How Historically Accurate is Mary Queen of Scots?

Few historical real-life battles are more perfect for movie melodrama than the pitched battle that took place between Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots, her cousin, in the 16th Century. Margot Robbie portrays the Virgin Queen and Saoirse Ronan takes the part of embattled would-be ruler of England in the latest retelling, and, as history fans will tell you, it didn’t end well for the Stuart heir to the throne. She loses her head after Elizabeth Tudor signs the death warrant.

Even if your interest in the royal family has thus far been limited to the fun depictions as presented by the best online pokies Australia has to offer, however, this movie is compelling, albeit very much on the side of the doomed monarch. But will it get historians’ seal of approval? Likely not, although it must be remembered that it’s difficult to pack the facts as they stand in to a two-hour story.

Who Was the Real Winner?

John Guy, who wrote the book on which the film is based, said that history has always been written by the winners, and Mary, on the face of it, was not one. She did however eventually come out on top, in a way, insofar as her son ended up on the throne.

In a final bit of irony, King James had his mother exhumed in 1612, reburying her in Westminster Abbey in a white marble tomb just a few feet from the one belonging to Elizabeth. Conquered, she was unconquerable, was emblazoned across it.

Guy stated that his aim in writing the book was to dispel popular misconceptions, and reestablish the truth of what actually happened, which makes the inaccuracies in the movie that much more interesting!

Mary’s Scottish Accent Is Likely Wrong

The film depicts Mary as speaking with a Scottish accent, but she probably sounded more French, seeing as she grew up on l’Hexagone, only heading home at the age of 18. She was shipped there when she was 5-years old after becoming Queen of Scotland in her infancy, and actually married the French heir to the throne. After her husband’s death she returned to her native land, a fervent Catholic regarded with much suspicion by the Protestants.

Aristocracy Was Not as Diverse as Depicted

The filmmakers nobly hired a diverse cast, with Adrian Lester playing the English ambassador to Scotland, and Gemma Chan taking the part of a noblewoman. It’s safe to say, however, that there were very few Africans or Asians moving in the upper echelons of society at this time.

The Queens Never Actually Met

The climactic scene sees Mary and Elizabeth secretly meeting, but although documents exist that prove they came very close to agreeing on a deal that would have allowed them to live in harmony, it never happened, and they never came face-to-face.

Beau Willimon, who wrote the movie, explained the scene’s presence by stating that the point of drama is to capture characters’ true essence, and sometimes doing this required one to depart from the literal truth.





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