because bibliophiles require refreshment

The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer

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So I’m Scottish. Well, partially. But enough that I should know things about the history of the place. My mom and I went on a trip through our ancestral homelands a few months back and both of us were increasingly ashamed how often we had to Google information and stories. When we climbed back into the car after touring Stirling Castle in particular, I resolved to read more about Scottish history. She affirmed this decision and then told me I should do the reading and then tell her about it. I am the professional researcher, after all.

So, it was with that in mind that I checked The Wild Queen out of the library this week. A YA book, The Wild Queen is a fictionalized summary of Mary’s entire life, from her early years in Scotland to her formative ones in France to the final ones back in Scotland. I was enraptured by the story immediately and would recommend the book to anyone interested in history. As it’s written for young adults, the prose is clear and concise. Told in first person from Mary’s perspective, it immediately adds sympathy for the reader to this controversial and mysterious figure.

If you ask most people who Mary, Queen of Scots was, they’d most likely tell you she was a traitor who was beheaded by her cousin Elizabeth I for acts of treason. They’d also tell you she was a Catholic who ruled a tempestuous Protestant Scotland and they probably get her mixed up with her other cousin, Bloody Mary Tudor.

Mary Stuart was six days old when she became Queen of Scotland. Born to a French mother and a Scottish father, Mary was betrothed to the French dauphin and shipped to live there when she was six years old. Systematically stripped of her Scottishness, Mary eventually marries the dauphin, a sickly man with whom she never consummates the marriage before his death.

She then returns to Scotland, eighteen years after she had first left, and assumes her – in her mind – rightful role as Queen. That is, to be honest, when things really go downhill quickly. She knows nothing of Scotland and makes poor decision after poor decision, eventually leading her to be stripped of power and locked away by Elizabeth for nearly two decades before her eventual beheading over her involvement in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

She bears a son by her second husband, Henry, who goes on to be James I of Great Britain and Ireland. James, for what it’s worth, is arguably one of the most influential monarchs to the future of the world. Not only did he commission the first published Bible in English, he set forward the motions of the Ulster Plantation and the colonization of the Americas. Additionally, all of the monarchs of England are direct descendants of James and therefore Mary. Her cousin Elizabeth had no heirs and so the Tudor dynasty died with her.

The book paints Mary as a stubborn and slightly selfish girl, who is always trying to make the best decision for her people but has absolutely no idea what that best decision could be. Her advisors are atrocious, she has no one she can trust and when she tries to turn to Elizabeth as an ally, Elizabeth coldly rejects her. She faces the constant degradation of both her Scottish husbands demanding equal rule with her and both of them communicating they demand and deserve it simply because they are men. Her son is taken from her almost immediately so that the lineage of the Stuart line can be protected. Her four best friends are all stripped from her by various political machinations.

In summary, girl had it rough.

I found myself often wondering if people in those times had any real understandings of cultural differences. Here was a girl who was essentially created as French during her educational years and yet, it does not seem to occur to her that life would be different in Edinburgh than it would be in Paris. No one else seems to ever take into account that she simply might not know things because she was gone for so freaking long. Seriously, this is never spoken. And let’s not get into the differences in culture even within Scotland – Highland and Lowland tribes historically have had different ideas of identity and she just waltzes in thinking they’re all going to love her and trust her simply because she says so.

In summary, girl had it rough, but girl was also a bit of a fool.

I would absolutely recommend this book, as I said above, to anyone interested in Mary or in the history of Scotland and England and even France. This is one of those delightful YA books that’s written so that 15-year-olds can follow everything but doesn’t seem too young for 30-year-olds either.

As is only appropriate with a novel set in fancy royal courts, I enjoyed this one with a cup of Lady Earl Grey tea and a slice of lemon. I’d recommend you do the same.

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Further reading:

  • More books on Mary: Clearly, one novel on a complex and mysterious queen is not sufficient. If you, like me, had your interest peaked, I’d check out any of these books. The Fraser one is considered by many to be the seminal text, but Alison Weir’s recent tome is highly regarded as well.
  • Historic Scotland: Looking to plan a trip through Scotland? Make sure to check out Historic Scotland’s website in order to make sure you hit the castles you want to.
  • The Scottish Reformation: A big part of the drama of Mary’s life is caused by the Scottish Reformation. This BBC site serves as a good summary and starting point for explorations of the era.

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I received this book from my library’s eBook site 

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