History Scotland's exclusive interview with Dr John Guy, author of My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots
History Scotland talks to historian Dr John Guy, whose books inspired the movie Mary Queen of Scots, about the misconceptions of Mary as queen.
Dr John Guy is a fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge. The movie Mary Queen of Scots was based on his books My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.
Here, Dr Guy talks to us about the ways in which Mary Stewart has been misunderstood over the years: 'To assume that Mary was Elizabeth’s mortal enemy from the beginning of the story is completely false. For much of the time before Babington’s plot to kill Elizabeth in 1586, both "British" queens were, as it might whimsically be said, fully paid-up members of the women monarchs’ trade union.
'What Mary always wanted was a political settlement with Elizabeth, not to claim her throne during her cousin’s own lifetime. She wanted Elizabeth to recognise her as the lawful successor should the English queen not marry and have a child. And for much of the time, that was what Elizabeth wanted too. In return for such recognition, Mary offered to renounce her immediate dynastic claim to the English throne. It was a reasonable, generous offer – one that Elizabeth’s chief minister, William Cecil, interpreted as a sign of weakness, causing him to double the stakes.
'The other key misconception is that Mary (or Elizabeth for that matter) could exercise power simply by being crowned. Women rulers were up against it in a world run by scheming men, especially those driven by religious ideology.
'Above all, women rulers were damned if they married and damned if they didn’t. If they did marry, their husbands would demand to be king, pushing their wives to the side if they could. That could trigger a power struggle with ministers and councillors, leading to civil war. And yet, if women rulers refused to marry and settle the succession in their countries by having a child, their dynasty died with them and their realm again risked civil war. Had Elizabeth married, she could so easily have ended up like Mary. And maybe she knew it?'
Read the interview in full, including Dr Guy's views on the scene in the movie where Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I meet, in History Scotland's souvenir Mary Queen of Scots magazine.
QUICK LINK: Director Josie Rourke on portraying Mary's journey from young queen to middle-aged prisoner
(image copyright Dr John Guy)