private writing, especially that written in childhood, is so often discarded or lost. However, even a small sample of girls writing private histories about Mary, Queen of Scots can form the basis of an argument about the significance and mythic stature of Mary Stuart in the imaginative lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century young women. Although each of these figures is highly unusual—Austen is one of the foremost English novelists of any age, Marjory Fleming was a young child who gained notoriety after her death through the posthumous publication and reissues of her writing, and Princess Victoria became the Queen of England—valuable information about girls' agency in writing private history and the place of such work in literary authorship can be gleaned by examining the manuscripts about Mary, Queen of Scots composed by Austen, Fleming, and Victoria.

In her work on the child author Marjory Fleming, Alexandra Johnson suggests that one reason that girls were allowed—or even encouraged—to write privately was that "a child's written words never threaten to achieve the permanence of an adult's" (87). Yet some girls' writing has achieved such permanence—either because of who they became as adults or through the efforts of friends who memorialized their short lives in print. I share the interest of scholars such as Christine Alexander, Juliet McMaster, and Carolyn Steedman in reading this "threatening" writing with the same care and attention that, for the most part, writing by adult women writers now receives.9 As Alexander and McMaster suggest in the introduction to their collection The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf (2005), "In the vast mass of writings about children—those beings we all once were, and whom many of us produce—there should be a place for what children have to tell us of themselves" (1).10 Evaluating modern-day British primary schools and the teaching of history, Steedman has remarked, "Considering what young children do with history may help us to see something of the weight of a common imagination, reveal the uses we make of a common past, show the extreme difficulty [End Page 8] that lies in abandoning the territory of our dreams, and the kings and queens that walk there" ("True Romances" 27).

Private girlhood writing about history, even in my small sample, set within a wider educational context, helps to demonstrate the young mind at work in intellectual as well as imaginative play. In Jane Austen's case, her comically abridged history of England was written in direct response to the dull, long-winded, "official" and "male" version of history that constituted a large part of her education and that of most girls of her class. Marjory Fleming and Princess Victoria, too, defended Mary, Queen of Scots in educational exercises, but each gives the story a flair unique to her own character and goals. Austen's sense of humor, Fleming's lively curiosity, and even Princess Victoria's opinionated nature can be glimpsed in their private histories of Mary Stuart, as I discuss below.

Girls Writing History

May we commit our safety to her, who a sister, hath butcherly slaughtered her brother, a wife her husband, a Queen her King? May we commit our safety to her, whom never shame restrained from unchastity, womankind from cruelty, nor religion from impiety? Shall we bear with her age, sex and unadvisedness, that without all just causes of hatred, despised all these things in her kinsman, her King, her husband?

—George Buchanan, Ane Detection of the Doings of Mary Queen of Scots (67)

The passionate response to the controversial figure of Mary, Queen of Scots quoted above was written by the Scots Protestant George Buchanan, a former tutor of the young Mary Stuart and author of an epithalamium on her first marriage to the dauphin. Buchanan ultimately turned against the Scottish queen and published his Ane Detection of the Doings of Mary Queen of Scots in 1571, while Mary was still Elizabeth's prisoner. Two hundred and twenty-two years later, in 1791, sixteen-year-old Jane Austen wrote a private defense of the Stuarts in a gleeful parody of that standard textbook for the young, Goldsmith's four-volume The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II (1771, abridged in 1774).11 Austen called her manuscript "The History of England from the Reign of Henry the 4th to the Death of Charles the 1st By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian." She adds, "NB: There will be very few Dates in this History." Austen's private history resets the [End Page 9] terms of Mary Stuart's guilt and innocence, responsibility and victimhood, in the context of girlhood (education, age, and inexperience), disavowing the questions about chastity and religion that consumed commentators such as Buchanan: "It may not be unnecessary before I entirely conclude my account of this ill-fated Queen, to observe that she had been accused of several crimes during the time of her reigning in Scotland, of which I now most seriously do assure my Reader that she was entirely innocent; having never been guilty of anything more than Imprudencies into which she was betrayed by the openness of her Heart, her Youth, & her Education" (23–24). Buchanan's Mary is unwomanly, impious, and unnatural. Austen's Mary, by contrast, is lovable, beautiful, and righteous, especially in facing death: "Yet she bore [her death sentence] with a most unshaken fortitude, firm in her Mind; Constant in her religion; & prepared herself to meet the cruel fate to which she was doomed, with a magnanimity that could alone proceed from conscious Innocence" (22–23).

