Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

May 7, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): In the first full-scale biography of Mary Stuart in more than thirty years, John Guy creates an intimate and absorbing portrait of one of history’s greatest women, depicting her world and her place in the sweep of history with stunning immediacy. Bringing together all surviving documents and uncovering a trove of new sources for the first time, Guy dispels the popular image of Mary Queen of Scots as a romantic leading lady—achieving her ends through feminine wiles—and establishes her as the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I.

Through Guy’s pioneering research and superbly readable prose, we come to see Mary as a skillful diplomat, maneuvering ingeniously among a dizzying array of factions that sought to control or dethrone her. Queen of Scots is an enthralling, myth-shattering look at a complex woman and ruler and her time.


  • I knew absolutely nothing about Mary Queen of Scots before reading this book; now I feel as though I at least have a passing acquaintance with the highlights (and lowlights) of her life.
  • I kind of got a chuckle out of the fact that Mary’s four best friends were all named Mary as well. It reminded me of the movie “Heathers”.
  • I had no idea that Mary was imprisoned for almost 19 years, and that she was completely separated from her son for that whole time. Wow, that seemed pretty harsh punishment. I mean, I guess I can understand why Elizabeth would have wanted Mary out of the way, but why wasn’t she allowed to see James?
  • Speaking of James, I honestly did not know that the word “Jacobean” had anything to do with that name. I thought it was an adjective related to “Jacob”! I felt pretty stupid once I discovered my mistake.
  • Mary’s marriages and affairs were the stuff of soap operas. Her first husband Lord Darnley was murdered, then she married the man widely thought to be Darnley’s killer, the Earl of Bothwell. This after Bothwell staged some kind of kidnapping and rape of Mary –despite the fact that she had been interested in him for a while. It was a plot befitting All My Children or something!
  • Mary’s death scene was pretty touching. I liked that she put her faith out there even as she was led to execution; it reminded me of the way so many other martyrs died. I know some people believe her religion was all for show, but just from what I read in this book I have to think it was real.


  • As a newcomer to Mary’s life, it was very hard to keep track of all the major players. Plus, since I wasn’t particularly familiar with that time in history, it was difficult for me to understand the significance of some of the action as described in the book. This is not on the author, of course, but is nevertheless something I disliked.
  • John Guy didn’t come across as very impartial in this book. He seemed to go out of his way to justify Mary’s actions or try to put her in the best light possible. This happened with everything from Darnley to Bothwell to the Casket Letters, and got to be tiresome after a while. A bit more balance was certainly warranted.


I read Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart as a casual reader, not as a scholar or any kind of expert. As such, my opinions and rating of this book are not to be taken as any kind of authoritative proclamation. Judging the book strictly from this standpoint, I thought it was a decent biography. It was fairly in-depth and seemed to be well-researched; yet at the same time, it was biased and a bit hard to follow. As a result I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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