Reviews of Crown of Thistles

TheTimes Literary Supplement - 7, March 2014

"Despite appearances to the contrary, Crown of Thistles: The fatal inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots, with a picture of the fatal lady on the dust jacket, is not simply another book about Mary Queen of Scots. We encounter Mary in a four-page prologue before going back to 1485 and the battlefield of Bosworth; we do not meet Mary again until, several battles later and much more besides, she comes back into the story on page 332, and takes a leading role on p378.

Linda Porter explains what her book is about in an introductory note, and a very welcome message it is. Her knowledge of sixteenth-century history in the British Isles was 'heavily weighted towards England'. 'For most English-speaking people, Mary Queen of Scots is the only Scottish ruler they have heard of, with the possible exception of Robert Bruce' . . . Porter sets out to broaden the picture of Tudor—Stuart rivalry well beyond that of Elizabeth and Mary. It is a very ambitious project. In a period crucial to the histories of Scotland and England, which began when the long-standing hostility between the two countries persisted, and ended with the Union of Crowns under the Scottish king who became James VI and I in 1603, she sets out to give a balanced account both of the histories of the two kingdoms and of their interaction with one another.

In this she very largely succeeds. Scottish historians in particular can have no complaint about their kingdom, their history, being neglected."

Jenny Wormald

The complete review

The Tablet - September 2013

"Porter's account is enlivened by vivid anecdote and she is good at drawing cross-border comparisons and contrasts. Perhaps only in light of the serial philandering of James IV and James V are we likely to appreciate the peculiarity of Henry VIII's marital fastidiousness. If the fecundity of the Tudors caused instability in England, the Stewart kingdom had almost the opposite problem. . . The close unravelling of dynastic threads perhaps risks the impression that eventual union was genetically predetermined. Yet a careful reader of this book will come away convinced of how great a role chance and contingency played. Porter passes no judgment on whether it was all for the best. Voters in the 2014 independence referendum will have to make up their own minds on that. "

Peter Marshall

The complete review

The Observer - Sunday, 25 August 2013

"In Crown of Thistles, Linda Porter tells the backstories of England and Scotland as they head towards a union which we often assume was inevitable. There was nothing inevitable, however, about James I of England. Porter's magnificent account of Scotland's feuding factions makes that clear - even if the battles were more to control monarchs than to replace them."

Giles Tremlett

The complete review

The Mail on Sunday - Sunday, 18 August 2013

"The heir to two kingdoms, Mary, Queen of Scots was to be a victim of terrible violence in both. Brutally deposed from her throne in Scotland, Mary fled to England only to be imprisoned and eventually beheaded by her cousin, Elizabeth I. Yet as Linda Porter describes, this was only the last chapter in the long, bloody family rivalry that was Mary's fatal inheritance. . ."

Leanda de Lisle

The complete review

The Hearld (Glasgow) -10 August 2013

- Family rivalry and blood feuds

"Porter claims that "for most English-. speaking people, Mary Queen of Scots is the only Scottish ruler they have heard of, with the possible exception of Robert the Bruce". This, surely, is an exaggeration but it is certainly high time that we heard more about the many interesting characters who feature in this charming and informative book."

Jonathan Wright

The complete review


- Marriages of Inconvenience

"Crown of Thistles is to be applauded as a highly courageous, pioneering attempt to brush the cobwebs off the existing national histories. Linda Porter has a considerable talent for synthesis and in this genre she is likely to excel in the future. Always professional in conception and dispassionate in style, her book deserves a wide readership."

- John Guy

The complete review

The New Statesman - Friday 9, August 2013

"Mary Stuart's "fatal inheritance" was the long-standing power struggle between the English and Scottish royal families. Her fatal tussle with her cousin Elizabeth I was just one stage in a battle for supremacy that had started with their grandfathers and would not be resolved untio Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England. Mary's life was reich in incident and Linda Porter recounts it with judiciousness and verve."

- Michael Prodger

The Times - Saturday, 10 August 2013

"Whoring, killing and plotting: why we all love the Tudors

A racy tale of Mary, Elizabeth and the dawn of a dynasty grips Melanie Reid

This Is a nation, it appears, of Tudorholics. Little seems to satisfy the public appetite for the humping, whoring, scheming and massacring that characterised the period: not the BBC's The White Queen and The Tudors, not Philippa Gregory's bestselling novels, not the might of Hilary Mantel and David Starkey, and not even Dr Lucy Worsley's recent BBC documentary Tales From the Royal Bedchamber of which she said, apparently without irony, that we pay too much attention to Henry VIII's sex life. Tudors are hot, and we pant for them.

Into all this power and war steps the historian Linda Porter, coolly crafting the authentic story of how Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I came to be, rather than simply who they were. This is Porter's unique selling point in a crowded field. She looks at the Tudors and Stewarts from the period of the queens' great-grandfathers: two dynasties, English and Scottish, fighting like vicious neighbours over a Leylandii hedge, yet ultimately converging within the Union of the Crowns under James I & VI in 1603.

The problem, of course, is that sources from the period are finite and so much, too much, has already been said. Porter's forte, though, lies in reappraising figures who have been neglected, as her biographies of Mary Tudor and Katherine Parr demonstrated.

This book is at its best when she alights on largely forgotten characters, in particular Henry VI and James IV, the grandfathers of the famous queens. Henry, the first Tudor, returned from exile in Franc to defeat Richard III (and leave him in a Leicester car park). Porter portrays a man less cold and avaricious than convention has him.

James IV, by contrast, emerges as a war-loving womanizer, making payments to "Bare Arse Jane" and generally enjoying life. His 800,000 subjects were described contemporaneously as brave yet cantankerolus yet also very European - "an antidote to the English", said one Pope. The two kings signed the somewhat ambitiously named Treaty of Peretual Peace between the two countries in 1502, integral to which was the marriage of Henry's daughter Margaret to James. The treaty failed - James IV died at the battle of Flodden just 11 years later, when the English routed the Scots - but it opened the door to the eventual arrival of the Stewart line on the English throne.

In passing, James V tempts Porter as another subject for investigation. "There is considerable workstill to be done on his reign and he awaits a worthy biographer," she says wistfully. Her writing is bold,insightful and vivid but is also, given the sweep of history that she covers and the brevity of life then, ocassionally exhausting in its detail. It is, however, at least action-packed. One must pity the writers of the future who will have to seek inspiration in the 21st century's ultra-safe Windsors.

Now if only the Scots would vote for independence, Anne could take the Scottish throne, and if the House of York could rise again, with Beatrice and Eugenie claiming the throne from William, then things might get interesting."

- Melanie Reid