In her unofficial history, Jane Austen passionately defended Mary Stuart. Indeed, Austen's project was undertaken with the primary intent to "prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland, which I flatter myself with having effectually done, and to abuse Elizabeth, tho' I am rather fearful of having fallen short in the latter part of my Scheme" (23–24). In a more serious reflection than Austen's parody, in 1796 sixteen-year-old Eugenia Wynne wrote a response in her diary to Robertson's History of Scotland in the Reigns of Queen Mary and James VI (1759). Eugenia, too, sympathizes with Mary and condemns Elizabeth: "I cannot forgive Elizabeth's behaviour and though Mary's is very shameful yet I cannot help fealing (sic) a sort of partiality for her, a partiality which is a tribute that I pay to her endless misfortune and which prompts me to think if Elizabeth had sought protection in Mary's arms she would have found a sure azylum (sic) and a hasty succour (sic) there" (Thursday, November 25, 1796, 2:134). In their histories or reflections on official history, both Wynne and Austen confront traditional notions of gendered behavior and offer personal interpretations of womanly qualities and queenly conduct. In the introduction to the Juvenilia Press edition of Austen's History of England, Jan Fergus contends: ". . . by offering unconventional images of the monarchs, particularly of Elizabeth and Mary of Scotland, and by making them two powerful women central to their text and illustrations, they were questioning conventional notions of gender and revising history itself. . . ." (i). By reversing the power positions of each monarch and imagining a meeting that calls to mind [End Page 10] an actual embrace, Eugenia Wynne revises history, too. In fact, Mary and Elizabeth never actually met, but in Wynne's fantasy, a woman's arms can and should offer inviolable protection.

In her long poem about the life and death of the tragic Scottish queen (c. 1811), Marjory Fleming similarly defends Queen Mary's innocence. Fleming's youth and nationality both inflect her assessment of the cousin queens. Fleming, born in Kirkcaldy, was sent at age five to Edinburgh to live with relatives and spent her entire short life in Scotland. Isabella Keith, her older cousin, undertook the supervision of Marjory's education and became a kind of second mother to the precocious writer.12 After nearly three years with her cousin, Marjory was summoned back to Kirkcaldy. A few months after her return she was stricken with the measles, seemed to recover, but contracted an additional disease, probably meningitis, and died in 1811, a few weeks shy of her ninth birthday. Marjory's journals and poems were carefully preserved after her early death.13

In dedicating or addressing her written work to her beloved cousin, Marjory indulges a desire to impress someone older and more experienced, as well as to amuse and inform.14 Marjory's poem about her last illness is underscored by two poignant truths: first, despite feeling better, she died soon after writing the piece; second, the work was not contained within a circle of loving friends and family who actually knew the child, but published decades later (along with Marjory's other writings) as an object of curiosity to an adoring public that ultimately fetishized Marjory as a "pet."15 In this situation, the child writer, unlike Austen and Princess Victoria, is contained by precocity and youth that can never be outgrown. Fleming's private self, too, was exploited in the public arena. In her patronizing editors' eyes, Fleming was burdened with an overabundance of significance, her writing used to "interpret" the "consciousness of other children," to mediate childhood itself (Macbean vi).

The products of the schoolroom, Marjory Fleming's commentaries on Mary, Queen of Scots and her "magnum opus"—a two-hundred-line poem on Mary's life and death—were assessed by Cousin Isa, who corrected her spelling and commented upon some of her journal entries.16 The three journals consist of stray thoughts, moral maxims interpreted by Marjory, poems, paeans to Isa, reports of day-to-day activities, desires, and very often her failures to be obedient and grateful. Marjory, like virtually all commentators on Mary, Queen of Scots, finds her countrywoman's physical beauty especially notable and indicative [End Page 11] of innocence and goodness. In the first journal, dated spring and summer 1810, Marjory writes, ". . . I should not have liked to/have been [Mary, Queen of Scots] but I think it was very/wrong in the people to mock their/sovereign & queen I have seen/her picture & think her the most/Beautiful & Angelick Elisbeth/behaved very crually [(sic) and shown to be incorrect] to poor/poor Mary" (16).

