BBC2: Bloody Queens Elizabeth and Mary

Apologies about the gap between posts dear readers, life has somewhat been turned upside down over the last 3 weeks. So much so that I did not see that there was a programme on BBC 2 about the subject of my undergrad dissertation, focusing on the relationship between Mary Queen of Scotts and Elizabeth I. This is a fascinating and deadly rivalry that was only ever going to end one way; with the death of one of them, that death turned out to be Mary’s in one of the most cruel and violent executions I have read about. You can read an account of it here from a previous blog.

Why I love these two women and their history encapsulates this period so well, they were unique because the history is through the female perspective but they were two sides of the main issues of the day, Catholic V Protestant, Scottish v English, Tudor v Stuart. Two Queens within one Isle, it was never going to end well. The crux of the issue between these two Queens was the succession to the English throne, as Elizabeth was famously the virgin queen. And although history shows that Elizabeth wins by executing Mary, it is ultimately Mary that wins as it is her son who inherits the throne as James I of England.

The most amazing thing is that these two women are closer in death than they were in life, as they lie in eternity within very close proximity of each other in Westminster Abbey. In Life Elizabeth and Mary never actually met regardless of what TV and film may have lead you to believe. Both were deeply curious about each other and this can be seen in the state papers.

What colour of hair is reputed best is my hair your Queens hair the best? and which of us is the fairer? and who is taller?” Elizabeth I

The programme its self is a format I like there are two women acting out the primary sources of the two queens, there is a narrator to guide the programme and then the history and sources are explained and analysed by a series of Tudor, Stuart and 16th century historians including Dr Tracey Borman, Jessie Childs and Dr John Guy.

The programme is beautifully shot with great shots of some of the key palaces of the age including Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

As in my conclusion of my dissertation, the programme states clearly that it is William Cecil, Lord Burghley that is Mary’s Nemesis rather than Elizabeth. The source of Burghley’s grievance towards Mary was because she was Catholic and had a very strong claim to the English throne. It was the the immortal souls of the nation that Burghley was attempting to preserve under the Protestant, Anglican communion.

I loved that the programme recognise that Mary spoke French and had been raised and married into the French royal family. I also agree with John Guy in that Elizabeth I thought herself the superior of the two women and she regarded Mary as inferior.

Again I agree with the reasoning that Elizabeth saw Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley (one of history’s biggest lying cheating nasty swines) as an aggressive move against her as he did have royal blood and a good claim to the throne of England, Elizabeth must have seen her choice as Strengthening her own claim to the English crown. I personally think that Mary may have seen this as a bonus but was more taken with the fact that he was handsome. After all Elizabeth had virtually ordered her not to take French Spanish or Austrian husband but to choose a British groom; therefore as far as she was concerned fulfilling her cousins request of marrying within the isle.

I disagree with the suggestion made by the programme that Mary’s pregnancy with James I may not have been Darnley’s child but that of her secretary David Rizzio. They were close but I never felt that there was anything other than friendship, of monarch and courtier. This can not be said of my feelings about the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley where I am sure there was definitely, love Lust and almost certainly sexual relations as well.

I did learn that Burghley knew of the murder of David Rizzio in advance of it happening and said nothing as he was hoping it would destabilise Scotland and make Mary vulnerable; this for me has made me dislike William Cecil even more than did, he was a statesman that could rival any of the snakes in Parliament today.

One of the few aspects of Mary’s history that I struggle with is deciding whether or not she was implicit in the murder of her second husband Darnley. Frankly I can not think of a more deserving nasty figure in history who deserved an ending such as his, blown up and half naked in public found in a compromising situation with a male courtier. I think it is naive to think that Mary was totally innocent of any knowledge but how much she knew or plotted and schemed I am still unsure of. Had he not died then both Mary and the the thrones of Scotland and England may well have been under threat from a drunk, STD riddled, murdering Lordling. The programme hits strongly at Mary being not only involved but central to her husbands very public and indiscreet death.

I too agree with John Guy on the subject of the alleged rape of Mary by Lord Bothwell the number 1 suspect of the murder of Darnley. I do not believe that he raped her to force her into marriage, I believe that she was grateful to the man who rid her of Darnley and after a prince for her first marriage, a lying cheating swine for her second marriage maybe Mary just wanted a bit of Scottish rough. After all there is nothing quite as attractive as like a bad boy especially if he has been gallant and rid you of a nuisances such as Darnley. Of course I am being flippant there but I do not see why she could not have married out of love or lust; she was a woman of passion after all.

I am pleased to see that the point that other people complicate the relationship of these two women either directly in the way Burghley does through poisoning Elizabeth’s opinion of Mary or indirectly by plotting on behalf of Mary to get her on the throne. This may or may not have been sort out and encouraged. Either way after Mary’s arrival in England the relationship is made more complex due to other people interfering on both sides.

The depiction of Mary’s unhappiness under house arrest, the mental anguish she must have felt, the feeing of how unjust it was that she as an anointed Queen should find herself in this position was unbearable. This also allows people to understand why she may have become desperate and became entangled in mad plots against Elizabeth when she was desperate after many many years in captivity.

I am happy to see that the programme demonstrated that Elizabeth was never comfortable with the notion of executing Mary. I always still firmly believed, having seen the evidence, that Elizabeth was tricked into signing the death warrant by Cecil and she firmly believed naively that it would never be used and followed through. What is fascinating is that John Guy says that he discovers that the tool Cecil used to force Elizabeth to sign the warrant is that he claimed that there is an Armada landed in Wales coming to liberate Mary and help her get the throne. This is new and fascinating evidence. I always felt that the idea of executing an anointed Queen who was there through the divine right of God was wrong to Elizabeth. It not only made her vulnerable to such an action but this was deeply personal to her own history; her mother who had been an anointed queen had also been executed.

The change of Mary mind set at the end of her life from ambitious desperate captive Queen to Catholic martyr is well depicted. Mary died in style, her performance before her death is moving and extraordinary and like her life theatrical – in my end is my beginning – how right she was, her myth and folk law, her legend lives on.

The history is wholesome, good history and this is mostly due to the fact that non celebrity TV historians are used who actually specialise in these areas rather than general historians. Also the dramatisation of the primary sources, brings the written words of these two women and their courtiers alive. And yes sources can be used and interrupted in many ways but here they are used well. It is documentary and drama bringing history alive.

The actresses that played the Queens Beth Cooke as Mary Queen of Scots and Helen Bradbury portraying Elizabeth were fabulous and well cast not just for their looks but their spoken word.

All in all a fabulous programme highly recommended and can be found on BBC iplayer until 29th February. More please BBC!! * please note Images are not mine

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2 Responses to BBC2: Bloody Queens Elizabeth and Mary

  1. Do you know the actual name of the BBC2 program? I’d like to keep a lookout to see if it ever arrives here in the USA as a DVD.

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