For My Sins
For My Sins is a first-person fictional memoir of Mary, Queen of Scots, written whilst in captivity, and now awaiting execution in Fotheringhay Castle. Nobody ever wanted to know what she thought, they were too busy manipulating events for their own ends, but here, she will tell her own story, the unvarnished truth. Mary sees herself predominantly as the Catholic queen of first France, then Scotland—and the rightful heir to the English throne as well. But, as a female, she is hedged about by constraints at every turn. In Scotland, lords of various political factions seek to ‘advise’ her; the Calvinist John Knox rages against her in the kirk; and who she will marry and beget the next king of Scotland by, is hotly debated in both Scotland and England.
Her story is well known. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for example, says that she was a woman of great beauty, grace and charm. It adds that, ‘the simultaneous pursuit of incompatible policies would be a recurring phenomenon in her career.’ The Mary in For My Sins comes across as a woman of little political judgement, who has difficulty in evaluating character and who twice chooses to marry the wrong man—and whose decisions are almost invariably wrong. It is true that she is in a very difficult position, but it is not easy to sympathize with her. Her memoir’s ‘voice’ is emotionally detached, almost flat. She tells us of her rage or upset but she doesn’t show us. She tells her faithful maid, Jane, that the memoir contains all her secrets but, in fact, it’s remarkably unsensational. I got the impression of a woman who constantly sits on the fence. For my Sins is well-written but, alas, it’s not the emotionally gripping read I was hoping for.