In the third journal, dated spring 1811, Marjory again mentions Queen Mary, this time in connection with her reading and her need for Isa's help in historical interpretation: "I am come to poo[r]/Mary Queen of Scots history which Isa/-bella explains to me and by that I un/-derstand it all or else I would not [.]" (112). Yet Marjory's two-hundred line poem "The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by M. F.," undated but very likely written in 1811, takes on Queen Mary's history independently and offers personal assessment at the same time. At this point, Marjory is clearly in command of the story and the lively couplets bounce along the facts of the case, the commentary, scene-setting, and "filler" prose that occurs when Marjory must wrench a suitable rhyme or search for a transition. The poem begins, "Poor Mary Queen of Scots was born/ With all the graces which adorn/Her birthday is so very late/That I do now forget the date [.]" (135). Marjory mildly defends John Knox ("Ther was a man that was quite good/To preach against her faith he would/His name was John Knox a reformer/Of Mary he was a great scorner" [136]); she dwells on Darnley's beauty, supports Bothwell against accusations that he killed Darnley, and paints Mary as morally righteous in defending her marriage to Bothwell, although he runs away ("Covered with dust droping a tear/A spectical she did appear/To break her marriage she would not/Though it would happy make her lot/This her bad nobles would not bear/Though she was then so very fair/To Lochleven was she then carried/She would not say she was not married" [143]). Mary's time in prison, under Elizabeth's watch, is passed over quickly in the poem—"Full nineteen years & mayhap more/Her legs became quite stif & sore/At last she heard she was to die/And that her soul would mount the [sky]" (146).

At the poem's conclusion, Marjory assesses the ultimate fate of each queen: "But hark [Mary's] soul to heaven did rise/And I do think she gained a prise/For I do think she would not go/Into the awfull place below/There is a thing that I must tell/Elisbeth went to fire & hell/Him who will teach her to be cevel/It must be [her great] friend the divel" (146–47, Isa's insertions in boldface). Marjory Fleming was fascinated by romantic love, and in her journal she indulged her fantasies about [End Page 12] good-looking men and falling in love—until Isa corrected her and reminded her to keep her mind on her studies and her God.17 Fleming's verse history of Mary, Queen of Scots is essentially a tragic romance that reorders the story by taking the rival queens to their ultimate destiny and judgment in the next world.

Some years after Austen and Fleming, Princess Victoria, whose study of history constituted a large portion of each week's lessons, was also reading Goldsmith and other schoolroom mainstays such as Russell's Modern Europe (1779), written in the form of letters from a nobleman to his son. Whether or not she believed her own rhetoric, Princess Victoria spoke the party line when she wrote to her Uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians—and one of her many educational custodians—to report on her progress and assure him that although she found Clarendon's History of the Rebellion to be "drily written, [it] is full of instruction."18 Princess Victoria's keen interest in Mary, Queen of Scots is logical, given that reviewing the history and characters of her ancestors was a moral and political obligation. Accompanying her reading, Victoria was simultaneously constructing a history of England by writing alphabetized lists of its kings and queens, adding her own commentary to each name. Reporting in 1834 to Uncle Leopold on the nature of this work and her enjoyment of it, the fifteen-year-old wrote, "I am very fond of making tables of the Kings and Queens, as I go on, and I have lately finished one of the English Sovereigns and their consorts, as, of course, the history of my own country is one of my first duties" (qtd. in Vallone 120). In these synopses of the lives of her royal predecessors, Victoria offered idiosyncratic analyses of the character and physical qualities of each woman: among Henry VIII's wives, Catherine of Aragon is called "irreproachable," Anne Boleyn is "extremely beautiful, accomplished, but inconsiderate," and Anne of Cleves is called "tall & very large & unprepossessing" (qtd. in Vallone 120).

