Unknown to History
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
Author: Charlotte M. Yonge
Major Themes: England, Elizabeth I, Mary of Scotland, Tudor Period
Synopsis: A sailor in the time of Queen Elizabeth finds a baby, the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and brings her home to his wife—who is this baby and what do the mysterious tokens wrapped up with her mean?
Whenever I come across a free Kindle book that sounds like something I’d like to read, I send it to my Kindle. I read the books, then, in alphabetical order, which means it can take a long time to get to some of them. I came across Unknown to History recently, and had no idea where it had come from, but started reading it to see what it was about. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean, very interesting, historical novel from the Tudor period! I’ve always loved historical novels, and this one was superbly written. I didn’t figure out till I had finished it that it was originally written in 1882; the style of writing was surprisingly modern. Most books written that long ago are so wordy that it’s hard work to read them, but not this one. I also enjoyed the length of the book; I’m a very fast reader and enjoy a longer book that takes a few days to get through.
The story opens with a young mother waiting for her husband to return from sea. Susan has a three-year-old son, and her baby daughter has just died. She is quite surprised when her husband comes in and immediately hands her a baby girl! A ship was wrecked on the coast, and this baby is apparently the sole survivor; she was still in the arms of her dead nurse when found. As she unwraps the baby’s clothing, Susan finds a gold cross in the baby’s clothes, and a strip of writing that they cannot decipher, and then discovers two symbols burned onto the baby’s shoulders. Obviously, someone wants to be able to identify this child later—but who, and why? Susan and her husband take in the baby and raise her as their own, giving her their dead baby’s name when they baptise her as a Protestant.
Soon, the family move back to their permanent home from the temporary one in Hull in which they had been staying while the father was on board ship. About that time, Mary Queen of Scotland is brought to live in captivity in the castle on the estate our family lives on, and the father becomes one of her guards. Many years pass, during which they nearly forget the circumstances of Cicely’s becoming part of their family. Then, a chance discovery leads to their learning who Cicely really is. What will become of her, and the family, now?
Unknown to History was written to tell the story of Mary of Scotland in an unforgettable way. There is a slight thread of romance through the last half of the book, but the main focus is the captivity of Mary and her conflicts with Queen Elizabeth. As I said above, I thoroughly enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well-written historical novel.