Thursday, June 07, 2012

Born to Be Wild: The Wild Queen--The Days and Nights of Mary Queen of Scots by Caroline Meyer

"I was the cause of my father's death.

My father had badly wanted a son who could be the next king. When he married my mother, a French duchess, he already had three illegitimate sons, but by law a bastard could not inherit the Scottish throne. My mother bore him two more sons; both infants died. I was my father’s last hope, and when the news reached him of the birth of a lass—a girl—that bitter disappointment was more than he could endure. Had I been a boy, he would still be alive.

From my earliest days I have too often found myself at the center of disastrous events. That was the first. My birth killed my father, and I became queen of Scotland."

This dramatic story, likely apocryphally attributed to the anti-feminist John Knox, embodies the perils of constructing historical accounts of early queens, about whom what is known must be regarded as questionable, written as it in the interests of enemies and succesors. Nevertheless, it is believable that this Queen Mary felt herself born under a dark star, but a woman with a mission to preserve her embattled realm.

Crowned Queen of Scotland as a nine-month's old babe, the only legal heir to the throne, Mary's French mother quickly had her betrothed to young Prince Edward, heir to the throne of Henry VIII in hopes of preventing an English invasion and takeover of Scotland. But when little Edward died, Mary's mother, a member of the powerful Guise family in France, then sought a new alliance, betrothing her to Francoise, Dauphin of France, two years her junior. While her mother remained in Scotland to rule as regent for the child queen, at the age of five, Mary was dispatched to the court of Henry II to be educated and prepared to be the queen of France. Mary became Marie, quickly learned French, became a favorite of the King of France, and enjoyed the support of her Guise grandparents and uncles, and she and the delicate Dauphin became close, more like big sister and little brother than future consorts.

Mary and the still immature Francois were married in 1558. Marie gloried in the role of queen of two countries, but when her frail child-husband died suddenly, young Mary found herself in the powerless role of the virgin dowager Queen of France. To escape the swirling and dangerous politics of the French court and rumors of a forced marriage to the various eligible royalty of Europe, Mary boldly took matters in her own hands and determined to return to Scotland to rule as Queen of Scots.

But Queen Mary found herself equally imperiled by the religious and power politics of Britain. As a devout Roman Catholic, she had a powerful enemy in both John Knox, the extreme Calvinist leader in her own country, and in her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, herself equally threatened by Catholic factions within the nobility of England. Realizing that she needed a powerful consort to help her control her own warring nobility, Mary finally married her twenty-year-old cousin, the bold and handsome Henry Stuart, who had the virtue, at over six feet, of being slightly taller than the regal Mary, and the vice of being already a notorious womanizer. The passionate marriage, which resulted in the birth of one son, James, soon turned into a battle royal, a miniature version of the state of the country itself.

When Henry Stuart's residence was blown up and he was found dead in the garden, the rumors flew that Mary had had him murdered. The country was split along lines of blood loyalty and religion, and unable to regain control, Mary first sought support in a hasty marriage with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, but was eventually forced to flee to England, petitioning the protection of her cousin Elizabeth. Feeling threatened by the loyalties to Mary of English Catholics and Mary's own claim to the throne of England as the legitimate great-granddaughter of England's Henry VIII, Elizabeth had her imprisoned and finally after eighteen years confined in the Tower of London, and, finally tried for the murder of her husband Henry Stuart, Mary was dramatically beheaded in 1587.

Carolyn Meyer's forthcoming The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), is the latest in her notable and best-selling The Young Royals series, skillfully building a taut, engrossing piece of historical fiction out of the known and legendary events of this doomed queen's life. As in the lives of modern women leaders, young adult readers cannot help but come to a deeper understanding of the gender, marital, social, and religious politics which shaped the rule and fate of this early female ruler and the parallel story of her cousin and sometimes enemy Elizabeth I of England. Both red-haired, intelligent, and strong willed, these women played a pivotal roles in the beginnings of the modern era and all that came after, and Meyer's The Wild Queen, in its gripping style and historical veracity, (insofar as that is possible) sheds much light upon the forces that faced these young royals and shaped the western world.

Ironically, this Mary, as one of the two queens of this era of Britain, has the last word in history: Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, having died without issue, Mary's son, James, as the only legitimate heir, succeeded her as King James I of the now united kingdom, which ensured that Mary, Queen of Scots, became the direct progenitor of British monarchs to this day.

Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals books include the stories of Mary's cousin, Mary, Bloody Mary,of her French mother-in-law, Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici (Young Royals), and of that other doomed French queen whose forced political marriage resulted in great historical changes, The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette. Like these earlier works, Meyer includes an appendix with sources for further study on Mary, Queen of Scots.

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  • Thank you for the thorough explanation of the background and for your very positive comments about my book!

    Carolyn Meyer

    By Blogger Carolyn, at 11:41 AM  

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