43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2004
I have been fascinated by Mary, Queen of Scots, since I first heard about her in a history lesson when I was about 9 years old. I was very shocked by the fact that she was executed, partly because she was a queen and partly because she was a woman. I felt that her fate was so unfair and have never come across anything to change that vivid first impression.
I loved this book about her. Antonia Fraser really brings her subject to life, truly a 3 dimensional portrait painted in words. This book is so full of detail, none of which feels unnecessary. There is no skipping bits because they are dull and/or irrelevant. I also got the impression that Antonia Fraser liked her subject, that she too had at some time felt distressed that this woman met such a horrible end, the culmination of a life spent largely in captivity. The author does a splendid job of conveying the frustration of Mary's position as a "guest" of Queen Elizabeth I.
This book is interesting and well-written. I find that even the most interesting history books and/or biographies often have dry sections that I skim but that wasn't the case at all with this particular book. There are long discussions of the moral and political issues surrounding Mary's captivity but they are written in such a way that they engage the reader. In some ways the author had a head start, given the subject matter. Even the bare bones of Mary's story are interesting but Antonia Fraser has certainly doen her subject justice.
I think this is one of the best historical biographies I have ever read. The subject comes alive and almost jumps out of the book. By the end of this book I felt like I had known Mary all my life and overall my impression of her was favourable. The detailed description of her last moments was difficult to read such was my sympathy for the vital woman described by the author. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in Mary, Queen of Scots. I have read many good books by Antonia Fraser but this one, to my mind, stands head and shoulders above the rest.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2002
Antonia Fraser tackles the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, in this excellent biography. Written originally in the late sixties this book details every twist and turn in the fateful Queens life. Not only does it give step by step accounts of those famous episodes in Mary's life - her 3 marriages, 2 widowhoods, incarceration by Elizabeth I and execution - but it gives the reader an insight into Mary herself. After reading this book I feel that I know a lot more about Mary's personal thoughts and what exactly made her the person she was. This is mainly in part to the excellent research by the author but the way this is brought into an easily readable script makes this book compelling without being too heavy as some big historical biographies can be. I honestly cannot believe that any other biography on Mary would better this one and for that reason alone recoomend it to anyone interested in her life. However even if, as I did, you thought you knew her story I would still recommend the book as it is a cracking good story, kept at a good pace throughout that it reads like an historical novel.
There are plenty of pictures to aid the text (although a map would of been a plus - to show locations of some the events in her life) and I learnt that Crichton castle, near where my brother used to live, has a part to play in her story which surprised me.
A must read.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2002
Fantastic amount of information. How did she manage to put it all together in the 1960s, before the days of word processors? But it's not an easy read, because the politics of Mary's time were complicated and it's hard to tell one of the Protestant lords from another if you don't know something about the period before you start. She does manage to bring Mary to life, though, without doing too much of the 'Mary must have thought...' or 'It probably occurred to her', which is the downfall of lesser biographers. I like the way she gets faintly exasperated by her heroine without ever falling out of sympathy with her. It makes a change from so many biographers nowadays, who devote themselves to debunking their subjects. All in all, very impressive.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2002
A very detailed yet sympathetic (for the reader) book. It offers a great deal of information while refusing to be bogged down in description. It moves away from the simply scandalous view of Mary's life to show a much more understanding (but still detailed) view of her life. And it's easy to read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2001
This book is a masterpiece of scholarly work, it is also one of the most moving and compelling books I have ever read. Antonia Fraser takes you to the heart of Mary, Queen of Scots and into the heart of darkness which is 16th century intrigue. This book brings history to life and you cannot fail to be stirred as the tragic and romantic tale is unfolded. History presented and written straight from the heart, read this book and take it straight to your heart. I did.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2010
I shall keep this review brief as previous reviewers have covered the pros, and cons, of this book. All in all, I enjoyed the biography. I have never read a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots before and here Antonia Fraser provides a thorough study of this unfortunate queen. The book is immensely readable (as are all of Fraser's books I have read so far), scholarly and passionate. Fraser is probably a bit too partisan and pro-Mary in some parts, and does seem to excuse, or skirt over, some of Mary's obvious flaws. Was Mary really innocent in the Babington Plot? Although it's obvious she was set up by Francis Walsingham and co, she must have known, or worked out, that her freedom obviously meant the assassination of Elizabeth I. Similarly, I refuse to believe that Mary had no inkling of the plot against Darnley at the Kirk o'Field, and if she didn't, she was very naive.
