Synopses & Reviews
The haunting story of the beautiful—and tragic—Mary, Queen of Scots, as only legendary novelist Jean Plaidy could write it
Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland at the tender age of six days old. Her French-born mother, the Queen Regent, knew immediately that the infant queen would be a vulnerable pawn in the power struggle between Scotlands clans and nobles. So Mary was sent away from the land of her birth and raised in the sophisticated and glittering court of France. Unusually tall and slim, a writer of music and poetry, Mary was celebrated throughout Europe for her beauty and intellect. Married in her teens to the Dauphin François, she would become not only Queen of Scotland but Queen of France as well. But Marys happiness was short-lived. Her husband, always sickly, died after only two years on the throne, and there was no place for Mary in the court of the new king. At the age of twenty, she returned to Scotland, a place she barely knew.
Once home, the Queen of Scots discovered she was a stranger in her own country. She spoke only French and was a devout Catholic in a land of stern Presbyterians. Her nation was controlled by a quarrelsome group of lords, including her illegitimate half brother, the Earl of Moray, and by John Knox, a fire-and-brimstone Calvinist preacher, who denounced the young queen as a Papist and a whore. Mary eventually remarried, hoping to find a loving ally in the Scottish Lord Darnley. But Darnley proved violent and untrustworthy. When he died mysteriously, suspicion fell on Mary. In haste, she married Lord Bothwell, the prime suspect in her husbands murder, a move that outraged all of Scotland. When her nobles rose against her, the disgraced Queen of Scots fled to England, hoping to be taken in by her cousin Elizabeth I. But Marys flight from Scotland led not to safety, but to Fotheringhay Castle...
“Plaidy excels at blending history with romance and drama.” —New York Times
The author follows the tragic character of Mary, Queen of Scots, from the charming child-queen who longed for excitement through a tumultuous and tragic adulthood. Mary stood at the center of political intrigues and in the sights of dangerous rivals, but her understanding of her court and the world lends a heartwarming aspect to this tale of power, peril, and love.
About the Author
Jean Plaidy, one of the preeminent authors of historical fiction for most of the twentieth century, is the pen name of the prolific English writer Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote under the names Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr. By the time of her death in 1993, the Jean Plaidy novels had sold more than fourteen million copies worldwide.
Reading Group Guide
From the time she was a child, Mary Stuart knew she was Queen of Scotland–and would someday rule as such. But before she would take the throne, she would spend her childhood in the court–and on the throne–of France. There she would fall under the influence of power-hungry relatives, develop a taste for French luxury and courtly manners, challenge the formidable Queen of England and alienate the Queen-Mother of France, and begin to learn her own appeal as a woman and her role as a queen.
When she finally arrived back in Scotland, Mary’s beauty and regal bearing were even more remarkable than they had been when she left as the child-queen. Her charming manner and eagerness to love and be loved endeared her to many, but were in stark contrast to what she saw as the rough manners of the Scots. Her loyalty to Catholicism also separated her from her countrymen, many of whom were followers of the dynamic and bold Protestant preacher John Knox. Though she brought with her French furnishings and companions to make her apartments into a “Little France,” she would have to rely on the Scottish Court–a group comprised of her half brother, members of feuding Scottish clans, and English spies–to educate her in the ways of Scottish politics. However wise or corrupt her advisors, however, Mary often followed the dictates of her own heart–to her own peril.
1. What do you think of her mother’s decision to send Mary to France? Were her childhood there and her marriage to François useful in strengthening her claim to Scotland and England’s throne or detrimental to it? Did the power of Guise and Loraine help her in Scotland? How do you think Mary–as a queen and as a woman–would have been different had she remained in Scotland as a child?
2. After the death of her young husband François, Mary realizes “love which she only knew went so deep since she had lost him.” Is this feeling brought about by the end of a romantic love and soulmate, or the loss of an old and dear friend? Is she more moved by the change in her stature in the Court and her uncertain future, or by the end of the relationship that had sustained it?
3. François once complained, “My mother loves me because I am the King; she loves Charles because, if I die, he will be King.” Mary tried to comfort him, but there is some truth to his understanding of the Court’s affection for power over people. Is Mary mindful of this in her own court in Scotland? Who do you think is truly loyal to Mary, and who only interested in her power?
4. Do you think that the Cardinal’s relationship with Mary ever crossed a line of impropriety? How did he maintain control over Mary?
5. What do you make of Mary’s three husbands: the weak but kind François, the deceptive and romantic Darnley, and the rough and virile Bothwell? What do the differences between them say about Mary’s changing understanding of herself, her role as Queen, and the role of love in her life? Does she ever understand true love?
6. There are a number of strong women in Mary’s life: her own mother, Catherine de Medici, Diane, Queen Elizabeth. What does Mary learn from them, if anything? Why does she rely so heavily on men for guidance?
7. Why does Mary refuse to renounce her claims to the English throne when she has so little interest in governing? Is this pride or ignorance?
8. During her time in Scotland, it is always uncertain to what degree Mary can trust the men around her, who seem foremost driven by their own ambitions. With whom do you think she should have allied herself in the Scottish Court?
9. Is John Knox correct that Mary’s weakness is tolerance? Discuss the way she dealt with Knox’s challenges. Was she strong enough in her response? Should she have tried to work closely with him? Exiled him from Scotland? How does she understand his role in Scotland?
10. Is there a guiding principle to Mary’s reign in Scotland? How does her rule there relate to her reign as Queen of France? What could she hope to gain by ruling England, as well?
11. Plaidy writes that Elizabeth was ruled by ambition and Mary by emotion. If they had met at the border as Mary wished, how would this meeting have played out? Why was Elizabeth reluctant to meet her?
12. In cases of torture or harsh punishments–such as when traitors are hanged in France or slaves on her ship are whipped–Mary sometimes strongly objects and makes a bold stand to stop it. But when traitors are drawn and quartered in Scotland, Plaidy writes that Mary “could not prevent it.” Why could she not prevent it? Is this a sign of her growing ineffectuality as she falls deeper in love with Bothwell, or is she beginning to see the truth of Catherine’s warning: “Your Majesty will never know how to reign if you do not learn how to administer justice”?
13. Mary finds herself feeling and behaving most like a queen when faced with conflict and danger. Does she encourage such moments or avoid them? What does it mean to her to be regal?
14. How do the differences between her French upbringing and her Scottish homeland contribute to Mary’s downfall? Does she act the way she does because she believes her behavior would be accepted in the French court, or has she determined to set her own rules in Scotland? How much is her imprisonment and death a result of her own actions, and how much is she a victim of her situation?