Book Review: Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen by Dr Mickey Mayhew

Genre: History
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pub date: 30 August 2022

Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots covers the lives and careers of the men and women who ‘kept’ Mary Queen of Scots whilst she was a political prisoner in England, circa 1568 -1587. Mary’s troubled claim to the English throne – much to the consternation of her ‘dear cousin’ Elizabeth I – made her a mortal enemy of the aforementioned Virgin Queen and set them on a collision course from which only one would survive. Mary’s calamitous personal life, encompassing assassinations, kidnaps and abdications, sent her careering into England and right into the lap of Henry VIII’s shrewd but insecure daughter. Having no choice but to keep Mary under lock and key, Elizabeth trusted this onerous task to some of the most capable – not to mention the richest – men and women in England; Sir Francis Knollys, Rafe Sadler (of Wolf Hall fame), the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick, and finally, the puritanical nit-picker Sir Amyas Paulet. Until now, these nobles have been mere bit-players in Mary’s story; now, their own lives, loves and fortunes are laid bare for all to see. From Carlisle Castle to Fotheringhay, these loyal subjects all but bankrupted themselves in keeping the deposed Scots queen in the style to which she was accustomed, whilst fending off countless escape plots of which Mary herself was often the author. With the sort of twist that history excels at, it was actually a honeytrap escape plot set up by Elizabeth’s ministers that finally saw Mary brought to the executioner’s block, but what of the lives of the gaolers who acted as her guardian? This book explains how Shrewsbury and Bess saw their marriage wrecked by Mary’s legendary charms, and how Paulet ended up making a guest appearance on ‘Most Haunted’, some several hundred years after his death. In that theme, the book also covers the appearances of these men and women on film and TV, in novels and also the various other Mary-related media that keeps the legend of this most misunderstood of monarchs so perfectly simmering.

Having recently read Mayhew’s House of Tudor: A Grisly History, I was looking forward to reading more of Mayhew’s work.

Most know the story of Mary Queen of Scots, that she was imprisoned until her eventual execution, but what about those entrusted to keep her secure and away from the many plots to free her?

Mayhew gives a detailed insight into the men chosen for this task, their personalities and their lives. Keeping Mary secure can’t have been an easy task and as Mayhew explains the impact keeping Mary secure on her jailers including the financial implications which they paid from their own funds in the hopes they would be reimbursed.

Readers are given fascinating details of the castles and manors where Mary was held along with her trips to Buxton waters.
Reading the stories of these men and their families really made me understand how difficult their task was and how little recognition they received for not only maintaining Mary and her household but also fending off plots whilst trying to continue with their own lives and occupations.
Being chosen for this task really was a double edged sword, it showed Elizabeth I had faith in them and trusted them implicitly but it cost them a fortune and sometimes more than just money.

Mayhew goes on to give an overview of how each jailer has been portrayed on TV as well as what happened to them following the death of Mary.

For me, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was the most intriguing as we learn how his marriage to the legendary Bess of Hardwick was affected by holding Mary prisoner. Whilst not the sole cause, it certainly formed part of the destruction of their marriage and the fall out that followed.

For anyone interested in an alternative view of Mary Queen of Scots I would highly recommend this and I’m looking forward to reading more of Mayhew’s work in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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