Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family That Shaped Britain


Rating: 3.5 Stars


I keep trying to get beyond James VI/I, but I fear I never will. I picked this one up because I thought maybe if I read about the Stuart family, instead of just Great Britain AFTER James, it might make a difference. Sadly, it does not. James is really the last one who is interesting to me, I think because I kind of feel bad for him because he gets such crap for being 'undignified' for a king - I guess he was allowed to be a tipsy whenever he felt like it, because he felt the being king was a God-given right for him. The difference between James and his son Charles, who was never supposed to be king to begin with, is that while James felt that way he did not shove it in the faces of all his subjects and counselors. Charles and his father could not have been more opposite and unfortunately in the end, it cost Charles both his crown and his life. But don't even get me started on Cromwell. Ugh.

So, the good, the bad, and the ugly...

The Good: I like that a chapter was devoted to each member of the family, starting before the first Stewart king and explaining both the history and legend of the family - the name deriving from the title of Steward, someone in service of the king (The spelling would later be changed to Stuart with Mary, Queen of Scots, who spent the majority of her childhood and young adulthood in France. She used the French spelling, often signing her name Marie Stuart). I also liked that it was divided in such a way that helped me keep track of who was doing what in Scotland, to mirror my knowledge of what was going on in England at the same time. While English kings make their appearances (Hey, Hammer of the Scots!), I appreciate Scotland getting their due turn in the spotlight. If only they could be their independent nation again. But that is another story.

The Bad: Super gossipy sometimes. The author goes so far at one point as to suggest that Maximilian had fallen in love with Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the thrown of England who claimed he was the younger of the twp Princes in the Tower (Richard, Duke of York). Really, he was in love with him? I think not, as nothing else I have ever read about Perkin Warbeck or ol' Max would ever suggest that. Also, not very creative with describing the somewhat unsuccessful reigns of Robert II and Robert III. We get it, they were older when taking the throne, and weren't great leaders. But gosh darn it, they were nice people. That's kind of how it comes across, and that's not very scholarly. Be more objective.

The Ugly: The author's extreme obsession with obscenely long sentences, broken, up, by, several, commas. Not kidding. Example (page 140): "Elizabeth, who disliked bloodshed, except when alarmed, might be, despite everything, well disposed towards her 'cousin and sister', but the men around her were Mary's enemies." SERIOUSLY? So unnecessary.

Interesting quotes:

(page 34) "Later Stewarts might fall into melancholy and depression, but Margaret is the only one recorded as dying of boredom."

(page 85) "It seems to have been a matter of no great moment to him (Henry VIII), and the coffin was left at Sheen in a storeroom. It disappeared when that monastery was dissolved more than twenty years later, and no one knows where the bones of Scotland's Renaissance King found their last resting place." Isn't that depressing?! There is no record of where James IV is buried, and Henry was, no surprise, being a jerk about giving a fellow king and appropriate burial.

It should come as no surprise that my biggest gripes come in regards to dear Mary, who for all her flaws and incredibly poor decision-making, is never given a proper look. She was not this wicked queen, she was just someone who had unfortunately not been prepared for anything but queenship, so she did not know how to be anything else once she was in captivity. The author makes some assumptions that I don't agree with, and seems to be presenting them as fact. One example, on page 114, he talks about Mary's half brother the Earl of Moray being loyal to her especially in the beginning because their interests were similar. That's completely untrue. The only reason he did not turn on her from the start, or even try to gain the throne himself while she was still in France, was because he knew he would not be successful without greater support. He waited until the right time, then showed his true colors. He was never loyal to Mary. Mary, on the other hand, certainly deserves credit for how she handled the situation after her secretary Riccio was murdered. She feigned conciliation with the murderers to continue to keep the government going and it served her well for the time being, until Darnley's untimely but not unwelcome end. I can though, appreciate the author's conclusion that Mary was not an active conspirator in Darnley's death. I think it is pretty certain that Bothwell murdered him, with help, and then forced Mary into marriage after raping her - something she herself says happened. I don't think she felt she had any choice at that point, as in the past he had always bee on her side. Unfortunately for Mary, it was because he too wanted power, hated Moray, and saw Mary as a way to accomplish both seizing control and getting rid of Moray. Luckily, Bothwell ended up dying in Denmark after being locked away and going mad. Good riddance. And thus, unfortunately again, his actions had long-reaching consequences for Mary.

I won't touch any more on what I think of Elizabeth and her false imprisonment of a fellow sovereign. Anyone who has read any other review I have written about that childish, manipulative shrew knows what I think of her and her rubbish about not meaning to sign the death warrant. Of course she meant to. Ugh.

Anyway. So, certainly recommended for anyone interested in the time period or the family. You'll have to wade through some nonsense, and if you have a background already related to the Stuarts there will be some facts you'll call bluff on. But it is an easy read, and an interesting one -  for me just through James anyway!

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