A well-fashioned history of the remarkable Scottish monarchs.
They were “Stewarts,” mythical descendants of Shakespeare’s Banquo, before they were “Stuarts,” writes prolific Scottish novelist and historian Massie (Death in Bordeaux, 2010, etc.). The spelling was changed by Mary Queen of Scots so that it would be easier to pronounce for the French. The clan actually traces its roots in Brittany, with enterprising members crossing the Channel first in the service of the Norman king Henry I. The first Stewart on the Scottish throne, Robert II, weathered the wars of independence against the English, though the Scottish monarchy was much weaker than the English, lacking a similar administrative apparatus. What Cambridge historian F.W. Maitland termed a “mournful procession of the Jameses” followed, with mixed results. Several were murdered early on, though James IV’s marriage to English princess Margaret Tudor in 1503 was significant because it would lead to the Union of the Crowns 100 years later. Queen Mary’s story has been told often elsewhere, and provides the saddest interlude, while her son, James VI, proved the great survivor, an intellectual, solid Protestant and patron of the arts, effectively putting Scotland’s house in order before Elizabeth I’s death invited him to join the thrones of England and Scotland. There is no end to the fascination with the lives of the two truncated Charleses, in turn spurring revolution then restoration, and Massie truly brings these singular characters to life with his felicitous prose. Perhaps the least understood of the clan was Queen Anne, who presided over the Treaty of Union in 1707, possessed principles and stamina yet had no living heir to keep the throne from falling to the Protestant Elector of Hanover, who became George I.
A palatable history lesson that might help untangle the royal lineage web for American readers.