The reconstructed face of Mary Queen of Scots was a startling front-page image last week.

She herself wrote poetry and had been tutored by the great poet Ronsard at the French court in her teens. Here, in Robin Bell's translation from the French, is the first of 12 emotionally fraught sonnets believed to have been written by her to, and about, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to whom she was married disastrously after the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. (Bittersweet Within My Heart: The Collected Poems of Mary Queen of Scots, Pavilion Books, 1992).


Lord, grant your mercy unto me:

Teach me some way that he may know

My love for him is not an empty show

But purest tenderness and constancy.

For does he not, alas, ev'n now possess

This body and this heart which would not flee

Discord, dishonour, nor uncertainty,

Nor family hurt, nor evil's worst distress.

For his sake, I value all my friends as dust

And in my enemies I seek to place my trust.

For him, my conscience and good name to chance I've cast:

I would renounce the world, were it his whim:

I'd gladly die if it should profit him.

What more is there to prove my love steadfast.