In our modern age of reality t.v. it is not uncommon (in fact it is encouraged) for women to be seen fighting. In Carolly Erickson’s novel “Rival to the Queen” we can see that rivalry between women is a centuries long affliction.
At the core of this rivalry is, not surprisingly, a man Robert Dudley. Very simply Robert Dudley can be summarized as the handsome, charming, son of a traitor. Nevertheless, this man manages to win the love of Queen Elizabeth the first, and her 2nd cousin Lettice Knollys, both of whom are decidedly out of his league. Yet, these two women draw out the battle lines of this rivalry essentially over Robert’s love.
I understand that historical fiction is just that. However the fact is Robert was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth despite being married to another woman Amy Dudley. Robert eventually made his way back to the Queen’s good graces despite the scandalous death of his wife. And history confirms that he did incur Queen Elizabeth’s wrath when he secretly married her 2nd cousin Lettice upon her own husband’s death.
Naively Lettice really thinks she has conquered her 2nd cousin the Queen when she and Robert are wed, and yet that seems to be the beginning of the downfall of her life. Realistically Lettice was always at a disadvantage when compared to the Queen. Her only advantages were being younger, more attractive, and the knowledge that Robert does not love her for her crown.
Yet, Lettice virtually loses all ground when she marries Robert. The reality is both she and Robert are older and their youthful passionate love was now a more loving mutual respect. Robert is now fighting age, illness, and losing the good looks that originally gained him favor.
However, one can not ignore the inescapable fact that men fare better in scandals than women. Despite her rage regarding his marriage Robert still maintains a place at Queen Elizabeth’s inner circle. While Lettice must reside at their home and watch their only child together fail to thrive and eventually die. Robert’s weaknesses are impossible to ignore when he fails at his duties as a military commander. Sadly, when he dies it is almost a relief that the humiliation is at an end.
My summary is this: was it all really worth it? What did Elizabeth and Lettice have to gain for their rivalry? A man who was not worthy of either of them! Lettice would have done better if she relied less on her fleeting good looks and spent more time supporting her family. Elizabeth would have fared better if she stopped viewing other women as a threat. The fact was she was only the 2nd female sovereign to rule in her own right and thereby she could have benefited from the support of both men and women.
The lesson is he same today: Women need to stop fighting one another but empower themselves by being supportive. Because as history bears witness rivalry can be lethal despite money, rank, or beauty.
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