Entertaining royal historian Weir (Henry VIII: The King and His Court, 2002, etc.) falters with a dull attempt to discover who ordered the death of Mary Stuart’s husband in 1567.
At the time, it was widely assumed that Mary was complicit in the killing, which rid her of a detested, politically maladroit spouse and cleared the way for marriage to her lover, the Earl of Bothwell. Not so, declares Weir, naming as the prime instigators Mary’s Secretary of State, William Maitland, and her half-brother the Earl of Moray, bastard son of Scotland’s James V. Aided by much of Scotland’s Protestant nobility, they lured Bothwell into the murder plot, she asserts, planning to make him the scapegoat, to discredit Mary and force her to abdicate so they could become the powers behind the throne of her infant son James. This is plausible, but Weir’s primary goal is to clear Mary of any involvement. Examining the documentary evidence in stupefying detail, she dismisses the notorious Casket Letters, which seemed to prove Mary’s guilt, as combinations of forgery and alterations to existing letters; this argument is considerably more convincing than her denial that Mary and Bothwell were lovers before Darnley’s death. Weir’s own narrative shows Mary well aware that some threat to her husband was afoot and doing little to forestall it. We observe throughout that the Queen of Scots was a lousy politician with remarkably poor judgment, in striking contrast to England’s Queen Elizabeth, who played the messy Scottish scandal to her advantage. (Mary wound up imprisoned in England and was executed in 1587 for conspiring against Elizabeth.) Weir assesses the possibility that Elizabeth’s secretary of state had a hand in Darnley’s murder, or at least knew who the perpetrators were, at a level of detail that would have made the whole study more readable had it been applied to the Scottish portions as well. She entirely fails to make the case that Mary was “one of the most wronged women in history.”
Strictly for those who like their murder mysteries ancient and peopled by aristocrats.