Crown of Thistles


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Despite having made the point several times on this blog that I am not exactly a fan of Mary Queen of Scots, I have recently started to wonder if I am not in fact her BIGGEST fan due to the fact that I am helplessly drawn like a moth towards a flame to the mere mention of her and any new books about her (unless they are tie ins with the exercable horror that is Reign or the very worst kind of romantic historical fiction) are pretty much an insta-buy for me. I can’t help it. Even though I am generally rendered pretty aghast by Mary’s hopeless bumbling from one disaster to another, I still feel compelled to read everything that I can about it. She is in fact the ultimate historical car crash – the one that you just can’t help slooowing down to have a good old gawp at through the window, while you thank God that you aren’t her.

And as I’ve mentioned before, haven’t we all had a friend like Mary at some point or other? Perhaps, you still do have a Mary Queen of Scots lurking in the background of your Facebook feed, her dramatic life and swiftly changing romantic statuses provoking eye rolls and an ever decreasing amount of ‘likes’ from friends. Perhaps you ARE Mary. In which case, get help! It’s not too late! Oh and don’t trust your cousin or half brother or that guy or that one and ESPECIALLY not THAT one.

NPG 1766; Mary, Queen of Scots by Unknown artist

Mary Queen of Scots, unknown artist, c1560. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Anyway, the latest acquisition for my Mary Queen of Scots library of iniquity and woe is the really quite splendid Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter, which is just £2.59 for kindle at the moment so you should totally buy it. Now, where Crown of Thistles differs to the average Mary Queen of Scots biography is the fact that it starts her story WAY back in the mists of time with the bloody accession of her grandfather, James IV of Scotland after he joined in a rebellion against his unpopular father, James III, before carrying on with the reign of Mary’s father James V. In a nutshell, this is a book that explores Mary’s story by evoking both her Tudor and Scottish ancestry and the clan infighting that contributed to her downfall as well as the effect of over a hundred years of English and French rivalry upon her destiny. It’s a novel approach to the hoary old tale of a young Queen beset on all sides and dragged down by rivalries and issues that kicked off several decades before she was even born.

Although this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting (like a lot of people, I lazily bought it thinking that it was going to be just about Mary but then was surprised to find that it covered a LOT more ground than just her sad tale and in fact ended with her arrival in England in 1568), I thoroughly enjoyed it as despite being Scottish myself, my knowledge of Scottish history is patchy at best and pretty woeful, if not non existent at its worst. I really felt like I learned a lot from this book and it even managed to rekindle a long forgotten childhood passion for the handsome, charming and extremely intelligent James IV, who really deserves a stellar biography all to himself. I mean, did you know that James was a big fan of embroidery or that he was obsessed with dentistry and enjoyed nothing more than pulling out the teeth of his subjects? What a great guy.

NPG D23903; King James IV of Scotland and Queen Margaret published by John Thane

James IV and Margaret Tudor, published by John Thane, after Unknown artists, 1796. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Crown of Thistles begins by exploring the intriguing parallels between James IV and Henry VII who succeeded to their respective thrones via bloody battle within a short period of each other and although the birth of the Tudor dynasty is an often told tale, Porter took a novel approach that really emphasised the dangerous dynastic cocktail that was to be Mary Queen of Scots’ lot and, ultimately, her downfall. I found it absolutely fascinating to read about the intertwining of Scottish, English and French policy at this time and the way that the actions of one reverberated to the others. It certainly underlined the fact that in many respects Mary Queen of Scots was in trouble whatever she did thanks to her position as half French Queen of Scotland and proximity to the English throne. I found myself thinking that it was actually a shame that she DIDN’T end up being raised in England after her father’s death as just imagine what disasters could have been averted if she had grown up under the care of Catherine Parr and alongside Elizabeth Tudor instead of being packed off to France. It certainly makes for some interesting musings about the alternative outcome had this been the case.

Anyway, I thought this was a great read and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in sixteenth century Scottish history. I think I’m going to read a book about Flodden next as it really captured my imagination.

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Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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