1. Mary’s motto is, “Time unveils Truth.” Why does she believe that? Does it prove to be an accurate statement? How does it become a recurring theme of the novel?
2. Love–for her mother, her betrothed, her siblings, her handmaids–is an enduring motif in Mary’s story. Do you think she understands what love is? Does she find true love in any form?
3. Mary portrays her father at various times as a cruel tyrant, an incorrigible dissembler, and “a god, all-powerful and gloriously benign." Do you think she believes each one at the time? What do you think of Henry–how he treats his daughter, his wives, and women in general? Is he a good king, even if he’s not the best father? If he were ruling a country today, how might he be perceived by the world?
4. After her betrothal to the Emperor is rescinded, Mary says, “I must thrust aside sentimentality. I must cease to dream of chivalry and romance. That was not for such as I was, and oddly enough I did not wish it to be different.” Does she succeed in this effort? Why or why not? Does she really want to?
5. Mary says, “My heart was filled with anger–not toward him so much as toward [Anne Boleyn], the goggle-eyed whore, the woman who was his evil genius. I blamed her for all the trials which had befallen us.” Why does she lay the blame at Anne’s feet instead of her father’s? In doing so is she betraying her gender, or rationalizing as any child of a broken home might do?
6. Over and over, Mary criticizes her father for his malleable conscience, but it often seems hers is equally compliant. As she says on page 135, “I began to believe fervently that what I had done–however much it had been against my principles–was the only way in which I could have acted.” When does that cease to be a purely personal foible? What are the repercussions? Does Mary ever recognize this trait in herself?
7. How does Catherine of Aragon’s example affect Mary’s behavior? Ultimately, do you believe her mother would be proud of her? What about her surrogate mother, the Countess?
8. Symbolism plays a great role at court, through rituals, family members’ inclusion or exclusion, even room decor. What would you say was Mary’s most symbolic act? What did it signify?
9. Most, if not all, of what happens in Mary’s life stems from the simple fact of her gender. How might things have been different if Catherine had managed to produce a son in addition to Mary? If Mary had been permitted to marry and have children at a reasonable age?
10. Mary’s illnesses often come on at critical times. What does Plaidy lead you to believe about these spells, through Mary’s own narration? If she were alive today, would her bouts be taken seriously, or would she be sent for psychiatric treatment?
11. Throughout the novel, Mary persists in believing her cousin the Emperor to be her staunch supporter, even though he repeatedly refuses to involve himself in any meaningful way in her plight. Is she just naïve, or is something bolstering her belief? Do you see parallels in her relationships with Elizabeth and Philip?
12. Ultimately Mary gains the throne. Is this because, as she seems to believe, she has learned to maneuver in the politics of the court, or just happenstance? What do you think of her choices as Queen? Is she making up her own mind or being manipulated? How do her advisors differ from her father’s?
13. “Though I was a woman and they might think a man would be more suitable to rule them, I had a heart full of sympathy for my subjects and I would be a gentle and loving sovereign.” Mary says this at the beginning of her reign, but later she complains, “How many more had suffered, and as cruelly, in my father’s reign? . . .He had sent them to their deaths because they disagreed with him; I had done so because these victims had disagreed with God’s Holy Writ. Why should I be so stigmatized when none had questioned him?” Given the fact that Mary is telling her story in hindsight, what do you make of these two quotes? Was her gender a factor in the way her subjects judged her? Was her legacy deserved?
14. Do you see any parallels between the hunts for “heretics” in Henry’s reign, and again in Mary’s, and religious extremism in the world today? What might we learn from the Tudor era?