Mary Queen of Scots is the most intriguing, most studied, and most famous of all Scottish monarchs: probably because she showed herself to be the most human. Though styled "Queen of Scots" she was briefly also Queen of France, and could all so easily also have become what she was seen as being by many: the rightful Queen of England. She was born in in Linlithgow Palace on 8 December 1542, just six days before the death of her father King James V. She spent her early childhood in hiding from Henry VIII's efforts to force her to marry his son, before leaving for France at the age of 5. She married the heir to the French crown in 1558; became Queen of France in 1559; and then became an 18-year old widow in 1560. She returned to Scotland a year later, as a Catholic monarch in a country in which a Protestant Reformation was in full swing.
Having established herself, Mary set out to learn about the country of her birth. Meanwhile, however, she made a very bad choice for a second husband, and an even worse one for a third, after he had (almost certainly) helped her dispose of the second. Her human failings saw her fleeing from her country to seek refuge with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. This was perhaps the worst of her many poor decisions, for Mary must have known that Elizabeth feared her claim to the English Crown. The result was 19 years in captivity in various English castles, before Mary's eventual execution.
"On the Trail of Mary, Queen of Scots: A visitor’s guide to the castles, palaces and houses associated with the life of Mary, Queen of Scots" by Roy Calley is a fascinating book that takes a decidedly geographical view of the story of Mary's life. In doing so it neatly sidesteps the obvious problem confronting anyone embarking on a more standard approach to a biography of Mary. Her story had been told and retold many times, to the point where it must be increasingly difficult to think of new and relevant things to say. Roy Calley's take on her story is different and interesting, and brings her to life through the places associated with her.
The book is divided into four sections. "Scotland 1542-1548" looks at five places in Scotland associated with Mary's first five years. "To France 1548-1560" looks at eleven places she was associated with during her later childhood and as Queen of France. "Queen of Scotland 1561-1567" covers eight significant locations during her adult years in Scotland. And "Captivity 1567-1587" looks at thirteen locations in England and two in Scotland that are important to the story of Mary in the years after her life in Scotland fell to pieces. The book is bracketed by a nice introduction that sets the scene, and a conclusion that draws some lessons from Mary's story. The end result is a book abut Mary Queen of Scots that is is possible wholeheartedly to recommend to anyone interested in history: or in finding fascinating places with stories to tell.