Chapter 2 : Fiction
Mary is a gift to a romantic novelist: beautiful, enchanting and doomed, she is the ultimate damsel in distress. During the nineteenth century she became an icon of the romantic movement, portrayed by Schiller in his five-act play Maria Stuart, which premiered in June 1800. It was then turned into an opera, by Donizeti, under the title Maria Stuarda.
One of the first fiction books I read is the utterly charming A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley. It dates to the first half of the twentieth century, but its poignant tale of the doomed Babington Plot still brings a tear to my eye.
Moving forward in both time and age group, are Margaret Irwin’s The Galliard (retitled from the original), which tells the story of Mary and Bothwell as a great love story.
Then there are the Jean Plaidy books – Royal Road to Fotheringhay and The Captive Queen of Scots. Plaidy wrote on practically every Tudor or Stewart of note in the 16th century. Whilst some of her social attitudes (particularly in relation to the sexuality of young women) would not be considered appropriate now, her stories are very well researched.
Reay Tannahill’s 2003 Fatal Majesty is a page-turner.
One of the most famous historical novelists of all time, Dorothy Dunnett, wrote her much loved and admired Lymond Chronicles about Mary’s reign. Dunnett was an artist, and one of the most respected cultural figures in Scotland, and her work is complex, dense and multi-layered. I find it rather challenging, but those people with whom her books resonate, never tire of her.
Margaret George’s 1993 Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles remains an extremely popular evocation of Mary’s dramatic life.
The ever-popular Philippa Gregory has given us The Other Queen, which centres on Mary’s years of imprisonment.
The latest fiction by one of the best contemporary writers of non-fiction, Sarah Gristwood, is The Queen’s Mary, which concentrates on Mary’s most loyal friend, Mary Seton.