Queens of Intrigue; Critic's Choice ELIZABETH & MARY: COUSINS, RIVALS, QUEENS by Jane Dunn (HarperCollins, U20)

Article excerpt

Byline: TOM KYLE

VIRGIN Queen and tragic martyr: such are the reputations of Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart handed down across the centuries Cousins and queens, there were many similarities between them, and as many differences.

Elizabeth often seems the stronger.

She ruled England for 45 years and died at almost 70. In theory, Mary was also a queen for more than 40 years, albeit most of them spent in infancy, exile or imprisonment.

Although both born to kings, their early years could hardly have been more different.

From birth, Elizabeth was considered illegitimate by the Catholic princes of Europe. Her father Henry VIII had split with Rome over his 'divorce' from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent 'marriage' to Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn.

Before Elizabeth was three, Anne, who failed to produce a male heir, had been executed. With the birth of the future Edward VI to Jane Seymour, Elizabeth's light further dimmed. She and her half- sister Mary, daughter of Catherine, were declared illegitimate by their father.

Although eventually reinstated to the succession Elizabeth, as third in But Edward died at 15 and her sister gave England her particularly bloody brand of Catholicism.

Thousands were martyred. For a time Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London, her life in danger.

By contrast, her cousin Mary had a gilded childhood. A queen since the death of her father James V when she was five days old, her legitimacy and religion were never in question.

At the age of five, she went to live in France, already betrothed to the Dauphin. One day she would be Queen of France as well as Scotland.

The French court was the most glittering in Europe and Mary was its shining star. Her marriage to the Dauphin, the future Francois II, in 1558 was the social event of the year, perhaps of the decade.

These early years were the defining ones for both queens. Elizabeth's intellect, formidable anyway, was hardened and sharpened. The singleminded determination and devotion to duty that characterised her reign was forged in these dangerous days.

Mary's devotion was to pleasure, secure in the knowledge that her every whim would be indulged. This was not to stand her in good stead.

The subsequent histories of Elizabeth and Mary are well enough known. After her sister died childless, Elizabeth gradually grew in regal stature to become one of England's most renowned monarchs.

MARY become Queen of France, but her sickly husband soon died and she returned to claim the Scots crown.

Two more marriages followed, the birth of the future James VI and I and her famous flight to England, incarceration and execution.

What interests Jane Dunn in this book is not so much the individual queens but the dynamics of their relationship. …