On the whole though, I tend to agree with Fraser's sympathetic portrait of Mary Stuart. I felt that, despite her flaws as a ruler of Scotland (with its admittedly mind-boggling religious/political factions) and her possible role in Darnley's death, that she did not deserve to be imprisoned in England for 19 years, or to be executed following a rigged trial and being set up. Her execution was in any case illegal, as Mary was not a subject of Elizabeth but a queen in her own right.
In summary, I would recommend this book. Watch out for the typos though.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mary Queen of Scots is an iconic figure, a life full of romance and tragedy whose shadow still falls across us today. The rallying point for English revolutionaries, at the centre of conspiracies whether she knew of them or not, imprisoned for much of her life, hers is a fascinating story. Over the centuries many myths have grown up around her and it is often difficult to discern the truth from the myth.
This is Antonia Fraser's first book, and it is a masterpiece. Even at this early stage in her career she shows the two qualities which make her my favourite historian to read - her thoroughness of research and her beautiful writing style.
Fraser appears to have read every single available document, been to every relevant location and talked to every relevant historian in writing this book. It is comprehensive to say the least. Evidence is carefully weighed and discussed, and a picture of Mary the person and her true story begins to emerge. As well as discussing just Mary herself, Fraser takes the time to start the book off with a précis of her family history and sets the scene of the situation Mary was born into - politically and social.
The book necessarily contains a huge `cast' of characters. Fraser has a knack of writing pen portraits of each that makes the person stick in the mind. The history of each person is briefly discussed so as to give the reader a idea of their relevance to the story. It is so clearly and well written that it is easy to follow, despite the complexity of the events being described and the vast array of people populating the story. It is a rare gift, and one that Fraser uses to great advantage in all of her books that I have read to date.
My only slight criticism (and one that she comments on herself in the introduction to the 40th anniversary edition) is that there are many phrases and quotes in French. This is necessary, as Mary was half French and used the language regularly, but much of it is totally beyond my schoolboy French. As a result, just occasionally the point Fraser was trying to make was lost to me as I could not understand the quote. Footnotes with translations would be appreciated!
In short this is an eminently readable, authoritative and yet entertaining book about an important figure in the history of Scotland and England. Do not be put off by the length, I for one got completely lost in this and seemed to finish it in all too short a time. It is totally adsorbing. Five stars.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2009
Mary Queen Of Scots The first time I read this book was in 1973 when I was 16 years old. I was enthralled with Mary's story and read this book several times over the years along with every other biography of her I could find. I still find Antonia Fraser's bio to be the best. I thought it meticulously researched and very "readable." I loved it when I was a teenager and I still love it now...
Several years ago a company called Papillion Creations produced a Mary Queen of Scots sampler chart (still in print at this time)that I stitched because of my passion for anything related to her, it is a version of this sampler that is pictured on the cover of this 40th anniversary edition.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2012
The life story of Mary Queen of Scots, is tragic and intriguing.
Written first in 1972-This is certainly the definitive biography of Mary Queen of Scots, still an indispensable tool in understanding and researching the last Roman Catholic ruler of Scotland, and a remarkable women in her own right-together with the other magnificent volume on Mary of Scots by Alison Weir, although the latter examines more thoroughly the assassination of Darnley and Mary's innocence in that affair.
Every period and every aspect of Mary's life is painstakingly investigated, the evidence put together and thoroughly discusses. Every figure who took part in the vents around Mary's life and reign is in fact analyzed. But the author manages to write in a way which is still engaging and keeps the reader's concentration.
The daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, was born while her father lay dying after the disaster of Solway Moss. A queen when a week old she was sent to France when she was a child of six, and at sixteen she was married to the Dauphin, who succeeded his father as Francis II in the following year. When Francis dies in 1560, his mother, 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 should be free to worship as a Catholic. At this stage she had the people's support. Renowned for her beauty,she was charming, intelligent and talented, but she was less fortunate than her cousin Elizabeth, for she never had a wise councillor to whom she could turn for advise. After considering several princes as a husband, she finally chose her cousin Lord Darnley , the nearest heir after her to the thrones of England and Scotland. Darnley soon proved to be a malicious and arrogant weakling and Mary, who soon came to despise him, gave her confidence to her Italian Secretary Riccio. On 9 March 1566, Darnley and his friends murdered Riccio in Mary's presence, but she briefly reconciled to him, and her son James (later James VI of Scotland and James I of England) was born in the June of that year. A few months later, Darnley fell ill and was lodged in a house near Ediburgh , which on 10 February, 1567 was blown up, and Darnley was found dead in the garden. Suspicion fell on the Earl of Bothwell, a new favourite of the queen, but he was acquitted by a court that was overawed by his armed followers.
After this he captured Mary, carried her off to Dunbar and married her. The Scottish people, were horrified to learn that the Queen had married the man belived to be her husband's murderer and isnitigated by John Knox, demanded her removal. The nobles would not support her and her army melted away so on 24 July she abdicated in favour of her son, James. In the following year, she escaped from her island prison, but defeated by the Regent Moray at Langside, she fled to England to seek the protection of Queen Elizabeth. She found herself in facta prisoner for the rest of her life, since Elizabeth regarded it as too dangerous for Mary to remain at liberty, the focus of Catholic hopes for revolution. POlt followed polt and it was finally alleged that Mary had agreed to the assasination of Elizabeth. True or not, she was tried and sentenced to deathm but it was some time, before Elizabeth could be persuaded to sign the warrant of execution. Eventually she did so and on February 8 1587 Mary was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle, Worn out by illness and the strain of nineteen years imprisonment she met her death with matchless strength and dignity.
The author makes no secret of her sympathy for Mary but motivates well as to the reasons and dismisses the propaganda at the time used against Mary and before that her mother, Mary of Guise, by the vindictive and fanatical John Knox, who Fraser describes quite convincingly as loathsome.
She describes the events around the murder of Riccio, the assassination of Darnley, the capture of Mary by and her elopement with Boswell, and the author particularly impressively describes Mary's 19 years in England as a captive of Queen Elizabeth I. She absolves Mary of involvement in plots against the life of Elizabeth but makes clear about Mary's determination to free herself from captivity.
Fraser had examined thousands of authentic documents and letters which went into researching this biography.
Fraser has examined Mary's health during her captivity and reveals her findings that Mary likely suffered from porphyria, which her descendant George III was diagnosed with. Earlier in the book Fraser describes the likelihood that Darnley was suffering from syphilis at the time he was killed.
Fraser weight the evidence for and against Mary and finds that she was a victim of those with sinister machinations of both those who hated her and wanted her destroyed such as and those who wanted her to replace Elizabeth.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A magnificent biography of a woman who still courts controversy 400 years after her death. Fraser's biography is immensely sympathetic to Mary, and all the more readable for that. She has researched every aspect of Mary's life and times, I believe she visited every place associated with her while researching the book, and this attention to detail is obvious in every sentence. I've read this book at least half a dozen times and it is one of my favourite biographies. Fraser manages to make the politics of the French court and the Scottish nobility intelligible (especially important when every Scottish lord seems to be called James, Duke of Mar, Moray, Morton etc etc). The portrait of Queen Elizabeth during Mary's long captivity highlights her struggle with the daughter of debate, as Mary was called. Beautifully written, full of insights and intelligent interpretations of the facts, this is an outstanding biography.