Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens

Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens

by Jane Dunn

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


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. Working almost exclusively from contemporary letters and writings, Dunn explores their symbiotic, though never face-to-face, relationship and the power struggle that raged between them.

A story of sex, power and politics, of a rivalry unparalleled in the pages of English history, of two charismatic women—told in a masterful double biography.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A perceptive, suspenseful account of complex English history. . . . By the end of this satisfying book, one feels sympathy for both women, brave queens in an age when ‘no one considered that a woman could effectively rule alone.’ ” —The New York Times Book Review

“Elegant. . . . Dunn demythologizes Elizabeth and Mary. In humanizing their dynamic and shifting relationship, Dunn describes it as fueled by both rivalry and their natural solidarity as women in an overwhlemingly masculine world.” —Boston Herald

“A balanced, nuanced, and eminently clear account. . . . Brilliantly conceived, elegantly executed, and compellingly readable.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A wholly engrossing and sumptuous retelling of a tale that entered legend even before its protagonists were dead.” —Newsday

The Barnes & Noble Review
Move over, David Starkey and Alison Weir. The deadly rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, gets a fresh retelling in Jane Dunn's majestic work, a riveting tale about the battle for the English throne that's rich with period detail and canny psychological insight.

Dunn's elegant narrative remains tightly focused on the relationship between these two women whose characters and backgrounds were so dramatically different. A queen from birth, the extraordinarily charismatic Mary was secure in her sovereignty. Pampered and impetuous, she was also surprisingly conventional and susceptible to manipulation. By contrast, Elizabeth learned early to live by her wits. As the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she was raised in an atmosphere of struggle and precarious uncertainty that taught her lifelong lessons in survival and diplomacy and proved a valuable apprenticeship for her reign as England's queen.

Using a wealth of source material, the author reconstructs a 16th-century world rife with superstition, intrigue, and religious dissent. She also uncovers surprising qualities in both women. In the emotionally reckless Mary we confront unexpected craft and ruthlessness; and in steely, disciplined Elizabeth, ambivalence, insecurity, and great reservoirs of tenderness and affection. Ruled by her heart, Mary placed love above duty and lost her head. Ruled by her head, Elizabeth refused to forfeit power for the sake of married love and paid the price in loneliness. Elizabeth & Mary weaves a fascinating, insightful tale, earning its place on the list of must-reads about this scintillating period of history.

