Tuesday, November 14


The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots

Man's voice: I think she's dead.
Woman's voice: No I'm not!

(sounds of physical harm and screaming start again.)

Announcer: That was episode two of "The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots", specially adapted for radio by Gracie Fields and Joe Frazier. And now, Radio Four will explode.

~Monty Python's Flying Circus

After reading an abridgement of John Guy's new and rather flamboyantly titled Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, I'm left more and more confused as to truly who Mary quite contrary really was. Guy pretty readily rejects Mary as an outright martyr, calling it a pose or perhaps a psychological prop, but she also doesn't think the gal did in her hubby Lord Darnley. I'm not sure I can be so quick to dismiss her martyr status, but at the same time, I'm not sure whether to affirm it, either. I'd like to think of Mary as a martyr, and as another of that select group of uppity Catholic heroines I revere (Joan and the Catherines of Aragon and Siena, for instance), but it's hard to really get a bead on her true motives.

The court that had her executed was certainly a kangaroo one and the motives that led to her death were inextricably linked to both politics and religion, but the fact of her third marriage to Bothwell being celebrated according to Protestant rites is at least somewhat baffling when it comes to her personal piety. Of course, a long time elapsed between that and her death, and it was a weird time for just about everyone involved. At the very least, her being Catholic didn't help when push came to shove, and you could add her to that vague category of Passion-Bearers and mixed religio-political martyrs that includes Louis XVI, Charles I and the late Tzar Nicholas.

What are we to make of this tragic chameleon? This imperious, strong-willed five-foot-ten beauty (with impeccable fashion sense, an almost theatrical manner and Hollywood leading-lady good looks if her death mask is anything to indicate) alternately cast as the craftiest and most bloodthirsty of Papist agents and the passive, ultimate wronged woman who seemed to have had the worst taste in husbands known to history. Certainly, the first image is more the product of a fevered Tudor imagination, but the second, while closer to the historical record, is even harder to square with her strong will and intense, even rash, personality.

Certainly, she riccocheted wildly between dominating and being dominated by the men in her life, whoever they were. I'm utterly confused, and I'm curious to know what my learned and gentle readers make of her.

So--Mary, Queen of Scots: so good or no good?

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