Book Review: Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots

Mickey Mayhew ~ Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots


Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots covers the lives and careers of the men and women who ‘kept’ Mary Queen of Scots whilst she was a political prisoner in England, circa 1568 -1587.

Mary’s troubled claim to the English throne – much to the consternation of her ‘dear cousin’ Elizabeth I – made her a mortal enemy of the aforementioned Virgin Queen and set them on a collision course from which only one would survive. Mary’s calamitous personal life, encompassing assassinations, kidnaps and abdications, sent her careering into England and right into the lap of Henry VIII’s shrewd but insecure daughter. Having no choice but to keep Mary under lock and key, Elizabeth trusted this onerous task to some of the most capable – not to mention the richest – men and women in England; Sir Francis Knollys, Rafe Sadler (of Wolf Hall fame), the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick, and finally, the puritanical nit-picker Sir Amyas Paulet.

Until now, these nobles have been mere bit-players in Mary’s story; now, their own lives, loves and fortunes are laid bare for all to see. From Carlisle Castle to Fotheringhay, these loyal subjects all but bankrupted themselves in keeping the deposed Scots queen in the style to which she was accustomed, whilst fending off countless escape plots of which Mary herself was often the author.

With the sort of twist that history excels at, it was actually a honeytrap escape plot set up by Elizabeth’s ministers that finally saw Mary brought to the executioner’s block, but what of the lives of the gaolers who acted as her guardian? 


While Anne Boleyn may be my real fascination (read obsession), I will argue that Mary Queen of Scots is equally fascinating and perhaps less commercial – there’s a lot that people don’t know about her. When I moved to Northamptonshire a few years ago, I was stunned to discover that this was the county where Mary was executed. I live but a stone’s throw away from Oundle and Fotheringhay Castle – places rich in Mary’s history. Armed with that knowledge, I planned to do more research into her life in my locale. But of course I didn’t, until Mickey Mayhew’s book reminded me of my task and saved me a lot of time and effort!

Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots has a wealth of information, looking into not only Mary’s life, but also the lives of the men and women who were instrumental in her downfall, including Bess of Hardwick, Ralph Sadler and Sir Drue Drury. Many of these names have appeared almost fleetingly in a variety of Tudor literature, but with this we learn a lot more about them. I also enjoyed the use of the word ‘bungled’ to describe Mary’s disastrous execution, which is one of the things that stuck with me from school!

For the most part, the book is written well, in an informal style that is readable. It makes references to modern day events, which shows how often history repeats itself, and the similarities the political issues we face today have with those in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the paragraphs are extremely long, which makes the book less accessible and a little dry in places

Overall, it’s a great look at Mary’s life (and death), with plenty of information on places, characters and plots.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for my copy. Opinions my own.

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