Yet even before 1834, the preteen Princess Victoria outlined the life of Mary, Queen of Scots in a ruled copybook. The letter was almost certainly an exercise in summarizing the history she was currently reading. While Victoria writes a credible account of the significant events of Mary's life, she also editorializes and empathizes with the queen. For example, Victoria writes that after Mary's first husband, the King of France, died, she returned to Scotland, where she had not lived since a young child; thus, "She was not at all accustomed to the rough and coarse maners (sic) of her subjects the scots therefore she was indeed much to be pittied (sic)."19 Victoria also doubts the veracity [End Page 13] of the story that Mary was guilty of plotting the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. The specific details Victoria included tended to emphasize the most colorful and visual elements of the story: Darnley's good looks and his death by exploding gunpowder; the thousand-horse troop Bothwell secured to kidnap Mary and force her to marry him; the ring Elizabeth sent Mary as a token of friendship; the long white veil Mary wore to her execution; and the billiard-cloth winding sheet in which the body was wrapped after execution.

The position Victoria would later take on the rivalry between the two queens in her pen portraits of the kings and queens of England offered qualified support for Mary and partial denigration for Elizabeth. However, unlike Austen and Fleming, whose descriptions of Elizabeth are utterly negative, Victoria admires her political prowess, but rejects her as a role model: "Elizabeth was a great Queen but a bad woman; and even in her royal capacity she erred sometimes; she had a very great idea of her prerogative and was more arbitrary even than her tyrannical father [Henry VIII]."20 From the time she was about ten years old, Victoria was consciously in training to become queen, which meant, according to her mother the duchess of Kent, that she must first become a "good" woman. Thus, in Victoria's reading of Elizabeth's conduct in terms of a "woman's story," her putative masculinity, misuse of prerogative, and cruelties enacted in the name of politics were all unfavorably viewed.21 In this sketch, Victoria is more willing to accept that Mary may not have been stainless herself—"Whatever may have been poor Mary's faults, and however guilty she may have been, Elizabeth had no right thus to put an end to all her sufferings and misfortunes!"22

In Jane Austen's and Princess Victoria's brief retellings of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, Elizabeth wields power like a man—she not only fails to have the "kind heart" that would pity Mary's situation, but also resembles her unjust father. In these romantic girls' eyes, this masculine character makes Elizabeth a good queen, but a bad woman. The problem of the female monarch, for both public and private historians, is always her gender.

Although Sir Walter Scott similarly defends Mary in Tales of a Grandfather , he analyzes the motives of the two queens almost entirely according to what he understands to be feminine behavior; their powerful political positions—which Jane Austen and Princess Victoria never forget—are downplayed. For Scott and most historiographers for the young, such as Markham and Helme, and those read in the schoolroom, such as Robertson and Hume, the faults of both Mary and Elizabeth lie within their femininity.23 [End Page 14]

Certainly, as Charlotte Yonge had promised, Scott's popular retelling of the history of Scotland and England (the first edition sold out of ten thousand copies24) is detailed, lively, and full of both facts and anecdote. Interestingly, however, Scott cannot imagine the competition between the rival queens as anything other than the failures of femininity. And Mary's charms were first and foremost those of physical beauty: "Mary Stewart (sic), the Queen Dowager of France and the hereditary Queen of Scotland was, without exception, the most beautiful and accomplished woman of her time. Her countenance was lovely; she was tall, well-formed, elegant in all her motions, skilled in the exercises of riding and dancing, and possessed of all the female accomplishments which were in fashion at the period" (3:144). After Mary married Darnley, "a handsome, if devious and low-born, suitor," according to Scott, "Elizabeth gave way to all the weakness of an envious woman" (3:166).25

Scott states his unwillingness to take sides between Mary and Elizabeth because, while the facts are well known, the motives of the disputants remain mysterious (3:181).26 Yet, for Scott, Mary remains a victim of another woman's fear and envy. Although Elizabeth is justifiably threatened by France's support of Mary's succession, and of a Catholic uprising, in the enumeration of Mary's threats to Elizabeth the last listed, and thus the one given the most weight, is Elizabeth's recollection that "Mary had been her rival in accomplishments; and certainly [Elizabeth] did not forget that [Mary] was her superior in youth and beauty; and had the advantage, as she had expressed it herself, to be the mother of a fair son, while [Elizabeth] remained a barren stock" (3:211–12).27 In Scott's deservedly popular history of Scotland, when the narrative atypically turns to a woman's story, it seems that the only way to describe her actions and motives is through the conventionally held belief in a panoply of female foibles and the rewards or sorrows of reproduction.

