Read e-book My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots

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My Heart is My Own

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June 20 - The Casket Letters and Mary, Queen of Scots

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This ill-fated queen

Seller Inventory FH Book Description Harpercollins Pub Ltd, With all the different versions fully displayed, the reader for the first time can enjoy the poignant drama of Mary's life and the excitement of assessing all the forensic evidence. In Guy's account Mary is less the victim of the executioner's ax than of the pen: hers and Cecil's. Her life was dominated, and ruined, by letters. Ominously, on her first marriage at the age of 15 to Francis, the French dauphin, she signed three secret documents found only a century later prepared by her scheming French uncles, which would make Scotland a duchy of the Dauphin if she died without an heir.

While her mother, Mary of Guise, was acting as Mary's regent in Scotland, Mary gave her signed pieces of blank paper.

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Thenceforward, Walsingham simply extracted her letters to the Catholic conspirator Anthony Babington out of their watertight containers in a cask of ale, and after reading and copying, replaced them. The life of ''the unluckiest ruler in British history'' was full of what the poet Robert Southwell calls ''fortune's spite.

Guy's mastery of the documents presents a ''queen at the age of six days'' at the center of a web of letters passing among three capitals as England and France attempted to manage the politics of Scotland. Her uncles uncannily resemble the psychopathic brothers in John Webster's ''Duchess of Malfi. But the message of the blazon had not been lost on Cecil, Mary's ''most vehement and determined antagonist.

The violence that afflicted Mary's life is even more shocking within such a scholarly account. From the moment she set foot on Scottish soil in -- she was 18 and already dowager queen of France -- she had to cope not only with the ''factions and conspiracies'' of a viciously fickle nest of vipers but with the invective of the Calvinist preacher John Knox and Cecil's machinations.

Elizabeth, anxious to prevent her forming powerful alliances abroad, proposed that Mary should wed Elizabeth's former lover Robert Dudley, and they would all live together in a ''family. She was driven less by passion than by her frustration at Elizabeth's refusal to ratify her right of succession. Darnley's arrogance and drunkenness ruined a good plan. Once Mary thwarted his ambition, this ''great cock chick'' conspired to murder her Italian secretary, David Rizzio, in ; Cecil knew of the plan but did not warn her.

With Rizzio cowering behind her, Mary felt the ''coldness of the iron'' inches from her womb, large with royal child; while a loaded pistol was leveled at her, Rizzio was stabbed 56 times.

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Within a year the nobles who killed him helped the Earl of Bothwell plant enough gunpowder to blow Darnley sky high; he escaped the blast, but his kinsmen strangled him in his nightshirt. Holinshed's ''Chronicles,'' published just before Mary's execution, laid responsibility for this crime on ''great persons now living'': code, Guy argues, for Cecil. View all New York Times newsletters. Guy does not diminish Mary's responsibility for the worst mistake of her life: her failure to prosecute, and her decision to marry, Bothwell, the foul-mouthed murderer who had abducted her.

With stunning understatement, Mary was later to write of Bothwell so violent that he beat an old servant to death in front of her : ''We cannot dissemble that he has used us otherwise than we would have wished or yet have deserved at his hand. If Knox laid the foundations for the picture of Mary as an idolatress ruled by her heart, Buchanan prepared the sleazy dossier condemning her as a murderess and Bothwell as a violent sodomite. Cecil, whom Guy calls ''this most intrepid of spiders,'' had it all printed at the end of as ''A Detection of the Doings of Mary Queen of Scots.

When Mary, pursued by the Confederate Lords, fled Scotland in , she began an imprisonment that lasted 18 years until her death. She had hardly set foot in England before Cecil organized a tribunal. The charge was that she was guilty of Darnley's murder. The main evidence against her consisted of eight letters, always known as the ''casket letters,'' which had been ''found'' in Bothwell's rooms.

Almost everything about these letters, the originals of which have disappeared, has been disputed.

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Guy examines them in detail, paying particular attention to two previously unknown transcripts. Cecil's autograph annotations on these show him doctoring evidence to prove that Mary was Bothwell's lover before the murder of Darnley. In one case Cecil crossed out ''after'' and wrote ''afore,'' which transformed a harmless letter into an incriminating document.

At her trial, Mary said to him, ''Ah, I see you are my adversary. There was little tenderness in Mary's life.