Young Mary, Queen of Scots, returns to Scotland after years of exile and is immediately caught up in the religious and political power struggles of her turbulent nation. Her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England is fighting for her own survival and sees Mary as a threat rather than an ally. Anxious to win over her people, Mary tries desperately to make friends but gradually discovers there is only one man she can trust, her loyal servant James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, known to all as the Galliard.
Bothwell first meets Mary when she is the very young Queen of France, setting the scene before moving on to the main arena for events – Scotland. The principal characters are richly drawn, with Mary growing from a cosseted and trusting child to a passionate young woman, a fitting partner for Bothwell, who is a “glorious, rash and hazardous young man.” The reader might well know that their romance cannot end happily, but there is plenty to keep one’s attention in this action-packed story.
Originally published in 1941 as The Gay Galliard, this is a masterful account of the love story between Mary and the Earl of Bothwell, and Irwin skilfully weaves her tale around the sometimes sparse facts of their relationship. In this wide-ranging novel Irwin is not afraid to move between colourful story-telling and (occasionally) a more withdrawn, biographical style of writing when necessary to maintain the pace without sacrificing historical detail.
This is an excellent novel, well worth republishing, although for me the editing errors detracted slightly from the reading enjoyment.