Friday, December 6, 2013

The Green Woman - a novel in the making.

Yes, it's been a long time since I have blogged, and  there is a reason.  This year I decided to do the NaNoWriteMo novel writing exercise in which writers attempt to write a 50Kword novel during the 30 days of November.  And yes, I did it.  And I started late and finished early.

The idea is not to produce a finished, ready for the presses novel.  Writers are advised not to worry about editing or research--that can come later if the product warrants it.  So here is a glimpse at my historical paranormal mystery, The Green Woman.   The copy is raw, but what follows gives you an idea of what can be produced in less than a month if you neglect everything else.

      a novel by
Fashion by Josie Natori



CHAPTER ONE:  Once Upon a Time…

 The host who had taken my credit card and checked me into the castle that afternoon had not mentioned a costume party being held on the premises that evening, but I should have been forewarned. I knew that Ferniehirst Castle was a popular wedding site and often hosted private parties.  I had read the brochure.
My publisher had the entire site reserved for a book launch party on Sunday in the Great Hall, and I had understood that the castle was closed until the weekend, and I had mistakenly assumed that there were no intervening private bookings.  My entire reason for groveling for an early check-in was a chance to explore the castle without interference from my friends. While I had no intention of haunting the corridors with a candle to light my way as if I were Lady Macbeth, I would have appreciated a word of warning before sauntering to the guest kitchen in something as clinging as my favorite green Natori caftan.  It was not quite Victoria’s Secret, but hardly something I would have worn to an audience with the Queen. 
When the porter delivered my bags to the en suite accommodations in the afternoon, I had already been told that of the six newly appointed guest rooms, mine was the only one occupied until Friday when the others in my party began to trickle in.  Their late arrival was enough to make me stand up and cheer.  I had looked forward to visiting the castle for a long time and I was not the least bit keen on sharing my experiences with a group of people I loosely claim asfriends Colleagues would be the better word.  If truth be told, with the exception of my editor Katy Wjocik, I could barely endure riding an elevator with the others in the group.
Traveling as a part of the group that my publisher Simon Dirst referred to as ‘The Team’ was about as popular with me as riding in a closet casket with a flatulent corpse. But on this trip, the Fates were with me, because my publisher Simon and his administrative assistant Elle, who was the only person I had ever met who had been named after a magazine, were stopping off in London to cut a book deal with Princess Michael of Kent or some other lesser royal, and the photographer they had engaged to cover the launch had been invited to take photographs at a party being thrown by Wentworth Miller.  That left my agent Carol whose star chart had advised against flying from Sunday night through Thursday, and my editor and soul sister Katy, who as much as she loved me, refused to spend a single extra nanosecond in Simon’s company and was coming late and leaving early. She would not have come at all if I hadn’t promised to let her raid my shoe rack of my several pairs of Swedish Hasbeens and fix her up with my athletic younger brother when we got back to California. To pull it off I would probably have to confess to Iain exactly where I had last seen his autographed 2013 Red Sox Series Series ball, even though it would mark the very last time that Iain would agree to dog sit my Giant Wooly Alaskan Malamute puppy who call name was Max, short for Max Headroom.
The castle did not open to the general public other than during July and only accommodated private parties by prior arrangement and a fifty percent advance. The deal Simon had cut with the site manager had been from Friday noon through Tuesday. Because I was flying into Edinburgh on Tuesday, his salve girl Elle had booked me into a hotel on the Royal Mile. But once I realized the extent of my good fortune and that the others were not expected until Friday night, I saw no reason to plant myself in a hotel room in Edinburgh if there was any hope of talking the site manager into an early check-in.  Once my colleagues showed, I would belong to them, but until then, I had been given an unanticipated opportunity to explore the castle and the grounds on my own time just as the protagonist in my books had done. The launch may well have been my excuse for coming, but it had never been my reason. 
I rang up the number on my printed itinerary, and I spoke with the man who seemed to be in charge. At first he had been reluctant to agree, citing something about insurance and the fact that the kitchen in the guest wing was not equipped to serve meals until the weekend and there would be no maid service until Saturday.  I was not that easily discouraged.  I assured him that I was an able bodied American woman accustomed to fending for myself and totally capable of making a bed and navigating the short drive into Jedburgh to take my meals.  As long as the kitchen facilities in the guest wing had a fridge, an ice bucket and a teapot, I would be fine.  Besides, even though the launch had been Simon’s idea, ultimately I was the one who would be paying the substantial bill.  Or maybe the man just liked my voice and my book jacket photo.  Whatever had convinced him, he finally agreed. I charged the one day rate cancellation penalty at the Edinburgh hotel on my American Express card, collected my rental car from the hotel car park and headed for the Borders.
 After the ministerial act of checking in, I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the Riverwalk.  I knew the history of the place so well that when I stood on the bank above the Jed Water I could imagine a band of reivers crashing out of the woods.  I am one of those people prone to develop a romantic attachment to certain specific places. When I was a child it was the field I cut through on my way to public school in order to avoid the group of feisty Irish Catholics headed for Christ the King. When in college it was the abandoned orange groves that the college was holding for future growth.  In its wild unkempt state the defiant grove continued to blossom and bear fruit.  While much of the timber in Northumberland and on the Borders had been cut and much of the forestland was gone, there was a similar defiance in the lush woodland along the banks of the Jed Water. I felt as if I had always been here.
I recalled what Sir Walter Scot had written about this wild, compelling land: ‘Every valley has its battle and every stream its song.’

Scotland in late June is in twilight until near midnight, although by my standards, the evenings are far from warm.  Even in high summer, there is no such thing as a balmy evening on the Borders.   I bundled up as I would for a March evening drive into the SouthernCalifornia high desert town where I live, and I headed into Jedburgh. I arrived in the city hours after the closing of Jedburgh Abbey and the Queen of Scots House, which is now a popular museum, but I had not planned to tour them until the following day when I could take my time and savor what I found.  There would be time to visit the tourist’s haunts after the book launch was out of the way.  What I needed now was food.
 I was not in the mood for a hotel restaurant.  Sitting alone in a well lighted dining room watching lovers gaze into one another’s eyes while I pretended to be reading an unbearably dull book would be exceedingly depressing.
I went hunting for a friendly pub.  
If at first the crowd seemed unaccustomed to sharing space at the long mahogany bar with a lone American woman while they watched World Cup Rugby on the HDTV mounted above the bar, they were fine with me after I announced that my brother Iain played on the Eagles, the American member of the International Rugby Union. I had not known that Rugby was to Jedburgh what American football is to South Bend, Indiana and Starkville, Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide.  My self-introduction led to an enthusiastic offer to join me in a comparative analysis of the local ales in appreciation of my familiarity with the Rugby term ‘scrum half.’   I was treated as a celebrity.  I wished I’d worn my Eagles Supporters polo but my new friends seemed to like my cashmere tank just fine.
We were boisterous enough to have driven the brooding guy in the blue on white Societa Sportiva Calcio tee shirt back into the streets.  My luck, I thought.  There he was,  brutally handsome, in a youthful Marcello Mastriani sort of way, and I had to go drive him off with my vestigial Cleveland Sports fan manners.  Or maybe he was just so far into Napoli soccer that he couldn’t stand to watch a rugby match. Another pint and I had forgotten what the Italian footballer had looked like.  One more and I had forgotten what I looked like.  Then it was time to go.
Four pints of ale, two propositions and a proposal of marriage later I was ready to go back to the castle.  The food had been excellent, the company entertaining, and I would have stayed longer had I been booked into the Spread Eagle Inn where the Queen of Scots had stayed in the autumn of 1566 or some other spot within staggering distance of the pub.
I promised the lads to stop by again before I left the Borders and invited the lot of them to drop in on my Sunday book launch.  They did not seem the type to be that interested in historical novels, but free food and drinks seemed to win them over.   I left the pub with a fuzzy glow.  It was most fun I’d had in a bar since the Indians made it to the Series—well, perhaps not quite that long ago.
I headed back to Ferniehirst well before dark, which, of course, leaves a somewhat misleading impression of my time spent belly-to-the-bar. When I left the pub and walked to my car, the sky said eight but my watch said ten-half, which is Brit-speak for a long time past the witching hour.  Had I been stopped by the polis, my performance on sobriety tests would not have been pretty.
A monster SUV, I think it was a Land Rover, pulled out of the car park right after I did and I considered moving to the roadside to let him pass so I would have a set of tail lights to follow, but since had no idea where the SUV was headed, I decided against it. I had only two miles to travel and the road to Ferniehirst was not exactly bumper to bumper at close to midnight on a weekday.  The final leg of the journey was on what property owners in Scotland call a limited access road, which means that the right to pass and the duty to maintain the roadway are within the discretion of the land owner. A few potholes here and there announced that the farmers near Ferniehirst coveted their privacy. 
 In spite of the fact that this was a road I had only traveled once and therefore I should have been paying attention, I let my mind wander from the driving task, which was not particularly prudent since I had a belly and a bladder full of the local ale and a nasty dose of jet lag.  I did not recall turning off the highway until I reached the grounds without the slightest clue of how I got there. But driving in some sort of dissociative state is not a rare occurrence.  It even has a name—cognitive distracted driving.
 I had looked it once up on Wikipedia. However, it was one of life’s experiences taken best when sober. 

When I reached the car park at Ferniehirst, I did not waste time scouting my surroundings because by then I badly needed a lavy.  But although my nature call was inspiring me t rush right along, I am certain there had been no cars in the car park when I returned, and there had been no hint whatever of a party going on:  thus, - when I settled in my room with my very marked-up  copy of  Steel Bonnets by G. MacDonald Fraser,  I was surprised to hear laughter wafting  up the stairs, from the direction of the Great Hall.   The noise from below was not so raucous that it would have kept me awake and I would have ignored it altogether had I not decided to brew a glass of herbal tea. And yes, American brew ‘brew’ and Brits brew tea.
The kitchen in the guest quarters is for the exclusive use of the occupants of the six guest rooms, five of which I knew would be vacant for at least three more days.  I was not the least concerned about heading to it in my green Natori gown.  I had no intention of venturing down the stairs to crash someone else’s wedding. My own had been mistake enough.
But in retrospect, I should have known myself well enough to have grabbed a robe or wriggled into a pair of jeans, because while the tea was brewing, my curiosity overcame my prudence and I made my way to the head of the stairs.  I was aware of two separate sets, one opposite the entrance to the kitchen and the other down the hall near the longue.  I am one of those people who actually studies the floor plans posted in my doctor’s office displaying the exit route in event of fire, floor or earthquake in a parade of little green arrows.  I like to plan my physical escapes in advance.  The emotional escapes are a bit trickier.
According to the floor plan I remembered from the webpage, the narrow flight of stairs I had selected did not reach the ground floor. They opened into a corridor on the First Floor, where a wider set of elegant stairs accessed the ground floor near the entry to the Great Hall.  I descended far enough to confirm that indeed there was a function of some sort going on downstairs. 
But as I peeked down the stairwell, I was utterly confused.  Either I had become disoriented and taken the wrong staircase or there had been something hallucinogenic in my ale.  Nothing was where I expected it to be.
From what I could observe of the function in the Great Hall, the group congregated there hardly warranted so large a room.  I guessed the crowd to number less than thirty, and while it was not a large group, it certainly was a strange one.  When I saw the mode of dress, I at first assumed it was a Scottish theme wedding without kilts.  Then I looked closer.  If it was a wedding, someone had forgotten to invite Romance, Joy and Conviviality. I had seen happier faces at gravesites. I also noted far fewer women than men, and the group seemed sexually segregated.  I did not stop to ponder who was getting married.  I was wondering who had died. Even Nathaniel Hawthorne would have written a happier scene.
   The room d├ęcor seemed more rustic that I had remembered it and the sconces were not lit.  The only light came from candelabra on the banquet table and sideboard. The women hovered together at the far end of the room and from my vantage point, it looked very much as if they were busy with needle work, no small trick in so dim a light.  There was no music or dancing, and it was definitely not my idea of a celebration. If anything, it was a complete anachronism.
And then it struck me – an anachronism. Anacronism was indeed the operative word, and it thoroughly explained what I was witnessing.  I felt both foolish and relieved.
There were countless sub-groups of the Society for Creative Anachronism scattered around the world, and many of them were in the UK.   I had given a lecture and reading at an event at the U.S. headquarters in Milpitas, California and the members were every bit as committed to historical accuracy as the group in the Great Hall. They were just a great deal happier.  California sunshine has that effect, even as far north as Milpitas.  What better venue for a chapter meeting of the SCA than a site as culturally rich as Ferniehirst.  Had I not been tired and a wee bit drunk, I would have recognized the meeting for what it was immediately without the drama and uncertainty.  From the appearance of the costumes, some tailor or seamstress in Jedburgh of Kelso was making a fortune selling Jacobean costumes as authentic as anything I had seen in the museums of Edinburgh and London. 
I was confident that I had solved the mystery, but I was still curious as to how the participants had arrived without leaving cars in the car park.  Then I recalled an enterprise in the Desert called Brenda’s Bingo Buss which specialized in hauling Soroptimists and members of the Republican Women’s Club to Laughlin, Nevada for an occasional day of wrestling with the one arm bandits in the casinos along the Colorado River. The group I had observed had no doubt arrived by chartered bus from Jedburgh, and the bus was probably hidden from view and parked behind the barn. 
With all of my nagging questions answered, I headed for my room.  My first problem was that I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to get there.  And then it all went weird again.
Somehow I had gotten myself totally turned around.  There were clusters of men about, but either they had chosen to ignore me because of my state of undress, or they simply had not seen me.  I definite was not suitably attired to go sashaying up to one of the somber women in the Great Hall to ask directions.  But obviously I had not been thinking clearly.
All I needed was to take a minute to get my bearing and the solution was apparent. I meandered back toward the entrance to retrace my steps.  I found the stairway near the entrance and hurried to the second floor.
Scottish and English houses number the floors in their multi-storied buildings differently than Yanks do.  One enters on the ground floor and climbs or takes an elevator to the first floor.  Our accommodations were on the second floor, which is three flights up.  It apparently makes perfect sense if you happen to be British and none at all to an American.
 At any rate, after I negotiated the wide stairs as far as the first floor landing, they went no further, and only when I saw a doglegged short hallway did  I find the next flight up.  The stairwell was much narrower than I expected which is probably why the luggage laden porter had avoided it, but according to the floorplan I had perused, it would  deliver me quite nicely to a hallway that accessed the second floor kitchenette where I had left my tea.
I only made it half way up when I saw a man heading down.  He had a quick, determined step and we might have collided if I hadn’t announced my presence with a cough.  He  stopped short and so did I.  We faced one another like two drivers going in oppositie directions on a one lane bridge.  He looked to be in his thirties and was taller than most Scots. His hair was loose and long, and in the dark corridor seemed almost black.  His stance exuded confidance and something else—the current American slang for it was attitude.  He wore a quilted jack of ruby velvet styled like something that the Scottish rock star Ian Anderson of  Jethro Tull might wear in concert. He had a long face with chiseled features and while I was too far from him to see the color of his eyes in the diminished light,  I felt them boring into me. 
Then he spoke.
“When Ah first saw ya climbin’ up  ah though ya were an apparition, you being near naked and a wee bit greenish just like in the ghost stories my da used tae tell  and all, but closer up ya seem real enough,” he said. “Plenty a’ room to let ya by,” he added, resting against the stairwell to make room for me to pass. 
Did he think I had been born yesterday?  There was not a chance in hell that I would put myself within his reach.  I had no intention of capping off my first night on the Borders in a skirmish with an arrogant drunk in a stairwell—and  not just a drunk. His  comment on my clothing had been inappropriate and rude.  In any other setting I would have been confrontational.  If this had been in an elevator in a public building I would called him on it, or at least responded with a snappy retort, but this was not an ordinary night.  I had no intention of  squeezing past him on the narrow staircase, so  I a spun on my ballerina slippered  feet and ran.  With him standing near the landing I had no choice but down, and as I descended, I heard him laughing at me.
 When I reached the ground floor,  the double doors into the Great Hall were opened to an interior nothing like I had remembered it. I ran past the doorway without a thought of entering.  I tried to recreate the path taken by the porter on my arrival and chastized myself for not paying more attention  instead of trailing after him as if I were a grand dame boarding the Lucitania behind a servant with a cart of streamer trunks. 
I was not alone in the corridor.  Men had gathered in clusters and as I rushed by them,  they seemed to be.speaking Scots. Since this was rural Scotland there was nothing  the least bit strange  in that. Although I did not speak it,  I had assimilated enough of it when I was doing my research to know it when I hear it.  I nearly collided with a pair of costumed men who were absorbed in animated  conversation as I scurried past, but they did not seem to notice.  If truth be told, it was as if they could not see me. 
The confusing floor plan and left me stymied. I had made Ferniehirst  into a research project while  I was writing my last two novels and thought I understood the layout and the changes produced in the recent restoration.  But I could not find access to the wings,  and I ran into a hallway that ended in a ‘t’ that should have been an ‘l’.  A room that I was certain opened into other rooms had no egress.  I even checked behind the curtains and tapestries for hidden doors.  Not all of the inconsistencies could be blamed on pamphets I had read or webpages I had visited.
I was certain I would be able to recognized the entrance to the turret library.  Even in my haste to reach my suite that afternoon I had stopped to take a peek inside.  For someone who is a writer, a library is a treasure room and the books inside are precious jewels.  However,   the entrance to the library was not where I had remembered it to be, and I could not blame that on the ale I had consumed.  I had been completely sober when I arrived in the afternoon, and after my encounter on the stairs,  I was entirely sober now. It was the library that was off kilter.
When I did find the library door it appeared to access the circular library on a tangent when  I had been certain that it had opened into the room where the circumference of the turret protuded into the hall.  I was also surprised to find it locked and latched.  That afternoon the man who greeted me explained that the turret library was usually locked at night because of the value of its contents,  but he offered to make an exception and  keep it open since I was the only guest. It was to be the site of the private reception the laird was hosting after the book launch and I would be welcome to peruse it at my leisure to see if there were materials I might find useful in my remarks.  It seemed that I was expected to make a speech.  At least  I had not impressed him as a likely book thief. 
Obviously he had forgotten about the party booked into the Great Hall when he made the offer and later thought better of  leaving the library unsecured when there were outsiders on the premises.  Libraries and studies  in British properties as old as Ferniehirst are often filled with first editions and their walls adorned with painting of long dead ancestors, which is probably why so many of them are rumored to be haunted. I had read that the library at Ferniehirst was full of first editions of celebrated tomes on the history of the Borders  and decorated with a parade of portraits of  famous and infamous Kers.  I also knew that was a thriving clandestine market for anything elegant, old  and large enough to make an impressive wallhanging or coffee table book, and there were plenty purchasers  who lacked  regard for such triviliaties as  provinence, something conveniently blamed on the Russian nouveau riche.  No wonder it was locked.    I was making far too much a mystery of  matters  that were simply explained.
At least I seemed to have evaded the party guests and escaped any further unsolicited comments  from the man on the stairs. I slowed my pace to something resembling  a power walk  and tried togive theimpression of someone who knew where she was going,  in case anyone was looking.  I ventured into an alcove and found a strange staircase that appeared to curved back toward the turret,  and after a few cautious steps upward, I was numbstruck.  I had discovered  one of the counterclockwise  staircases that made Ker houses unique—a staircase with a counterclockwise spiral that had  given an advantage to left-handed defenders--kerry- fisted men, they were called.
After my encounter with the man on the other set of stairs  I felt more in need of protection from those coming down that from intruders headed up, and what common sense I had gave notice that this was not a good night for me to venture into narrow stairways.  But  I had never let prudence overcome curiosity, and I could not resist  the urge to explore.  This was one of the features of the castle that appears  prominently in my novels,  and it was the castle’s  history that had drawn me here—a symbol of theuniqueness of  the castle’s inhabitants and the  wildn nature  of the Border Reivers. 
A left-handed man with a Jed Axe on a counterclockwise staircase had a decided advantage in a closed-quarters fight.  Walter Laidlaw had written a poem about it that is read aloud each year at the beginning of the Jed Heart Festival.  It commemorates with pride the occasion when the Fernirhirst Kers purged the castle of its  English invaders  and after butchering them decapitated them and played  football with their severed heads. 
There were similar stairs in the museum called Queen Mary’s House in Jedburg, which I had planned to visit in the morning.  The house had  never belonged to Marie Stuart, the tragic Queen of Scots. It was  a residence the queen  had leased from her  friend and supporter  Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst after her lodgings in the Spread Eagle Inn caught fire.  She had been in Jedburgh for the assizes in the autumn of 1566, to establish her authority on the Borders and to escape the bizarre misconduct of  her syphyllitic husband Henry Stuart, the notorious Lord Darnley who was briefly her consort.  When she had refused to peititon Parliament for a grant of the crown matrimonial, his  debachery  had  sunk to  the depths of hell and the queen began to fear for her life, or so the legend goes.  In any  event, the queen of Scots became very ill while lodged  at the Ker house in the town.  At one point, her attendents and physician  believed that she had died and her chambermaids  opened the windows of her bedchaber so her soul could escape to the heavens. Fortunately a  French surgeon who name was Arnaud was travelling  in her party and he was not convinced that the queen was dead. He ordered the servants to close the windows and he commanded the  queen’s ladies-in-waiting to massage her extremeties. They he had called for mirror and when the queen’s faithful Marie Seton held it before the queen’s face,  a fine mist condensed upon the glass, coming from Marie Stuart’s mouth and nose.  After the surgeon forced some watered wine down her gullet,  the semi-conscious queen  suffered a spell of projectile vomiting during which she expelled evil smelling  green bile, which some folks in her party considered evidence of poison. No one has  isolated the nature of her illness. Like most events in her life, it is still debated.  Modern diagnosticians  suspect pneumonia and nearly all romantic writers think of arsenic.  Elizabeth’s  spymaster Walsingham,  a radical anti-Marian, had bragged of  poisoning women by dusting the drapes  of their beds with arsenic.  The other popular suspect was the queen’s  husband Henry, who arrived in Jedburgh after the worst of her illness had passed, made a few obsequeous  gestures and rode north again,  and thus, the mystery remained unsolved. But then, Marie Stuart’s life was a series of who-dunnits.
There also are similar counterclockwise stairs to the ones in Jedburgh at the ruined fortress of the Cessford Kers near Roxburgh. Left-handedness is a family trait. I had read that there was a higher incidence of lefthandedness in the various branches of the Ker family  than recorded anywhere else other than in the ancient Biblical  tribe of Benjamin.  That eliminated two possible lines of genetic research from my family tree.  I could barely hold a pen in my left hand without it fumbling, let alone use it to wield an axe.
 Since I was more fascinated by the staircase than frightened of the man in velvet who had startled me, and no one seemed to be in hot pursuit,  I sat on the stairs and held out both hands to touch the walls in some sort of ritual that I hoped would bind me to this ancient place, a declaration that I  had finally made it here.  If I had been less responsible I would have carved my initials into the rock with a fingernail or hairpin.
Visiting Ferniehirst had been number one of my list of things to do before I die for many moons. The counterclockwise staircase was among the features of the castle  which had drawn me here.
When I closed my eyes and looked inward , I could sense the presence of the Ferniehirst Kers descending the stairs with Jed Axes swinging free, vanguishing the more restricted right-handed Scotts of Bucchleuch, and  yelling the battle cry  ‘A Ker’ as they went about busting heads and severing limbs.  As gruesome as it must have been,  in a strange way I saw an element of romance in the old stories.
In spite of my fascination with the stairs, I could not escape the thought that they should not have been accssible from the spot where I had found them. My study of the various renovations at Fernehirst had mislead me into believing that the lower levels of the kerry spiraled staircases such as this one had been blocked off  or removed in a remodel during the middle of the twentieth century during a period when the castle had been converted for use as a hostel. I had read the the stairs upon which I sat wasonlu accessible from an obscured passage not much bigger than a crawl space opening into a higher level of the library.  Obviously the account I had read was dated before the recent renovations performed after the present owner reclaimed the residence from the Scottish Land Trust that had been operating the  hostel.  I laughed at my attempt to attach a paranormal explanation to a mystery I was certain I could solve with an updated set of blueprints and some architectural drawings more recent than the ones printed in the materials I had studied when I wrote my books.  
No matter how interested I was in my surroundings, I could hardly spend the night hunkering in a stairwell.  I had not recovered from my strange encounter with the man in the ruby velvet coat waistcoat but I was convinced that he was no more sinister than the placement of the stairs—I pegged him as a  club member  looking for a Men’s Room.  I decided to forego this particular flight for fear it would abruptly end when it met up with the newly rehung first floor ceiling.   When I reached the ground floor, I walked quickly through the gallery to the stairway used by tourists during the month of July when the castle was opened to the public.  There was no one else in sight or sound.  The interior seemed familiar, right down to the floral arrangements in the  foyer.  On a sideboard I found  a placard displayed, announcing my Saturday book launch.  I judged that it had  provided little enticement to the standoffice group of anachronistic  Scots who had apparently called it an early night and left. 
Thanks to my fertile imagination,  my first night at Ferniehirst had been an adventure I would  lookback upon with amusement. I remember my childhoodbelief that there were lions and tigers living in our basement, a fear I carried with me until we moved to  Southern California where the only basements were the bargain basements at the high tickets department stores in the malls.  I thought I had outgrown the childhood fantasies, but then, I was a writer. No matter how much a slave I was to historical accuracy,  I had chosen fiction for a reason.
            Luck was with me. Everything about the place seemed familiar and my sense of control returned.  I climbed the proper stair case and easily located  my room.  I locked myself  inside and helped myself to a brandy from the bottle I had stashed inside my  suitcase.  I had no interest whatsoever in a glass of tea,  hot or cold,  and I had done enough wandering around the castle to last at least until  mornining. I was slightly chilled but the brady would do a better job of warming me than anything plucked from a tea tree.  I draped a shawl on my shoulders as much to cover me as to warm me and I walked to the window. Night had finally descended on the Borders,  but it was not entirely dark. There was a moon. I could see the archery field in the distance where the owner kept a herd of Icelandic sheep.  They were as white as new snow. The only car in the car park was mine. The house had become sepulchral,  as silent as any tomb.  The only unnatural light was from an electric fixture by the entrance.  It was as if I were the only living thing on the castle grounds.
Sleep was out of the question and I had lost my  desire to revisit MacDonald Fraser’s fine history of the Border Reivers,  even though it is one of my favorite books.  I put his account of  the steel bonneted warlords who  had inhabited this wild land aside to enjoy on another day.  Reading of reivers seemed superfluous when I could not shake off the inane thought that I had encountered the ghost of one of them. He had a commanding presence, and an air about him.  That did not disqualify him as a Borderer.  The aristocrats among them had often been the most vicious of the lot, a list replete with Kers and Scotts and Maxwells.  Kers had served as wardens of the Middle March, often rustling livestock at night and tracking the rustlers in the morning. There was a popular joke making the rounds when they were serving as wardens  noting that the Kers  had a very poor record of catching themselves. 
I reflected on at the bizarre events of the evening and decided that there was a logical explanation for each of them , but I still could not relax.  It had nothing to do with having been lost in the castle.  It had to do with the man.

