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Jane Dunns Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens offers a blend of history and biography that traces the "dynamic interaction" between two of the most powerful women in Western history. Dunn remains ever aware of the uniqueness of her two central figures: both women ruled as divinely ordained monarchs in a male dominated power structure; and both women were from the same family (Elizabeth I was the granddaughter of Henry VII, and Mary Queen of Scots the great-granddaughter of King Henry).
By focusing not on pure biography but instead on relationships, Dunn is able to narrow her book (still mammoth in scope) to the most salient and interesting events in the two queens lives. The book begins in 1558, the year in which Mary first wed and Elizabeth assumed the throne of England. Almost immediately the cousins were embroiled in a conflict that would endure for the remainder of Marys life. A restless, sexually-active Catholic, and leader of the Scottish people in alliance with France, Mary was ever a conduit for rumors of rebellion. The "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth used Mary as a dark reflection to underline her own celibate constancy as a ruler of law and order.
The pair never met face to face, but as Dunn reveals, their lives were closely intertwined. After holding Mary in Fotheringhay prison for nearly two decades, Elizabeth ordered her cousin executed in 1587. Mary had chosen martyrdom in favor of a confession to complicity in the Babington assassination plot. In court, she declared: "I would never make Shipwreck of my Soul by conspiring the Destruction of my dearest Sister." Though the ostensible victor, Elizabeth (who had struggled to find a way to release her cousin while still upholding her own power as queen) confessed, "I am not free, but a captive." In Elizabeth and Mary, Dunn has built a rich world that underlines the tragic struggle between private emotions and the public faces history puts on them. --Patrick OKelley
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.
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This book was a lot of fun to read. Dunn provides some excellent background on both Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, with excellent insights into both of these rulers characters.Published 1 month ago by Philana Crouch
This book is an excellent history of these two crazy amazing women. The hard copy needs a magnifier -this format is great .Published 3 months ago by Lachelle M. Parker
Really enjoyed this book. I liked the erudition in Dunn's style of writing. Dunn described well the morès of the era, how the very different upbringings and personalities of... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Mary E. Brown
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. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Suzanne
Very good really tells you a lot about what went on between the two.Published 15 months ago by Cheryl Booton
Great book - started to read the actual book the kindle version was just so much easier because I am on the go. Just a great read.Published 22 months ago by kathleen fitzpatrick
Most dramas on this subject don't tell you much more about Mary Stuart's life than the Monty Python sketch: "Are ye Mary, Queen o' Scots?".... "Yes, I am."... Read morePublished on August 17, 2013 by A Customer
This book was excellent. I read one review where a reader complained that Dunn repeats herself too often, reiterating points as if you aren't going retain them otherwise. Read morePublished on July 13, 2013 by Natti 29