The Queen of all Drag Kings by Jesse Blackadder

Raven's HeartHoly crap! I got sucked into a time warp and Friday turned into Saturday. Yikes. But I’m free now and we have a winner for Jesse’s novel, The Raven’s Heart.

Congratulations to Lisa T! She’s the winner this time around. Heads up to the rest of y’all, I’ll post another guest blog with book giveaway on Sunday, March 3.

Check it out, folks, we got all manner of crazy excitement going on up in here. Fabulous author Jesse Blackadder dropped by and to celebrate, she’s giving away a copy of her novel, The Raven’s HeartThe Raven’s Heart is available now from Bywater Books. Jesse’s hanging out down under, so this will be an ebook giveaway since the price of shipping is crazy, yo! Learn more about Jesse at her website HERE. Or buy her book HERE.

And because I know y’all are waiting eagerly for the details about the giveaway, here they are: Jesse is giving away a free copy of the ebook version of The Raven’s Heart. To enter, leave a comment in the comment space below. Include your email address so that we can contact you if you win. Because it would suck to win and not be notified. We’ll also post the winner on this blog post at the very top after the drawing is completed. When will we do the drawing? This Friday, March 1st.

Good luck, y’all!

The Queen of all Drag Kings
by Jesse Blackadder

Finding out that Mary Queen of Scots routinely dressed as a man gave a whole new meaning to ‘Drag King’, as I discovered when researching my novel The Raven’s Heart.

Jesse Blackadder by David Young - 2 - Version 2If they’d taught this kind of history at school I might have paid more attention. But I never heard the famous legends about Mary Queen of Scots. Unusually tall and highly charismatic, Mary loved sports and outdoor activities and was accomplished at riding and hunting. In just six years, between her return from France at age 19 to take up her Scottish throne and her imprisonment and daring escape to England after a rebellion by her lords, Mary lived through more drama and scandal than most monarchs saw in a lifetime.

I came across Mary’s life while investigating the history of my ancestors in the 16th century, and the true story of the Blackadder Castle, which was stolen through a forced marriage. But it was a particular snippet of information caught my attention: the Queen of Scots enjoyed dressing as a man.

At first she disguised herself and slipped out of her palace at night to explore Edinburgh’s streets and drink in its taverns. Her attire was a disguise, allowing her to join in the life of Edinburgh’s ordinary citizens. Perhaps these experiences piqued the Queen’s interest in clothing, gender and power. Although she was – in theory – the most powerful person in the country, she was openly attacked by the Protestant preacher John Knox and undermined by her own nobility.

Mary began cross-dressing more politically. She turned up in masculine clothing to a banquet in honour of the English ambassador and joked about how a marriage between herself and Elizabeth I would solve their political problems. When one of her powerful lords in the north of Scotland defied her, Mary donned armour to lead her armies to defeat him and admitted that she loved to live as a soldier. She rode out again when her lords rebelled against her marriage to the unpopular (and rumoured homosexual) Lord Darnley, putting on such a show of strength that the rebels fled without a fight.

There’s no suggestion in contemporary or current history that the Queen was a lesbian, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by this extraordinary character. Mary was the most famous cross dresser of the time – but surely not the only one?

A little more digging revealed another Mary from the time who penned a love poem to her female friend that has survived down the centuries.

Mary Maitland wrote a passionate poem to another woman that was published in her father’s 1586 Scottish collection The Maitland Quarto Manuscript. Mary’s poetry was compared to that of Sappho – whose work was part of classic education in those days. In the poem Mary Maitland fantasised of changing into a man so she could marry the woman she loved.

It’s (just) within the bounds of friendship poetry of the era, though the lines:

You wield me wholly at your will

And ravish my affection

suggest a passion struggling to stay within social limits. Mary compared their love to that of Penelope and Ulysses, Pollux and Castor, and Ruth and Naomi (source of the declaration ‘Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge’). At the end she wrote that the fervent friendship they shared would endure until ‘death shall us divorce’.

Was a passionate – but chaste – friendship the only option for women who fell in love in the sixteenth century? Although men of the day were often accused of being sodomites – including the husband of the Queen of Scots – lesbianism didn’t openly exist as an identity. The fact that Mary Maitland’s poem was published in a collection compiled by the Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, suggests there was no hint of indecency about her declarations.

But this poem (reproduced in The Literature of Lesbianism by Terry Castle) was one of the little jewels I found while researching and writing my story of powerful women struggling for their birthright in the time of the Queen of Scots, and it was evidence that passionate love between women did exist at the time.

When I uncovered a real link between the Queen and the Blackadder family, (with one of the Blackadders being implicated in the murder of Lord Darnley), the moment of creative alchemy occurred. The story of the Queen of Scots and the story of my ancestors would come together through a fictional character, Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from a young age to protect her from kidnapping. When Alison went into Mary’s service to petition for the return of Blackadder Castle, how could she not fall in love with the charismatic Queen of Scots?

So great joy does my spirit fulfil

Contemplating your perfection

You wield me wholly at your will

And ravish my affection.

Mary Maitland isn’t a character in the book, but I can’t help wondering: did she and her loved one remain ‘In perfect amity forever’? Or did her marriage to one Alexander Lauder end the constancy of her love?

The Raven’s Heart is published by Bywater Books. For more information go to www.jesseblackadder.com

28 comments

  1. Thanks for the column, Jesse. I would love to win a copy of the book. This period is one of my favorites. Thanks!

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  2. Very interesting article…I too love history, and topics like this would’ve made for better attention and grades. Please add my name into the pot…would love to read this! Cheers!

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  3. Thanks, Jesse, for coming by! Please do NOT enter me in the drawing, since I am an employee (LOL) of this here blog. I just wanted to say thank you for blogging and for offering a copy of the book. Great stuff. Glad to meet you. Cheers!

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  4. This sounds like an awesome story. I had not heard of Jesse, so I am quite excited read her work!

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  5. I’ve often daydreamed about time traveling back to the time of one of my ancestral grandmothers – sitting at her cookfire – listening to her stories. The fact that you found this link back to your kinsman and then embark with her on a journey as exciting as this one, sounds…that’s just explosively fantastic to me!
    Well done. Well bloody done!

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  6. I’ve always had an interest in British and Scottish history, and your book sounds like my cup of tea. 🙂 Please enter me in the drawing.

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