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Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart Hardcover – April 7, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of Mary Stuart has been told in many contexts (most recently in Elizabeth and Mary), but nowhere has she been defended more rigorously than in this new study. Guy, a fellow at Cambridge University and BBC consultant, describes Mary's formative years in France, but the heart of the book is her short reign in Scotland. Negotiations with Elizabeth Tudor over the succession in England and the shadow of Mary's final fate dominate the narrative, but while Guy effectively establishes that Elizabeth's chief minister William Cecil was Mary's true English enemy, what is most shocking is how suppliant he shows Mary to have been to Elizabeth. The most dramatic moments, however, are supplied by the Scottish nobles, who shifted alliances around her and colluded in kidnappings and assassinations. Though not the first to challenge Mary's femme fatale image, Guy does not even deign to discuss the accusation that she was romantically involved with her Italian secretary Rizzio and convincingly absolves her of involvement in the death of her second husband. He re-examines her actions and choices and offers a lively textual analysis of letters usually used as evidence against her. Yet he does not conclusively argue that she ruled from the head, and, in the end, the question of whether Mary Stuart ruled from her head or her heart appears beside the point. Guy's detailed account of the familial, political and religious machinations of the forces swirling around the queen suggests that it was not flaws in Mary's character but the entire constellation of circumstances that doomed her rule in Scotland and led to her execution. 16 pages of b&w photos.
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From Booklist

Few royal figures from the pages of European history continue to fascinate historian and lay reader alike as much as Mary Stuart, the ill-fated queen of Scots, who has come down to us dressed in the raiment of legend. British historian Guy delves deeply into previously little-mined archival evidence, and, aided by a felicitous style (no drifting into dry lecturing), he arrives not at a whitewash but at a restoration of Queen Mary with respect to the truth about the quality of her character and her performance as monarch. The easiest and quickest way to judge Mary Stuart has always been to compare her to her cousin and fellow queen-sovereign Elizabeth Tudor. Guy, on the other hand, takes Mary on her own terms, seeing as "stereotype" the long-perpetuated concept that Mary "ruled from her heart" while Elizabeth "ruled from the head." Mary's is a complicated story, as were Scottish politics at the time, but Guy explicates the complications--including Mary's marriages, her struggle with the Scottish lords, the murder of her second husband, and her long incarceration and eventual execution in England--with both authority and clear illumination. A major biography. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (April 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618254110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618254118
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #583,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Phillips on May 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mary Stuart was to the manor born, if indeed anyone ever was. She was the daughter of James V of Scotland and the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England. She was raised in the Royal Court of France and was married at sixteen to the heir to the French Throne. Mary's father had died a few days after her birth and she had actually been Queen of Scotland since that time. Her realm was governed however by a regent who was for most of that time Mary's mother, Mary of Guise. The Guise family was a rich and powerful French family and they used young Mary to their advantage whenever they could. This misuse by her mother's family was just to be the beginning of a long series of betrayals that would finally end in Mary's execution.
John Guy has undertaken a huge task with this biography. The well-ingrained image of Mary Queen of Scots is one of a manipulative siren or of a Queen who was well out of her depth or both. Guy has examined many documents that have never been considered before and has reached an entirely different conclusion. In every way she was the equal of her cousin Elizabeth I, and in many ways her better. Mary's problem was that her Kingdom had been divided up by clan loyalties for years and the squabbles among the nobles made for an unruly Kingdom. Add to this the recent arrival of the Reformation in Scotland, and the further division it caused and the situation Mary faced on her return to Scotland was an almost hopeless one. Not phased in the least, Mary jumped right in and even her detractors had to admit that she was doing well. Even the rather unpleasant John Knox had to admit that the Catholic Queen did not lack courage.
Mary's also faced the problem that Scotland was so small and weak.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me the then-new biography of Mary by Lady Antionia Fraser. Growing up in a family of Scots descent, I remember my eagerness to read about the national heroine - and what a disappointment! I couldn't understand how such a flighty girl thought she could run a country between worrying about pretty frocks, decorating castles, and torrid love affairs. Served her right, I thought, to come to such a tawdry end.

Now as an adult, I have an adult's view in 'Queen of Scots'. Discovering Mary's education began reforming her in my eyes. I gained a new understanding of Scottish politics and, not for the first time, deplored the way greed sold the land and people of Scotland to the English time and again. Although I've long admired Elizabeth's resolve, Gee shows she behaved like a 'frail woman' more often than she and her modern spin doctors would like known. Mary is rehabilitated in my eyes, and I find it fitting that the present British monarchy goes through her line and not Elizabeth's.

The book begins and ends with Mary's execution, but that is not the tragedy for which she should be best known. Mary is a heroine because she valiantly tried to put the principles of government she studied as a child in France to use in steering the nation of Scotland into the Renaissance, and establishing it as an equal among the nations of Europe. That the greed of her advisors and political neighbors reduced her to a prisoner, and Scotland to dependency, is a history lesson that should not be forgotten.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this lively biography John Guy has produced a new, thoughtful, and very well researched, portrait of the much maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. He has dug up records that have not been used by historians in over 100 years and for the first time fully reviewed all the original documents relating to the death of her husband Darnley and come up with some very interesting results.

Mary comes across as an intelligent, well educated, politically astute woman when she finally took her place on the throne of Scotland. It's often easy to overlook the fact that for close to 5 years she successfully ruled Scotland and its plotting Lords in her own name before the dramatic events which shaped her eventual fate took place. John Guy successfully puts these years of successful rule in their place and presents a version of the death of her husband Darnley that makes a great deal of sense given the evidence of this event that is still preserved in English archives.

Mary's later captive years are dealt with in less detail, but the plots that eventually bought about her death are presented in with insight and detail. This biography has a lot of new information on Mary, and if you are interested in this complex and tragic historical figure then this book is a must, and it will make you re-think some of the assumptions in earlier biographies.
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Format: Hardcover
John Guy's biogaphy is one of the best works of scholarship I have read in a long time. His book gives us a non-romanticized vision of Mary Queen of Scots, a woman raised in France (and married, briefly -- before being widowed -- , to the dauphin and then king of France). After his death, she returned to Scotland and learned a fast lesson is Scottish Politics. More of a fragmented land of kin groups, revenge and blood feud than anything she encounted in France, Mary coped as best she could.

Guy does not gloss over her disastrous marriages, first to the dissolute Darnley and then to the man who probably assisted in the murder of Darnley, the brutal Bothwell. He does, however, provide a convincing portrait of her stamina, intellect, and will.

Mary has been constantly compared to Elizabeth, but here she comes across as an a woman who acts, whereas Elizabeth seems more of a ditherer, often overbourne by her adviser, Cecil. This may be giving Elizabeth less credit than she deservers, but the new perspective is refreshing.

I found this (long) biography hard to put down. While the opening seems almost formulaic, once Mary is in Scotland, the prose picks up and we are exposed to documents that have had little or no scrutiny in the past. If I have one objection, it is that the wild excitement of the events of Mary's life are sometimes rendered in too factual of a tone. Occasionally, the rainbow of her life is lost in the stones of fact.
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