Mary, Queen of Scots was a beauty, a temptress, an angel, a
saint, a martyr, a whore or a devil, depending on who you ask. This
“other queen” continues to fascinate us over 400 years
after her death. Still, the truth manages to evade us, and we are
left to form our own opinion as to the strengths and weaknesses of
this intriguing woman.
You might think that there could be nothing more to say on the
subject of Mary, Queen of Scots. After all, it has been over four
centuries since her death. Historians and novelists alike have
examined, told and retold the story of this tragic historical
figure, yet, as she so often does, Philippa Gregory finds a way to
bring it to life and make us feel as though we are there amidst the
harrowing events of Tudor England.
THE OTHER QUEEN is told in chapter after exciting chapter,
alternating among the views of three principal players: George
Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury; his wife, Bess of Hardwick; and
Mary, Queen of Scots. By seeing into the minds and hearts of all
three, we are able to form a complete and plausible picture of the
events of the time.
Mary, Queen of Scots is the prisoner of her cousin, Queen
Elizabeth I of England, when THE OTHER QUEEN begins. She has lost
her throne and fled Scotland for the supposed safety of England
hoping for her cousin's protection and to be named Elizabeth's heir
to the English throne.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth guards her hard-won position as Queen
as jealously as a lion guards its catch and toys with Mary, much as
a cat toys with a mouse. Elizabeth is torn. She doesn’t want
to kill her cousin, yet she doesn’t want to free her. Mary
has become one giant headache that is impossible to dispose of with
While Mary plots and plans her escape and re-ascension to the
throne of Scotland, George Talbot and Bess of Hardwick have become
her hosts, or jailers, as the case may be. What starts as an act of
hospitality to house the Queen of Scotland soon turns ugly.
While Queen Elizabeth has requested the pair house her cousin
and promises to pay them for any expense, years drag on and the
presence of Mary takes a toll on the lives, marriage and finances
of the newly-married couple. What was a happy marriage turns to
dust as Mary works her magic on George Talbot.
While Bess is not impressed with the alienation of affection
that Mary causes in her marriage, she is ultimately more concerned
with Mary's effect on their finances. A woman who was born to
nothing and who has accumulated a great fortune through one
auspicious marriage after another, nothing could hurt her more than
to lose her money and her homes all to house a queen who irks her
at every move.
And what of Mary? Is she an innocent victim of the ambitions of
others, or a cunning and evil temptress determined to get her own
way? That is for the reader to decide, and two people reading the
same novel will likely come to two different conclusions.
By alternating the three points of view, Philippa Gregory allows
us to see what motivates each character and how they interact with
one another. By the end of the book, we feel as if we know them all
THE OTHER QUEEN is a fascinating tale of those who lived and
loved, hoped and died, in the 16th century. We have a front row
seat to events that shaped the history of England, Scotland and the
world. It is a novel that stays with us long after we’ve
turned the last page.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on January 14, 2011