Kate Williams’ “Rival Queens: the Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots” is a fascinating biography unique for focusing on two subjects, the cousins Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. As part of the yearly Richmond Literature Festival, this event was hosted at the Duke Street Church by The Arts Richmond, a local charity that supports the arts activity in the Richmond Borough. The last week, Lady Antonia Fraser was invited and next week Katie Hickman can be heard in this trilogy of accomplished female historians. Each time, as the chair of The Arts Richmond Hilary Dodman mentioned, a theme will be created in the speakers invited, hopefully enticing the audience back!


Journalist York Membery supported this accessible and amusing talk, although it was clear to see that Kate needed no further encouragement to continue her explanations. She offered insightful comments on the book, noting how similar the two cousins were despite the vastly different ways that history has remembered them. Both invited religious toleration and had to fight tooth and nail to keep their place as ruler in a man’s world, but Mary’s fall from the throne has placed her in a bad light. Kate discussed many reasons for this outcome, notably the differences the locations of their childhood left Mary with no loyal male supporters that could stop the kidnapping and assault attempts. These penetrating comments helped bring the hefty book to life.


This talk was more than purely educational; it was engaging and humorous as Kate discussed the book with modern vocabulary. Mary hoped meeting Elizabeth would solve her problems - yet Elizabeth kept “ghosting” her and instead offered who would be a subpar suitor on Elizabethan tindr. Kate also expressed her unsuppressed glee as the rules around handling documents changed with the times and how she now was able to “massage” letters written from Mary to Elizabeth with bare hands.  She also mentioned how our impressions of history are misinformed, such as with the assault of Mary by James Bothwell being portrayed as a dashing suitor and a romance instead. In this range of entertaining and informative topics, Kate Williams gave a brilliant talk on these inspiring women that animated their memories. 


by Charlotte Liu