It’s time for another Historical Writers’ Forum Blog Hop! Did you catch my post on Richard III, back in July? This time, we’re talking about our favourite historical characters, and why we’re drawn to them.
As you can see, on the 11th, Lynn Bryant told us about Sir Edward Codrington, and next up, on the 15th, fellow Ocelot Nancy Jardine is talking about General Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Make sure you click through to everyone’s blog, to read some fascinating posts.
Back to me though, and who have I chosen? My first historical heroine, Mary Queen of Scots. I may have recently been stalking Bonnie Prince Charlie’s history, but such habits really started in childhood, when every castle we visited seemed to have been visited by this well-travelled queen. It became a family joke, trying to find the castles she hadn’t spent time in…
Obviously, with her becoming such a key part of all our family holidays, I began reading as much as I could about her, and to be honest, yes, became a little obsessed. When I started taking my writing seriously, I decided that one way or another, I had to feature her in a novel – this led, of course, to even more research. And believe me, there is a LOT you can read about Mary, her reign, and of course, her imprisonment.
I have the start of so many stories featuring Queen Mary, but none of them led anywhere, until, soon after Kindred Spirits: Tower of London had been published, I started think about a second book in the series. Could Kindred Spirits do the same for Mary as it had done for Richard III, and give me a ‘way in’? I started sketching out some plans, and yes! Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile began to take shape, with the ghost of Queen Mary right at the heart of it.
But why Mary? To many, she’s either a tragic heroine, or a foolish woman who made poor decisions. To me, she’s a strong woman who was trying so hard to win what was clearly going to be a losing battle. She left her country when she was just a child, to grow up in the magnificence of the French court, a world away from even the most glamourous residences Scotland could offer, and was widowed when still only a very young woman. On her return to Scotland, she found herself on the wrong side of religious reform, and in conflict with the powerful men who had been ruling the country so-say on her behalf for years.
From the start, she was on the back-foot, and however hard she tried to keep the peace, those who would benefit from her downfall were, in the end, too powerful. And yes, alright, her choice of second and third husbands was decidedly poor. I can’t help wondering what would have happened if she had chosen a husband the Scottish lords approved of, and settled down, but as she says in Kindred Spirits – if she had done, most of us would likely never have heard of her…
As it is, her name still lives on, and still inspires a huge level of interest. One of my first random weekends in Edinburgh was to attend an exhibition and evening talk about her, and recently, I headed north again, to visit Stirling, and revisit Linlithgow, both places of great importance to Mary. There’s really only Fotheringhay to go, and of course, that holds double importance for me!
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Dundrennan Abbey, where Mary spent her last night on Scottish soil. At that stage, looking out across the Solway Firth, she must have seen England as a refuge, and in her cousin Elizabeth, a fellow solo queen, no less, a rescuer, or at least a friend. The pair had written so kindly to each other at the start of their reigns, that you can understand why she thought that way.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth was ultimately as manipulated as Mary had been, and the two found themselves rivals and enemies. And yet, even years into captivity, Mary was still fighting, even though she must have known it was over by then, that she would never once again hold the throne of Scotland, let alone England.
And that is why I chose Mary. She was a woman who knew her own mind, even when that mind may have taken her down unfortunate paths. She tried her best against terrible odds, and she never gave up.
To me then, a definite historical heroine. Just ignore her choice in men.