From the Guardian

We’ve been fairly busy since Peggy flew in from Pittsburgh on Wednesday, but today we had a lazy day after such a tiring one on Saturday when we went to the antiques fair at Ingliston in Edinburgh and also to the huge booksale at St Andrew’s and St George’s church in Edinburgh’s George Street. If you’re in the city you should look in there, it continues until the end of the week I believe.

So today I had time to catch up with the Guardian’s Review section, here are a few articles which I found interesting.

In this article some well known authors write about the children’s books which shaped their imaginations.

I was really interested in this article by Julia Blackburn about John Craske, a little-known Norfolk artist who turned to embroidery in later life.

You probably heard that the crime writer Ruth Rendell died during the week. Jeanette Winterson and Val McDermid write about her here.

On Friday we went to visit the crime writer James Oswald on his farm in Fife and he was very generous with his time, showing us his sheep and Highland cattle. I hope to have some photos from that visit to show you soon.

King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

It’s quite a while since I read a proper history book so when I spotted this one recently in a second-hand bookshop it was just perfect timing for me. During our recent road trips we’ve been visiting lots of English towns which were heavily involved in the action of the English Civil War. It’s not a subject which I knew an awful lot about, I certainly didn’t get much about it at school, not surprising as I obviously went to Scottish schools. Mind you, Scotland does feature a lot in the book and apparently Charles II really disliked Scots, which is a laugh given who his ancestors were and that he was a Stuart.

Anyway, in Warwickshire and Worcestershire it was all go and it made the book all the more vivid for me as just a couple of days after visiting Worcester Cathedral I was reading about all the fighting which went on in the streets there, they were running with blood apparently!

If you want to find out a bit more about Charles II have a look here. But if you want the detail then you’ll enjoy reading this book. I had no idea that Charles had such a bad time of it when he was in exile for years after his father was executed. He literally went without food as there was no money and he had already borrowed from everyone.

At one point I did become a bit dissatisfied because I wasn’t getting enough historical detail but I came to the conclusion that as the book title isn’t The Life and Times of Charles II – I was being a bit unfair. But it has made me want to find out more, for instance, when Charles came back to England and he was restored as monarch, his behaviour and attitude helped a lot with the healing of the nation and peace. He wasn’t determined to ‘get’ the men who had signed his father’s death warrant and indeed some of them were even given very important positions in the government. However, on leafing through another history book I discovered that some of them were hunted down and even brought back from abroad to be executed. I want to know why the disparity in treatment, more reading is required obviously.

I think Antonia Fraser did her best to be impartial as far as religion is concerned, but given the fact that she herself is from an aristocratic Roman Catholic family, who were all converts, she doesn’t always quite manage it. She seems to be quite certain that Charles became a Catholic on his death-bed but I’m sure others don’t agree. It’s common even nowadays for RC priests to ‘claim’ folk for their brand of Christianity at death-beds.

Inevitably the Catholic/Protestant religious problems feature in the book and at one point Fraser says that John F. Kennedy made it clear that he drew a distiction between his role as President of the US and as a private member of the Catholic church; as the former for example he was not subject to the authority of the Papacy.

It’s all very well to say that but I read just a few weeks ago that during the Bay of Pigs crisis JFK was on the phone a lot to the then Pope, apparently taking advice from him. It’s that sort of thing which really worries some people about religion and it’s just one of the many theories about JFK’s assassination, that it was done because of his percieved allegiance to the Pope rather than to America.

I don’t think it’s all Henry VIII’s fault as all the world religions have schisms and factions who are at loggerheads with each other. Maybe the Buddhists all get on with each other, I’d like to think so anyway.

Well I’ve gone off track a bit but I’ll just finish off by saying that there’s more to Charles II (Stuart) than the facts that he had loads of mistresses and a dozen or so illegitimate children. This book is a painless way of learning more history.

If you want to see some images of him, look here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I bought a hardback copy of this book for ¬£2 from a charity shop shortly after it had been published and it has taken me until now to get around to reading it. I was put off reading it mainly because it looked like such a thick tome whenever I passed it, which was very often as it was situated on that bookcase which is half-way up the stairs, on the mezzanine level, well that’s what an estate agent would call it.

Actually it turned out to be not as long as I had thought, just 650 pages but I have to report that although I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I wasn’t as enamoured of it as so many other readers seem to have been. I think maybe I’ve just had enough of the Tudors at the moment, that era does seem to be the one everyone concentrates on. Having said that, I will read the sequel whenever I can get hold of it.

My favourite history book concerning that time is The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser and if you’re keen on the Tudors then you’ll really enjoy that one. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a history book rather than fiction, it’s very readable.

Speaking of huge tomes, I’ve decided to start reading the book which I bought at the Chatsworth shop last summer when we visited that stately home. It’s The Mitfords – Letters Between Six Sisters and I plan to read 30 or 40 pages each day, otherwise I’ll never get around to it at all. It’s 804 pages long and very heavy and unwieldy, not easy bedtime reading.

But which book am I going to choose to read on my Kindle now – decisions, decisions!

Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

This book was first published in 1969 and at 667 pages the sheer thickness of it could be a wee bit off putting to anyone with lots of books in the ‘to be read pile’. However, if you are at all interested in Mary Stuart then this is a must read for you.

You can easily tell that Antonia Fraser has a real passion for Mary and she obviously did a fantastic amount of research on her subject, which I suspect was a real treat for her.

Mary Stuart has always been a familiar tragic figure to me. My favourite doll as a teeny wee girl was that well known one of her dressed in a black velvet gown with a lace cloak. When I was told of her sorry tale and ghastly end – well, you couldn’t not love the idea of her.

So it was inevitable that I was going to read this book sometime.The book won the James Tait Memorial Prize and although it was written so long ago, it has never been bettered.

Although the book is packed with historical detail, it never becomes dry or boring as Antonia Fraser has a wonderful free-flowing way with words. Despite the fact that she is so keen on her subject, it hasn’t blinded her to the fact that Mary was very far from being perfect. It’s a real pity that she didn’t take a leaf out of her cousin Elizabeth’s book and steer clear of marriage altogether.

It seems that wherever you live in Scotland, you will be close to a castle or palace with links to Mary Stuart.

She was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1542. The palace is just a shell now as it caught fire in 1746, but it must have been wonderful in its day.

Linlithgow Palace and Loch in late evening

Her first marriage to the dauphin ended when he died of complications from an ear infection a month before his 17th birthday. So at the age of 18, Mary sailed for Scotland after 13 years in France.

Considering that she was a Roman Catholic queen in a Presbyterian country, things went rather well for her. She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds and she didn’t disappoint them.

Her choice of husbands left a lot to be desired and brought nothing but trouble for her.

She gave birth to her only child James VI in Edinburgh Castle.

Castle lit up at sunset - Explored

She spent a large part of her life being held captive in various
castles, and managed to escape from a few of them. Lochleven Castle being the most famous escape.

Loch Leven Castle

She loved to spend time at Falkland Palace in Fife, where she could ride and fly her falcons. This palace is well worth a visit, there is plenty to see, it has lovely gardens and the village of Falkland itself is worth a walk round. For those who are a bit more energetic, take time to walk up the East and West Lomonds, to get a great view.

Falkland Palace in Spring