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.
was forced on her they risked an irritable explosion of temper. She did not like to see her control of Scottish affairs slipping. She feared the shift of power between Protestant and Catholic interests within both realms and the increased influence this marriage gave the Catholic powers abroad. But there were those, like the French agent Mauvissière, who thought that Mary’s marriage “was not so evil taken [in England] by Her Majesty and her Council as [Throckmorton] has shown in his negotiations.
his mother Catherine de Medici about Elizabeth’s reputed immorality. He had to be assured she was the model of propriety before he would proceed. Such reservations as to her reputation only served to outrage Elizabeth when she was unfavourably compared to Mary. Upbraided by the French ambassador for not allowing Mary greater liberty, she was determined, she said, to point out to all European princes that her treatment of her cousin was of “such rectitude” that she had no cause for shame or
of these deviant practices. Certainly it was believed that just as a man could be bewitched into illicit sex so he could also be rendered impotent. It was rumoured witches would even sacrifice babies in the pursuit of their terrible power. The fact that proof of witchcraft was spurious was no obstacle to the accusation. It was a powerful and ancient belief which gave a meaning to misfortune in a world of suffering, and a cathartic focus for blame and revenge. Any woman who was somehow eccentric
Augustinian priory there was surrounded by the deep waters of the lake of Menteith. Although Mary was not yet five years old and was only to stay for two to three weeks, the stealth and urgency of her departure from Stirling and the mysterious atmosphere and beauty of the place may well have impressed her with a visceral memory of excitement and tension. Perhaps at this impressionable age Mary’s natural polarity of impetuous courage and nervous sensibility thus was etched deeper in her
Elizabeth was triumphant, so Mary was humiliated and incensed. She was most upset by the clause that renounced her claim to the English throne, and most troubled by the new Scottish Parliament’s abolition of the Mass and papal jurisdiction. All she and François, as Queen and King of France and Scotland, could do was threaten to refuse to ratify the treaty. Fifteen-sixty was a year of deaths which would change the destinies for ever for both Elizabeth and Mary. The first death was that of Mary of