The story develops along several lines, and  the reader is not quite certain how much of my protagonist's adventure is real and how much is a creation of her fertile mind.  One thing does become obvious early on --the man in the stairwell suspects that she is the one who is the ghost, the legendary Green Woman of Ferniehirst.   Writing this one was great fun.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE RANT ON REIGN CONTINUES by Linda Root, Author of the First Marie and the Queen of Scots

I vowed to go on with my life without remarking further on Reign, because to do so, I would actually have to watch it.  But I could not resist it. So, I downloaded a program that allowed me to view it with subtitles, and plugged into Episode Two.  I made it into the show for about four minutes before I poured my first glass of Apothic Red.  This is not something an amateur historian and historical fiction writer can safely watch without a mind-altering fortification  of some sort.  Before I uncorked and sipped, I downloaded the synopsis of Episode Two - something about Snakes in the Garden, which I guess is a take off on snakes in the grass.  In France where this is supposed to be happening, they have gardens all over the place. The title, thus, is designed to give an air of tongue-in-cheek authenticity.  Take heed of it, for it is the only bit of authenticity you are doing to see.  And to give you a hint, here is the Amazon synopsis of what follows all of the warped non-history of the Queen of Scots in Episode One:
by Clouet, ((PD-Art}} Wikimedia

When Simon, an English envoy, tells Mary that the English are aware of her fragile engagement to Francis, Mary and Francis put on a show to protect their alliance.
Oh, please!

I confess!  I cancelled the service that allowed me to watch Reign with subtitles on my laptop as soon as I saw the part where the queen has a flashback to a murder attempt at the convent where if you read my last blog on the topic, you know she never lived, although she sometimes visited the lavish convent of Saint Pierre les Dames in central Rheims, its ruin located a stone's throw from Rue Marie Stuart.  If you want to know about the only known attempt on her life during her childhood in France,  buy my book The First Marie and the Queen of Scots and read a fictionalized account of that event.  It was planned for Easter  at Saint Germain  when the queen was eight, and it involved a disgruntled Scotsman (last name Stewart, of course, although he used aliases), a fruit vendor and one of Marie's cook. The plan was to poison the syrup on her favorite dessert, frittered Comice pears. Queen Catherine had nothing to do with it. But if watching a nun with blood oozing from some orifice or  another and  her face in the bouillabaisse or some-such  draws viewers, who am I to complain?  But I'm certainly not going to pay or endure the endless commercials in order to watch it.

Now comes the history lesson.  I will try to make it light and painless.  The Queen of Scots was married to Francois (which was his name) when she was fifteen and he was fourteen.  In my last rant I covered all of the stuff about his physical limitations, his stuttering, his stooped shoulders and his undescended testicles.  I left out the part of him being a mama's boy. The idea of him galloping off with Marie to greet a foreign princess who is being auditioned as a bride  for Prince Charles (age 7)  is about as ludicrous the thought of Marie  at age fifteen arguing with the king of France  about sending troops to France.  Sending troops to France was a regular occurrence and the requests did not come from Marie but from her mother Marie de Guise, the Regent. When it came to military deployments, neither Marie nor Francois were that lippy or for that matter, that interested..And while it is nice that the producers present Marie as a outspokenly patriot Scot, she was not.  If she gave a lick about Scotland, she kept it a historical secret. Actually, she bequeathed it  to King Henri  as a wedding present, and also gave away almost the entire income of Scotland to Henri to reimburse him for supporting her all those years.  Those were part of the three secret accords that she and her uncles kept secret from the Scottish delegation to the wedding. The plan was for her mother Marie of Guise to hang on in Scotland  until  Marie married Francois and they made a short trip to Scotland  to get Parliament to grant him the Scottish crown matrimonial, after which they would skip back to France with Marie's mother joining them.  Then Marie and Francois (with her uncles holding the pen, of course) would appoint one of her Guise uncles to be  Regent, probably one of the younger ones like Rene, Marquis of Elbouef, who was young enough to think that governing the uncouth Scots might be an adventure. Actually, when Marie was left with no suitable alternative to going to Scotland to assume her personal rule, she was in tears. There is a legend that she tearfully called out from her ship to the fading French coastline, 'Adieu , Dear France.  I fear that I shall never see your shores again!" And yes, Marie de Guise generally did consult her principal adviser whose name was  Monsieur d' Oysel, a gentleman of the bedchamber of guess which king. Neither the Guises nor Henry were silly enough to cut loose two politically naive kids like Marie and Francois and allow them to speak out on matters of policy, let alone institute it. Even after their wedding on April 24(our calendar) 1558 at Notre Dame d' Paris, they remained  a tall fifteen year old girl in thrall of her uncle Francois the duke, and a still pre-pubescent mamma's boy with an overdose of puppy love for his smarter, taller and infinitely more attractive bride, a couple  immersed in the heady endeavors of learning to dance the Galliard and Volte and riding to the hunt. This is not the young hippy-ish  Hillary Rodham and the strikingly handsome Bill Clinton planning the future of the Western Democracies.
Queen Marie Stuart  and her cousin Marie Flemyng, homebound in 1561
Assuming that episodes 2 and 3 occur before  her marriage in 1558, since they center on the concept of 'a fragile engagement', we can also make other observations, one of which is that the English would not send  an envoy to her to threaten an invasion of Scotland if she proceeded with the wedding. They would have done what they did best and muster on the Border. The truth of the matter is that Marie and Francois did none of the planning of their lives and when and if their wedding went forward was a decision to be made by Marie de Guise and her advisers, and Henry II and the Guises.  The terms of Marie's marriage were negotiated by her uncles the duke.  Marie's participation in the government of Scotland before that consisted of her sending her Regent mother about thirty sheets of blank parchment to which she had affixed her MarieR at the bottom, so her French mother could fill in the blanks.

So now that I have taken care of the preamble, let me comment on the episodes which I ultimately  found too ludicrous to watch. But I did fast forward through them and watch the teasers before I cancelled my subscription to Hulu.. Actually, I liked the Honda ads and the soundtrack, but not enough to pay $7.29 per month for the privilege.

