A Note on "Mary Said What She Said"

by Darryl Pinckney

Mary Stuart, born in 1542, became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old.

Mary Stuart, born in 1542, became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old. She grew up in exile, at the French court, where she was married to the dauphin. He survived his father by only a year and in 1561, Mary, a childless, nineteen-year-old dowager queen, returned to Scotland. Seven years and two marriages later, Mary was once again in flight from the realm of which she was queen, a Catholic sovereign driven out by her Protestant lords. She sought refuge in England, where she expected help from another anointed queen, Elizabeth Tudor. Instead, the wary Elizabeth made her beautiful, younger cousin her prisoner. Mary was also the heir to the English throne. Elizabeth was at last persuaded that Mary was part of a Catholic plot to assassinate her and she suffered Mary to be tried in summer, convicted in autumn, and condemned to die in winter.

     ‘Mary Said What She Said’ is set in 1587, at Fotheringhay Castle in the north of England, on the eve of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. She looks back on her stormy history: her disastrous marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the father of her son, an infant when he was proclaimed king in her place. Darnley’s murder and Mary’s subsequent marriage to her lover, James, Earl of Bothwell, the chief conspirator in Darnley’s violent death, cost the queen her throne. But even as she prepares to die a martyr, after nineteen years in captivity, she will not go gently into her goodnight. She has a vision of her son, King James, hunting down the patriarch of cannibals who were terrorizing the Scottish coast. They say her lips were still moving when the executioner held her severed head aloft.