The prolific Scottish historian Alison Weir, in her new book Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley
, grapples painstakingly with a mystery that has dogged history for centuries.
At midnight on February 9 1567, a violent explosion ripped apart Kirk oField, the Edinburgh residence of Lord Darnley, the 20-year-old King and second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. His unmarked body was found lying under a tree, together with that of his valet. The cause of his death and its perpetrators have remained obscured since that night, though Mary was a prime suspect in her husband's murder. Her apparent apathy regarding the murder investigation was regarded with deep suspicion but more incriminating were the infamous "Casket" letters, said to have been written by her to her lover Lord Bothwell, the supposed architect of Darnleys assassination. Yet if Mary had good reasons for wanting her (Catholic) husband dead, then so had much of Scottish nobility.
Using contemporary evidence Weir argues exhaustively that the letters could have been the work of forgers employed by Protestant lords "laying snares for the queen". Sympathetic to Elizabeth I, intent on justifying Mary's subsequent imprisonment and forcing her abdication, the prospect of a young foreign Catholic queen, unversed in diplomacy, refusing a Protestant alliance through marriage was anathema to the Scottish lords. Weir's book claims that Marys fate was sealed as much by the country of which she was monarch as by Elizabethan England.
Alison Weirs carefully researched addition to the wealth of material on the myth and reality of Mary Queen of Scots is too long, at 600 pages, but nevertheless makes for a thoughtful, scholarly and compelling read. --Catherine Taylor
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"Conspiracy, treason, perjury, and forgery, along with . . . political assassination, and several deadly sins . . . While Ms. Weir does not stint on the sensational details, she is above all a historian and dogged researcher. She sifts through sources, which were often compromised, and thinks like a forensics expert." --"The Wall Street Journal" "One of the most intriguing murder mysteries in European history . . . No stone is left unturned in Weir's investigation, and . . . her book is as dramatic as witnessing firsthand the most riveting court case." --"Booklist" (boxed and starred review) "The finest historian of English monarchical succession writing now is Alison Weir. . . . Her assiduousness and informed judgment are precisely what make her a writer to trust." --"The Boston Globe" "Alison Weir has perfected the art of bringing history to life." --"Chicago Tribune"