‘Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen’ by Mickey Mayhew


This is a very different take on the Mary Queen of Scots story. Starting really when she escaped Scotland into England in 1568 after being deposed in favour of her son, James, Mary’s nineteen years of captivity in England are told in detail through the people who were responsible for her under the eye of their queen, Elizabeth I.

The book is obviously well-researched with plenty of quotes incorporated into the text, and pop culture references to the likes of the film ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and by the authors Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory. However, many of the contemporary quotes seem to come from secondary sources rather than the originals. This doesn’t detract when reading it, however.

Different chapters cover Mary’s time with different gaolers in different places, and both places and gaolers are described in some detail with how they came to be where they were.

There is an extensive bibliography, though largely of secondary sources, with plenty of information scattered through the book that I didn’t know before, especially about just how much she was moved around so that the places she lived in could be cleaned and freshened out for her return.

One of my bug bears with this book, however, is that there is no bibliography. I like to be able to dip in and out of books if I’m looking for particular information and I find I cannot necessarily do that with this book, despite it being written in chronological order – for instance, looking for the Ridolfi and Throckmorton Plots are within the longest chapter in the book.

Mickey Mayhew’s book offers a lot to research on Mary Queen of Scots and her period of captivity in England, where focus is usually on her marriages, the Casket letters, the disasters of her queenship, and her execution. The focus of her captivity is usually the rebellions against Elizabeth I, but this book examines it in a more domestic light, which I’ve never seen before. It’s fascinating.

Chapters:

  1. Mary’s Path to Imprisonment
  2. Sir Francis Knollys
  3. ‘Keeping Mary’ – the North of England
  4. The Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick
  5. ‘Keeping Mary’ – Coventry
  6. ‘Keeping Mary’ – the Sheffield slog
  7. Ralph Sadler
  8. ‘Killing Mary’ – Chartley, Tixall and Fotheringhay
  9. Life after Mary
  10. Gaolers in Fiction, on Film and TV

Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Bess describes George and herself as newlyweds happy and in love. On page 2, she says, “Only my newly wedded husband is so dotingly fond of me that he is safe under the same roof as such a temptress.” What is it that first makes Bess uneasy about her husband’s feelings towards Queen Mary?

Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Queen' (2008).
Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Queen’ (2008).

I think it is the fact that Mary is so unusual and attractive. Bess of Hardwick was unusual but Mary was in a different league. I think it is the time that Shrewsbury spends talking to Mary that makes Bess uneasy. I think she wonders whether Mary is converting her husband to Catholicism and rebellion against the queen, which would threaten her own position. Shrewsbury turns into more than Mary’s captor; he becomes a kind of friend and protector.

  1. Authors often challenge themselves by writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Do you think Gregory does a convincing job of creating her main male character, George Talbot? Do you think he is more or less realistic than the women in this novel, such as his wife, Bess, or Queens Mary and Elizabeth?

I think George is quite a weak character. Bess comes across more strongly in my opinion. Possibly it is difficult for a modern female to get into the mind-set of a medieval man. I don’t think he is entirely realistic, as I don’t believe that Shrewsbury was, in reality, so easily taken in by Mary, otherwise he would doubtless have been removed as her gaoler. I think Bess and Mary come across the most strongly as the story revolves most obviously around those two. Elizabeth is a background character but you can still sense her presence and influence across the events of the novel. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory”

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