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Rival Queens by Kate Williams - Review

Sunday, February 28, 2021


This book was the February choice for my book club, although I'm not sure who chose it. It's not my usual kind of thing at all - I don't read a lot of non fiction at all, and if I do it's not often historical. However, I decided to give it a go. My friend Leanne bought it for my birthday. I've never read any Kate Williams but I've seen her on the TV. 

I feel like I know quite a bit about the life of Elizabeth I, but this book really looked in some depth at her early life and at the reign of firstly her father Henry, then her brother Edward, and then her sister Mary, and what Elizabeth did through those years. The unpopularity of her mother, Anne Boleyn, meant that her position was never that sturdy, and it seems like a lot of people wanted to usurp her throne once she did finally get there. There was of course also the rumblings going on between the Catholics (who wanted a Catholic on the throne) and the Protestants (which Elizabeth sort of was, but also sort of wasn't...) Elizabeth's advisors wanted her married to secure an heir, but of course as time went on she became known as The Virgin Queen and never married. I did really enjoy the theories that she and her friend Lord Dudley may have had an affair, which may or may not have resulted in the death of his wife Amy. Scandalous!

I know very little about Mary Queen of Scots. She was born just six days before her father, James V, died. Scotland was then ruled by regents, including Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, and the child was shipped off to France, where she was betrothed to the Dauphin, Henry II. They were married as teenagers and he became king, but died. Mary returned to Scotland as a young woman and was married twice more, but was implicated in the murder of her 2nd husband and was sent to prison. I liked Mary a lot, I thought it was a shame what happened to her.

I think this book is written in an accessible way if, like me, you're not particularly academic and don't have a ton of prior knowledge about this period of history. There are so many Marys and Margarets and I think that was one of the worst things for me! I couldn't keep them all straight in my head. To begin with, chapters flipped between Mary and Elizabeth, but then there was a bit in the middle that was more Mary, since a lot was going on in her life, while Elizabeth seemed to just be being queen and not trying to get married. 

I enjoyed the book a lot more than I was expecting! I'm giving it four out of five. 

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