Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens

by Jane Dunn

Paperback, 2005




Vintage (2005), 480 pages


The first dual biography of two of the world's most remarkable women--Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots--by one of Britain's "best biographers" (The Sunday times). In a rich and riveting narrative, Jane Dunn reveals the extraordinary rivalry between the regal cousins. It is the story of two queens ruling on one island, each with a claim to the throne of England, each embodying dramatically opposing qualities of character, ideals of womanliness (and views of sexuality) and divinely ordained kingship. As regnant queens in an overwhelmingly masculine world, they were deplored for their femaleness, compared unfavorably with each other and courted by the same men. By placing their dynamic and ever-changing relationship at the center of the book, Dunn illuminates their differences. Elizabeth, inheriting a weak, divided country coveted by all the Catholic monarchs of Europe, is revolutionary in her insistence on ruling alone and inspired in her use of celibacy as a political tool--yet also possessed of a deeply feeling nature. Mary is not the romantic victim of history but a courageous adventurer with a reckless heart and a magnetic influence over men and women alike. Vengeful against her enemies and the more ruthless of the two queens, she is untroubled by plotting Elizabeth's murder. Elizabeth, however, is driven to anguish at finally having to sanction Mary's death for treason.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a pretty nice dual biography of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary of Scotland. The author tells the two stories of the queens interchangeably and as the reader, you really get a sense of how their two lives influenced each other.

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth I. I have been trying to read
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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.
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LibraryThing member kims-embroidery
An excellent read but can be a bit challenging to keep all the lineages straight. Well worth the time invested. I have recommended this to both my parents who enjoyed it as well.
LibraryThing member jmcilree
An enjoyable read. Explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary and does a good job of putting it in historical and political context without getting too far from the main purpose: the relationship between the two.
LibraryThing member AngieN
This book had some interesting information, but I'm not sure it was enough for its own book. Mary was scary and weepy and probably deserved classification under the DSM model. Elizabeth comes through it fascinating as always (to me!)
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
This book presents dual biographies of Queens Elizabeth I of England and Mary of Scotland. It's an interesting concept to provide both biographies at once, thus enriching the context for each. However, I found that this also made the narrative a bit jumpy and hard to follow. Overall, I enjoyed this
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book but thought it could be done better.
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LibraryThing member jeanphilli
I have read a great deal about Elizabeth I so I was familiar with her story. I was a bit unsympathetic to Mary, she seemed to do many things wrong. After reading Jane Dunn's dual biography I feel I understand Mary's motivations more. I also understand Elizabeth's reluctance to execute Mary better.
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I felt Ms. Dunn did a great job of juxtaposing the two monarch's experiences, especially their early lives. Elizabeth went from prisoner to queen, Mary went from queen to prisoner. I still have the utmost admiration for Elizabeth and the tough choices she made for herself and her country, but I think I understand Mary's bad choices a bit better. I am waiting for a book about Elizabeth that does not focus on her relationship to the men in her life, but focuses on her ability to rule. She must have done other good things besides not wed or not dictate religion. I'd like to know more about her influence on law, commerce and culture.
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LibraryThing member Janine2011
I really enjoyed this book. I am more of a fan of Mary Queen of Scots than of Elizabeth. I think Elizabeth gets painted far too much of a saint in many books and Mary as the queen who let her passions rule her. At least in this book it was pointed out that at first Elizabeth was thought of badly in
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Europe due to her affair with Robert Dudely and that Mary was the very image of a virtuous queen. Then of course it all went badly wrong. Elizabeth was a vain women who liked for others to take the consequences of her decisions. A perfect example was when she ordered the execution of Mary. She did sign it but threw a massive temper tantrum after the execution claiming that others had acted out of turn. Mary of course had a lot of faults. The biggest mistake she made was marrying Lord Darnely but one suspects that Elizabeth knew what Mary was in for. He was well known at the court of Rlizabeth and I think she knew that the marriage would end in disaster. Which it most spectacularly did, with the murder of the King and the eventual adication and execution of Mary herself.
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LibraryThing member dragon25a
I found the comparison of the personalities and characters of the two queens to be well documented and very helpful in understanding the motivations for the vastly differing perspectives they held. I found the treatment of the two queens fairly balanced. I would like to read more from this author.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The title refers to two 16th century monarchs, cousins and contemporaries whose lives would profoundly affect each other. Elizabeth I, Queen of England, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Both provoked passionate partisans from their own day to ours; Elizabeth usually named as among the greatest monarchs
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ever to rule over Great Britain (including by Dunn), and Mary as a romantic figure and purported martyr to her Catholic faith. From what I read of the book, I’d say Dunn is definitely on Elizabeth’s side--but then so am I. So I don’t have any objection to Elizabeth being held up as a model ruler while Mary is made an example of a failed one. I can’t complain of Dunn’s style either on a line-by-line basis. It’s clean and competent and flowing. The book is insightful and obviously well-researched, with extensive notes of sources. For instance, I liked how Dunn noted just what texts the young Elizabeth read that might have influenced her politics--Cicero, Livy--and Plutarch who wrote of the great Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and her fall.

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.
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LibraryThing member AmberTheHuman
A long read but totally worth it.
LibraryThing member Jaylia3
Powerful and ambitious cousin queens at a time when kings ruled Europe, I found this dual biography of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots deeply and doubly interesting. By depicting both personal histories the context of each queen’s life is contrasted and enriched, and Jane Dunn’s
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thoughtful, vivid writing captures the ethos of their world, the distinctness of their temperaments, personalities and skills, and the subtleties in their conflicted relationship.

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.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
The subject is well represented and the author keeps the reader awake with engaging writing. Good insight into these times and these people.
LibraryThing member JanicsEblen
A long read. The comparison between the two Queens/Cousins was certainly well researched and done. Just a bit to long for my taste.
LibraryThing member marshapetry
Not nearly finished but, man, what a great book, and the narrator is awesome. Read with enough pause between sentences that you can really take in and think about what was just said... excellent!!! Highly recommend, incredibly interesting story.
LibraryThing member kaitanya64
Thorough, clear and readable.
LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
This is a well written (sometimes boring) inclusive book about Elizabeth I and the rivalry for the English Crown against her delusional, conniving, presumptuous, arrogant, murderous, and slutty cousin Mary of Scots. There are many references & notes referring back to historical documents, which
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makes this piece on non-fiction more authentic.

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!
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LibraryThing member TheCrow2
An great parallel biography of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots about their relationship and the background of their deeds. Enjoyable read even though the writer looks a bit biased towards Elizabeth.


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