Normally when I’m close to finishing a book I have another one waiting in the wings, which I am eager to pick up as soon as I’ve read the final chapter. However I now find myself in a bizarre predicament, because I am currently staring mindlessly at my bookshelf, (which believe me is crammed full of unread books!), and struggling to find a book which could steal my heart as much as ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ did.
This is quite a bizarre and unexpected turn of events really, considering that Antonia Fraser’s full-length biography of this infamous Scottish queen had actually been sitting patiently on my bookshelf for many years, gathering dust and waiting to be read. To be fair, I have attempted to read this book on numerous occasions throughout the years, but for some unknown reason it never felt like the right time. Maybe it was because I had always been a self-confessed ‘Elizabeth I-fan’ at heart, that reading a biography which openly professes its admiration for the woman whom Elizabeth executed, did not sit well with me entirely?
After years of dismissing this book, hoping desperately that one day I will be able to enjoy it to the full, I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to pick it up again – (don’t ask me why)! Quite possibly it was because I was aware of my upcoming road trip to Scotland… I mean, what better time to read about this Scottish queen than whilst wandering within the heart of her kingdom? There is no denying that trailing around the many rooms where Mary Queen of Scots once lived, combined with my reading of ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser, was incredibly atmospheric and helped to bridge the 400+ year gap.
So you would think that after I FINALLY completed Fraser’s widely-acclaimed work, I would be ecstatic and brimming with a sense of achievement? Sure enough this book not only frustrated me initially, but it is also one heck of a volume! Reaching nearly 800 pages long and examining Mary’s long and turbulent life in immense detail, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser is certainly not a light read. It requires your undivided attention, alongside an all-consuming desire to explore the life and legend that is Mary Queen of Scots. Maybe that is why this book alluded me at first?
Surprisingly though, I found myself feeling rather disappointed when I read the last sentence; disappointed that I would once again have to place this book back on the bookshelf, and no longer become absorbed in its intense and intriguing tale. I fell head-over-heels in love with this book, (and arguably Mary Queen of Scots herself)!
Whilst reading ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser, it became apparent as to why this biography is considered to be THE definitive account of Mary’s life. You follow every episode of Mary’s long and turbulent story, from her swift accession to the Scottish throne and her idyllic childhood in the French court; to her failure in Scotland, her three largely-disastrous marriages, and her eventual imprisonment and execution in hostile England. What’s more, Fraser’s passion for her subject reels you in, and her fascination with this historic heroine inevitably rubs off on you.
From the very beginning, Fraser makes it clear to her readers that she possesses a lifelong admiration for Mary Queen of Scots. The dark slander and evil rumours which surround Mary’s legacy (even to this day!), are quickly and brilliantly dispelled by Fraser due to her thorough and in-depth research. Fraser has the ability to transport you deep into Mary’s world, where 400 years drift away and you encounter Mary’s very words, meet her associates and almost trace her every thought and concern. My perception of this Scottish queen was consequently reconstructed into a more positive light.
Yet despite this obvious love for her subject, Fraser is not afraid to highlight Mary’s flaws in order to uncover an all-too-human individual. Fraser inspires her readers to look at Mary in a three-dimensional aspect. The Queen gradually emerges as a woman who was influenced by her early years, and whom strived to always do the right thing for her country, her allies and her future. Yet this burning ambition to succeed as a acclaimed Queen of Scotland ultimately failed, which Fraser blames on the dark forces that were largely beyond Mary’s her control. She highlights that this Queen appeared destined to become a victim of her beauty, her crown, her sex and her faith. Yes, Mary undoubtedly made some poor decisions during her lifetime and those decisions were to have momentous effects upon her reign and wellbeing. Yet Fraser insists throughout her book that it is incredibly easy to accuse and criticise Mary, when we can all enjoy the luxury of hindsight. When you delve into the chaos of 16th century Europe, and walk alongside Mary side-by-side during the many momentous episodes of her lifetime, readers are encouraged to ask: ‘If we were in Mary’s unique and unprecedented position, would we have acted any differently?’ My answer: probably not…
Seeming as this is the first complete biography of Mary Queen of Scots which I have ever read, Antonia Fraser’s book has been an absolute eye-opening delight. This biography helped me to obtain a clearer understanding of Mary’s personality and plight, which consequently caused me to develop an immense sense of reverence and sympathy for her. For someone who was (and is!) an ‘Elizabeth I-Supporter’ through-and-through, Fraser’s work has done a delightful job in increasing my adoration for her rival Mary. This adoration almost equals that of my love for Elizabeth, (if for very different reasons), which is astounding considering that I have only read the one biography on Mary Queen of Scots! I guess that this is testament to Fraser’s hard work, warm sentiment and engaging manner, that are combined with Mary’s own endearing qualities.
Therefore I highly recommend ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ by Antonia Fraser to everybody! Whether you are a history-buff, a Tudor-lover, a fan of female history, or even a strong Elizabeth I supporter like me, I encourage you all to pick up this book. Within these pages, you will encounter a strong woman who took the 16th-century world by storm. You unearth the tale of a woman who found herself at the centre of many significant episodes in French, Scottish AND English history. You understand how Mary and her legacy transformed the future of the British Monarchy. More importantly, you discover a woman who you can not help but admire and applaud for her devotion, bravery, and even for her relatable flaws.
After reading Mary’s tale in detail, it is unsurprising that this Scottish queen continues to spark much debate and fascination nearly 400 years later. I fear that I would struggle to find a book on Mary Queen of Scots, which would be more insightful or magnetic as Antonia Fraser’s creation. Yet considering that the mystery of Mary Queen of Scots remains to be fully understood, I’m look forward to the many more books which wait to be inspired by the legacy of this incredible lady.
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