James never would truly become king; it was sad to see just how desolate his life became as he realized he was a king without a country. Massie concludes with a discussion on the historical Stuart lineage.
The male line died out with James's other son, who became a cardinal in the church and never had any offspring. Charles died childless as well.
The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family That Shaped Britain
Throughout the centuries, though, the Stuart family proliferated through illegitimate children. Massie supposes that something similar could be said of Scottish people and Robert I, the first Stuart king. The implications are almost staggering. The Royal Stuarts is an intriguing read if you have any interest in Scotland whatsoever. It also covers a family that many casual history readers may have missed and is worth reading for that purpose alone. Massie has done an excellent job, and he makes you want to read more.
However, where Massie succeeds brilliantly is in providing a rich story that you simply could not get from a biographical dictionary. There is absolutely nothing dry about his narrative: it drips with blood, cruelty and tears. For a start, you have the kings themselves: James I is murdered in his nightgown on page 38, James II is killed by part of a cannon exploding in his face on page 55, James III is murdered after a skirmish on page 65, James IV is found slain at Flodden on page 84 and James V dies mysteriously on page The Stuarts: a myopic history.
So many killings take place that you can open the book at almost any page and find someone being butchered — not just the kings themselves but their nobles, too. Men with poetic names such as the Wolf of Badenoch, Bell-the-Cat and the Black Knight of Lorne make their dramatic entries and — all too often — their equally dramatic exits.
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And we have not even started on the big names of the family history: Mary Queen of Scots beheaded in , James VI and I died naturally in and Charles I beheaded in The Restoration and the Glorious Revolution are epilogues to a drama that makes Italian opera look humdrum. Allan Massie is a gifted writer and his story is full of sympathy for the characters.
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What it lacks in scholarly precision it makes up for in spirit. This is the very opposite of revisionism. Yet there are pointers for more profound reflection, too.
The Royal Stuarts
Massie draws attention to a paradox: the Scottish nobility were loyal for centuries to this family even though they were so often prepared to fight and kill its individual kings. Why were there no usurpers, despite a string of minorities? The answer is a matter of human understanding as much as historical scholarship.
Evocative, visceral — haunting, even — this is a well-written introduction to the vulnerability of the royal family in medieval Scotland and early modern Britain.
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