As a preliminary to using as a course text Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart as one of my World Literature works in the Language A-1 International Baccalaureate English class I’ll be teaching in my international school next year, I decided to make myself more familiar with the life and career of the unfortunate Queen of Scots, who I already knew was one of the most maligned figures in Anglo-Saxon historiography.
First I re-read Jane Dunn’s awful pseudo-feminist screed, Elizabeth and Mary, Cousins, Rivals, Queens, and, although I am quite interested in one of her theses, which is that 16th century female monarchs operated under severe disadvantages originating in religious and sexist biases (and intend to make that information part of my treatment in class of Schiller’s drama—Schiller was, after all, a historian, too), I have not fallen for the other one, which is that Mary was a willful, spoiled brat, unable to discipline herself because of the influence of the corrupt royal Valois nursery she’d been bred in and whose values she could never shed.
The second book, John Guy’s Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, is far more interesting and convincing. Mr. Guy’s book seems to have two main theses, and both are revisionist regarding the conventionally accepted historical analysis of Mary’s behaviour. The first is that Mary’s original reason for relentlessly pursuing her “succession rights” in England AFTER she’d been pretty much abandoned by her Guise uncles and sent home from France is that it was her only way of strengthening her control of her own factious nobles in Scotland. The second is that every act of Mary’s as Queen was, on account of the divisions in Scottish society and the rebelliousness of her nobles, subject to the constant surveillance, manipulation and distortion of William Cecil’s spy service, who often acted independently and sometimes in direct opposition to Elizabeth I’s personal preferences regarding treatment of her cousin. Mr. Guy claims that Cecil and his pawns behaved thusly because they were essentially republican in their political ideology, which included a religious objection to something that both Elizabeth and Mary believed in—anointed monarchy.
I have not yet re-read the second half of the book, but I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Guy will conclude in it that the greater impetus for, encouragement and even guidance of the Babington Conspiracy was another one of Cecil’s schemes—this one taking the form of a “government projection” managed by the Walsingham spy network.
I’m going to make a “powerpoint presentation” of a research paper I’ll eventually write over the coming months, on the subject of whether or to what degree Schiller neglects the “sexual politics” of the struggle between the two queens. This is fun for me, but it also helps my IB students to see what a true MLA-style research paper on a literary-historical topic should LOOK like, because “research papers” aren’t part of the IB syllabus for Higher Level English A-1 (the same as they are not part of AP syllabi, either, although some high schools FORCE them onto the syllabus—failing to acknowledge that this should have been taught BEFORE a student gets to the 11th and 12th years of school; it’s basically a simple, very fundamental skill, after all—one 9th and 10th graders can learn with ease.)
My question, however, for the “what if” history buffs is this: What do you think would have happened if Mary Stuart had remained with her husband at Kirk o’Fields on the night of Sunday, February 9th, 1567, instead of returning to the palace of Hollyroodhouse in Edinburgh for the nuptials and wedding masque of her valet Bastian Pages to Christily Hogg? One presumes that the conspirators, Bothwell and the Douglases, would not have carried out their assassination attempt, that Darnley, his syphilis treatment completed, would have removed to his wife’s side the next day, and, most importantly, the acknowledgment of Mary’s succession rights in England and the alterations of the Treaty of Edinburgh that Elizabeth had already conceded verbally would have been successfully negotiated, in spite of Cecil’s misgivings. Under the provisions of the agreement’s understandings, James Stuart, Mary’s son—the eventual James VI and I—would have been raised as a Protestant (as he was anyway, as it turned out), but under the guardianship of Elizabeth in England, and Mary would have been acknowledged as Elizabeth’s rightful successor, barring any progeny of her own. And this would have been agreed to despite Mary Stuart’s persistence in her Catholic religious affiliation.
How would the history of both countries been changed?