First, King Henri:  Henri was not doing bumps and grinds in hallways and alcoves with young girls --that was Mel Brooks as Louis XVI  in History of the World: Part I, although Henri's father Francois I was pretty good at demonstrating with his penis that it was indeed 'good to be the king."  As kings go, his son Henri II was not promiscuous.  He had one illegitimate daughter Diane de France (1538-1619). conceived by  Fillipa Duci when he visited her brother's house during a campaign in the Italian wars. Otherwise, he was exceptionally monogamous for a sovereign-- it was just that his fidelity was not for his wife but for his mistress Diane de Poitiers, Countess of Valentinois.  All those pretty scenes in Reign where he is conferring on policy matters with Catherine or promenading in her company are a joke. Even the Scots who came to negotiate the wedding contract realized that Henri's silent partner was Diane. He only walked beside Catherine to keep her from catching the stilts she sometimes wore in the hems of her skirts. Although Henri began to recognize his stubby Italian wife's management abilities and made her his regent when he went to war, his constant adviser, henchperson, confidant and lover until the day he died was Diane, and Catherine received only as much of her husband as Diane thought prudent. Catherine was rumored to have had a hole drilled in the floor of her bedchamber so she could watch Henri and Diane making love.  It was Diane who convinced him he had to climb the stairs and sleep with Catherine often enough to save the dynasty.  His marriage to Catherine de Medici was a dynastic union forced upon them by their families.  If they had been free to choose, Henri would have married the much older Diane and Catherine would have wed one of her Italian cousins. Henri had been in love with Diane since he was a young adolescent and she was a wealthy widow with daughters. According to legend she had given him his first kiss (albeit platonic) when he was nine and being given as a hostage to the Spanish in a prisoner exchange that freed his father.  She had been there four years later when he was released, and he  was later warded  in her household.  The physical aspect of their affection lay dormant until after her husband's death.  Her position at Henri's court was unassailable, at least by anyone who wished to survive. Even the Guises and their Montmorency rivals were unable to overcome her power. And she was more than equal to the task--a great patroness of the arts, a fashion icon, an astute businesswoman and  a politically sophisticated adviser  who could give Henri everything he needed but an heir.  When he rode to battle or performed in tournaments, it was Diane's colors of white and black that he wore.and it was beside her,not Catherine, that he rode to his coronation, at least as far as the outskirts of Rheims.  He had their joined initials carved over his bed and all over the royal Loire chateaux.(Catherine had them altered later).. The only time he  a serious challenge emerged was when Diane was at her estate in Anet recovering from a horseback riding accident and Henri took to the bed of Marie's governess Janet Stewart, Lady Flemyng, who was almost as old  as Diane but still capable of child-bearing. Catherine and Diane cooperated in getting 'La Belle Ecossaise'  Flemyng exiled to Scotland and Henri legitimatized his son Harry of Angouleme, but promised  Diane that Lady  Flemying would never again set foot at the Valois court. Yet, in Reign, we hardly see Diane.

Strange, since she was a major influence in Marie Stuart's youth.  The painting below is one of few that the great Francois Clouet actually signed. It is displayed as Nude Noblewoman at the Bath but is widely accepted as a painting of Diane de Poitiers.  Incidentally, when Diane's bones were analyzed in 2007 it was discovered that they contained a high gold content, confirming rumors that she bathed in water infused with flecks of gold. It is likely that the beauty treatment contributed to her death.
Francois Clouet ((PD-Art}}
Which brings us to what is wrong with the portrayal of Catherine in Episodes 2 and 3:

The queen's flight after Langside.
Catherine could not even win an argument over letting Marie have her way about the color of her wedding dress, let alone plot with Nostradamus to remove her. Nostradamus (Michel Nostredame)  was not Catherine's Rasputin.  He was present at the French court during the period, but he was not the Svengali  portrayed.  He was a rather unassuming man, an apothecary who had been expelled from medical school because of his practice of the lowly trade a druggist.  His first published prophesies concerning threats to the royal families attracted Catherine's attention in 1555 and he did predict that Catherine would outlive her children. His only prediction that can be linked  to the Queen of Scots relates an event similar to Marie Stuart's flight following the Battle of Langside in 1568 and she is not named in it or any of his prophesies. He enjoyed Catherine's sponsorship and was later made a physician of sorts to Henri III, but he was never a power at the Valois court during Henri II's lifetime.

Catherine, on the other hand, was utterly in love with Henri II, enough to tolerate his preference for Diane, and she did little to undermine her husband's affinity for Diane or the Guises until Henri was obviously dying. She had Henri's great friend the Duke Anne (male name during the period in question) de Montmorency barred from the Royal Death Watch and sent Diane packing to her estates at Anet, although Henri had called out for each of them. At the time of King Henri's death, Francois II was of the age of majority and in the control of his wife's uncles.  Catherine's only viable tactic was the one she employed.  She aligned herself with the obvious winners (Marie and the Guises), and she watched and waited.  This is not at all the Catherine portrayed in Reign, who is more a Diane de Poitiers than a Caterina Maria de Romuli d' Lorenzo de' Medicis.

Comes now Tomas! a character called Tomas of Portugal. The actor who portrays  him is the closest thing to rival Henry Cavill to appear in Reign thus far, (at least to anyone older than the targeted teenage audience) But there is more to Tomas than good looks.  He at least brings a hint of history to the story. Eureka!. There was a king of Portugal who died in 1557 leaving his three year old grandson as his heir.  Apparently someone stumbled on a history book open to a proper page and-wrote something feasible into the story. There is, alas, no bastard named Tomas mentioned in the genealogies, but then, we wouldn't want to spoil the series with an overdose of historical accuracy.

If you are interested in a laboriously researched but still fictionalized account of Marie Stuart's life in France as seen from the point of view of Marie Flemyng, chief of the Four Maries, click on the cover of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots (to the right) and it will take you to Amazon where you can buy the Kindle ebook  for $2.99.  It, too,has its share of steamy sex, but unfortunately my female characters wear dresses with sleeves which may be why the book received a mediocre review today from a reader who thought I did not reveal enough of the details of my characters. Unlike Reign, almost all of the characters in my book resemble real people--there is not a Bash, a Tomas, an Ailee or a Greer in sight, and the Four Maries who came to France as companions to Marie Stuart are named--you guessed it right.  Marie! (although Livingstone's name was actually Mary).

Friday, October 25, 2013


I was determined not to rant over the television youth-oriented drama Reign I do not have a television and even if I had, I would not have viewed it after seeing the trailer because I am on a lowered dosage of blood pressure meds and have no desire to increase it. I  assure you that whatever the hype purports Reign to be,  it is not about the historical character Marie Stuart,Queen of Scots. But, on the other hand, the screenwriters who put this thing together make more money than I do, even if they likely could not accurately name the queen's four Scottish attendants called the Four Maries if they had do....well, may they could hit the first names with a lucky guess.  That is the first clue as to whether teenage viewers are getting any history mixed in  with the sex and soap, because they are not, and that is what is different between Reign and The Tudors. But why should I address the issue when I have books to write and USA Today and the Los Angeles Times did such a good job of bashing it?

Then I discovered  the synopsis the filmmakers provided to Wikipedia and  laughed myself silly until it struck me just how many teenagers and young adult viewers are going to reach maturity believing that Marie Stuart was a twit and that her sickly acne scared stuttering and likely impotent fiance Francois was a hunk, or that she somehow reigned in France. So here comes my personal critique. For starters, think of the characters of Francis (Francois) and Mary (whose name was never Mary : It was Marie).  and compare them to the wedding portraits of the 15 year old Queen of Scots and the 14 year old dauphin (which is the correct term, not 'the crown prince'). Do you recognize these two adolescent royals as characters in Reign?


I didn't think so.

And thus, my rant begins:.
Wedding portrait of Francoisde Valois and Marie Stuart from separate Clouet miniatures.

