1. What do you think of her mother’s decision to send Mary to France? Were her childhood there and her marriage to François useful in strengthening her claim to Scotland and England’s throne or detrimental to it? Did the power of Guise and Loraine help her in Scotland? How do you think Mary–as a queen and as a woman–would have been different had she remained in Scotland as a child?
2. After the death of her young husband François, Mary realizes “love which she only knew went so deep since she had lost him.” Is this feeling brought about by the end of a romantic love and soulmate, or the loss of an old and dear friend? Is she more moved by the change in her stature in the Court and her uncertain future, or by the end of the relationship that had sustained it?
3. François once complained, “My mother loves me because I am the King; she loves Charles because, if I die, he will be King.” Mary tried to comfort him, but there is some truth to his understanding of the Court’s affection for power over people. Is Mary mindful of this in her own court in Scotland? Who do you think is truly loyal to Mary, and who only interested in her power?
4. Do you think that the Cardinal’s relationship with Mary ever crossed a line of impropriety? How did he maintain control over Mary?
5. What do you make of Mary’s three husbands: the weak but kind François, the deceptive and romantic Darnley, and the rough and virile Bothwell? What do the differences between them say about Mary’s changing understanding of herself, her role as Queen, and the role of love in her life? Does she ever understand true love?
6. There are a number of strong women in Mary’s life: her own mother, Catherine de Medici, Diane, Queen Elizabeth. What does Mary learn from them, if anything? Why does she rely so heavily on men for guidance?
7. Why does Mary refuse to renounce her claims to the English throne when she has so little interest in governing? Is this pride or ignorance?
8. During her time in Scotland, it is always uncertain to what degree Mary can trust the men around her, who seem foremost driven by their own ambitions. With whom do you think she should have allied herself in the Scottish Court?
9. Is John Knox correct that Mary’s weakness is tolerance? Discuss the way she dealt with Knox’s challenges. Was she strong enough in her response? Should she have tried to work closely with him? Exiled him from Scotland? How does she understand his role in Scotland?
10. Is there a guiding principle to Mary’s reign in Scotland? How does her rule there relate to her reign as Queen of France? What could she hope to gain by ruling England, as well?
11. Plaidy writes that Elizabeth was ruled by ambition and Mary by emotion. If they had met at the border as Mary wished, how would this meeting have played out? Why was Elizabeth reluctant to meet her?
12. In cases of torture or harsh punishments–such as when traitors are hanged in France or slaves on her ship are whipped–Mary sometimes strongly objects and makes a bold stand to stop it. But when traitors are drawn and quartered in Scotland, Plaidy writes that Mary “could not prevent it.” Why could she not prevent it? Is this a sign of her growing ineffectuality as she falls deeper in love with Bothwell, or is she beginning to see the truth of Catherine’s warning: “Your Majesty will never know how to reign if you do not learn how to administer justice”?
13. Mary finds herself feeling and behaving most like a queen when faced with conflict and danger. Does she encourage such moments or avoid them? What does it mean to her to be regal?
14. How do the differences between her French upbringing and her Scottish homeland contribute to Mary’s downfall? Does she act the way she does because she believes her behavior would be accepted in the French court, or has she determined to set her own rules in Scotland? How much is her imprisonment and death a result of her own actions, and how much is she a victim of her situation?