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Summary

Random House presents the audiobook edition of Rival Queens by Kate Williams.

Elizabeth and Mary: cousins, rivals, queens. They loved each other, they hated each other - they could never escape one another. 

Kate Williams’ thrilling new history tells the story of Elizabeth I of England and her betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots. At the end of the Tudor era, here were two women on two thrones. But this was a man’s world, and many believed that no woman should govern. All around Elizabeth and Mary were sycophants, spies and detractors who wanted their power, their favour and their bodies. And so they became one another’s closest confidantes in the struggle to be both women and queens. 

Alliances were few, but for many years theirs survived - until the forces rising against them, and the struggles of love and dynasty, drove them apart. It was a schism that would end in secret assassination plots, devastating betrayal and, eventually, the signing of Mary’s death warrant in Elizabeth’s hand. 

Kate Williams’ Rivals Queens offers an electrifying new perspective on Elizabeth and Mary and the most important relationship of their lives - that which they had with one another.

©2018 Kate Williams (P)2018 Random House Audiobooks

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Betrayal and exploitation

Another book on Mary Queen of Scots? Her deeply tragic story is well known – incarcerated in various castles for 18 years by her cousin Elizabeth l and her entourage terrified of Mary taking the English throne, and finally beheaded at the age of 44. Here is the full account of her uber-dramatic life: birth in Scotland in 1542 and Queen at 6 days old; much of her childhood and her brief marriage to the Dauphin spent in France; her arrival to inhospitable Scotland as an 18 year-old widow; falling in love with Darnley (possibly Elizabeth’s cast-off); birth of a rightful male heir; Bothwell accused of the plot which strangled Darnley and blew up his house; reported rape of Mary by Bothwell and subsequent marriage; miscarriage of twins whilst under house arrest; desperate appeals to Elizabeth to save her ignored; 18 years incarceration and final execution with the little lap dog beneath her under-skirts, red the colour of Catholic martyrdom.

The contemporary stance of the author Kate Williams sheds a fresh light on Mary as an exploited monarch doomed very much by the fact of her being a woman. Her marriage to the outrageously evil Bothwell is explained in terms of current interpretations of the effects of trauma on women. Williams makes full use of the vast archive of letters and documents available for research. The vicious rivalries between the religious factions and the tragic trajectory of Mary’s life are fully depicted in all their terrible violence and barbarity.

I was disappointed with the narrator Emma Cunniffe and had I not been interested in the text I wouldn’t have continued. This is a shocking, violent slice of history and needs a vigorous voice, not this over-gentle, soothing one. In addition she mispronounces a good many words (leads (meaning roof); Shrewsbury; chanson…) and gets the stress wrong of many more polysyllabic words. No doubt proper supervision and editing are prohibitively expensive for the producers?

3 of 3 people found this review helpful