Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.

Book Review: “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom

28093757._SY475_The Tudor dynasty marked tons of changes in society and religious norms. In 1537, the changes are in full force. Anne Boleyn was executed a year earlier and Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour recently passed away after giving birth to Edward VI. Religious reformers are clashing with the Catholic Church after Henry VIII has declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII’s reign marked the changing point in societal and religious norms, none more so than the dissolution of the monasteries. As monasteries and monks alike adjust to the new ways of life, the monastery at Scarnsea buzzes with activity and murder. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, sends an unlikely man to investigate the situation; the hunchback reformer lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. This is the world that C.J. Sansom has chosen to create in the first book of his Tudor mystery series, aptly named, “Dissolution”.

I will be honest. It has been a very long time since I have read a murder mystery book. I know the general format because my mom is a huge Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote fan, but I have never really been that interested in reading this genre myself. A lot of people have recommended that I should read the Shardlake series, but no one has spoiled the series, which I am thankful for as it made reading this book extremely enjoyable.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, as he receives a new mission from his boss, Thomas Cromwell. The commissioner that Cromwell has sent to investigate the monastery of St. Donatus at the seaside town of Scarnsea, Robin Singleton, has been found murdered. It is up to Matthew and his assistant, Mark Poer, to find out the truth to why he was murdered and which one of the monks killed him. However, things are much darker and sinister at this monastery than Matthew could ever imagine and it will test everything he believes in.

I did not know what to expect before I started reading this book, but I am so glad I decided to read it. It is simply a masterpiece of intrigue and drama. It has been a while since I have been blown away by such a vivid and dark portrayal of the Tudor world that is away from the glamorous and glittering court life that we all expect from Tudor novels. The characters are raw and real; they are not cookie-cutter characters. They show that the struggle between reform and sticking with the Catholic Church was never straight forward. The details in this book are exquisite as they are compelling. Just when you think you know who did it, Sansom throws another twist that will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

I did not want this book to end because I became so attached to the characters, which is largely due to the way Sansom wrote this first novel of the Shardlake series. It’s different from any other Tudor novel that I have ever read and I want to read the rest of the series now. I understand why people wanted me to read this book and this series. I loved reading this book. If you want a thrilling Tudor mystery to read, I highly recommend you read, “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom.