A discussion regarding Queen’s Own Fool.
Sometimes in an historical novel it is difficult for the reader to sort out the truths from the fictions. So we thought it might be useful for our readers to know some more about what is factual in the book.
Everything that happens to Queen Mary in the novel has been documented in one way or another, though obviously the intimate conversations with her husbands and her relatives have been fictionalized.
Nicola is a different matter.
We know from the castle rolls, both in France and then in Scotland, that Mary had three female jesters. They were called La Folle, Jardinere, and Governance, the last of whom we have liberally decided was a governess more than a fool. We also know–again from the castle accounts–that Jardinere and the others were given presents of gloves, linens, clothes. We know that the female jester–along with Mary’s other French servants who accompanied her to Scotland–were sent home to France with rich gifts when Mary went down to England.
The rest of Nicola’s story is made up, using what we researched about the period, the dress, the habits, the role of jesters, street players, and the like. Often we have had Nicola take the place of some other unnamed servant in Mary’s story.
As we were finishing the book, our editor Pat Gauch asked us some of the following questions, and we print them here so you can see our answers:
Did Renaudie really want to get to the King merely to talk?
That’s actually what he claimed, according to historic sources.
Did the Battle at Blois really happen?
Were the De Guises’ as wicked as they seem in the novel?
Even according to sources who LIKED Mary, they were villains.
Was Renaudie betrayed at Blois? (And was the Dowager already sympathetic to the Huguenots?)
Renaudie was definitely betrayed. However, the Dowager, always looking for the main chance, had already contacted the Huguenots. She wasn’t sympathetic, but ready to use them–and her children–in any way to secure the throne.
Were the cruel hangings at Amboise an historical reality?
Absolutely. These sentences: "Those conspirators who had not been hung or beheaded had been tied hand and foot and thrown into the Loire. Some said it was the spirits of the dead that drove us away, others that it was the smell." comes pretty directly from research.
Was it true that the Queen played no part in all of this?
From all accounts, she was utterly shocked, and was made sick by what she was forced to watch.
Did the Queen really love the weak king of France?
They were childhood best friends, almost brother and sister, for she’d been brought up with him from the time she was very young. All the research agrees on that.
Did the Dowager Queen fire the De Guises?
Basically. She actually came in and said–just hours after the young king’s death–that Mary was to return the crown jewels. And with Mary no longer queen, the De Guise power was already weakened, which pleased the Dowager. All from the research.
Was there really a Chatelard, and was he smitten with Mary? (And was he beheaded for it?)
Yes. Almost exactly as written, except for Nicola’s role in trying to hold him off. It was probably one of the Maries who did that. Or a serving girl.
Did crowds really cheer Mary when she arrived in Edinburgh?
Yes–pretty close to what we say, except that we make it more a scene with actual people described.
Did John Gordon, a Catholic, really try to abduct the queen? And did she execute him for the effort?
Yes–again, exactly as we tell it. The whole incident was actually very political, and his father was pretty involved as well. We don’t go into that, because it’s a side issue and not of interest to most young readers. Or even–I’d guess–to most older readers.
Was Davie an historical figure? And did he dress and behave as described, and was he truly a poet?
Davie is an historical character, and one can even still see the blood on the stone floors at Holyrood Castle where he died. (Though we have it on good authority that they retouch the blood for tourists!) There are two differing schools of thought on what he looked like, though. One that he was a hunchback and one that he was handsome and able-bodied. We combined them. He did dress and act outrageously and was up the nose of all the lairds. His manipulations are of historical record (and he did hold the royal seal for Darnley). He also was a great favorite of the queen’s and often entertained her and her friends by singing and playing the lute.
Did Davie try to grab power, and ingratiate himself with the queen?
Though we have made up the scenes with Nicola (and scenes with Darnley’s servants) the arc of Davie’s story is absolutely true.
Was Darnley so promiscuous, and such a bully to servants?
By all accounts he was.
And how do we know that Darnley was so handsome?
