Two Queens or One? Two Early Biographies of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I

In this vlog, Dr Steven Reid of the University of Glasgow compares two early biographies of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, featuring images of the two queens, held in the University of Glasgow’s Special Collections.

In Special Collections at the University of Glasgow we have copies of two important early texts relating to Mary Queen of Scots, whose contents are related both in text and image. The first (Sp Coll BD4-e.20) is an English translation from 1625 of William Camden’s Annales, the earliest biography of Elizabeth, which was published in Latin in a series of volumes between 1615 and 1627. The second (Sp Coll Cn.3.36) is a copy of the 1636 second edition of William Udall’s The Historie of the Life and Death of Mary Stuart Queene of Scotland, the first biography of Mary in English which drew its material directly from Camden’s Annales and was first published in 1624. As Dr Reid notes, the most striking thing about the two texts is the shared features in the portraits of the monarchs in the frontispieces, where Mary and Elizabeth look extremely alike.

Why is this? On one hand it may be no more than the printers attempting to convey the royal nature of both women in their respective texts, by adorning them with crowns, ruffs, pearls and other royal paraphernalia. On the other hand, both texts aimed to rehabilitate the image of Mary – in Camden’s case, under considerable pressure from James VI and I – and perhaps the merging of the likeness of the two was designed to confer more respectability on Mary by aligning her visually with her English cousin. You can see the images from both in the video. With thanks to University of Glasgow Special Collections for access to the texts.

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