The New York Times
''To have two queens of the same generation, reigning as neighbors in one island, was a rare and significant anomaly in the history of kings,'' Jane Dunn writes in her superb dual biography of Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) and Mary, queen of Scots (1542-87). By focusing on the intertwined lives and the contrasting personalities of these two formidable women, Elizabeth and Mary presents a perceptive, suspenseful account of complex English history … By the end of this satisfying book, one feels sympathy for both women, brave queens in an age when ''no one considered that a woman could effectively rule alone.'' — Elizabeth Hanson
Publishers Weekly
This is not so much a dual biography of Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart as a cross-section of the royal cousins' lives as they intersect in fact and in theme. As a successful, ultimately beloved monarch, Elizabeth has been granted the upper hand by history, but here the mirror images of the two queens' experiences suggests how differently their stories could have ended. The opposing trajectories of their lives-Elizabeth rising from a politically and personally precarious childhood to become a powerful ruler and Mary descending from undisputed Scottish heir to prisoner and self-styled martyr for Catholicism-elucidate the problems of early modern queenship more fully than a single biography would. Opening accounts of Elizabeth's coronation and Mary's wedding serve as an emblematic introduction to their experiences of education, religion, family, marriage and leadership. Unfortunately, these accounts are clearly cut from chapter four, where their loss creates a jarring leap. The dual narrative also leads British biographer Dunn (Moon in Eclipse: A Life of Mary Shelley) to overdo her interpretation and to repeat incidents and reintroduce characters, seemingly not trusting her readers to keep them straight. However, she does Mary a service by digging more deeply into her childhood and evaluating her more rigorously than many authors have. Her emphasis on Elizabeth's insecurities heightens the comparison between the two queens and renders the decision to execute Mary the turning point in Elizabeth's reign. While this may slightly exaggerate the centrality of the rivalry to Elizabeth's thinking, it nicely captures the intertwined lives of these two women. 24 pages of color illus., not seen by PW. 50,000 first printing. Agent, Kerek Johns. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Two queens of the same generation "reigning as neighbours (and cousins) in one island was a rare and significant anomaly in the history of kings." Destined for rule at birth, Mary was surrounded by "excessive flattery" and was viewed as possessing every "queenly virtue." By contrast, Elizabeth was in danger for much of her youth and was considered reckless-her decision to remain celibate viewed with suspicion. Very soon, these roles would completely reverse. Elizabeth wisely surrounded herself with men of the highest caliber, whereas Mary chose poorly in marriage, and her shift to a more pro-Catholic bias alienated her early supporters. Given her unpopularity and suspicions of her role in her first husband's murder, Mary was forced to seek refuge in England. Elizabeth was initially sympathetic to her plight, but her presence and perceived ambition to secure the crown of England became a security risk. Mary was finally executed after spending 20 years imprisoned in the Tower of London. Amazingly, these two women never met face to face. This is a delightfully told biographical work of two fascinating women. Combining their biographies helps to clarify the strengths and weaknesses of both, resulting in a more balanced work that allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03.]-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A compelling account of the rivalry between two of history's most fascinating monarchs. In covering the lives of cousins Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart, Dunn focuses on describing their effects on one another, rather than cataloging all of the events in their lives. The two young queens, coping with troubled finances, religious strife, and belligerent nobles, could hardly have been more different in background and temperament. Protestant Elizabeth, disinherited, humiliated, and imprisoned in her youth, learned to be cautious and calculating. She placed her role as queen above all other considerations. Catholic Mary, her parents' only surviving heir, was always secure about her right to Scotland's throne. Raised indulgently in the luxurious French court as the future bride of the dauphin, she was headstrong, passionate, and impulsive. Only nine years apart in age, the two royals corresponded copiously, and constantly grilled spies and ambassadors about one another, but never met. Using a variety of contemporary documents, including letters, diaries, and court papers, Dunn shows readers the queens' surprisingly parallel lives. Both were charismatic leaders who inspired fanatic devotion and bitter enmity throughout their lives. This is not an easy book for students, but it's well worth the time it takes to read it. The pomp and pageantry of the 16th century, as well as its superstitions, hardships, and cruelty, are vividly described. Family trees, a detailed chronology, and 24 pages of color photographs of portraits of Elizabeth, Mary, and those most important to them are included.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tempered, sympathetic, and highly readable study of the dynamic created by queens Mary and Elizabeth, rulers of an island that was too small for the both of them. One of the great boons for this tale of the interplay between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots is the abundance of primary source material-letters, speeches, poems, prayers, dispatches, and reports-of which Dunn (A Very Close Conspiracy, 1991, etc.) makes copious, fluid use. The author also understands the 16th-century frame of mind: the role of superstition and the agency of magic in that febrile, unpredictable world; the insecurity of succession. Dunn concentrates on the contrary and vibrant personalities of the two monarchs as they drive events before them, or slow to a molasses crawl and let the speculations of others fill in the blanks. What Dunn does so well is to usher readers into a bygone world so they can understand the whys and wherefores of the queens' acts. This works especially well for Elizabeth, "a subject too . . . proud that she was born of a domestic union and not from a dynastic alliance," who governed by sufferance of the public will. Dunn's approach works nearly as well for Mary, impetuous and given to the pleasure principle, but also a subtle thinker (at least at times). The two queens never met, and this "black hole at the heart of their relationship" allowed Elizabeth a freedom of action that Mary's preternatural charm might otherwise have disarmed. Dunn's knack for keeping the many players in focus gives her narrative the quality of a great big theatrical performance, with cabals here and conspiracies there, lovers coming and going, ethics publicly tested, and one head finally rolling as Mary turnstreason into religious martyrdom. The author achieves a fine duality of her own, reveling in her characters while keeping a gimlet eye on their motivations: wise, unwise, and suicidal. (24 pp. color illustrations, not seen) First printing of 50,000. Agent: Derek Johns/A.P. Watt

