Assessment of Mary's character: an extract from My Heart is My Own

Mary herself was a mass of contradictions, but some qualities abided. She was glamorous, intelligent, gregarious, vivacious, kind, generous, loyal to her supporters and friends, and devoted to her Guise relations, whether or not they returned her love. She could be ingenious and courageous, with a razor-sharp wit, and never more animated and exuberant than when riding her horse at the head of her army wearing her steel cap.

But she had deep emotional needs. She expected love and needed to be loved. And to a large extent she got what she demanded: from her Guise family as a child, from her four Maries as an adult, from her domestic servants, and, until she married Bothwell, from her people, who were spellbound by her youth, beauty, and glamour. Maitland came closest to the mark when he predicted that the ordinary people of Scotland would be captivated by her merest smiles or frowns. But as Queen, she lacked the love of a partner, an equal, who could have bolstered her in her anxieties and tempered her impulsiveness. And this hunger for a partner, a husband, a King, led her to her most grotesque and uncharacteristic miscalculations. Although her rank meant that she was never alone, loneliness must often have consumed her, and it was a mark of her emotional isolation during her later years that her pets became everything to her. Her final reckless throw of the dice in 1586, endorsing a madcap plot in which not even the motives of the principals were clear, is a reflection of her desperation.

Beyond this, Mary was a genuine celebrity. She brought out the crowds to her wedding at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris and to her triumphal entries into Edinburgh and Perth. After her return to take up her throne, she brought something different and altogether more vibrant and compelling to the drab routine of Scottish government. When she was led through the streets of Edinburgh for the last time before her journey to Lochleven, the cries of "Burn her, burn her . . . kill her, drown her" came not from the masses, but from a hand-picked group of dissidents carefully stationed in their positions by the Confederate Lords.

For these Lords, with their honour code based on tribal loyalties and regional ties, the rules of the game were quite different. Love and loyalty could be bought and sold like a commodity. For Mary, it was to become an unequal contest. The portrait that emerges of her is not of a political pawn or a manipulative siren, but of a shrewd judge of character who could handle people just as masterfully as her English cousin and counterpart. She relished her role as Queen and, for a time, managed to hold together a divided and fatally unstable country. Contrary to Knox's well-worn stereotype, she knew how to rule from the head as well as the heart. In fact, she made the transition from France back to Scotland so successfully that, within six months, Maitland could report to Cecil: "the Queen my Mistress behaves herself so gently in every behalf as reasonably we can require. If anything be amiss, the fault is rather in ourselves."

Mary was a Queen to the last fibre of her body and soul. One of her most regal attributes was her desire to defend her honour and keep up appearances. And yet, she could be wilful as well as astonishingly na´ve and too trusting. She was na´ve in thinking that blood would be thicker than water and that her uncle, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and half-brother Moray would not put their own interests before hers time and time again. She was na´ve in expecting Bothwell to love her simply because she had fallen in love with him. She was na´ve in fleeing to England after losing the battle of Langside and expecting Elizabeth to help her to recover her lost throne. She was perhaps most na´ve in expecting a son who could not remember anything about her never to betray her.

She had an innate belief in her destiny. However many times she was let down by her uncles or the Scottish Lords, she tried to rebuild her bridges until Darnley's murder made it impossible for her to do so. Her courage has never been in doubt. Even Knox applauded what he called her "manly" ability to stand her ground against Darnley after the Rizzio plot, when she won him over and escaped with him at midnight from Holyrood, riding through the night to Dunbar while heavily pregnant and stopping only to be sick. She made two escape attempts from Lochleven in a rowing boat, the second successful, and after the battle of Langside rode for sixty miles at a stretch.

She stuck as best she could with her unhappy marriage to Darnley despite his intolerable behaviour. She decided to put him under house arrest at Craigmillar Castle only when she was faced with the prospect of a coup d'Útat. She kept up appearances with Bothwell after their marriage, even when his true colours emerged and his violent temper raged unrestrained. She allowed nothing to slip during her captivity. Her household followed the strict protocol of a royal court in exile, and she always contrived to look her best, even as in the privacy of her bedroom she must have watched with sadness and dismay as her hair thinned and her waist thickened. She was determined to live up to her image even though her youth and beauty were fading, and she spent extraordinary sums and energy to acquire the most sumptuous clothes and jewels to wear in the closed world of her confinement.

Her solution to the issue of female monarchy was hardly a radical one. "Not to marry", she told Randolph at St Andrews shortly before she married Darnley, "you know it cannot be for me." She did what the (male) councillors in all the European dynastic monarchies expected of a woman ruler. She married and settled the succession in her country. Her choice of her first and second husbands is explicable solely on dynastic criteria. The enigma relates to her third husband. Here the truth is more complex. She first saw Bothwell in the role of Queen's protector against the incessant infighting of the Lords, and then married him to seal the bond. It was a calculated move. In the kaleidoscopic world she had inhabited since her return to Scotland, Bothwell seemed to offer the one chance of stability. "This realm," she said, "being divided in factions as it is, cannot be contained in order unless our authority be assisted and set forth by the fortification of a man." Where she went disastrously wrong was in allowing Bothwell, still a married man, to seduce her at Dunbar. Her worst mistake was to allow herself, a Queen, to fall in love.