Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots remains one of the most fascinating figures in Scottish history and the wealth of published material grows every year into a quite bewildering array of history, biography, and academic history titles, rivalled only by books about her contemporary, Queen Elizabeth I. (Jane Dunn’s Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, gives a realistic portrait of the two characters. There is also Two Queens in One Isle: the Deadly Relationship of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots by Alison Plowden.)

Mary, Queen of Scots: The Essentials

Our top four books on Mary, Queen of Scots - essential for any Scottish bookshelf


Recent years have seen the publication of books relying more on biographical insight into the life of Mary with the award-winning My Heart is my Own by John Guy (published in the US as Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart). Roderick Graham's An Accidental Tragedy tries to tell the story of a young woman struggling with 16th-century politics, and sees her neither as a martyr or a murderer.

Painting of Mary, Queen of Scots

Antonia Fraser’s essentially sympathetic biography Mary Queen of Scots won the James Tait Black Prize for Biography in 1969 and the book has been reprinted many times. Jenny Wormald’s Mary Queen of Scots: Pride, Passion and a Kingdom Lost is less sympathetic, arguing that the queen’s weaknesses, personal and political, contributed strongly to her downfall.

The most heavily illustrated book on Mary is the beautiful Mary Queen of Scots by Susan Watkins and Mark Fiennes, published by Thames and Hudson. Over 150 illustrations on Mary and her world are featured.

Most famous amongst the Queen's retinue was her secretary David Rizzio, who was murdered in 1566. David Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots by David Tweedie tells the story of his death.

More academic titles come in the form of Jayne Elizabeth Lewis’ Mary Queen of Scots: Romance and Nation and Marcus Merriman’s The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1551. Was Mary involved in the death of her second husband Lord Darnley? The infamous Casket Letters are explored in A.E. MacRobert's book Mary Queen of Scots and the Casket Letters. Darnley's murder is also explored in Alison Weir's investigative Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley.

For those interested in retracing Mary’s steps, there is the budget-conscious, A Wee Guide to Mary Queen of Scots, by Joyce Miller, and On the Trail of Mary Queen of Scots by J. K. Cheetham which offers a guide to over 200 sites of interest in Scotland, England and France.

Mary, Queen of Scots in Fiction

The mixture of sex, politics, religion and tragedy in Mary's life has proven to be fertile ground for historical novelists. Jean Plaidy’s Royal Road to Fotheringhay is historical fiction based upon the queen’s life, as is her The Captive Queen of Scots. Burning Ambition by Margaret Thomson Davis tells Mary's story through the eyes of Marie Hepburn, and Phillippa Gregory's The Other Queen begins with the house-arrest of the Scottish Queen. Finally, James Hogg's epic poem The Queen's Wake investigates Catholic Scotland at the time of the Queen's return to the country in 1561. Margaret George's novel Mary Queen of Scots and the Isles tells the story of the young Queen's journey from France to Scotland, aged just 18.

Liz Lochhead has recently revised her classic play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, which explores the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. A Scotnotes guide to the play is also very popular.

Our Timelines: The Reign of Mary, Queen of Scots contains other novels set during the period of Mary's life.