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.67(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.54(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Fateful Step

"I am already bound unto an husband, which is the kingdom of England" ... Stretching out her hand she showed them the ring.
Queen Elizabeth's first speech before parliament,
10 February 1559

These were dangerous times. The second quarter of the sixteenth century had made Elizabeth Tudor and her generation of coming men watchful, insecure, fearful for their lives. Nothing could be taken for granted. Health and happiness were fleeting, reversals of fortune came with devastating speed. This was the generation raised in the last days of King Henry and come of age in a time of religious and political flux. The religious radicalism of Edward VI's reign had been quickly followed by reactionary extremism and bloodshed in Queen Mary's. During the political tumult of these years there was no better time for ambitious men to seize position, wealth and honours. No longer was power the exclusive prerogative of old aristocratic blood. When a Thomas Wolsey, son of a butcher, or a Thomas Cromwell, son of a blacksmith, could rise in Henry's reign to be the mightiest subject in the land, then what bar to ambition during the minority of Edward, the turmoil of Mary, and the unpromising advent of Elizabeth? But vaulting ambition and exorbitant rewards brought their own peril. The natural hierarchy of things mattered to the sixteenth-century mind. Men elevated beyond their due estate, women raised as rulers over men were unnatural events and boded ill. Those with the greatest aspirations could not expect to die peaceful in their beds.

God remained at the centre of this febrile and unpredictable world. His will was discerned in every random act. Death was everywhere. It came as sudden sweating sickness and struck down communities of healthy adults. It came as fire to purify heretic beliefs. It came through poison or the deadly thrust of steel to dispose of inconvenient obstacles in the machinery of power. The supernatural had a physical presence, and spirits and magic were natural companions to everyday life. They were part of the grand cosmic scheme which constituted God's hierarchical universe. Analogy, interconnectedness, fixity were deeply impressive to the Elizabethan mind, mutability and disorder a sign of man out of harmony with God's plan. Superstition and religion were ways to make sense of suffering, attempts at warding off the apparently random blows of fate. Yet the insecurity of life itself made the living intense, the wits sharper, the senses more acute. For sixteenth-century men and women there was a life after death, for the godly well-mapped and glorious, but life on earth was a precious and precarious thing to be seized and drained to the dregs.

At a time of augury and superstition, there was nothing to foretell the events of 1558: no sightings of whales in the Channel; no preternaturally high tide, nor monstrous births nor the mysterious, lingering trajectory of a comet across the northern sky. Even Nostradamus, whose prophecies were consulted by those in a fever of uncertainty, appeared unaware of its significance. The year opened without cosmic fanfare. Yet this was to become one of the momentous dates in every British schoolchild's history rote. Along with the battle of Hastings of 1066 and the great fire of London in 1666, 1558 was one of the markers of a seismic shift in English experience, to be chanted in schoolrooms through subsequent centuries. It was a year of grand transfers of power, as one reign came to an end and a new era began. It was a time of inexorable religious schism, when universal monopolistic Catholicism was permanently supplanted by the state religion, Protestantism.

Scotland's most recent history had been less convulsive. By the beginning of 1558 it was balanced in a certain equilibrium. A significant number of lords had proceeded informally down the road of religious reformation and the opposing factions had forged an uneasy coexistence. Clan loyalties and rivalries would always be the defining identity which cut across ideology, matters of faith or political allegiance. Rather than a religious cause, any growing unrest and sense of danger came more from Scottish resentment against the increasing presence of the French, garrisoned in various towns and awarded lucrative offices over the heads of the native Scots. As a child ten years previously, Mary Queen of Scots had escaped the clutches of the English and sailed for France. Her French mother Mary of Guise was courageous and just as regent but inevitably favoured her own country with whom Scotland was in alliance. This cosy relationship was about to be challenged when, in 1559, the Reformation turned militant and anti-French, and John Knox, the inspired Calvinist preacher, returned home after twelve years' exile to become its hectoring mouthpiece.

