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'Rivals Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots' by Kate Williams

Kate Williams' 'The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots' is one of my absolute favourite royal history books. I proudly pre-ordered it back in 2018, went to its launch at Historical Royal Palaces - at the Tower, no less - and, like an absolute geek that I am, squealed in delight as I got Miss Williams's autograph. Such a good evening. Also the cover design is absolutely outstanding, in my opinion. Just look at the Tudor rose and thistle intertwined. Back to the book... 

This volume tells the story of Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, with a fresh take on it. It's a story of two royal women, both with very unusual destinies. The book feels very much like a quick-paced detective story. Even though the ending is common knowledge, we really want to know how the story unfolds. The narrative is peppered with twists and turns, as well as lots of characters called James and Mary (the author does her absolute best making sure we don't get confused). The scary part is that this is all a real story. [Insert scary emoji.]

The 'betrayal' of the title is to do with several betrayals that befall Mary, as early as her infancy. The Mary of this book is neither a hero nor a martyr (as she's sometimes portrayed, particularly in fiction). She's not just a victim of her circumstances, either. The author doesn't shy away from pointing out Mary's mistakes, and identifies a specific set of choices that led Mary down her doomed path. At the same time, we are reminded of the external factors that she had to deal with.  

The book is not just following Mary's life, it also follows Elizabeth's, marking the ups and downs of their respective childhoods, womanhoods and most importantly, their Queenships.

Linlithgow Palace - where Mary was born

My favourite bit in the book is the pin-pointing of the precise moment that was to be the beginning of the end of absolute monarchy.

N.B. - HBO, Netflix, Prime and Hulu - I'm looking at you. Please make this book into a limited series. Please.

Read more here, it's the article by the author on the subject, published in BBC History Magazine.

Also give a listen to this podcast episode from History Hit and check out the transcript from Virtual Literary Festival, where Kate Williams discusses 'Rival Queens'.

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