Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots

Written by Kate Williams
Review by Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir

This very readable and fast-paced biography relates the story of Mary Stuart in a fresh and engaging way. As in any book on Mary, Elizabeth I of England is of vital importance, and the author relates her life story in parallel to Mary’s in such a manner as to make us empathise with both queens, albeit perhaps to a different degree. In her book Williams hopes to prove it unnecessary to pick a side in this saga of a queenly rivalry that was rooted in a pan-European religious conflict as well as sustained by the politics and power games of the men closest to Mary and Elizabeth. The reader is left with an overwhelming sense of how beset by enemies the Scottish queen was, and how she was betrayed and exploited at every turn. Yet the utter folly of some of her most vital decisions is made plain; this Mary does not come across as tragic victim or romantic heroine, but neither is she a scheming temptress or governed by emotion. Among the most impressive sections is Williams’ compelling argument on Mary’s reasons for marrying Bothwell, particularly apt in times of the #MeToo movement. Highly recommended.