At the beginning of 1558, however, both Elizabeth and Mary were poised on the margin between apprenticeship and their public lives as female monarchs. By the end of that year both had embraced their fate. The defining moment for Mary came with a kiss-in effect a marriage. For Elizabeth it came with a death-and an exclusive contract with her people.

It was apparent that a woman in possession of a throne must marry, and do so without delay. All biblical and classical texts, in which the educated sixteenth-century mind was imbued, stressed the natural order of the male's dominion over the female. A female monarch was a rare and unnatural phenomenon which could only be regularised by speedy union with a prince who would rule over her in private and guide her in her public, God-given, role as queen. Only by restoring man's necessary dominion could the proper balance of the world be maintained.

Although her cousin Elizabeth was revolutionary in her lifelong resistance to this obligation, Mary Stuart was more conformable and fulfilled this expectation of her status and sex-not once but three times. In early 1558 she was fifteen and had been a queen since she was six days old. She had never known any other state. First as a queen of Scotland, the land of her birth and a country she did not know: secondly as queen of France, the country of her heart. Having lived from the age of five at the centre of the powerful French court, Mary had grown into a charming and accomplished French princess, destined to become the wife of the dauphin of France. Her spectacular dynastic marriage, reinforcing the "auld alliance" between Scotland and France, was set for the spring. Mary would marry her prince on 24 April 1558. François, the beloved companion of her childhood and King Henri II's eldest son, was just fourteen years old.

In England, Elizabeth Tudor was twenty-four years old and living quietly in the country at Hatfield some thirty miles north of London. Expectant, and fearful of losing the one thing she desired, she was fearful too of its fulfilment. She had already been bastardised, disinherited, often in danger and always waiting, never certain of the prize. Elizabeth had seen her two siblings (and a cousin, fleetingly) succeed to the throne before her. If any had had children then her position on the sidelines of power would have become permanent. But Edward VI died in 1553 unmarried and childless aged sixteen. He was followed not by either of his elder half-sisters but by their hapless teenage cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Sacrificed to further the ambitions of her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland, she was queen in name only and then barely for nine days. Immediately imprisoned she was executed seven months later. Now in 1558, Henry VIII's eldest child, Mary I, herself appeared to be ailing.

Elizabeth had survived much danger. She knew well how closely scrutinised her actions were and how much she was the focus of others' desire for power. The previous two decades had seen so many ambitions crumble to dust, so many noblemen and women imprisoned and beheaded, accused of heresy or treason, tortured, tried and burnt, or if a traitor, hung, drawn and quartered, in the terrific ways of judicial death.

At the beginning of 1558, Elizabeth and her supporters knew that some great change was in motion. But change brought disruption too and increased danger. Her half-sister Mary Tudor had been queen for nearly five years. Suspicious, suffering, devoutly Catholic and zealous to maintain the supremacy of the old faith, her reign had grown increasingly unhappy. Mary's worst mistake had been her insistence on marrying Philip II of Spain, for the English hated foreigners meddling in their affairs, and they hated the Spanish most of all.

The fanatical purges of heresy by her decree, and the torture and burnings of hundreds of martyrs, would earn Mary the epithet "Bloody Mary" from generations to come. The country grew ever more tired and repelled by the bloodshed. The dreadful spectacles had become counter-productive, alienating her subjects' affections for their queen and strengthening the reformers' support. In reaction to the mood of the country, the burnings in Smithfield were halted in June 1558. But nature seemed to be against Mary too, for the harvests also failed two years in succession. In 1556 people were scrabbling like pigs for acorns and dying of starvation. The following year they were ravaged by disease as various epidemics swept through the land. Famine and pestilence-people wondered, was this God's retribution for the sins of Mary's reign?

