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This reading group guide forQueen Jezebelincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The aging Catherine de’ Medici and her sickly son King Charles are hoping to cease the violence between feuding religions: the Catholics and the Huguenots. When Catherine arranges the marriage of her beautiful Catholic daughter Margot to Huguenot King Henry of Navarre, the kingdom’s subjects hope there will finally be peace.
But shortly after the wedding, when many of the most prominent Huguenots are still celebrating in Paris, King Charles gives an order that could only have come from his mother: rid France of its “pestilential Huguenots forever.”
In this bloody conclusion to the Catherine de’Medici trilogy, Jean Plaidy shows the demise of kings and skillfully exposes Catherine’s lifetime of depraved scheming.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What did you find most remarkable about the conduct of the royal family and the other ladies and lords of the Valois court? What did you find most appealing? Were you surprised by the indiscretions of Princess Margot and the other royals?
2. When the Admiral Coligny is summoned to Paris, he declares that he is willing to risk his life for the Huguenot cause. How does Coligny’s death affect the outcome of the religious struggle in France during the course of the novel? Was Coligny’s death necessary to aid the Huguenot cause, in your opinion?
3. Catherine de’ Medici is a formidable figure in European history. How does the author’s incarnation of Catherine de’ Medici measure against what you know about the historical figure?
4. Henry of Navarre is remembered as one of the most loved kings in France’s history. His statue still stands today on the Pont Neuf in Paris. Which Henry (Henry III, Henry de Guise, or Henry of Navarre) did you find to possess the best leadership skills? Why do you think the author chose to end Queen Jezebel before the reign of Henry of Navarre (later, Henry IV of France)?
5. The struggle to achieve and retain power is a central theme in Queen Jezebel. How does Catherine maintain her power over the Valois court and the state affairs of France? Why do Catherine’s children defer to her, particularly King Charles IX and King Henry III, when she is so unpopular outside of the court? How is power for the women things would have been different for her, and for France as a whole, had she married Henry de Guise when she had the chance. Why does her former relationship with Guise plague her? How would things have been different if she had married him?
6. Discuss the different marriages and other relationships throughout the book. What motivates these unions? Love, money, power, sex? In your opinion, which relationship functioned the best? Why? How do the various relationships evolve throughout the actions of the novel?
7. “By God… a man, it seems, must have a faith; and as the good God decided He would make a Huguenot of me, so let it be,” says Henry of Navarre (ms p. 55). Were you surprised at all by Henry’s blasé stance on religion? How central are the differences between the Catholics and Huguenots to the conflicts of the so-called “Religious Wars” depicted in Queen Jezebel?
8. Which character did you sympathize with the most? Which characters surprised you the most? Which character grew or changed the most throughout the novel? 9. As the Admiral Coligny is on his death bed, he warns King Charles, “She is your evil genius, my son. You must escape from her” (ms p. 103). How do Coligny’s words affect the way that Charles rules? How do his words resonate for the rest of the House of Valois?
10. Discuss the differences between the royal court at Paris, at Krakow in Poland, at Blois, and the court at Nérac in Navarre. How do the customs and attitude of each court shape the actions of the characters there?
11. The people of Paris play an important role throughout Queen Jezebel as a voice of protest against the actions of the royal court. How does the public opinion influence the actions of each of the characters? How would the novel have been different if the court was not subjected to this public opinion?
12. Discuss the effect of the title, Queen Jezebel, on your reading of the novel. Do you think the title is fitting? Is Jezebel a fitting epithet for Catherine de’ Medici? Is Catherine, the Italian Woman, the main character of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Dress in your finest court style for your next book club meeting. Drape yourself in pearls and jewels (real or costume), silk, satin, velvet, or lace in a style that would make King Henry III and his mignons proud. Host your own fashion show royale.
2. Lineage and family connections are very important to the characters in Queen Jezebel. Create a genealogy chart of your own family similar to the chart that appears in the beginning of the novel. To get started, visit www.familysearch.org.
3. Read the first and second books in the Catherine de’ Medici trilogy by Jean Plaidy if you haven’t already: Madame Serpent, which first introduces Catherine as a fourteen-year-old Italian princess, and The Italian Woman in which Catherine advances along her unholy road as the ambitious mother of princes.
Jean Plaidy, the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, was one of the preeminent authors of historical fiction for most of the twentieth century. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages and have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. She died in 1993.