Book Reviews: The Women Who Would Be Queen; Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, by Jane Dunn. HarperCollins. Pounds 20

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBIN McMASTER

MARKING the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth I, this dual biography charts the lives of two extraordinary women and their pursuit of a single goal - the English throne.

While Mary Queen of Scots, the younger by some nine years, followed the traditional route - brought up in the French court in preparation for marriage to Francois II, cementing the Auld Alliance against the Auld Enemy - Elizabeth, the virgin queen, travelled a less conventional path.

Elizabeth's strategy was largely one of avoiding risk and, in the 16th century, marriage and childbirth were perhaps the biggest risks of all.

With the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, a reminder of the perils of both, in her first speech to Parliament she declared herself wedded only to her country, transforming a position of weakness into one of strength.

Ultimately, her ascension to the throne owed as much to the misfortune of others - Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary I - as to her own ability.

While her rival Mary, vivacious and beautiful, seemed destined to win the English crown for Catholicism and France, she lacked Elizabeth's self- control. …