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Topics in History: Mary, Queen of Scots

Unit Study Inspirationamy sharony4 Comments
Great reading list for studying Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots

Mysterious deaths! Tragic beauties! Political drama! Honestly, it’s no wonder the life of Mary Stuart, queen of France and Scotland, has inspired a televised teen drama. Mary’s life and eventual execution have intrigued creative types for centuries. Was Mary really a manipulative black widow determined to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I and reign over England and Scotland? Or was she an innocent victim of a time when women’s political power was controlled by men? Four hundred and seventy years after she was crowned Queen of Scotland, Mary and her motives remain a mystery. Once you’ve read (and watched) a few versions of her story, you’ll no doubt have your own opinion.

In Books

The mysterious death of Lord Darnley was the beginning of the end for Mary. Weir thinks Mary is innocent of her second husband’s murder — Weir puts the blame on the very nobles who accused their Queen — but her Mary is definitely guilty of poor judgment. 

 

Mary was only nine months old when was crowned Queen of Scotland and seventeen years old when she became the Queen of France. Lasky focuses her attention on what may have been the only truly happy time in Mary’s life — her childhood growing up at the French court with her fiancé Francis, the heir to the French throne.

 

Mary Queen of Scots
By Antonia Fraser
 

Mary wasn’t a very good queen, concedes Fraser in her groundbreaking biography. But she certainly wasn’t guilty of the murders and conspiracies that led to her execution in England.

 

 

Unlike her cousin Elizabeth who never traveled outside of England, Mary lived in England, Scotland, and France during her life. Cheetham brings the geography of Mary’s life to the forefront, telling her story through the places she lived.

 

Scotland Under Mary Stuart
By Madeleine Bingham
 

What was life like for women in the 1500s who didn’t happen to be born into the Scottish royal family? Bingham answers that question, illuminating the vast differences between Mary’s tumultuous life and the life a common woman of the time would have led.

 

George takes a sympathetic approach, painting the queen as an emotionally and politically naïve young woman whose bad decisions ultimately led to her downfall.

 

Queen's Own Fool (Stuart Quartet)
By Jane Yolen, Robert Harris
 

Why were so many people loyal to the Scottish queen? In her book, Yolen examines the charming, affectionate, and generous Mary through the eyes of her fool, Nicola, and the members of her adoring court.

 

A Traveller in Time
By Alison Uttley
 

When bookish Penelope travels back in time from the 1930s to the 1500s, she becomes caught up in her ancestors’ efforts to restore the captive-in-England Mary to the throne. Uttley explores some of the legal, religious, and personal reasons Elizabeth I’s subjects may have supported Mary.

 

Adieux de Marie Stuart  (c. 1876)
By Pierre-Jean de Béranger

De Béranger’s nineteenth-century poem paints the young Queen Mary as a tragic, romantic heroine whose fate is sealed when she departs the shores of her beloved France.

 

On the screen

Mary of Scotland
Starring Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March
 

Katharine Hepburn plays Mary as a martyr in this romantic tragedy. Interestingly, the Earl of Bothwell, generally regarded as a manipulative scoundrel, gets the heartthrob treatment in this film version.

 

Mary and Elizabeth meet face-to-face in this drama, an event that never occurred in historical fact. Mary, played by Vanessa Redgrave, is an emotionally impulsive young woman who is easily manipulated into making bad decisions by her more rational cousin in this film.

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Molla
 

Mary, played by Samantha Morton, is not much more than a pawn in a bigger Catholic conspiracy in this film.

 

Elizabeth R
Starring Glenda Jackson, Robin Ellis
 

The “Horrible Conspiracies” episode of this BBC miniseries focuses on Mary’s years of captivity in England and ultimate execution, as seen through the eyes of Elizabeth I and her councilors. 

 

The Wonderful World of Disney: The Truth About Mother Goose  (1957)

An animated short about Mary’s life attributes the origins of the Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary nursery rhyme to the Scottish queen.