Elizabeth and Mary, Cousins, Rivals, Queens, by Jane Dunn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003
When people make foolish life decisions it’s usually a matter of years before all the fall-out is obvious, a course of events we want our daughters to avoid, of course. That’s why you may want your older daughters to read this book: because reading about someone else’s mistakes is much smarter than making your own.
However, because these queens were not storybook princesses, but real, flesh-and-blood women, Elizabeth and Mary covers some material not found in books on the Homeschool Mom’s usual approved reading list. Stuff like sexual desire, infidelity, and murder, so I hesitated long and hard before writing this review. But as it doesn’t talk about anything the Bible doesn’t, and doesn’t talk about any of it explicitly, salaciously or gratuitously, I decided to go for it.
Comparing the upbringing and outcomes of these two famous queen’s lives, Elizabeth and Mary is history, not historical fiction. It reads almost like a cautionary tale, for if there was ever a princess who threw caution to the wind, followed her heart, and crashed and burned, it was Mary, Queen of Scots. And if there was ever a princess who denied her own desires, used her head, sought and followed wise counsel even when it ran counter to her own wishes, and lived a long and successful life, it was Elizabeth.
This book is about historical figures who lived in a time and place far removed from our own, yet it’s personal enough and relatable enough to be interesting even to older teen-aged girls. Boys could profit from reading it too, but most probably aren’t interested in books about princesses.
In addition to showing what happens when a person makes foolish decisions, or wise ones – and you see the results in days rather than years – Elizabeth and Mary introduces the reader to several of the major players of the Reformation: Henry VIII, Charles V, Catherine de Medici, Phillip II, and John Knox (though he’s not presented very sympathetically.)
But the best part is the example set by the young Elizabeth. Growing up in the treacherous atmosphere of the English court (especially dangerous for her as a teenager when her Catholic half-sister, Bloody Mary, was on the throne) she learned that working hard at her studies, keeping her eyes open, her mouth shut, and avoiding interaction with the wrong people was her best means to ultimate success.
It’s not a bad lesson for all of us.