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.
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!