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Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens Paperback – January 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jane Dunn’s 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 Mary’s 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 O’Kelley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708206
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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84 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Monika on May 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Many have criticized this dual biography for not introducing new material, and simply re-hashing what has been written elsewhere. And clearly there is no shortage of excellent biogaphies on both of these queens. However, it is the format of Dunn's book that sets it apart and gives us an innovative perspective. Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, were both fascinating monarchs in their own right, but equally fascinating is the complex relationship between them. Both women had a claim to the throne of England. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth's grandfather, Henry VII, who overthrew Richard III and founded the Tudor dynasty, was also the great-grandfather of Mary (born to King James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise). Elizabeth was Mary's elder by only nine years. Both women were ambitious, passionate, and cunning. Yet despite their similar status as queens and cousins, these two women were also very different from one another.
Mary became Queen of Scotland only six days after her birth in 1542, upon the death of her father. In 1548 she was sent to France, to grow up in the court of her French fiance, the dauphin Francis. Her status was never in question, and therefore she never questioned it herself. Elizabeth, however, traversed a much more tumultuous path to her throne. When her mother was beheaded so Henry VIII could marry his third wife, the young princess was declared illegitimate and removed from the succession. Ultimately her place in the succession was reinstated, but this in no way guaranteed that she would ever become queen. First in line was her radically Protestant half-brother, Edward, who died young.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Some have criticized Jane Dunn's history of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, for not covering any new ground. I find that the parallel biography format makes a new look at an old story well worth while. You may already know the histories of the two queens and their separate lives, but to read about them simultaneously makes vividly clear how intertwined their stories are.
Dunn's style is accurate and entertaining without being over-scholarly. The addition of details that other biographers have omitted is welcome. (She mentions that Elizabeth was nearsighted, for instance.) The narrative flows naturally from one queen to the other without seeming choppy. Just when you are starting to wonder what's going on with the other, the scene changes to keep you up to date.
I was somewhat disappointed with the way Dunn treats the murder of Riccio (spelled Rizzio in some accounts). While she discusses fully the repurcussions of the murder, she glosses over the actual sequence of events in one sentence, since the story "is well-known." I think a popular history such as this is the perfect place to include a full account, both for those who are new to the subject and to re-acquaint the rest of us with a dramatic event.
Dunn, like many biographers, is attached to her subjects. She gives everyone the benefit of a doubt. This is surely the most sympathetic account of Lord Darnley that I have read yet. (Especially on the heels of the recent Alison Weir history of Mary and Darnley.) But she backs up her assertions and conclusions with solid arguments and thorough documentation. And although she says that people still tend to divide themselves into Elizabeth admirers and Mary supporters, she seems to have an equal bias for each queen.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Megan VINE VOICE on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
First, I would like to review the book itself, and then address some of its critics.

Two of history's most famous queens, one for her unexpected and remarkable greatness, the other for her inexplicably poor judgment and bad luck. But was their famous rivalry inevitable? Was Elizabeth always the popular, talented, dominant one while Mary remained in her shadow? Jane Dunn asks these questions, and I was surprised - and pleased - by some of her answers.

The first part of the book is essentially a point-by-point comparison of the two queens, detailing their very different youths and explaining how they would influence the women in later years. Essentially, Mary had a huge sense of entitlement, was overconfident in her own power and security, and was a much more 'traditional' woman - and Queen - of her day. Elizabeth, whose childhood was punctuated by dramatic changes of fortune, had a much more acute sense of how tenuous her position was, and how much she depended on the good will of her people to maintain power.

Dunn does beat the Mary-as-charming-but-spoiled and Bess-as-brilliant-control-freak comparison into us a bit, but it is a good way of looking at the very different natures of these two women. Her book isn't a full biography of either queen; rather it's a look at the intersection between them - their relationship with each other, their competition, rivalry, and common causes. As such it's a fascinating look at a unique time in European history, the so-called "Age of Queens".
Posterity-wise, Mary got the short end of the stick. History will always remember her as Elizabeth's paler shadow, a major annoyance and minor queen who had no one but herself to blame for her tragic end.
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