Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens
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The political and religious conflicts between Queen Elizabeth I and the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots, have for centuries captured our imagination and inspired memorable dramas played out on stage, screen, and in opera. But few books have brought to life more vividly than Jane Dunn’s Elizabeth and Mary the exquisite texture of two women’s rivalry, spurred on by the ambitions and machinations of the forceful men who surrounded them. The drama has terrific resonance even now as women continue to struggle in their bid for executive power.
Against the backdrop of sixteenth-century England, Scotland, and France, Dunn paints portraits of a pair of protagonists whose formidable strengths were placed in relentless opposition. Protestant Elizabeth, the bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn, whose legitimacy had to be vouchsafed by legal means, glowed with executive ability and a visionary energy as bright as her red hair. Mary, the Catholic successor whom England’s rivals wished to see on the throne, was charming, feminine, and deeply persuasive. That two such women, queens in their own right, should have been contemporaries and neighbours sets in motion a joint biography of rare spark and page-turning power.
the troublesome question of Mary’s marriage. Her own stratagems threatened to get the better of her. As she said to de Foix, the French ambassador, “Darnley is but a pawn; but he may well checkmate me if he be promoted.” Much as she needed to feel in control of everything, there were so many imponderables in every situation; she could never be sure of the outcome. She was confounded too by Mary’s own character, a nature so unlike her own: “In such a manner of labyrinth am I placed by the answer
at war with her nobility. Neither can she succeed through favouritism and factionalism: “To be ruled by the advice of two or three strangers, neglecting that of her chief councillors, I do not know how it can stand.”48 Ignoring all sage warnings and any previous example set by either her mother or her cousin, Mary appeared to flaunt her favour of the unpopular and indiscreet Riccio, and promote him further. The resentment and aggression against him, and through association towards Mary too, was
confederate lords feared an insurrection from supporters of the pitiful queen if they had removed her from Holyrood Palace by day. She was taken twenty miles north to Loch Leven and rowed across to the island fortress that was to become her home for almost a year. Elizabeth quickly heard of the surrender of Mary at Carberry Hill. Her outrage at the whole sorry episode centred on the fact that a sovereign queen was treated with such disrespect, particularly by her lords who should have known
to be next in line, followed by Princess Mary—and her heirs—and only then by his second daughter, Elizabeth.14 At this time there was every reason to hope that Edward, an intellectually gifted, brave and independent-minded boy, would survive to manhood and have children of his own. For much of her girlhood there was little expectation that Elizabeth would ever be more than a royal princess. The death of such a long-reigning despot as Henry VIII inevitably released a ferment of long-suppressed
disconcerted those who found in his reflection something uneasily like themselves. Certainly his fellow noblemen resented his influence, and the high-minded William Cecil suspected his motives. Rumours of his capacity for opportunistic assassination circulated freely, never more so than after the tragic death of his young wife. Yet in an age of treachery and with a queen who made inconsistency high art, Robert Dudley maintained his pre-eminence in Elizabeth’s heart. Although he was to remain her