24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
I always really enjoy reading Weir's books but I've never been impressed by her as a historian, principally because of her very biased and uncritical use of sources. I've found it best to treat her as a historical novelist putting forward an almost fictionalised version of the story she is telling. In this book, she has attempted something a little different from the other books of hers I have read: to untangle a mystery, rather than elucidate a personality as she does in her books on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France. And, sadly, this just serves to foreground and highlight her weaknesses.
While this purports to focus on the murder of Darnley, it's almost impossible to untangle that event from so much else in Mary's life, and so the book also treats their marriage, her possible affair with Bothwell, the murder of Rizzio etc etc. My main criticism is that in her discussion of the sources at the start Weir states she is basing her interpretation on Nau's `official' account, as if this is somehow unbiased and objective reporting. But she also admits that Nau's account probably came to him from Mary when he was acting as her secretary - not so unbiased after all then. How this is more objective than what she calls the `hostile' sources isn't tackled at all.
My second, broader criticism is that Weir appears to believe in her unproblematic ability to uncover, for once and for all, the `truth' of Darnley's murder. In her thought world there appears to be no room for possibilities, probabilities, no nuances and no alternatives - despite the fact people have been arguing over this question ever since it happened over 400 years ago.
And yet despite all this, Weir's Mary is not significantly different from the other Marys who have come down to us through history. As usual, she is irrational, emotional, hysterical - and it never occurs to Weir that this is the standard description and understanding of women in this period (Elizabeth, too, is frequently described in the same terms) based on Galenic physiology which makes women subject to the humours of the womb. Similarly she picks up on a mention of Darnley being `effeminate' and takes a C20th interpretation, postulating that he might have had homosexual tendencies. Later, the same term is used about him again but in relation to his having returned to sharing Mary's bed where it clearly means that he is under a woman's rule, but she doesn't use this to shade her previous interpretation in any way.
Overall this is quite a clumsy book and it doesn't have the same readability of some of her others. For a good popular read on Mary I would still recommend Antonia Fraser's Mary Queen Of Scots which may be old now, but is still far superior both historically and literarily to this.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2003
Befeore I go any further let me say this is a truly excellent book. Having said that I can now be a little more critical. The book essentially splits into 3 parts. An introduction to Mary and the build up to her marriage with Darnley, the marriage to darnley and his murder and finally Mary's imprisonment and execution in England. I think this is a mistake. The book is essentially an in depth study of Darnley's murder. If it had stayed with this area of speciality it could have been reduced from 600 to 450 pages and not lost any if its impetus. We would also had greater focus. The first and third parts are general overviews, whereas the main part of the book is a very detailed account. The two styles sit uneasily with each other.
When we get to the main account of Darnley and his murder from being easy going, the book becomes hard work. It is extremely detailed and often difficult to work out who is who with so many characters entering the plot. However the author writes superbly and manages to tie up this immense level of detail in a highly readable manner. It is extremely well researched and very careful in it's dealings with highly biased source material. Alison's Weir's conclusions on Mary and the murder of Darnley hardly rock the boat, but nevertheless this is a readable and highly detailed account of a most interesting historical event.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The murder of Lord Darnley at Kirk o'Field is one of the most celebrated mysteries in Scottish history, and with Alison Weir being one of the most well-known historians writing today, I was looking forward to reading this.
I've always approached Weir's books with a hefty dose of caution - she's never been shy of 'nailing her colours to the mast' when it comes to her subjects so I was prepared for a certain amount of bias. After all, all history is to a certain extent conjecture; we can never truly know what happened, only assemble a plausible story based on the evidence available to us. Weir certainly relies very heavily on primary sources, which is to be applauded, although I did find endlessly reading large chunks of arcanely-written letters and documents very quickly became tedious.
Without being more familiar with this era in history, I can hardly claim to be aware of sources ignored or refuted unfairly, facts presented in a specific light - but it doesn't require any level of familiarity to be aware that right from the beginning Weir is presenting the whys and wherefores of this whodunnit with the aim of exonerating Mary, and this necessarily requires a certain amount of accepting as fact something which just cannot be known - such as Archibad Douglas' role in the murder of Darnley. Weir repeatedly presents him as the man who actually did the deed, as those who plotted, planned, schemed, were present etc. But this simply cannot be taken as fact, there are so many conflicting reports and tales, and it is impossible at this remove to ever know exactly what happened as fact, just as it impossible to definitively convict or exonerate Mary.
Page after page of speculation presented as fact proved wearing, and I found this book a slog. It was a relief to finish it, although I can't honestly say I feel any more enlightened about Mary, Darnley, the murder or this period in Scottish history. Events were so complicated and convoluted that I very quickly became confused and remained that way for most of the book. My one consolation is that events must have been equally as confusing for those participating in them, but that doesn't make for easy reading centuries on!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2012
I have not read quite all of Ms Weir's books but I've read most of them. As I have written before, on these pages, she is responsible for getting me interested in Tudor history in the first place, many years ago.
On the whole I have found her books to be very readable and, despite what others have written, in my view, learned and authoritative.
Whilst I had naturally picked up a good deal of knowledge about Mary, Queen of Scots, from other books, I had not, hitherto, read a full biography of her life. I possess Antonia Fraser's book on Mary but this is one of the very few books, in fact I think the only book, in a very extensive Tudor collection, that I have never managed to read. One day I must attempt it again. But, in the meantime, this Weir effort is my first. I now realise it was not a good choice as a first.
It is very hard reading indeed being emersed in extreme detail that I had great difficulty in presevering with. I managed it, just, but I was left wishing I had started on a more general biography rather than one focusing in so much detail on the murder of Darnley.
Of course I knew that the Darnley episode was the fulcrum of this book - the subtitle makes this clear - but I nonetheless expected rather more on the rest of her life - especially in the latter period of her life when she was under house arrest in England.
Consequently I was a bit disappointed; but my main point would be that this was nothing like as readable as the other Weir books that I have read and, for that reason alone, I cannot not find it in myself to recommend it except perhaps to someone looking for an in depth analysis of the murder of Lord Darnley.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2004
I have read all of Alison Weir's books to date, and some of them (The Six Wives of Henry V111, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Wars of the Roses) several times, but this one is a real marathon. The wealth of detail with regard to the murder of Darnley makes for some very hard going, and in the end I found I really didn't care exactly who had killed him! Page after page of speculation eventually made me lose interest. This is the first time I have given Ms Weir less than a 5-star rating. Hopefully this is a one-off and we will soon see a return to her readable, much more approachable style. If you're a student of this period, looking for some answers, then perhaps this is the book for you. It's not for me - too much speculation makes for a boring read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2008
This book is essentially an exploration and 'whodunnit' of the murder of Mary, Queen of Scot's second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, rather than a biography of Mary herself.
Mary was certainly an interesting and tragic figure.
The book itself is essentially a very interesting expose, and Weir certainly has researched her work and presented her conclusions as to the evidence painstakingly well.
The first three chapters of this work are concerned with Mary's early life, her growing up in the French court where she was sent to be educated.
Weir touches on the moral laxity of the French court, which she actually go's as far as to refer to as a "moral cesspit: in which Mary was "exposed from an early age to it's promiscuity and corruption".
Interestingly there are two paintings that show the teen aged Mary, later to be Queen of France, in the nude.
In 1558 the 16 year old Mary was married to the Dauphin who succeeded his father as Francis II the following year.
When Francis died in 1560, his mother, the vindictive Catherine de Medici, made it clear that Mary was no longer welcome at the French court, so she returned to her native Scotland, where John Knox was playing a dominant role. The Reformation was in full swing but Mary made no attempt to interfere with the new religion, merely insisting that she was to be free to worship as a Catholic.
At this stage she had the peoples support.
Renowned for her beauty, she was charming, intelligent and talented but she was surrounded by vicious and scheming lords, hungry for power, and got caught up in their intrigues and plots. She never had a trustworthy and wise counsellor, like her cousin Elizabeth, to whom she could turn for advice.
After a number of princes were considered for her, she eventually agreed to marry her cousin Lord Darnley, the nearest heir after her to the thrones of Scotland and England. Beneath his courtly veneer, Darnley was spoiled, wilful, petulant, immature, spiteful, arrogant and uncouth.
He seems to have had bisexual tendencies, and Weir premises that he had a homosexual relationship with the Italian courtier and Mary's secretary, David Rizzio.
Weir provides evidence that he suffered from syphilis.
Furthermore there is evidence that Mary's bouts of ill health were the result of attempted poisoning.
Darnley was a key player, perhaps manipulated by a cabal of lords, in the assassination of Rizzio.
Of course the main of the book involves Darnley's murder and who was responsible. I do believe that Mary was innocent and that her relationship with Bothwell does not in any way implicate her in Darnley's assassination.
It is records of meetings with other lords that seem to incriminate Bothwell.
Nonetheless Darnley had deeply unpopular figure and was miraculously rehabilitated after his death, only his youth and his cruel end remembered. His own crimes and cruelty were forgotten. Ironically, he a Catholic who had plotted the overthrow of the Protestant establishment became a figurehead after his death in the propaganda campaign by Protestant Lords against Mary and Bothwell.
Many later came to see how badly Mary had been calumniated.
While Weir's detailed proof that the casket letters were forged, can be tedious to read, it is a vital part of Weir's detective work in proving Mary's innocence.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2012
Alison Weir's in depth research is evident in the reading of this book. It is not a book for you if you are looking for the romantic tale of the delightful young woman whom history has abused. Mary comes accross as having similar human frailties to ordinary women of today. She made bad decisions and had to live with them. Alison Weir does a good job of helping the reader to understand and remember the very different mores of a time when monarchs were believed to be divine, but were surrounded by sycophants. Despite her excellent research, there is, of course, no easy answer to Mary's level of involvement in Darnley's murder; you can decide for yourself what you believe to be the balance of probabilities.
on 28 January 2013
When I pick up an Alison Weir book I know that I'm in for a good time (this is my 4th book by Weir in a row. The others: The Princes in the Tower, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Wars of the Roses). This time I settled into the cockpit of my sailboat with her MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS. I've read a lot of books on Mary and Elizabeth, her contemporary and nemesis, but not for the love of their eyes (as the French say, of whom I am one). Mary is of little real interest and Elizabeth too vain and indecisive. Even the times during which they lived lacked excitement. Leonardo Il Magnifico is dead. Charles VIII is no longer around for his twice-daily romp with a different woman. The greats, Henry II and Henry V, have exited life's stage. Magellan has already discovered a sea route around the world and Marco Polo China. There was even greater intrigue in Henry VIII's humping than in these two queens, neither of whom possessed the force of character of a Catherine de' Medici; a Margaret d'Anjou, the wife of the ridiculous Henry VI; a fabulous Eleanor d'Aquitaine; and the incredible Caterino Sforza. Perhaps I'm drawn to Raleigh's adventurousness or Darnley's assassination and the murder of Rizzio (during which I learned, for the first time, that a gun had been pointed at Mary's womb, containing the future king of England, James I, but misfired!). Weir describes Mary's husband, Darnley, as grossly uncouth, exceedingly handsome, promiscuous and sexually ambivalent (another source says that Rizzio liked to be sodomized by the big Darnley). At 6 feet 3 Darnley was incredibly tall, as was Mary at 6 feet. Weir offers us a truly unbelievable painting showing Mary and the sexually ambivalent Darnley side by side; one has to study the painting assiduously to tell which is which (so help me God!). At the end of the book came the final harrowing scene between the two women, Mary and Elizabeth, not unlike that between Davis and Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
But I'm being ridiculously judgmental. These two queens, Mary and Elizabeth, certainly had a hell of a more exciting life than I do on my gently bobbing boat. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This was rather dry and considerably too long. It is my least favourite Alison Weir book. But, on the positive side, it is very well researched and extremely, indeed exhaustively, detailed. I find it mostly convincing in its central thesis that Mary did not procure Darnley's death, but I think she showed her customary lack of judgement in trusting others not to kill him and displayed in general reckless naivety and plain unfitness to rule. Indeed, she is a classic example of the weakness of the hereditary principle of monarchy. So my sympathy for Mary is rather more narrowly focused than Weir's description of her as one of the most wronged women in history.
on 4 July 2012
Alison Weir aims to revisit the murder of Lord Darnley and decides 'whodunit' - this is a real historical murder mystery. Much blame is traditionally cast towards Mary Queen of Scots, Darnley's wife, but Weir concludes that Mary has been the victim of a character assassination through the ages and is "one of the most wronged women in history". This is over-stepping the mark slightly - while the evidence against Mary is flawed in many ways, there is little doubt that she was a shrewd schemer who plotted against both Darnley and Elizabeth I - Mary was certainly not a naïve innocent caught up in events like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Weir takes us on a long slog through the evidence and as such this book is not as readable as might be hoped, her argument might carry more weight if it was more concise and focused. But for a person willing to put time and effort into it, this is a rewarding book.