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.
4 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?