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Friday, 21 February 2014

My writing

I have been trying, since I was sixteen (which was some years back now) to write a novel. Not just any novel, I have been trying to write a novel about the hypothetical daughter of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots!

Many of you will know her tragic tale. Just in case you don't, here's a brief overview:

Mary was born on 8th December 1542, daughter of James V and his second wife, Marie of Guise. A few days after her birth, her father, who had never seen her, died, leaving her Queen of Scots at just 6 days old.

Henry VIII wanted her to marry his young son, Edward, but Mary of Guise arranged a marriage with the French Dauphin, and Mary was duly sent to be brought up at the French court from the age of 5. She duly married the dauphin, and upon the death of Henri II, became Queen of France as well. Sadly, Francis died within 18 months of becoming king, and the widowed Mary eventually went home to Scotland.

In Scotland, she married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her cousin and a fellow claimant to the English throne, and they had a son, James (later VI of Scotland and I of England), but the marriage does not appear to have been a happy one and Darnley was murdered in mysterious circumstances. The main suspect in Darnley's murder was Mary's staunch supporter, James Hepburn, Ear of Bothwell, although Mary herself was also a suspect.

If matters weren't murky enough already, here's where it gets awkward. The official line is that Mary was kidnapped by Bothwell, and raped, and then married him. This sounds dire by today's standards, but astoundingly made some sense away back when! From Mary's point of view though, if that is what happened, then it must have been worse than just dire!

The Lords of Scotland were not happy at this turn of affairs, and a battle ensued... well sort of. The Battle of Carberry Hill was really more of a standoff, but the end result was that Mary surrendered (what were they going to do to their Queen after all?) and Bothwell fled in search of reinforcements.

Mary was taken, under house arrest, to Loch Leven Castle, where she suffered a miscarriage (the official line is of twins), and days later was forced to abdicate in favour of James, who was about 1 at the time. Leaving her illegitimate half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray, as Regent.

Later, she escapes house arrest and flees to England in hopes of sanctuary, where she is placed under house arrest, never meeting her cousin and foe, Elizabeth, and is eventually executed on the grounds of treason.

When Elizabeth later dies, childless, Mary's son James inherits the English throne, and although the act of union didn't happen until the 1700's, England and Scotland have one monarch for the first time.

I keep mentioning the "official line", well, that's because there are alternate theories. Firstly, the dates don't match up. She was kidnapped by Bothwell on 24th April, and miscarried around 20th-23rd July... even with today's modern medicine, you would be hard pushed to be able to confirm that a miscarriage was of twins that early in a pregnancy. By the standards of the 1500's, it would have been impossible. However, saying it was twins, would account for her having been slightly larger than expected, and would be a good cover story for a potentially earlier than expected birth. So the theory goes that either the child was Darnley's and conceived before the ill-fated marriage to Bothwell (who was imprisoned in Copenhagen, where he eventually died), and which I find highly unlikely. It was unlikely because a) Darnley was ill when he was murdered (possibly with syphilis as a result of his wicked ways) and b) by the time of his murder, Mary and he were not on the best of terms. (Look up the murder of David Rizio for more on why.). This leaves us with the other theory that Mary was, in fact, having an affair with Bothwell before Darnley was murdered. Her pregnancy gives us a motive for Darnley having to die (he would have known it wasn't his) & then the marriage to Bothwell, say it's twins & we might just get away with this.

So, the hypothetical daughter then, where does she come into it? Well, when Mary was awaiting execution at Fotheringhay Castle, in England, her personal secretary was a man named Claude de Castle Nau (often simply called Claude Nau), and although he hadn't been with Mary long, he did write some interesting memoirs, after her demise, in which he claimed, that she had told him that when it was put about that she had miscarried of twins at Loch Leven, she had, instead, had a perfectly healthy baby girl, who was smuggled to France, where Mary's Guise relatives sent the child to an abbey at Soisson to be raised and then become a nun.

I have been fascinated by this rather dubious possibility since I first heard of it aged 16. Eventually, I got around to doing a snippet of research. I visited Loch Leven for a start.

At first, due to the inclement weather, I thought that this was the best view I was going to get of the castle, on an island, in the middle of the loch! 


But I was in luck. The nice man from Historic Scotland said that the weather was calm enough to go out, provided we docked at the back of the island.


It was a bit choppy, but I made it!





The island has changed, a lot, since Mary's day. There's less water in it now, and that means that the island itself is larger and there is more green and trees around the castle than there would have been back then.


      
The Glassin Tower
The Castle itself is in ruins, but you can still get a feel for the peace, tranquility and isolation. It took longer than I expected, to get to the island by boat, and our boat had a little outboard motor on it. In Mary's day, on a good day, they'd have sailed. It would have taken between half an hour to an hour (depending on the wind) to row to the nearest point on the mainland and anyone doing that would have been visible the entire time. Also, the castle is quite small. Certainly much, much smaller than Edinburgh, Stirling or Linlithgow, which Mary would have been used to. Hiding a live birth from her captors, including her illegitimate half-brother's mother, with whom she had a difficult relationship, would have been nigh on impossible.

Then, we come to the rest of the story. Transporting a baby to France unbeknown to anyone, would have been pretty easy after that. Getting the baby to the Guise family at Joinville, again, not so hard. Whether they would have taken the child, or believed the tale, and not used the child for their own political ends is unlikely at best for as ambitious a family as the Guise family. Sending her to Soissons, although they did give lots of money to religious houses in Soissons, isn't outwith the realms of the possible, but at this time, there was a religious war raging in France and most of the Abbey's in Soisson (including the one which had given protection to the infamous Thomas Becket hundreds of years earlier) were 'laid waste'. It is highly doubtful if the Guise family would have sent a child to Soisson at this time. Even if they didn't like her, she would still have been a political pawn. Either way, her parents were married, she was not just legitimate, she was a princess.

All in all, I sadly drew the conclusion that M. Nau was fantasising, just a little bit. But isn't it a romantic story? One day. I will get around to writing the fictional biography of the hypothetical princess. Although, when I tried as a NaNoWriMo task last year, I discovered that not only were their many people with the same name. But Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was also the Earl of Moray... at the same time that James Stewart, Mary's illegitimate half brother, was Earl of Moray! I am ashamed to admit that I threw in the towel & started a-fresh on a regency romance! I did manage 50,000 words, but it was touch and go for a while, I was behind most of the way!

I shall continue to work of my novel of Mary's daughter (and maybe the romance), but I won't be trying to rush it! 2014's NaNo idea, in case you are interested, will be the tale of the Vampire Cat Detective and the Case of the WereCat. I bet you wish that you hadn't asked, now. Don't you?


 

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