  • Cover scan of Burning Ambition
    Burning Ambition
    Margaret Thomson Davis - Paperback - B & W
    The author captures the intrigue and danger of the royal court during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, through the eyes of a young woman, Marie Hepburn. Marie's mother schemes and the outcome of her plans is murder and Mary's exile in France.
  • Cover scan of The Captive Queen Of Scots
    The Captive Queen Of Scots
    Jean Plaidy - Paperback - Arrow
    Scotland has been torn apart by civil war & the young & passionate Catholic Mary Queen of Scots is in the hands of her enemies. Under duress, Mary abdicates in favour of her son, James VI, & fleeing to England she boldly seeks refuge from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. But Elizabeth has never trusted Mary, & has her imprisoned.
  • Cover scan of Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off
    Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off
    Margery McCulloch - Paperback - Association for Scottish Literary Studies
    The 'Scotnotes' series is a collection of study guides on major Scottish writers and literary texts. This volume looks at Liz Lochhead's 'Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off'.
  • Cover scan of Mary Queen Of Scotland And The Isles
    Mary Queen Of Scotland And The Isles: A Novel
    Margaret George - Paperback - Pan
    Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles is Margaret George's recreation of the life of one of history's greatest legends, who became Queen six days after her birth, and who was executed 44 years later on the orders of Elizabeth I.
  • Cover scan of Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off
    Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off
    Liz Lochhead - Paperback - Nick Hern
    Liz Lochhead's play about Mary Queen of Scots, revised and with a new introduction, is an iconoclastic take on a famous historical subject, which is much used by schools and drama groups.
  • Cover scan of The Queen's Wake
    The Queen's Wake: A Legendary Tale
    James Hogg - Paperback - Edinburgh University Press
    'The Queen's Wake' is one of the landmarks of British Romantic poetry. It focuses on the return of Mary, Queen of Scots to Scotland in 1561 to take personal rule of her kingdom after years in France. The text presents both the first and fifth editions of the poem to allow the reader to compare the two.

Books for Children

Mary and Francis

King Francis II of France and consort Mary

There are a number of books telling the story of Mary, Queen of Scots written specifically for children. For instance, Fiona Macdonald's Avoid Being Mary Queen of Scots puts the reader in the position of poor Mary, and Margaret Simpson asks us to consider her terrible taste in husbands in Mary Queen of Scots and her Hopeless Husbands. Allan Burnett's Mary Queen of Scots And All That also takes a humorous approach to the story.

More straightforward histories suitable for children include Mary Queen of Scots by Rhona Dick and Elizabeth Douglas' Mary, Queen of Scots, part of the National Museums of Scotland series of children's books.

Mollie Hunter's Kelpies novel Escape From Loch Leven sees young Will Douglas try to rescue the Queen from her island prison, while Kathryn Lasky's novel tells the story of Mary's childhood in France.

  • Cover scan of Avoid Being Mary, Queen Of Scots!
    Avoid Being Mary, Queen Of Scots!
    Fiona Macdonald - Paperback - Book House
    See life through the eyes of one of the most unfortunate people in European history! Crowned as a baby, widowed at 18, schemed against in your own country and menaced by the superpower next door - your life is not going to be a bed of roses.
  • Cover scan of Mary Queen Of Scots
    Mary Queen Of Scots
    Kathryn Lasky - Paperback - Scholastic
    At just 11 years old, the young princess Mary is sent from her native Scotland to live in the court of her future father-in-law, King Henry II of France. She spends her time attending balls, hunting and hawking, learning Latin and fractions and music, and playing with her future husband, Francis.
  • Cover scan of Mary, Queen Of Scots
    Mary, Queen Of Scots
    Rhona Dick - Hardback - Evans
    Mary became Queen of Scotland in 1542, when she was only a few days old. In 1587, she was beheaded, on the orders of Elizabeth 1 of England. This book helps readers to understand Mary's life & character. It aims to develop children's historical understanding & skills, with a Scottish focus within the 16th century.
  • Cover scan of Mary, Queen Of Scots And All That
    Mary, Queen Of Scots And All That
    Allan Burnett - Paperback - Birlinn
    Retelling the true story of Scotland's headless heroine, Mary, Queen of Scots, this title helps you learn to tell the difference between Mary's romantic reputation and her real life, find out why going to church gave the Queen of Scots a headache, and understand the difficult decisions Mary had to make.
  • Cover scan of Mary Queen Of Scots And Her Hopeless Husbands
    Mary Queen Of Scots And Her Hopeless Husbands
    Margaret Simpson - Paperback - Hippo
    Mary Queen of Scots is dead famous for having terrible taste in husbands, rotting away in Elizabeth I's prison and losing her head on the chopping block. But did you know she was a six foot stunner who married her kidnapper?