I hope to have demonstrated that communicating the "morals" of the story of the queen of Scotland's life was a significant goal of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historiography for the young, and that the larger-than-life figure simultaneously retained a strong hold on the imagination of girls from the same period. But that's not the end of the story: "Mary, Queen of Scots"—the cultural product, not the historical figure—has had a very long afterlife and is enjoying a second revival today, albeit one seemingly distant from the moralizing impulse so important in earlier histories. Interestingly, given her historical remoteness and the competition for legendary status from [End Page 15] other much more recent figures of notoriety, a Mary, Queen of Scots obsession has emerged in recent British and American children's literature through a proliferation of fictional works that feature the Scottish queen.28 Mary's myths seem to endure in the collective memories of the young. After more than four hundred years—when the political power struggles, the religious battles, the landscape, and even the historical period have blurred and faded in young minds (especially young American minds)—kids know that Mary, Queen of Scots lost her head. Some of these examples of historical fiction are meant to be light-hearted or frivolous. In Karen Wallace's Tartan Means Trouble (2001), Mary is described as "dark, devious and determined to steal Elizabeth's crown" (n.p.); in a cartoon illustration to this book, Mary crows in a speech balloon: "I'm prettier than her too" (n.p.). Some novels offer "history lite," creating child characters around Mary who assist her or participate in her thrilling life. For example, the narrator of Jane Yolen and Robert Harris's novel The Queen's Own Fool (2000) functions in the fashion of Lear's fool, employed to speak the truth to the queen. And for many of these books, the titles often give clues to the contents, such as Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter (1981), or Terry Deary's The Lady of Fire and Tears (1998).29

Although Mary Stuart, the historical person, was a public figure of great significance, contemporary historical fiction for children detaches her from history and reduces her story almost entirely to its private dimensions.30 This clever, passionate, feminist Mary, who is often a teenager or even a preteen, never succumbs to the will of others, but rather lives on in eternally immediate, yet past, moments of dramatic tension. That the Renaissance queen of Scotland's life can be rejigged to reflect the concerns of contemporary youth struggling for autonomy in an alienating world testifies both to the determination of educationalists and publishers to bring history "alive" through fiction, and to the protean nature of the Marian myths themselves. Yet if the proliferation of fictionalized representations of Mary's life have any significance at all—and I think that they do—it is in their re-membering the queen of Scotland by fixing her in a time before her execution, by reinventing her as a new heroine for a new age. Perhaps these popular and popularizing retellings of Mary, Queen of Scots' history accomplish their goals of rescuing History from its too-easy dismissal as dull and irrelevant. Perhaps these attempts to render History more appealing for young readers diminish the need for counter-narratives, as the works themselves encourage the child reader to imagine himself/herself in [End Page 16] the most exciting moments of the past, to participate in an open system in which history and fantasy might collude, or meet.

And of course it doesn't matter that Mary, Queen of Scots was never actually "there" at all in any of the historical or fictional works under discussion here. In the appropriations and rewritings of the story of Mary, Queen of Scots by Austen, Fleming, and Princess Victoria into their versions of the romantic yet powerful figure imprisoned for her dangerous beliefs—and even more dangerous person—we can trace the developing self-confidence and interpretive skills of each writer as she organizes and manipulates facts to suit her particular fantasy or need as an author and as a reader. Austen rebelled against Goldsmith's totalizing vision of history through flippant humor, parody, and exaggeration. Marjory Fleming asserted her cleverness, sympathy, and knowledge by retelling her countrywoman's tragic story and finding the moral in a heavenly realm she adjudicates. Princess Victoria participated in her own training as a future monarch by analyzing female conduct and queenly behavior. As the historian Raphael Samuel wrote, "If heroes and heroines are myth, a projection of our longings, and if some of their most famous moments turn out to be apocryphal, they are nevertheless a necessary fantasy" (228). The royal victim of politics, of bad blood, of sisterhood gone wrong, fascinated these girl writers as they constructed their satiric, poetic, or didactic fantasies of England's past and thereby participated in the creation of a young women's history responsive to their own desires for settling the score, for order, and for personal truths.

