Mary, Lady Stewart, née Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow (17 September 1916 – 9 May 2014), was a British novelist who developed the romantic mystery genre, featuring smart, adventurous heroines who could hold their own in dangerous situations. She also wrote children’s books and poetry, but may be best known for her Merlin series, which straddles the boundary between the historical novel and fantasy.
Mary Stewart was born on 17 September 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England, UK, daughter of Mary Edith Matthews, from New Zealand, and Frederick Rainbow, a vicar.She graduated from Durham University in 1938 with first-class honours in English. Her original intention to become a professor was derailed by the scarcity of jobs during World War II; she earned a teaching certificate and taught primary school for a while. After the war, she earned her master’s degree and became a lecturer in English Language and Literature at the university. She received an honorary D.Litt in 2009. It was in Durham that she met and married her husband, Frederick Stewart, a young Scot who lectured in Geology. They married in 1945, only three months after they met at a VE Day dance. At 30, she suffered an ectopic pregnancy, undiagnosed for several weeks, and subsequently could not have children.
In 1956, they moved to Edinburgh, where he became professor of geology and mineralogy, and later chairman of the Geology Department of Edinburgh University. Mary, in her own words, was a “born storyteller” and had been writing stories since the age of three. When she and her husband moved to Edinburgh, she submitted a novel to the publishers Hodder & Stoughton. Madam, Will You Talk? was an immediate success, followed by many other successful works over the years.
In 1974, Mary’s husband Frederick Stewart was knighted and she became Lady Stewart, although she never used the title. Her husband died in 2001.
In semi-retirement Stewart resided in Edinburgh, Scotland as well as Loch Awe, Scotland. An avid gardener, Mary and her husband shared a keen love of nature. She died on 9 May 2014.
Stewart was the best-selling author of many romantic suspense and historical fiction novels. They were well received by critics, due especially to her skilful story-telling and enchanting prose. Her novels are also known for their well-crafted settings, many in England but also in such exotic locations as Damascus and the Greek islands, as well as Spain, France, Austria, etc.
Following the success of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, and the connection of the Kennedy presidency with “Camelot”, Arthurian legends regained popularity. Mary Stewart added to this climate by publishing The Crystal Cave, the first in what was to become a four-book series later dubbed The Merlin Chronicles. It placed Lady Stewart on the best seller list many times throughout the 1970s and 1980s.