Monday, April 22, 2013
Jean Plaidy's ROYAL ROAD TO FOTHERINGAY #OneBookAtATime
That should by no means be taken as a statement about the quality of Royal Road to Fotheringay, which is textbook Jean Plaidy fictionalized biography. The novel takes us from Mary Stuart's early days as the toddler queen of Scotland, romping through various castles and monastaries with her "four Marys" (four little girls of noble birth, all of whom share her given name, who were raised along with her to give her company and, later on, servants) through her later upbringing in France as the intended bride of the Dauphin, the sickly boy who grew up (sort of) to be the short-reigning King Francis II, her disastrous second and third marriages, and then skips on to her infamously botched execution on the orders of her cousin Elizabeth I of England. A sequel, The Captive Queen of Scots, presumably covers the twenty or so years between the death of her third husband and Mary's own death, and will be read in due course. Probably. Once I'm done with gnashing my teeth over how much I wanted to slap Mary through most of this novel.
I had, of course, a similar experience reading Plaidy's two novels concerning Lucrezia Borgia last year. I'm not sure how similar these two heroines really were, but as Plaidy wrote them, both were spoiled, petted young things who grew up into pathological people pleasers who allowed monstrous goings on to take place all around them without even trying to do anything about said goings on, before, during or after. Of course they are also products of their age, and I'm meant to feel sympathy towards them (Plaidy seems to have made it her special mission to rehabilitate, or at least explain, Borgia), or at least try to understand them, but... man, it's rough. It's rough.
Royal Road to Fotheringay was a lot more unpleasant a read than the Borgia books, though, because so many of the characters it has to portray are unpleasant. From Mary's creepy Uncle Clarence, a Roman Catholic Cardinal who helped "guide" her during her upbringing in France and who does a lot of "caressing" and engages in blatant emotional manipulation that all but amounts to abuse, to her first husband, the vain and spoilt and cranky Darnley to her womanizing, raping, pillaging jackass of a second husband, James Hepburn, to Mary's mother Mary of Guise and one-time mother-in-law Catherine de' Medici, Mary Stuart's life is like one long parade of monsters. If only she weren't so damned passive, gullible, foolishly romantic and willing to be manipulated... seriously, she is the Dobby the House Elf of European monarchs. Not that she ever stood much of a chance of being anything else.
And this chick ruled a country. Well, sort of.
Maddening as it is, though, it's a good story, impeccably told. And that counts for something.