By: John Guy

I “borrowed” this book from my mother’s library after her death. She was a well-versed authority on the English monarchy and, frankly, intimidating in any conversation about the subject. On occasion when we did have a discussion on this, I would inevitably put the kings and queens in the wrong chronology and often place them in the wrong century. When I did so, she would sigh and rightly regard me as a hopeless dolt. My mother would certainly be bemused by the fact that I am reviewing this splendid biography of Mary Queen of Scots.

Until this book, published in 2004, history had judged Mary to be the intellectual and emotional inferior to her rival and cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. The author, John Guy, refutes this and portrays Mary as the political equal of Elizabeth. Both monarchs were impressive, but Mary was thrust into an intolerable political and religious circumstance which arguably no monarch could survive. Mary, a Roman Catholic, was undercut by many, including the despicable John Knox, who makes me ashamed of my Presbyterian roots.

Mary’s biggest weakness was her choice of husbands. As a very young lady she wed the sickly Francis II and became the Queen of France. After the death of Francis II she left France for Scotland, where she became queen of the Scots. She then married the dissolute and hideous Robert Darnley, who was then murdered after fathering the future King of England, James VI. Mary was unjustly accused of complicity in Darnley’s murder, ultimately giving Elizabeth I an excuse to imprison her. Shortly before her imprisonment, Mary married the tempestuous Earl of Bothwell, who, ironically, was involved in Darnley’s assassination.

The lengthy confinement of Mary by Elizabeth eroded Mary’s beauty and health. Out of desperation she did participate in a plot to kill Elizabeth. For this treason Elizabeth executed her on February 8, 1587. Mary deserved better.

I am certain that my mother loved this book.

-- Bob Kopf