When I was finalizing The First Marie and the Queen of Scots in the Spring of 2011, I was in a quandary about the cover. My artist son was in the midst of a design when other deadlines interfered and he was unable to proceed. My daughter in law Dr. Christina Bocklisch was visiting from the EU and found an alternative sketch I had done. "What's wrong with using this?" she asked. I submitted three cover concepts to the designer at Createspace, two of which were mine, and he selected the same design that Christina liked--Hence the original cover of First Marie that has become a hallmark of my Queen of Scots Suite.
The mock up to the right is a cut out of my original watercolor placed on two different plaids and embellished with a stickpin ornament on the hat. Two thousand people have purchased or downloaded the first edition with a refined version of this cover design. The most amazing thing about my cover is it is the first drawing I have done since 1984 when I did a pencil sketch of a jury during a final argument in a homicide my boss was trying. The second surprise was my blood pressure dropped to normal while I was working on it. I had already hired my son to do some interior artwork but I decided to do a few more. The 25 interior illustrations in the original addition are a combination of his work and mine, and their principal contribution to the finished product was to provide me with a tangible image of my characters as they and I aged.
The Four Maries were sent to France with the queen at the insistence of Marie Stuart's mother the Dowager Queen of Scotland, Marie de' Guise. The main character in my story is Marie Flemyng, who was the chief of the Four Maries and the queen's first cousin. All four of the Scottish girls had very different personalities which I attempted to illustrate in the following scene. When Marie Stuart was a child, she was rumored to cross her fingers behind her back when she fibbed. In my illustration, Flemyng is the shortest, depicted in the foreground. She was petite and in my research, blonde like her mother. The moniker 'Flamy', short for La Flamina had nothing to do with her hair color. It had to do with her surname which was a take off on the Latin term for citizens of Flanders, which was the ancient origin of her father's family. The chubby girl is Marie Beaton, the tall stern girl is Marie Seton, and the one with plated hair is Mary Livingston who may have been given the moniker 'Lusty by Marie de Guise because of her athletic nature.
The next scene shows the queen consoling Flamy when the Scottish girls were sent to live in a convent so they would not interfere with Marie's assimilation into the French royal family . The narrative of this farewell describes a signet ring given by the queen of Flamy to seal a promise that she would be rescued soon.
The third scene,again by Russ Root, illustrates a fictional version of an actual attempt by Scottish dissidents to poison the Queen of Scots' dessert. That illustration also appears in The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and inspired me to devote a large portion of that book to the building relationship between Kirkcaldy and the youthful Marie Stuart when she was a girl in France. It relates in time to the next illustration which depicts a scene that was instrumental in shaping Marie Flemyng's understanding of her identity and exactly where she fit into the scheme of things not just at the Valois court, with the Scottish royals as well. Her mother Lady Janet Flemyng, the queen's Scottish governess has given birth to a bastard son of the King of France, and she is being sent back to Scotland in disgrace. The French queen Catherine de' Medici is also pregnant with King Henri's child but it is the king's principal mistress Diane d' Poitier who has insisted on Flamy's mother's banishment. At this point, The First Marie expands beyond the story of a stressed friendship between the queen and her petite blonde cousin into something greater.
Russ Root's graphic design that introduces Part Two is another drawing that we see again in Last Knight. The queen in the illustration is the youthful Elizabeth Tudor but represents the three queens who figure prominently in the second phase of the story - Elizabeth, Catherine de' Medici, and Marie of Guise. It is a period of transition for Flamy. To her surprise she is befriended by 'the Florentine shopkeeper's daughter' the stern Queen Catherine. The Queen of Scots has married the dauphin Francois. During the wedding celebrations, Flamy has been spying for her brother James, the Scottish Chancellor and her cousin Lord James Stewart, bastard half-brother of the Queen of Scots, who suspect something is amiss. When Chancellor James Flemyng and the other Scottish representatives at the wedding fall ill, it is Queen Catherine who tries unsuccessfully to save Flamy's brother's life. In the aftermath, William Maitland of Lethington is sent to France to investigate. He is a married civil servant and she is an adolescent lady in waiting, but the seed of all that follows is sown at their first encounter.
She picks a shallow handsome English aristocrat Henry Stuart, frequently called Lord Darnley, who is her cousin. Both are grandchildren of Margaret Tudor. Besides being taller than Marie Stuart who stands close to six feet in height, he is an accomplished dancer, a fine French speaker, and possessed of a claim as strong as hers to the English crown. He is also self-centered, amoral, vindictive and immature. In spite of protests from Elizabeth and a potential rebellion of her lairds, she marries him anyway. When in a few months he has reduced her to tears of humiliation and caused her estrangement from those who tried to assist her, she cannot be rid of him because the Queen of Scots is pregnant. Darnley drives Maitland from the government and provokes her brother to a full scale rebellion that fails. The pretty queen who rode booted and spurred at the head of an army at Corriche Burn has been reduced to a fretful pregnant woman with no clear way to save herself. Darnley has driven all but Marie Seton from her chambers. He has developed second stage tertiary syphilis and suffers from paranoia. He blames his wife for his own inadequacies and suspects that the child she carries is the son of her Piedmontese foreign correspondence secretary David Rizzio. True to character, he teams with the ambitious and conniving but powerful Earl of Morton and they deal with Rizzio and Marie by having the secretary murdered in the pregnant queen's presence, hoping for a miscarriage. Marie stands by in shock, unable to help. But she has not played her last card yet. She has sent to France for the return to Scotland of an important member of the Garde Ecosse-- a friendly face from her days as Queen of France. Before he left Scotland, he was a notorious Border Reiver, bruiser and womanizer, and he had a history of defying authority, but he had never betrayed Marie of Guise when she was her daughter's regent, and he was fiercely loyal to the Queen of Scots. He had a reputation for being the last man standing in a street brawl and he was not above committing regicide to get his way. He was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, a sworn enemy of her brother Moray and Secretary Maitland, and he hated the English with a passion.
In a panic, Marie Stuart flees to England and to the tender mercies of her cousin Elizabeth. At this time, a series of damaging documents called the casket letters mysteriously surface. There is wide belief that they are forgeries. In my novel, they are the product of Mally Flemyng, Lady Lethington, who is blackmailed by the Earl of Morton, who forces her to produce them in order to save Maitland's life. Morton has a document that implicates both Maitland and Bothwell in Darnley's murder. The fact that Morton was the key conspirator in the plot and that his Douglas relatives left evidence at the crime scene does not impact Mally's decision to give in to Morton's demands. Morton has destroyed the documentary evidence linking him to the regicide and kept the rest. Maitland does not realize what his wife has been forced to do until he is present at hearings held in York at the behest of Elizabeth. The queen's brother Moray shows them to Maitland on the night before they are introduced and he recognizes his wife's handiwork and recognizes how far she is willing to stoop to save his life.