Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots never met. Jane Dunn weaves her fascinating "dual biography" of the pair around this pivotal fact. Examining the connections of blood, position, gender and personality that drew these women towards each other, as well as the forces that drove them apart, Dunn explores how their life experiences and the prejudices of their age almost inexorably led two would-be "sisters" into enmity and Mary to a final, fatal end.

Both ruling queens in an age when only men were thought fit to rule, both claimants to a disputed throne, nearly polar opposites in upbringing and faith, the two women are presented here as flip sides of the same coin. The book contrasts their experiences as children and teens (one pampered and protected, the other rejected and accused of treason), and later as queens of sibling realms. The comparison is striking, and along the way the author dispels common misconceptions about the lives and natures of the two nearly mythic queens.

Events and personalities sweep Elizabeth and Mary along, almost despite themselves; alliances, marriage proposals (accepted or rejected), religious turmoil, murder, plots, love and lust all enter the mix. Through it all, Dunn consistently returns to the enduring question: what if they had met? Could the two queens have placed an anchor in the rush of history, altering their mutual fates? The anchor, of course, was never cast, and history swept on, carrying one queen to greatness and the other to tragic death. Howard Shirley is a writer in Nashville.

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