The best books on Mary, Queen of Scots and her people

Marie Macpherson Author Of The First Blast of the Trumpet (The Knox Trilogy)
By Marie Macpherson

Who am I?

Growing up in the Honest Toun of Musselburgh near Edinburgh, I was surrounded by bloody battlefields, haunted castles, ruined abbeys and palaces. In particular, Scotland during the turbulent 16th century Reformation and the tragic reign of Mary, Queen of Scots fired my imagination. I was curious to know more about the lives, loves, and destinies of these fascinating historical characters. I wanted to delve deeper, go beyond dates and events–what happened when–to explore why and how people acted. I’m passionate about writing historical fiction as it involves researching the tiniest details about everyday life–clothes, food, methods of travel, language, beliefs–to bring people from the past to life for the reader.


I wrote...

The First Blast of the Trumpet (The Knox Trilogy)

By Marie Macpherson,

Book cover of The First Blast of the Trumpet (The Knox Trilogy)

What is my book about?

Set in 16th century Scotland during the turbulent time of the Reformation, the Knox Trilogy reveals the man behind the myth of the pulpit-thumping reformer, John Knox. The First Blast follows his story from his birth in Haddington, his growing disillusionment as a Roman Catholic priest, and his conversion to Protestantism. 

Meanwhile his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth Hepburn, a reluctant nun, is hellbent on steering him from his wayward path. It opens on the eve of the Battle of Flodden and ends in 1548 with Knox toiling in a galley ferrying precious cargo–the five-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots on her way to meet her betrothed in France.

The books I picked & why

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Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots

By Linda Porter,

Book cover of Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots

Why this book?

Reams have been written about the tragic life of Mary, Queen of Scots, from the magisterial biographies by Antonia Fraser and John Guy to those focusing on her relationship with her sister queen, Elizabeth Tudor. Crown of Thistles by historian Linda Porter plugs a gap in Mary’s history by exploring the background to the prolonged rivalry and dynastic complications between the Stewarts of Scotland and the Tudors of England. 

Dr. Porter’s book was an invaluable resource which I mined for lots of fascinating nuggets and incisive comments not found elsewhere.

This is an excellent, highly readable introduction for anyone wishing to know more about the violent history of the ancestors who shaped Mary’s destiny.


Blood Feud: Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Moray

By Steven Veerapen,

Book cover of Blood Feud: Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Moray

Why this book?

Returning from France to claim her throne, the Catholic queen steeled herself for a battle with John Knox, the fiery leader of a Reformed Scotland. However, as this exhilarating book reveals, Knox was not her most dangerous foe but her half-brother, James Stewart. 

In many accounts, the cunning, ambitious, and jealous Earl of Moray remains a shadowy figure, a Machiavellian eminence grise behind his sister’s throne but Veerapen’s scholarly historical analysis highlights the intense rivalry between the siblings that precipitated bloody assassinations and execution. 

Dr. Steven Veerapen is a historian of Stewarts and Tudors as well as a prolific author of mysteries set in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Here he writes a gripping narrative about the base-born brother who coveted his sister’s crown.


Mary of Guise (Scots' Lives)

By Rosalind Marshall,

Book cover of Mary of Guise (Scots' Lives)

Why this book?

The more I learnt about Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots, the more I admired this inspiring woman whose life is overshadowed by that of her more famous daughter. The French widow who spurned Henry VIII’s advances in favour of James V proved to be a wise, sharp-witted politician ruling as regent for Mary. Despite suffering great personal sorrow–the loss of two husbands and four sons–she held her daughter’s throne against opposition from the Scots lords until her premature death in 1560.

I often wonder how Mary’s life would have turned out had she been brought up by her shrewd and politically astute de Guise mother.

This is more a sketch than a full-length portrait but, like all Dr. Marshall’s studies, offers a wealth of information and telling details.


The Sword Bearer: John Knox and the European Reformation

By Stewart Lamont,

Book cover of The Sword Bearer: John Knox and the European Reformation

Why this book?

My upbringing taught me to believe that John Knox was the Antichrist but that only piqued my curiosity to know more about the Thundering Scot. What fired his driving ambition? Why did the ordained priest reject the Roman Catholic Church? How did he become leader of the Scottish Reformation? Was the twice married preacher who wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women really such a rampant misogynist? How did his public persona differ from the private family man? Rev Lamont answers these questions and more in an exciting non-fiction account that reads more like an adventure thriller than a history.

While Jane Dawson’s comprehensive biography tackles the theological issues, this short book looks beyond the caricature of the pulpit-thumping Calvinist to reveal a complex, contradictory character.


Darnley: A Life of Henry Suart Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots

By Caroline Bingham,

Book cover of Darnley: A Life of Henry Suart Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots

Why this book?

The murder of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, has baffled historians and authors for centuries, yet the queen’s consort is often a minor figure in the greater tragedy/romance of Mary. While writing my own book, I was eager to know more about the ill-fated lang lad other than the results of his self-centred scheming conspiracies–David Rizzio’s assassination, his own murder at Kirk o Field, and ultimately Mary’s downfall. And so it was refreshing to read this excellent biography which gives Darnley centre stage. By recreating his childhood and family background, particularly around his ambitious mother, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, Caroline Bingham offers a fascinating portrait of this flawed character who stole the queen’s heart and then broke it. 

At times her account made me feel sorry for this gullible pawn in the Game of Queens.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mary Queen of Scots, Scotland, and the Reformation?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mary Queen of Scots, Scotland, and the Reformation.

Mary Queen Of Scots Explore 15 books about Mary Queen of Scots
Scotland Explore 147 books about Scotland
The Reformation Explore 16 books about the Reformation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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