The Life of Mary Queen of Scots: An Accidental Tragedy

Written by Roderick Graham
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

Mary Queen of Scots was put to death by her cousin, Elizabeth I, in 1587. Why does Roderick Graham call her death “an accidental tragedy”? Well, because she blundered into it. In this biography he paints a portrait of her as a passive woman of only ordinary intellectual gifts, who was brought up to adorn the court of her first husband, the king of France. When her husband died it became necessary for her to act as a queen regnant, in Scotland. She fumbled, married badly—twice—and had to flee her kingdom. After taking refuge in England, she trusted the wrong people, became embroiled in assassination plots against Elizabeth, and ultimately got sent to the block.

I found myself wondering why Graham chose to write about Mary. Especially in the early part of the book, he seems to lack empathy for her. He portrays her marriage to Darnley as silly willfulness. But in dynastic terms didn’t a Catholic of royal English descent seem like a reasonable choice for her husband? This is a readable, well-written biography, and certainly a warts-and-all portrait of Mary.