Mary of Guise by Rosalind K. Marshall (Collins £6)
Mary of Guise occupies an important place in what might be called Scottish historical mythology, as the mother of Mary Queen of Scots and the last effective Catholic ruler of Scotland.
She has been portrayed alternatively as the scheming foreign tyrant who delayed the triumph of the true Gospel over the superstitions of the medieval Church, and as the weak regent who never understood the Scots and so failed to prevent John Knox's bloodless caricature of Christianity from strangling the true Church.
These conflicting views arise from the demands of historical mythology: it is refreshing to have the chance to look at Mary of Guise from a new 'viewpoint, which Dr Marshall supplies in this book. She has drawn on primary sources for our understanding of this fascinating period, and has produced a stimulating biography which holds the reader's interest continuously.
It is written very much from a sympathy with Mary herself, and although this emphasis is a welcome change from the polemics of past writers, it does mean that one is left with an imperfect grasp of just why she aroused so much opposition. The picture of ecclesiastical life in Scotland in the 1540s and 1550s also lacks three-dimensional effect: we are told little of the reasons for the spread of Protestantisin, or of the attempts by some Catholics to contain its growth (like Ninian Winzet). For example, we should never learn Irom this book why no Scottish bishops attended the Council of Trent.
Another criticism may be made: that what I can only call the Barbara Cartland style of historical writing sounds the wrong note every so often: "Looking covertly at her companion, Mary could see that he was shaken, and so she pressed on... If only Cardinal Beaton were
free, he would see to it that the English marriage was accomplished. This brought Sir Ralph up with a jerk."
This sort of thing seems quite out of place, and spoils the book as a piece of history. Despite these criticisms, the book may be recommended, especially to those who have enjoyed Lady Antonia Eraser's biography of Mary's daughter.