Publishers Weekly Review
In this sharp new history of two adversarial monarchs, Williams (Becoming Queen Victoria) tells the story of a monarch who "tried to be as autocratic as a king," but was thwarted by conspiracy and female disempowerment. She begins with a basic but skillful recounting of how Mary came to Scotland's throne in 1542 while her cousin Elizabeth I established her rule in England. Mary contended with significant threats to her reign and her authority; from within, aristocrats jostled for power, and, across the border, Elizabeth maneuvered to prevent Mary from claiming the English crown. According to Williams, Mary's downfall stemmed from her attempt to claim her rightful power and rule on her own terms. The Scots nobility regarded Mary as a woman first, queen second, and they conspired to control her by exploiting her body: as Williams renders in chilling detail, Mary was raped by and consequently forced to marry the Earl of Bothwell. Williams's analysis of this episode, unlike historians who have "judged her complicit" because she did not escape, is informed by contemporary insights into sexual assault. Forced to abdicate, Mary fled to England hoping for assistance from Elizabeth, who instead detained her and subsequently ordered her execution. Though parts of the story may be well-known to readers of royal history, Williams injects enough fresh viewpoints to make it a satisfying whole. Illus. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.