From records made at the time and accounts of the queen’s response to him. And his portraits, hanging in the Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.
Did the Queen really ban Jamie (Lord James)?
Yes she did.
Were the people against the slippery Darnley right from the start?
He had his supporters, mostly those in England’s pay, as he was possibly an English plant. There are some stories that Elizabeth chose him, knowing him for a wastrel and fool and hoping his pretty face would seduce Mary
How was it that Darnley, a Catholic, was supported by theProtestant Ruthven?
Because he was seen as manipulatable.
Is there evidence that the Queen was involved with the killing of Darnley?
There are some letters that we now know were forged (called the "Casket letters" because they were found in asmall jewelry casket owned by the queen).
Was the scarf that Nicola dropped a real artifact of the event?
No. It’s fictional. Nicola–or Jardinere–was not there that we know of.
Was Bothwell really such a piggish fellow?
Contemporary descriptions paint him as stocky and slightly brutish.
Was Bothwell really so unpopular?
Yes–because while the other lairds were talking, he went ahead and captured the queen.
And did he gather hundreds to meet the queen at Dunbar with Darnley?
Yes–this is in the historical record.
Was there really a Joseph Riccio?
Yes. His name is recorded in the castle rolls.
Was he sent for to replace his brother?
Yes. At least that is the position he was given.
How did he end up historically?
We don’t actually know. We do know he was named, with other foreigners, as part of the popish plot to kill Darnley. He was sent home with the French retainers. Other than that, we know little about him. As far as history goes, there is no record that he had any relationship with the real Jardiniere. There is no record that says he did not, either.
Did the Queen nearly lose her baby and her life?
Yes. The descriptions of the birth, and the descriptions of the baby, as well as the descriptions of how sick the queen became are all taken from historical research.
Was Darnley really at Kirk o’ Fields in an effort to get well?
Yes–it was a well known place of "good air."
And was he pampered there?
Of course–he WAS still the king after all. Whether he had measles or the pox or a venereal disease, though, is not certain.
Did anyone really see Bothwell near Kirk o’ Fields?
The description of the servant Paris being a "mucky cur" and Bothwell’s reply actually is a reported conversation with the queen.
Did Darnley really die of strangulation, despite the explosion?
Yes. His body was found out in the garden next to his murdered servant. We did not make that up..
The token sent to Nicola: was there any such thing?
No this incident is fictional.
Did Lennox really not appear to try to face the murderers of his son? If so–was it cowardice or wisdom?
This incident is true. But Lennox was a bright man. He was English after all, and Catholic, surrounded by Scottish Protestants. And he knew himself to be outnumbered and outgunned.
What did the Loch Leven island really look like?
Our description is as accurate as we could make it, actually using research from the brochures used by the National Trust, which cares for the ruins of the place now. (It can be visited in summer.)
How did the Queen really escape?
Pretty much as we write it, though with a serving maid not Nicola.
Did she get out by disguise?
Yes. In the very disguise we describe.
Is there certainty that the younger Douglas and the nephew helped her?
Yes–one of the great stories of her life is that escape. It is part of the romantic legend.
Were there really Francisco Busco and Bastian de Page, foreigners, arrested for Darnley’s murder?
Yes–but never executed.
Was the queen forced to sign the abdication papers?
Yes–the abdication papers exist as well as her own letters about how she was forced to sign.
Were there Douglas nieces?
And was James Douglas regent to Mary’s child?
Yes. Mary’s child, James the sixth of Scotland, James the first of England, was to become, of course, the first king of the United Kingdom and the King James of the King James Bible.
Is it true that Willie, and George Douglas, with the help of Lord Seton, helped Mary?
Willie and George, yes. Lord Seton was always on her side. The romantic legend includes the story of Willy and George being captivated by her and helping her. We didn’t make that up either.
Were the too-many-commanders at the end really a problem?
So say the history books.
Really–we followed Mary’s story very, very closely, we just didn’t use all of it, or the book would have been three times as long!