I recently had jury duty. Although I wasn’t picked for the jury, I spent the better part of a day sitting in the waiting room, waiting to be called. At the end of the day, I was dismissed with everyone else who had been sitting and waiting all day.
Being the kind of person that I am, I brought a book along to read while I waited. I picked The White Queen, by Frederic Fallon, mostly because it was a smaller paperback and would fit into my purse easily. I didn’t want to carry anything bulky or heavy.
I had read The White Queen years ago, when I worked at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. The book I read looked like this:
Other than that, they are the same book. Although it has been at least thirty years since I have read this book, I recognized many aspects of it, both enjoyable and annoying.
Let’s talk about the annoying aspects first. Before the novel even starts, there is a note from the editor stating that “The White Queen is a novel, not a biography, and the author has taken liberties with certain historical facts.” (n.p.) It is difficult to assess whether or not Fallon actually took liberties with facts or if he was simply sloppy with his research. This was his only novel – it was published posthumously after his death following a car accident when he was twenty-five years old. Whatever his intentions were, they mar what would have been an otherwise terrific novel. First off, there is only Mary Beaton as Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting – Marys Seton, Fleming and Livingstone are completely missing. Second, Beaton is in love with John Stewart, Queen Mary’s illegitimate half-brother. Beaton may or may not have flirted with John, since she was somewhat of a social butterfly but she was most notably known for her relationship with Thomas Randolph, the envoy from Queen Elizabeth’s court. Randolph wanted Beaton to spy on Mary for him and she refused to do so. When Randolph was banished after being accused of helping Moray during his rebellion, Beaton’s attentions turned to Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne, the beloved of Jean Gordon, who eventually married Bothwell.
Fallon also takes liberty with John Stewart. John married Bothwell’s sister Jean in 1562 but died a year later. But in The White Queen, Fallon has John dallying with Beaton’s emotions as he is having an affair with Henry, Lord Darnley. Which of course would have been impossible, since the real John Stewart was dead before Darnley even came to Scotland!
I have said this many times – most recently about that idiotic TV show “Reign” – Mary Stuart’s life has so many dramatic situations that are true – or that can be verified, at any rate – there’s no reason to make up events that have no basis in historical fact.
The one thing I did like about this book is the initial love scene between Mary and Bothwell is a love scene, not a rape scene – in fact, he is comes between a domestic incidence between Mary and Darnley – which Mary breaks up – and in the aftermath, Bothwell admits that he wants “to lie” with Mary (224). And so they do. But the amorous feeling is soon over – Mary turns on him, calls him a madman, and tells him to commit suicide like his father did. Again – this is totally made-up – Bothwell’s father died young by our standards but nothing I can find says he in any way suffered from mental illness or ended his own life. Mary’s and Bothwell’s love affair is like this – hot and cold and totally dependent upon Mary’s whims. Fallon makes clear that “their love would survive – nothing could destroy it” (250) but that their love was all about good sex first and trusting friends second. Maybe it was the other way around for Mary – trusting friends first and good sex second – but overall, there is the sense that Bothwell shared Mary’s dreams – or he was willing to do whatever it took to make her dreams come true. Fallon makes it clear that Bothwell is the hero of the novel.
But he is the only one. Every other man in Scotland is against Mary and Fallon certainly gets that right. The book ends soon after Mary tells Bothwell that she is pregnant. Chapter Seventeen opens with a proclamation of Bothwell’s outlaw status and then there is an Epilogue – which happens in 1670 – wherein John Stewart upbraids his brother James, now the Regent of Scotland, about driving their sweet sister out of Scotland. Except that John died in 1663 so that’s a little bit impossible. But hey! It’s a novel. And honestly – it’s quite entertaining, even with all the historical errors.
The White Queen, by Frederic Fallon. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973