The best books about Mary Queen of Scots for people who don’t think they’re interested in history

Gill Arbuthnott Author Of The Amazing Life of Mary, Queen of Scots: Fact-Tastic Stories from Scotland's History
By Gill Arbuthnott

Who am I?

I was utterly uninspired by history at school—couldn’t see the point of it at all—but then I discovered Jean Plaidy’s books and realised history was about people, real people. Dorothy Dunnett propelled me headlong into a fascination with sixteenth-century Europe, a period full of larger-than-life characters and an unusually high number of strong women. Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, Mary of Guise, Hurrem Sultan (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent): they wielded real power. And Mary Queen of Scots was so young—it makes her the perfect starting point to interest young readers in history. I hope I’ve done her story justice.


I wrote...

The Amazing Life of Mary, Queen of Scots: Fact-Tastic Stories from Scotland's History

By Gill Arbuthnott, Mike Phillips (illustrator),

Book cover of The Amazing Life of Mary, Queen of Scots: Fact-Tastic Stories from Scotland's History

What is my book about?

Mary became Queen of Scots when she was six days old and Queen of France at sixteen. At eighteen she returned to Scotland, newly widowed, to rule a fractious country divided by religion while trying to maintain a cordial relationship with Elizabeth of England. How many eighteen-year-olds could have pulled that off? She was doing pretty well until she fell in love with her handsome, dashing, and utterly unreliable cousin Lord Henry Darnley—and everything went downhill from there. 

The Amazing Life of Mary, Queen of Scots tells Mary’s story through the eyes of Alec, a young servant. Full of facts about life in sixteenth-century Scotland, it’s a great introduction for children to Scotland’s most fascinating monarch.

The books I picked & why

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Royal Road to Fotheringhay: The Story of Mary, Queen of Scots

By Jean Plaidy,

Book cover of Royal Road to Fotheringhay: The Story of Mary, Queen of Scots

Why this book?

I was never interested in History at school: it just seemed to be boring lists that didn’t involve relatable human beings. I can’t remember why I picked up this book in the library, but it opened history up to me as something completely different—and fascinating. These Queens and Kings and plague victims and soldiers were people like the people around me—and the story was as exciting as many of the plots in the non-fact-based fiction I read. 

Royal Road to Fotheringhay: The Story of Mary, Queen of Scots

By Jean Plaidy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Royal Road to Fotheringhay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The haunting story of the beautiful—and tragic—Mary, Queen of Scots, as only legendary novelist Jean Plaidy could write it

Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland at the tender age of six days old. Her French-born mother, the Queen Regent, knew immediately that the infant queen would be a vulnerable pawn in the power struggle between Scotland’s clans and nobles. So Mary was sent away from the land of her birth and raised in the sophisticated and glittering court of France. Unusually tall and slim, a writer of music and poetry, Mary was celebrated throughout Europe for her beauty and intellect.…

Mary Queen of Scots

By Antonia Fraser,

Book cover of Mary Queen of Scots

Why this book?

I read this book many years ago, but I went back to it as my first port of call when I began to research my own book on Mary. It’s a fantastically readable, detailed, and sympathetic portrait of Mary. And the sympathetic bit was important to me. It’s almost impossible not to take sides when reading or writing about Mary, and she did make some disastrous decisions, but I keep coming back to how young she was, and that’s well illustrated here.

Mary Queen of Scots

By Antonia Fraser,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mary Queen of Scots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A book that will leave few readers unmoved.”–San Francisco Chronicle

She was the quintessential queen: statuesque, regal, dazzlingly beautiful. Her royal birth gave her claim to the thrones of two nations; her marriage to the young French dauphin promised to place a third glorious crown on her noble head.

Instead, Mary Stuart became the victim of her own impulsive heart, scandalizing her world with a foolish passion that would lead to abduction, rape and even murder. Betrayed by those she most trusted, she would be lured into a deadly game of power, only to lose to her envious and unforgiving…

Rizzio: A Novella

By Denise Mina,

Book cover of Rizzio: A Novella

Why this book?

I was given this as a present at the launch of my book on Mary. I took it home and devoured it the next day. It’s a short, punchy, and very immediate version of a single incident in Mary’s story: the dreadful murder of David Rizzio. Denise Mina does what I most admire in writers of historical fiction and somehow fills the story with suspense, although you know with your head how the story ends.

Rizzio: A Novella

By Denise Mina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rizzio as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'a tour de force work of art' - The Wall Street Journal, Best Books of the Year

Longlisted for the 2022 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award

It's Saturday evening, 9 March 1566, and Mary, Queen of Scots, is six months pregnant. She's hosting a supper party, secure in her private chambers. She doesn't know that her Palace is surrounded - that, right now, an army of men is creeping upstairs to her chamber. They're coming to murder David Rizzio, her friend and secretary, the handsome Italian man who is smiling across the table at her. Mary's husband, Lord Darnley,…


Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Lochleven Castle

By Theresa Breslin, Teresa Martinez (illustrator),

Book cover of Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Lochleven Castle

Why this book?

This is a great introduction to Mary’s story for young readers. I love the clever way it centres the whole story of Mary’s life on her true, action-packed escape from Loch Leven Castle, helped by a young boy called Will Douglas. It’s beautifully illustrated and written. This is how to get ‘em interested in history at an early age!

Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Lochleven Castle

By Theresa Breslin, Teresa Martinez (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary, Queen of Scots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of the daring escape of Mary, Queen of Scots from the island castle in Lochleven is well-known throughout Scotland and the world.

Multi-award-winning author Theresa Breslin, who has carefully researched Mary's life, has adapted this famous adventure into a picture book for children.

Through stunning illustrations and a gripping story, both packed with historical detail, children will feel the tension of Mary's imprisonment and the excitement of her escape plans, gaining insight into this fascinating period of Scottish history.

A full and engaging historical tale for children from a fabulous Scottish storyteller.


The Game of Kings: Book One in the Legendary Lymond Chronicles

By Dorothy Dunnett,

Book cover of The Game of Kings: Book One in the Legendary Lymond Chronicles

Why this book?

This is a slight cheat, as Mary is only a minor character who is a small child at this point, but Game of Kings is one of my all-time favourite books, so I’ll use any excuse to recommend it! It’s the first of a six-volume sequence featuring the brilliant but deeply flawed hero Francis Crawford, who weaves his way around the (impeccably researched) major historical events of the early years of Mary’s life, at times as her protector, at others trying to unravel the complexities of his own life. I was hooked from the first page and it gave me a fascination with this period of history. Prepare to lose many hours of your life reading this—you’ll thank me for it!

The Game of Kings: Book One in the Legendary Lymond Chronicles

By Dorothy Dunnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Game of Kings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this first book in the legendary Lymond Chronicles, Francis Crawford of Lymond, traitor, murderer, nobleman, returns to Scotland to redeem his reputation and save his home.

It is 1547 and Scotland has been humiliated by an English invasion and is threatened by machinations elsewhere beyond its borders, but it is still free. Paradoxically, her freedom may depend on a man who stands accused of treason. He is Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of crooked felicities and murderous talents, posessed of a scholar's erudition and a tongue as wicked as a rapier. In The Game of Kings, this…

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