Erickson’s version of the personal life of Mary, Queen of Scots, from 1542 to 1587 when she is beheaded, reveals a woman at odds with history. Her tale begun at fifteen when she marries the King of France, it is soon clear that Mary’s naiveté exceeds her position. Raised in the royal courts, this is a woman who should be more cognizant of political realities, especially after the king’s death and her return to Scotland.
Impulsively marrying her second husband, Lord Darnley, Mary is governed by immaturity and emotion. Because of her blood line, Mary is an existential threat to the rule of her cousin Elizabeth of England. The two women are incomparable. Elizabeth is ferocious in her claim to the throne of England and fortifies her positions by heeding the counsel of her most loyal supporters, ever aware of her position on the world stage.
In contrast, Mary seems to possess no political acumen, nor the wit to protect her throne, which is constantly under siege. John Knox, a Protestant Reformer, is an avowed enemy, and there is no end to those who would join forces and raise up against their queen, including many on behalf of her son, James, legitimate heir to the throne.
After Darnley’s suspicious death lends credence to rumors of his murder by an ambitious queen, Mary makes yet another rash decision: marrying a commoner, the Earl of Bothwell, and exacerbating an already dangerous situation. Scotland is subject to border raids, the country the wild stepchild in relation to progressive England.
A loyal Catholic, Mary defends her faith but is champion in name only, at least in the early years. What is striking in Erickson’s narrative is Mary’s penchant for marriage and her willingness to share the throne, so unlike Elizabeth. Rather than be alone, Mary risks her people’s affections to have a man by her side, often regretting her impulsiveness when it is too late.
In the years of her imprisonment in England, looking to Elizabeth for sanctuary until her throne can be restored, Mary is mistrusted for her nefarious and continuous plotting to usurp Elizabeth’s throne, but there is no sense of that woman in the first half of this novel. In fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile this rendering of the Queen of Scots with other fictional historians’ accounts.
A nagging lack of detail - persons, events, political climate - does nothing to enhance my understanding of a woman who is eventually beheaded by Elizabeth in order to keep her from more mischief. The result is that I don’t trust this portrait, nor am I even remotely sympathetic to Mary’s various dilemmas over the years.
It is hard to imagine this passive woman as a threat to England by any means, in this case far more a victim of than master of her fate. This is not the Mary, Queen of Scotland, I expected. I shall have to turn to other sources to find her.