Mary Florence Elinor Stewart (née Rainbow; born 17 September 1916) is a popular English novelist, best known for her Merlin series, which straddles the boundary between the historical novel and the fantasy genre.
Stewart was born in Sunderland, County Durham, England and graduated from Durham University, from where she received an honorary D.Litt in 2009. She was a lecturer in English Language and Literature there until her marriage in 1945 to Sir Frederick Stewart, former chairman of the Geology Department of Edinburgh University. Sir Frederick died in 2001.
Stewart is the bestselling author of many romantic suspense and historical fiction novels, which were well received by critics due to her skillful 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.
She was at the height of her popularity in the late 1960s,the 1970s and 1980s when many of her novels were translated into many languages; The Moon-Spinners was also made into a Disney movie. Stewart is considered one of the founders of the romantic suspense subgenre, blending romance novels and mystery. She seamlessly combined the two genres, maintaining a full mystery while focusing on the courtship between two people, so that the process of solving the mystery "helps to illuminate" the hero's personality -- thereby helping the heroine to fall in love with him.
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 five-book series later dubbed The Merlin Chronicles. It placed Lady Stewart on the best seller list many times throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
Stewart is currently semi-retired and resides in Edinburgh, Scotland.