Mary, Queen of Scot's location within a public/private dialectic is mirrored by girl writers of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who negotiated a similar dialectic in their own private writing about that most public figure. Even during her lifetime, the story of the two cousins, Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, articulated the private through family feud and family romance, and the public via powerful notions of nation, religion, and gender. Within the protean figure of Mary Stuart, whose dramatic story looms large in Enlightenment and Victorian histories of England and Scotland, competing anxieties of both adults and girls merge. Through children's literature, adults created an "official" history that tied the past to moral instruction. The young, for their part, both absorbed and resisted these ideologies about nation, gender, and causation. In their diaries, poems, exercises, and letters about Mary Stuart, a public figure used for private as well as historical purposes, these girl writers became historians themselves. [End Page 17] By re-membering Mary, Queen of Scots through their reading and especially their private writing, girl readers and girl writers put her back together again. That is, by participating in the historical project through private reading and mythmaking, the adolescent fulfills her need to empathize, make sense of the world, and create identity—for the self and for the other. Indeed, the constructed Mary, Queen of Scots has become, for girls of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—as well as for girls today—a site of shifting collective memory of one who was never there in the first place.31

Lynne Vallone

Lynne Vallone is Professor of Childhood Studies and English at Rutgers University, Camden. She is the author of articles and books on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children's literature and culture and the coassociate general editor of The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature. She is currently completing a book on the miniature and the gigantic in children's literature and culture.


1. In his essay on children's diaries, A. O. J. Cockshut reports that the precocious Shore wrote a history of the Jewish people, "a conflation of biblical accounts and of Milman's semi-secular history" (389).

2. Myths about the beautiful Queen of Scots proliferated in every age from the Elizabethan period to the present. For recent scholarly treatments, see especially Lewis and Currie. There are numerous biographical treatments of Mary, Queen of Scots; among the standard biographies, the first is probably Fraser's Mary, Queen of Scots (1969). Dunn's Elizabeth and Mary (2004) is a joint biography. Another recent biography is Guy's Queen of Scots (2004).

3. For Austen writing her History of England, Ellen E. Martin suggests, "The whole notion of a great narrative of causation linking events is regarded as inadequate by an artist devoted to what passes for consequence and celebrating the connections made by the private, eclectic fancy" (93).

4. From Carolyn Steedman's essay "True Romances," we learn rather remarkably that even in the 1980s little had changed in British jealousy of French history teaching. Steedman reports that in Lord Thomas's call for educational reform, printed in The Observer in 1983, he alleges that French children's knowledge of national history was greater than that of British children (26).

5. Gisborne writes, "Geography, select parts of natural history, and of the history of different nations, antient (sic) or modern, popular and amusing facts in astronomy and in other sciences, are often familiar to the daughter in a degree which, at the very moment that it delights the parent, reminds her how small a portion of such information was in her youth imparted to herself" (59).

6. In the last years of his life, Sir Walter Scott turned to writing historical accounts of the history of Scotland and France. These were dedicated to his grandson, Johnnie Lockhart, and proved to be highly popular and well regarded. The three Scottish Grandfather series were dated 1828, 1829, and 1830. The first French series was published in 1831; at his death in 1832 the final French series was left incomplete and never published. (See Scott, History of France ix).

In deciding to write history for the young, Scott was self-consciously attempting to compete with J. W. Croker's successful Stories from the History of England for Children (1817). As he wrote in 1827 to his friend and printer, James Ballantyne, "I will do something greatly better than Croker. It is a mistake to suppose you should be childish because you write to children. The language should be simple and being simple may be as energetic as if you were addressing a senate. . . . I should wish it to be a work written for children but [at] which if a man look he should be induced to read. I am not even sure that children do not like and are not improved by something that is not so immediately comprehended but finds exercize (sic) for their thoughts. To interest them is the point" (qtd. in History of France ix). [End Page 18]

7. David Hume published the History of England in 1759, the same year that William Robertson published his History of Scotland. Both became popular, although Robertson superseded Hume (Zachs 147). See Zachs's discussion of the Enlightenment historiographer of the Queen of Scotland, Gilbert Stuart, who was more partial to the Marian cause.

8. The conclusions drawn by Mrs. Markham (Elizabeth Penrose) in the nursery classic A History of England are representative of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English and American retellings of Mary Stuart's life: "From the age of six to that of nineteen she had been trained in the levity and dissipation of the French court. From her nineteenth to her twenty-seventh year she had lived in Scotland, in a succession, if not of crimes, yet of follies and sorrows. The nineteen remaining years of her life she had passed in a melancholy captivity, a prey to all the miseries of restraint, suspense and impatience. But time and affliction had neither subdued her spirit, nor wholly destroyed, though its brilliance was faded, her extraordinary beauty" (269).