By the beginning of 1558, Mary was herself sick and in despair. Still longing for a child and heir, once more in desperation she had made herself believe she was pregnant again. But Philip had not bothered to hide his antipathy to his queen and anyway had been absent from her for too long. Her delusion and humiliation was evident even to her courtiers. Elizabeth, who had waited so long in an uneasy limbo, under constant suspicion, her sister refusing to name her as her heir, would have lost everything if this miraculous pregnancy turned out to bear fruit. No one could know, however, that the symptoms which Mary interpreted as the beginning of new life and hope were instead harbingers of death.

The Queen's spirit that cold January had already been broken over the loss of Calais. The last trophy left to the English from their ancient wars with France, this two-century-old possession had been lost in the very first days of the year. Since the previous June, Mary had supported her husband by embroiling her country in an expensive, unpopular and now ultimately humiliating war with France. The loss to their old enemy of Calais, remnant of Plantagenet prowess, was more a symbolic than strategic catastrophe, and it cut her to the heart.

This latest humiliation of English pride had been inflicted by François, Duc de Guise, nicknamed le Balafré, "scarface," after a wound inflicted by the English at the siege of Boulogne fourteen years earlier. A lance had smashed through his face from cheek to cheek but he had overcome all odds and recovered his life, his sight, and even the desire to fight again. He was a brilliant soldier, and the eldest and most powerful of Mary Queen of Scots' six overweening Guise uncles. The ambition of these brothers knew no bounds. They claimed direct descendency from Charlemagne. Catholic conviction and imperial ambitions commingled in their blood. Their brotherhood made them daunting: they thought and hunted as a pack, their watchwords being "one for all" and "family before everything."

Taking advantage of their monarch's gratitude for the success of the Calais campaign and riding on a wave of popular euphoria, the Duc de Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine agitated for the marriage of their niece to the youthful heir to the French throne. The fortunes of the girl queen and the triumphant family of her mother, Mary of Guise, were fatally intertwined. At this time, the Guises seemed to be so much in the ascendant that many of their fellow nobles resented and envied their power, fearing that it was they who in effect ruled France.

Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots had always been aware of each other, of their kinship and relations to the English crown. As cousins, they were both descended from Henry VII, Elizabeth as his grand-daughter, Mary as his great-granddaughter. European royalty was a small, elite and intermarried band. As the subject of the English succession loomed again, Elizabeth was acutely conscious of the strength of the Queen of Scots' claim to the English throne. Certainly she knew that if her sister Mary I's repeal of Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy was allowed to stand then her own parents' marriage would remain invalid and she could be marginalised and disinherited as a bastard. To most Catholics Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn had always been invalid and Mary Queen of Scots was legally and morally next in line to the English throne. If Mary united the thrones of Scotland, France and England then this would ensure that England remained a part of Catholic Christendom.

However, if the Acts of Mary Tudor's reign should be reversed, then Elizabeth's legitimacy was confirmed and she, as Henry VIII's legitimate daughter, had not only the natural but the more direct claim. She also had popular, emotional appeal. Her tall, regal figure and her reddish gold colouring reminded the people, grown nostalgic and selective in their memory of "Good King Harry," of her father when young. Her surprisingly dark eyes, an inheritance of the best feature of her mother Anne Boleyn, were not enough to blur the bold impression that the best of her father lived on in her.

In fact, despite the stain on her mother's name, it was to Elizabeth's credit that she was not the daughter of a foreign princess, that unadulterated English blood ran in her veins and that she had been born in Greenwich Palace, at the centre of English royal power. In early peace negotiations with France, Elizabeth had Cecil point out she was "descended by father and mother of mere English blood, and not of Spain, as her sister was." This meant she was "a free prince and owner of her crown and people." She was an Englishwoman, and she knew this counted for much in this island nation of hers. "Was I not born in the realm? Were my parents born in any foreign country? Is there any cause I should alienate myself from being careful over this country? Is not my kingdom here?"

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, a Venetian ambassador noted the insularity and self-satisfaction of the English even then:

the English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England; and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that "he looks like an En-glishman," and that "it is a great pity that he should not be an Englishman."

Meet the Author

Jane Dunn is the author of a biography of Mary Shelley, a study of the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, and most recently of a groundbreaking life of Antonia White. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Bath, England.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews