Saturday, August 22, 2009

There's Something About Mary

Recently I wrote a post about the plethora of books on Henry VIII since The Tudors and the 500th anniversary of his coronation. I've also begun to notice that there have been a spate of books about Mary, Queen of Scots lately, both fiction and non-fiction. What is about the reign of Mary that keeps writers and readers so interested? Is it the murder of Darnley and her subsequent hasty marriage to Bothwell? Her years in imprisonment in England and eventual beheading? Her life is tragic but also kind of sexy compared to Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Mary was Queen of two countries, married three times, the last marriage possibly forced. She was tall, with red hair, and Catholic living in a country where danger lurked behind every corner, not knowing who to trust, living amongst squabbling nobles who refused to bow to a woman as sovereign.

Not only have there been a lot of books, but there was a revival of Schiller's Mary Stuart on Broadway recently with Janet McTeer (magnificent) as Mary and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth. I picked up a book called A Question of Guilt by Julianne Lee at the RWA conference in July in DC. This book is very reminiscent of the great Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time in which a detective, while convalescing examines the evidence against Richard III.

In a Question of Guilt, it is three days after the execution of Mary Stuart and the streets of London are buzing with the news. But not everyone is convinced that the scandalized Queen of Scots was guilty of plotting against her cousin, Elizabeth I - or that she was involved in the murder of her husband, Henry Darnley. Scottish-born Lady Janet de Ros, wife of a wealthy English merchant, thinks the ravishingly beautiful Mary was merely an innocent bystander, betrayed by the machinations of a disloyal court. Determined to uncover the truth, Janet travels from Fotheringhay Castle to Edinburgh to pursue an investigation that could endanger her life - and bring disgrace to her own family.

As Janet investigates, the story is told from the point of view of the people that she is interviewing. Part historical fiction and part mystery, the story is also a portrait of an Elizabethan marriage. Janet risks not just her life but her marriage to her husband Henry to find out the truth.

Philippa Gregory's novel wrote a novel of Mary Queen of Scots called The Other Queen. In September, noted historian Carolly Erickson's book the Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots will be released. Here's a description of the book:

Born Queen of Scotland, married as a girl to the invalid young King of France, Mary took the reins of the unruly king dom of Scotland as a young widow and fought to keep her throne. A second marriage to her handsome but dissolute cousin Lord Darnley ended in murder and scandal, while a third to the dash - ing Lord Bothwell, the love of her life, gave her joy but widened the scandal and surrounded her with enduring ill repute. Unable to rise above the violence and disorder that swirled around her, Mary escaped to England—only to find herself a prisoner of her ruthless, merciless cousin Queen Elizabeth. Here, in her own riveting account, is the enchanting woman whose name still evokes excitement and compassion—and whose death under the headsman’s axe still draws forth our sorrow.

I haven't read Carolly Erickson's historical fiction but I have read many of her biographies over the years, and I'm eager to see what she does with Mary.

A new biography of Mary was also released just this month. I was intrigued by the title 'An Accidental Tragedy.' I haven't read this one yet but the author, Roderick Graham is not only Scottish, educated at Edinburgh University but he was also the producer of Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson, a BBC series that was shown on Masterpiece Theater in the 1970's and is now available on DVD.

There is still supposed to be a major film about Mary starring Scarlett Johansen. I'm hoping that it only concerns itself with Mary's early years up to her imprisonment in England but Scarlett is way too young to be playing the middle-aged Mary, nor does she have the acting chops for the part.

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