Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, by Alison Weir

This book took some time to get through. First of all, its quite long- almost 600 pages- and second, the material is a bit difficult to take in all at once. Here, Alison Weir takes a look at the murder of Lord Darnley, king consort to Mary, Queen of Scots. Its an interesting take on a mystery that has intrigued many scholars and non-scholars alike, though I'm afraid that Weir does not present any new evidence in this book.

In the first few chapters, Weir quickly skims over Mary's parentage, birth, childhood, and marriage to Louis of France. Like most nobles of the period, Mary's first language was French, her second the native Scots; she did not learn English until she was 26 years old. Weir goes into deeper detail over Lord Darnley (birth name Henry Lennox), to get a picture of the kind of man Mary married. Lord Darnley was not a popular person, first for his personality and second for what he aspired to (i.e., being king of Scotland in his own right, a privilege Mary luckily never gave him). Within a few months of their marriage, the relationship soured, Mary quickly learned what kind of person Darnley really was. Weir also poses a theory which she never quite develops: that Darnley may have been gay. Weir's evidence is circumstantial: that he slept in the same bed as court advisor Rizzio, and also that Darnley was somewhat effeminate in appearance. At any rate, Weir never follows up this theory conclusively.

Rizzio, an Italian Jew, also is an interesting character. In some ways, Rizzio is a kind of Italian Rasputin, entering into the graces of the queen, exerting control over her, and in 1566 murdered by other nobles at court. Darnley was implicated by the conspirators as the main propellant behind the murder, though this has been disproved. Mary's relationship to Rizzio has been widely speculated upon. Was Mary's child (the future King James I of England) Rizzio's? Weir says without a doubt no, and I tend to believe her. There is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Mary and Rizzio were having an affair and Weir does right in not probing the issue any further than she has to.

What will intrigue the reader the most is the actual plot, and subsequent murder, of Lord Darnley. I am inclined to believe that the same people who were involved in the murder of Rizzio were involved in Darnley's murder in February, 1568. The Casket Letters, which Weir gives to the reader in exerpts, are rather sketchy as evidence, since they may as well have been forged by the people who plotted Darnley's downfall.

The murder, which took place in the form of an explosion at Kirk o'Fields, is documented in a Prologue. However, Weir took so long setting up the murder that it seems rather anticlimactic at the end. Lord Darnley is depicted as such an unlikable person that the reader finds himself thinking, "so what? Maybe he deserved to die." I also don't believe in Weir's conclusion- that Mary was the most wronged woman in history, or that all the blame was placed upon her. I certainly believe that Mary had many reasons for why she wanted her husband dead, not the least of which because she two months before she had been unable to procure a divorce or anullment for herself. I also believe that the people who wanted Dranley dead took advantage of this fact in order to set her up. Yet no one in this whole scenario is "innocent" as such, and I think it was presumptuous for Weir to display Mary as a woman who was targeted needlessly.

In all this is a well-written book by a respected English historian, though it lacks in some areas. However, Weir documented her sources well and for the most part is able to back up her claims- which is of course what matters, from a historian's point of view. It's a good book for people who want background material on Lord Darnley's murder, but not all that good for someone who is already schooled in the subject.

1 comment:

Sunex Amures said...

Mary's first husband was not Louis but Francois II of France
David Rizzio was not Jewish (!) he was Roman Catholic
Darnley's name was Henry Stuart, not Henry Lennox

If you must review a book you really should get your facts right!


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