Book Review – ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens’ by Jane Dunn


Jane Dunn 'Elizabeth and Mary' (2003)
Jane Dunn ‘Elizabeth and Mary’ (2003)

Jane Dunn, Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), Hardback, ISBN 978-0-00-257150-1

Title: The lives of Elizabeth and Mary are always tied together – noticeably because one queen orders the execution of another. They are tied together not only by blood (Elizabeth’s father and Mary’s grandmother were brother and sister) but by their rivalry over their respective countries and their queenship of the same.

Preface: Explores the surface relationship of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Gives some background to them both, and the popular sources and existing biographies on the pair. It outlines the relationship between the two, and what caused them to develop a deadly rivalry. Gives an overview of what will be discussed in the book itself.

Citations: Citations are very clear and concise. They offer enough information to track down the source and locate the information within it, including publication details and edition information. References are listed at the end of the book, by chapter, rather than just a list of all sources used, as some authors do.

Jane Dunn
Jane Dunn

Contents: The book has a very clear and concise contents page, looking chronologically through the lives of both Mary and Elizabeth and how they intertwine. There is a consistent suggestion through the book of the chaos of female rule, with precedents set by the Empress Matilda and by Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary I. There are twelve chapters, a separate bibliography, chronology and family trees for both Elizabeth and Mary to show how they are related.

Genre/Audience: The book seems to be aimed at a scholarly audience rather than a general audience, as it uses some language that you could only understand with a knowledge of the period. It also dives straight into the sources without any kind of a preamble. It is a mixture of history and biography, writing about the lives of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, and tracking where their lives overlapped within the historical context. It is also a comparative work, as the title suggests.

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots after François Clouet, c. 1559.
Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots after François Clouet, c. 1559.

Concepts: There are constant comparisons of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, from their childhoods, to their views on marriage, to their style of queenship. A large section of the book is based around the events leading up to Mary’s execution in 1587 and why Elizabeth signed the death warrant. As the title suggests, a lot of the book is looking at the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary, and how they saw each other.

Sources: There is a large selection of both primary and secondary sources. There is a particularly large use of the state papers of Elizabeth I, available on British History Online. Dunn seems to look at all of the key sources, examining some in more detail than others (state papers). Secondary sources are used to discuss the debate, and to corroborate where some information comes from. Overall, an excellent use of sources to come to a balanced opinion on the key relationship between Elizabeth and Mary.

Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575

Illustrations: Large selection, mainly portraits. Does include a painted genealogy and portrait medallions. Also includes examples of Mary’s embroidery and paintings about Mary and Elizabeth’s lives. Also includes a breakdown of images at the beginning, including all relevant information about them, including years and current locations.

Other works: Jane Dunn has also written about the 17th century relationship between Dorothy Osbourne and Sir William Temple. Other books about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots include ‘Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen’ by Tracy Borman and ‘Two Queens in One Isle: the Deadly Relationship of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots’ by Alison Plowden.

My Rating: 17/20

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