This is a joint biography of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, their reigns and relationship with each other. These rival queens, both with a claim to the English throne, embodied opposing characteristics, ideals of womanliness and divinely-ordained kingship, resulting in a relationship that is punctuated by murder and psychological and actual warfare.
I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth I. I have been trying to read everything I can on her and this is a nice addition to the body of literature out there on the Queen. It focuses on Elizabeth and Mary from their births until Mary's final undoing and death. The author doesn't make any surprising conclusions but she gives you a good idea of how their lives affected one another and why one had to die for the other to live.
I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in this time period and these two queens.
So why only two and a half stars? In a word: structure. In her Preface Dunn claimed the book is “not a dual biography” but rather “follows the dynamic interactions” of the two women and is not “chronological.” I soon saw what she meant, and I found her form irksome. Her opening chapter juxtaposes Elizabeth coming to the throne with Mary’s marriage to the heir to the throne of France in 1558. Dunn throughout the book bounces from woman to woman and jumps back and forth chronologically, and the result just doesn’t flow. I found myself wanting to abandon the book and instead reread Lady Antonia Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots and try the biography of Elizabeth by Anne Somerset recommended by Dunn in her preface. So that’s what I did--abandoned this “not a dual biography” before reaching the 150 page mark.
Charming, headstrong, and persuasive, Mary became Queen of Scotland at birth and was raised as the pampered future bride of the Dauphin in the French court of Henry II and Catherine De Medici. Insightful, wary, and skilled in the art of negotiation, Elizabeth was very young when she lost her mother Anne Boleyn, and the taint of illegitimacy threatened her freedom, life and reign.
Both Elizabeth and Mary were descendants of Henry VII and their rival claims to the English throne made them adversaries, but as kinswomen and fellow queens on an island outpost of a continent governed by men they had a natural bond and connection that each felt. Elizabeth & Mary takes the queens from birth until Elizabeth's 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada the year after Mary’s beheading and fifteen years before Elizabeth’s death. It’s a fascinating, stirring, and poignant story that’s well told in this book.
Mary got was coming to her...Elizabeth did her best to keep Mary alive, but Mary just wouldn't give up on trying to have Elizabeth murdered!