I am usurping the text from the synopsis sent to Wikipedia by the producers of the silly prime-time soap opera and responding based on the nearly one hundred sources I investigated before I began writing my debut historical novel The First Marie and the Queen of Scots in 2011.  Their stuff is in italics and underlined.  Mine is not. Here goes:

'France, 1557. Mary Stuart, the 15-year-old headstrong Scottish heiress to the throne of the Kingdom of France, leaves the convent where she has been staying since age nine to begin her tumultuous rise to power'.

OK, GUYS.  For starters, ask yourself just how was she the heiress to the throne of France?  Her father was the king of Scotland, which is on the island of Britain across what then was called The Narrow Sea. It is not a part of France although Marie Stuart's uncles would have been happy to see it annexed as long as they were given its control.  Her mother was Marie of Guise, a Lorrainer. Lorraine had been an independent duchy until France claimed suzerainty over it and its citizens, a development that occurred during Marie of Guise's lifetime.  The French succession was governed by the Salic law. That meant that girls couldn't inherit the throne.  Look up the word 'heiress' in the Wikipedia free dictionary so we do not get too technical, and you will find that an heiress is 'a woman who stands to inherit.'  Inherit means ' to receive property or a title, etc., by legal succession or bequest after the previous owner's death. Even if she had a sex change, Marie Stuart was not in the French line of succession, and was not an 'heiress to the throne of the Kingdom of France.'

And while you're at it, look up the word reign.  Reign means rule. In France, even if she had been the only child of King Henri Valois and Queen Catherine Medici, she could never reign because she was female.  Scotland and England did not follow the Salic Law. Women could inherit the throne.  That's what got the Scottish reformer Knox so upset that he wrote of pamphlet called 'The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.' Eventually she did reign in Scotland because she was already Queen of Scots, having inherited the crown from her father King James V. All she needed to do to reign there was to go there. But that is a couple of viewing seasons down the line.  

Next question: was she headstrong?  She was a teenage female so the answer is obvious, but she also was in the control of her  powerful uncles the Duke of Guise (another Francois) and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine.  And she did  NOT  live in a convent since age  nine. She lived in the royal nursery at Saint Germain-en-Laye until she was eleven when she was proclaimed an adult and given her own apartments. Francois was getting his, so her uncles insisted that she have hers. And there was more to it than pride.  As an adult she could appoint her mother Marie of Guise as Regent of Scotland instead of her mother's enemy the Earl of Arran, and that is why her mother and uncles let her have her own digs.  She did pay some lengthy visits to her aunt Renee de Guise, who was  abbess at Saint Pierre les Dames in Rheims.   Rheims was a Guise stronghold largely controlled by her uncle Charles,  Cardinal of Lorraine and Archbishop of Rheims. His sister Renee's position at Saint Pierre was part of the ambitious dynastic plan of the House of Guise. Don't take my word for it. There is a superb research papers on the topic.(Baker, Joanne. Female Monasticism and Family Strategy: The Guises and Saint Pierre de Reims , Sixteenth Century Journal (1975) 1091-1108). The abbey was in the center city, and as a Benedictine house, it was cloistered. The nuns did not go running around outdoors and they did not dress in white.  Benedictine habits were black.  Also, the abbess Renee was a notable beauty. Before she was abbess, Henry VIII  sent Holbein to France to paint her portrait when he was between wives. Her uncles hid her away and Holbein painted Anne of Cleves instead.  As for her life as abbess, Renee did pretty much as she pleased. In spite of the rules of cloister, there were many lay sisters at the abbey who could tend to its wine press and vineyards in Champagne and do business in the town. The winery was the abbey cash cow and Renee was an astute businesswoman. When the church hierarchy called the Tridentines told her she needed to cement over the windows that looked out over the street in order to comply with the Rules of Cloister, she hung new drapes. And she got away with it because the church got part of the revenues from the wine sales.

As for a tumultuous rise to power, unless that means that the Queen of Scots got married to a boy with a bad back, acne, allergic  rhinitis and very likely cryptorchidism, there was no such  rise, tumultuous or otherwise. Look up cryptorchidism -  It seems that the real Francois suffered from undescended testicles.
Does this give anyone a clue about how bad this production really is?

And onto the next part of the synopsis:

With the assistance of her four loyal handmaidens, Greer, Kenna, Lola and Aylee, Mary has been sent to secure Scotland’s strategic alliance by formalizing her arranged engagement to the French king's dashing son, Prince Francis. But the match isn’t signed and sealed, for it depends more on politics, religion and secret agendas than affairs of the heart.

There is more wrong with the above sentence than just its wording.   It is an artful mix of truths, half-truths and bald faced lies. Marie left Scotland at the age of five with four little girls as companions.They were not hand-maidens but junior ladies in waiting, daughters of aristocrats, and they were called the Four Maries. Care to speculate as to why? Anything about the names Marie Flemyng, Mary Livingston, Marie Beaton and Marie Seaton give it away?  So, who are Greer, Kenna, Lola and Aylee? --perhaps they were  a second rate burlesque act at le Moulin Rouge because they were  not members of the Scottish suite at Saint Germane. The producers and screenwriters  may have found the true names too confusing, and that is understandable: So did Marie's mother, so before they sailed to France, Marie's friends were renamed. Sort of like in the Highlander, when it came to Marie,  there could only be but one, and the queen won. Marie Flemyng became La Flamina, Livingston was called Lusty, and the two others became Beaton and  Seton. Were those names not quite 21st century enough to work for the producers of Reign?   I would have thought they would have salivated  over the Lusty idea.

As for the French king's dashing son Prince Francis, as hinted above, the dauphin Francois had a stooped shoulder, ache and a chronically runny nose, was undersized and suffered from a medical condition called cryptorchidism—in crude terms, his balls had not dropped.  Also, there was nothing new about the concept of an alliance between France and Scotland, that’s why it was called the “auld alliance. It had been around for centuries. How it worked was thus:  French kings got themselves in trouble and Scottish soldiers bailed them. What was new in 1558 was the efforts of Marie's uncles to exploit their niece's position to enhance the power of the House of Guise. The plan culminated  in three secret pre-marital agreements in which Marie secretly bequeathed Scotland to France if she died childless, which without her husband's  balls dropping was a good bet for the French. The Queen was a pawn, not a power player.

And as for the fact that the marriage was politically motivated, did I miss something or was this a negotiated marriage contracted between an anointed Queen and the heir apparent of the King of France? Aw, golly gee!  What was unique about the idea of dynastic marriage?  Ever hear of Charles and Diana when the poor man had loved Camella since she was 19?  Or Francois's parents Henri II and Catherine de Medici, for that matter. Take a look at Catherine and the royal mistress Diane de Poitiers, Duchess of Valentinous. One of the women was beautiful, sophisticated and charming, and it wasn't the one with the crown.  The one with the crown was twenty years younger and smart. She waited.

Next:   Prince Francis is intrigued by the fiery Mary, but like most young men, he resists the idea of settling down into marriage, especially when he has a history with a lady of the court and his own point of view on the wisdom of an alliance with Scotland.
and then:Though he is all too aware that Francis is the heir to the throne and Mary’s intended husband, Bash soon develops his own feelings for Mary.

