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Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Eyes of Modern Tudor Historians

Zunaid is currently a business student at ASU W.P. School of Business. He also has degrees in history and political science from ASU.

Mary Queen of Scots, written by the well-reputed modern Tudor historian Retha M. Warnicke, is a thorough and fascinating biographical study of Queen Mary Stuart, the queen of Scotland and France during part of the 16th century. In this book, Professor Warnicke sheds a refreshing and positive light on the much-dismayed and controversial queen by examining her lifestyle through the prism of the medieval social and cultural landscapes of the 16th century. In the process, Professor Warnicke goes into great detail in laying out all the challenges and adversities Mary faced as a monarch and how her political opponents took advantage of the flawed and biased gender relations of the mid-16th century to cause her downfall and death.

On the other hand, Her Majesty’s Spymaster, written by Stephen Budiansky, mainly focuses on the life and activities of Sir Francis Walsingham. He was the royal secretary and spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I from 1573 to 1590, who invented the modern techniques and strategies of espionage and secret-service intelligence.

In this article, I'll compare and contrast the ways in which Warnicke and Budiansky try to portray Mary Stuart in their respective texts. Then, we will examine both of the authors’ motives for composing their works, which will also include examining their intended audience in a nutshell. Lastly, we will try to answer the question of readability: Which book is more engaging and easy to follow in determining Mary Stuart’s true personality and traits, and why is that the case?

The Authors' Differing Analyses of the Queen's Character

In the matter of analyzing Mary Stuart’s character, Professor Warnicke and Budiansky tend to differ significantly. Budiansky’s analysis of Mary’s personality and character traits seems to be a bit negative and harsh. According to him, Mary was “no intellectual, no grand strategist” but a charismatic and attractive woman, who could manipulate people easily (66–67). Also, Budiansky tries to imply indirectly and wrongfully that she was involved in the plot to murder her own husband, Lord Darnley.

Interestingly, although Budiansky describes Mary as a not-so-bright woman at first, he ultimately depicts her as a clever mastermind who always tried to weave conspiracies against Elizabeth I to overthrow her as the Queen of England and restore Catholicism in the country. Altogether, Budiansky viewed Mary as a mysterious, complex, and shadowy individual with manipulative characteristics who liked to attract controversies and “the forces of opposition (70).”

In contrast, Professor Warnicke’s analysis of Mary Stuart’s character is much more positive, accurate, and refreshing. Looking at her lifestyle through the prism of 16th-century British society where the idea of female monarchs ruling a nation seemed almost despicable, Professor Warnicke accurately depicts Mary as an extremely bright, politically-savvy, and caring monarch who always tried to do the best for her country to ensure prosperity and peace within its society.

As a human being, she was a determined, religious, and forgiving woman who stood up against the wrongful charges of treason against her and defended herself. She ultimately sacrificed her life to prove her innocence. Mary also died a good Catholic death by praying to God for the prosperity and the safety of the English monarchy and its people and by forgiving her accusers and executioners before her death. In all, Mary Stuart was a victim of gender prejudice and political and religious upheaval within 16th-century British society, which posed significant challenges to her royal authority and led to her tragic demise.

The Readability of Each Book

There is no doubt that Her Majesty’s Spymaster is a fascinating, well-researched, and well-written biography with an eye-catching title. However, the structure and the materials discussed in the book are a bit disorganized and ambiguous. It is difficult for readers to follow some of the events and topics discussed in the book because Budiansky fails to present them in chronological order. In addition, readers have a hard time keeping track of the materials to seek out the necessary information or ideas within each chapter of the book because it lacks an index of topics at the back end. Not to mention some of the chapter headlines or titles do not seem to correlate with the topics and ideas discussed in those chapters.

In contrast, Professor Warnicke’s Mary Queen of Scots is a well-organized and highly engaging biography. Although she does not provide the readers with a captivating book title, Professor Warnicke does do a wonderful job of including various supplementary materials with substance throughout the chapters of the book. The inclusion of these materials makes the reading experience a more engaging and easier one.

The book contains helpful and highly detailed genealogical charts of the royal families and chronological timelines of events or topics discussed within its chapters. This helps the readers to follow along fluently while being fully engaged in historical analysis of their own. A complete index of topics at the end also helps the readers find important information quickly. Most importantly, Professor Warnicke’s simple and straightforward writing style and word usage and well-thought-out chapter headlines and titles make the book highly readable and easily comprehensible.

The Takeaway

This comparison of Stephen Budiansky and Professor Retha M. Warnicke’s respective opinions and points of view about Mary Stuart’s personality and character casts a different and refreshing light on her and re-establishes her as a bright, religious, and forgiving woman who was a tragic victim of gender prejudices and political and religious power struggles of the 16th-century British society. While some historical fallacies may exist in both authors’ analyses, Mary Queen of Scots is more engaging and readable overall

Works Cited

  • Warnicke, Retha. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Budiansky, Stephen. Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and The Birth of Modern Espionage. New York: Plume Book, 2006.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Zunaid Kabir