I’m in love. I wasn’t expecting it, or looking for it, but it just…happened. Sort of. She’s a wonderful woman: kind, gracious, feeling with a consciousness of her own and human dignity, in fact she has a positively regal bearing. There’s only one drawback; she’s dead. Dead these past 425 years. No one said relationships were easy. Posthumous ones have certain advantages though.
I’ve been reading Antonia Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s a very good book, an extremely enjoyable and interesting read which has kept me hooked. Its vivid descriptions of key moments in Mary’s life are exciting and at times very moving. I had no idea that her life was anywhere near as dramatic as it was. Everyone knows about the murder of Darnley and her imprisonment and execution in England, but I for one didn’t know about the several revolts she had to quell from her fickle and treacherous nobility, her riding in battle to encourage her troops, nor her extremely daring, and at times comical, escape from Lochleven and triumphant ride through the Scottish countryside, and there’s a lot more.
Not only are the outward events startling, but Mary herself is beguiling: her sense of beauty, her love of joy and culture, her graciousness and judiciousness, her compassion combined with thoughtfulness present a captivating portrait. Her reputation has been tarnished by accusations of being central to plots usurping Elizabeth I and restoring Catholicism to England, and she certainly did want to escape her unlawful imprisonment by any means. However, it should be noted that the first action in these attempted dethronements was initiated by a jealous Elizabeth herself who gave £1000 to plotting Scottish Lords. Mary was more concerned about being released and re-established as Queen.
During the reading of the book I started to find Scotland a much richer place. Obviously, in Scotland, we’re lucky in that you can hardly go over a hill without some bit of history being nearby, but the drama of the story, the vividness of the human beings portrayed presented me with a richer, deeper Scotland. I went to Carberry Hill, the hill where Mary took leave of Bothwell for the last time – they didn’t love each other – and handed herself over to the rebellious nobles. The hill where the Scottish army lined-up to fight the English at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, before succumbing to their habitual defeat and the glorious decimation of their ruling class. And it was a greater, richer and fascinating experience due to my recently ascertained knowledge; and I’ve been up lots of hills.
I’ve two points. The first is that, after a recent visit to England where historical pictures, flags and family crests are everywhere, Scotland seems curiously cut off from its history in comparison.This is a shame, because beyond Wallace and Bruce, Scottish history has much to invigorate those that live here.
The second is that if Mary’s story was an English, French, American or any other country’s historical figure we’d be able to buy the box set by now. It is such an eventful, human story: so much loyalty and betrayal intertwined, that it would provide a fascinating narrative for television – it’s too much for a film. At a time when we’re getting so many historical dramas on BBC, by American networks, Mary, Queen of Scots offers one of the richest tales of all.