Find me one fiery fact about our ' fiery Mary', and I’ll set fire to a copy of the blog. The research indicates that in some respects she was a bit of a prude. She made the Four Marie's take chastity vows.  She also  suffered from depression and pains in her side when she did not get her way, but the two documented examples of her losing her temper occurred 1) when she was ten or eleven and rebelled against her stiff-lipped governess so she wrote poison pen letters  to her mother and got her canned.; and 2)  later when she was the consort and her uncles and Francois waited ten day before telling her that her mother had died. Then she threw a tantrum.  Yes, she was capable of showing her temper, but I do not think that is the kind of fire that the producers meant.  And if Francois had a history 'with a lady of the court'  it must have involved the grass court where he played mixed doubles with his aunt the Duchess of Berry and  his sisters.  His own point of view as to the Scottish alliance probably focused on the fact that his marriage would get him a grant of the Scottish crown matrimonial, and all he had to do to collect was to make a quick trip while Marie did a queen gig for the benefit of Parliament and they both sailed home to France.  Scotland was a nice place to visit (weather depending) but you wouldn't want to live there.  Marie certainly didn't.

Further complicating things is Bash, Francis’ handsome, rogue half-brother, who has a history of his own. All I can say about Bash is that I have read fifty seven books, dozens of journal articles and a couple of Ph.D. theses in researching my book about Marie Stuart’s life in France, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, and nowhere is there a ‘Bash, who seems to have no history at all. The only bastard of Henri II’s that gets mentioned is Harry Valois, who was the son of Marie’s governess, Lady Janet Flemyng, who was La Flamina's mother. He was not even born until 1551. His claims to fame include expertise in composing lyric verse and butchering Huguenots.  He died in a duel in 1586 and no one called him Bash, although he probably bashed a few protestant skulls .  If anyone during her life in France developed 'his own feelings for Mary' it would have been James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran who was mad, or the poet Chatelard who after Marie's return to Scotland got himself disemboweled for behaving like a lovesick fool.

Meanwhile, Francis’ mother, Queen Catherine, is aware of Mary’s inflammatory effect on her son and his half-brother, just as she is aware of the extramarital dalliances of her husband, King Henry, not only with his mistress, but with other ladies of the Court. 

Like everyone else of note in Europe, Catherine was aware that Diane de Poitiers was  Henri’s mistress, and had been since he was thirteen and she was thirty-two, long before Catherine came from Italy. The two women often made common cause when it seemed in Henri’s best interest. They worked together and  got Marie of Guise involved in getting Lady Janet Flemyng deported. It would have been difficult for Catherine and Diane not to have noticed the belly bump. Generally, Henri and Diane were like an old married couple. Catherine was the outsider.

Queen Catherine turns to her trusted adviser, the seer Nostradamus, who terrifies the Queen by telling her that  marriage to Mary will cost Francis his life

The only comment I have about Nostradamus is yes, he was on scene. It is true that he predicted that Catherine would outlive her children. although one did survive her - the infamous Queen Margot. (If you're looking for an excellent historical movie, try Isabelle Adjani in Queen Margot. Sex, talent and a touch of historical accuracy do mix).   I do not recall the adult Catherine de' Medici being terrified of anyone or anything, although her childhood had been plenty scary and I know of no recorded Nostradamus prediction concerning the Queen of Scots. And heck, he didn't die because he married the Queen of Scots. He died for going hunting in the winter without minding his mother and bundling up.

Catherine is determined to save her son, no matter how many others have to pay with their lives.

What behavior would  you expect from someone who brought a poison cabinet from Italy in her trousseau? However, the evidence is that the only people she killed were  inmates of asylums who were the subjects of her medical experiments and several thousand Huguenot's at Amboise and later during the Saint Bartholomew' s Day Massacre. In the later two events her partners were Marie Stuart's Guise uncles the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine.  She might have wanted to kill her condescending daughter-in-law but there is no evidence that she ever tried.  For one thing, King Henri doted on Marie, and Catherine doted on Henri.

Also, Mary soon realizes that unseen foes within the castle are conspiring to sabotage her marriage to Francis and even threaten her life.

There was an event when she was eight years old when a Scottish dissident tried to get the cook at Saint Germain to poison Marie Stuart's  frittered pears. Perhaps the screenwriters stumbled upon it and got confused.  And if the Scots delegates to the marriage negotiation knew the kind of deal that Marie’s uncles had cut with the king regarding Scotland, they might have poured a little arsenic in her claret.  But what’s this about ‘foes within the castle?’ This is not a fairy tale. The Valois court was movable and stayed in palaces and chateaux along the Loire and in Paris. The castles with the keeps and moats were several television seasons earlier  with  The Tudors.  I thought the screenwriters of that series were negligent when they mixed up Mary and Margaret Tudor and came up with an anorexic but seductive Gabrielle Anwar, but at least they got a fair bit of the history right, unless it bothers you that they had Margaret Tudor dying on the floor at a time when the real Margaret Tudor was Queen Consort of Scotland and expecting the birth of King James V, which is how Margaret Tudor got to be Marie Stuart's Gram.

So much for my nit-picking with the script.  There are problems beyond the screenwriting, but I will mention only a couple.

To begin with, Marie (not Mary) Stuart was almost six foot tall at the time of her wedding at Notre Dame, had hair that was probably glossy chestnut with red gold highlights or auburn,  did not own a sleeveless dress other than perhaps a nightgown, and had never worn anything made of Spandex or Lycra. She was a serious student and a reasonably competent poetess.  Historian John Guy describes her as having a ‘wicked sense of humor.’ Hence, if there is a Heaven with a window looking down upon our world, the Queen of Scots is laughing.  So is the LA Times  reviewer.  The USA Today reviewer was as brutal as  the scar-faced Duke Henri de Guise on Saint Bartholomew's Day.

If  the scriptwriters get stuck with a second season, perhaps they could hire Philippa Gregory as a consultant. Maybe they should just pay the $2.99 to Amazon Kindle and read the first two hundred pages of my book The First Marie and the Queen of Scots. That would spare them having to acquire a taste for research, which is obviously not yet on their list of interests.The tragedy in all of this is that Marie Stuart's life is great drama.  So why not sex it up a bit like they did with The Tudors, see if they can find a Henry Cavill double sitting in a pub somewhere and cast him as La Balafre, (The Scar), the Duke of Guise, and at least get Adelaide Kane to dye her hair auburn and put her in dresses with sleeves. Better yet, get Dakota Fanning's younger sister to dye her hair auburn. Then if there is, Heaven forbid, a third season, get Dakota Fanning to play the 24 year old queen. How hard is that?

Do I think television viewers want historical accuracy?...I do not. But when the truth is better than the fiction, why muck it up?  Why pretend that it is history when it is not. Is it important that we are serving a large dose of very  bad history to a generation of young people?  If we care about artistic integrity, it is.