9. Of course, women's writing, especially private discourse, has not always been credited with playing much of a role at all in the history of women's authorship or in literary history more generally. However, the work of critics and literary historians such as Harriet Blodgett, Margaret Ezell, Margaret Homans, Cynthia Huff, Alexandra Johnson, Judy Simons, and Carolyn Steedman in uncovering previously hidden texts, reassessing those better known, or theorizing the private, has reshaped the contours of the literary and critical landscape. For a wide-ranging introduction to the study of women's diaries, see the excellent essays in Bunkers and Huff. Although diaries are often considered the particular province of the (middle- or upper-class) young woman, who typically has more time for introspection and writing than might her mother, the girl's impact on the literary landscape has been perhaps less thoroughly surveyed. Valerie Sanders's anthology of nineteenth-century girlhood diaries, Records of Girlhood (2000), is a welcome addition to the literature of women's private discourse. Neville Braybrooke's Seeds in the Wind (1989) anthologizes juvenilia by twentieth-century authors. His understanding of the value of this writing is made clear by the title of the collection.

10. The Juvenilia Press, founded by McMaster and now edited by Alexander, is a notable and successful means for such writing to receive critical attention from scholars and students alike.

11. Goldsmith actually wrote three different histories of England. His most popular for schoolroom use was the abridgement of the four volume work. See Kent 63.

12. Fleming's poem dedicated to Isa Keith, "To Her Loved Cousin on the Author's Recovery," was written just days before her death.

Oh! Isa, pain did visit me,I was at the last extremity;How often did I think of you,I wished your graceful form to view.To clasp you in my weak embrace,Indeed I thought I'd run my race:Good care, I'm sure, was of me taken,But still indeed I was much shaken,At last I daily strength did gain,And oh! At last, away went pain;At length the doctor thought I mightStay in the parlour all the night;I now continue so to do.Farewell to Nancy, and to you.

(qtd. in Brown 131–32)

By translating her illness into verse, Marjory could make herself into the heroine of a dramatic tale, notify Isa that she had longed for her, as well as assure her cousin that she was now recovered. In writing about being sick, Fleming validates the importance of [End Page 19] her experience but also distances herself from it, as Marjory becomes narrator and the illness itself the plot of a narrative poem. Fleming's poem, like Austen's mock history, was a social text of limited audience meant for family members.

13. Isa Keith retained all of Marjory's writing but gave them up to Marjory's mother in 1812 when requested. The journals and other writing were stored within the family until many years later when London journalist Henry Brougham Farnie, a native of Kirkcaldy, visited his old home and was shown the journals by Marjory's younger sister, then fifty-seven years old. Farnie published a story about Marjory in the Fife Herald newspaper and followed this with an 1864 short book about her called Pet Marjorie: A Story of Child-Life Fifty Years Ago. A number of subsequent editions, editors, and feuds in publishing followed.

14. See Juliet McMaster's article, "'Adults' Literature,' By Children," in which she discusses Marjory Fleming and makes the point that children who write are not attempting to write "children's literature," but literature for adults to read.

15. Marjory Fleming was sentimentalized and patronized by her numerous editors and male admirers (who included Robert Louis Stevenson, Swinburne, Mark Twain, and Leslie Stephen). See Frank Sidgwick's introduction to The Complete Marjory Fleming for a comprehensive history of the posthumous publications of Marjory's journals and the development of the legend of Marjory Fleming. See also Johnson, "The Drama of Imagination," and Steedman, The Tidy House (77–81), for discussions of the co-optation of Marjory Fleming by her editors and readers.

16. Isa did not correct all of Marjory's mistakes, but when she made a common error that Isa believed to be beneath her (writing "there" for "their," for example [Fleming 27]), she underlined the offending word three times and wrote "fie" above it.

17. McMaster comments that Fleming's interest in Mary Stuart may well have come from her own life story as an object of instruction as well as from her romantic temperament: ". . . a queen who is treated as a naughty girl by such a disciplinary male authority as John Knox has a particular appeal for the girl writer, for her transgressive love life no less than for her martyrdom on the scaffold" (283).

18. RA VIC/Z493/27. Letter from Princess Victoria to Leopold, King of the Belgians, October 22, 1834. (Permission to quote material held in the Royal Archives has been granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.) I discuss Princess Victoria's education in greater detail in Becoming Victoria.

19. RA VIC/AddA7/1a/37.

20. RA VIC/AddA7/1B/49.

21. This view is perhaps ironic, given that Victoria's closest supervisor, her governess Louise Lehzen, felt that the ideal queen was Elizabeth I, whose strength and determination Lehzen attempted to emulate. See Hudson 72, 184.

22. RA VIC/AddA7/1B/49. Princess Victoria's brief essay was corrected in pencil, probably by Reverend George Davys, her tutor. The interjections of this mediating force are rather interesting because they not only correct errors of spelling and punctuation, but also adjust for style, toning down some of Victoria's most vehement opinions and inelegant expressions. For example, Victoria's description of Elizabeth's participation in Mary's imprisonment and eventual death as "This guilty and unfortunate transaction . . ." is changed to "This sad and unfortunate transaction. . . ," thus effacing Elizabeth's responsibility in the affair.

23. Near the end of Scott's retelling of the story of Mary and Elizabeth, he concludes that Queen Elizabeth "was a great and glorious Queen, and well deserved the title of the Mother of her country (History of Scotland 3:266). And, unlike Princess Victoria, in his last comments Scott rather unexpectedly calls Mary "masculine" in her "courageous manliness of disposition" (referring, I believe, to her conduct at her execution). See 3:287.

24. See the introduction to History of France for additional information about the publication and reception history of Scott's Grandfather books. [End Page 20]

25. Darnley's "low" status was one of degree only: a cousin of Mary, he was the son of the earl of Lennox and traced his own line to the English throne through his grandmother, Margaret Tudor.

26. Privately, Scott mildly reproves Elizabeth for her treatment of his countrywoman. In a letter to Lady Louisa Stuart in 1820, he wrote: "I do not design [in Tales of a Grandfather] any scandal about Queen Bess, whom I admire much, altho' like an old true blue, I have malice against her on Queen Mary's account. But I think I shall be very fair" (Familiar Letters 2:102).

27. Scott goes on to summarize some of the spiteful letters that Queen Mary sent to Queen Elizabeth during her captivity. For example, Mary used to report to Elizabeth the "shrewish" comments Lady Shrewsbury made against Elizabeth: that Elizabeth was "old and ugly; . . . was grown as crooked in her temper as in her body," etc. Scott assesses these accusations thus: "[these abusive expressions] must have given exquisite pain to any woman, and more especially to a Queen so proud as Elizabeth, and so desirous of being esteemed beautiful. Unquestionably, these reproaches added poignancy to the hatred with which she regarded Queen Mary" (3:270).

28. As Steedman has noted, Mary, Queen of Scots, in the form of "topic work" on "Life in Elizabethan Times"—or "units" as we'd say in America—has never left the British classroom ("True Romances," esp. 28 and 30).

29. In order of publication, some interesting (though not all are well written or valuable as historical fiction) twentieth- and twenty-first-century historical novels about Mary, Queen of Scots intended for youth include: Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time (1939), Mollie Hunter's You Never Knew Her As I Did! (1981) (published in Britain as Escape from Loch Leven, 1981), Kirsty White's A Queen's Promise (1997), Terry Deary's Lady of Fire and Tears (1998), Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris's The Queen's Own Fool (2000), Karen Wallace's Tartan Means Trouble (2001), and Kathryn Lasky's Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country (2002).

30. See "Writing Backward," Anne Scott MacLeod's cautionary essay about contemporary historical novels for children that privilege modern ideologies over historical realities. Stretching the historical truth is not, of course, confined to twentieth-century literature. The Recess; or, A Tale of Other Times by Sophia Lee (1785) is an early example of elaborate historical fiction about Mary, Queen of Scots. The melodramatic three-volume novel is the story of Matilda and Ellinor, Mary Stuart's (imaginary) twin daughters by the duke of Norfolk.

31. In discussing the painting The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots by Gavin Hamilton (1776), Jayne Elizabeth Lewis makes a similar point about the figure of Mary, Queen of Scots: "'The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots' . . . responds to an object that isn't there for everyone to see" (1086).

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