The Other Queen
A heroine everyone recognizes but few truly know, Mary Queen of Scots is remembered mostly for her death on the scaffold than for her turbulent, romantic life. In The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory resurrects Mary and her world by way of a chapter from her life that is all but forgotten: Mary’s long imprisonment as a “guest” of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. With the earl and his wife, whose fortune and marriage are jeopardized by the extraordinary woman under their charge, Gregory has found the perfect means for understanding Mary herself, a queen who will lie, seduce, plot, and sacrifice the lives of thousands in her quest to regain her Scots throne—and to take over Queen Elizabeth’s.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Bess describes George and herself as newlyweds happy and in love. On page 2, she says, "Only my newly wedded husband is so dotingly fond of me that he is safe under the same roof as such a temptress." What is it that first makes Bess uneasy about her husband's feelings towards Queen Mary?
2. Authors often challenge themselves by writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Do you think Gregory does a convincing job of creating her main male character, George Talbot? Do you think he is more or less realistic than the women in this novel, such as his wife, Bess, or Queens Mary and Elizabeth?
3. George and Bess marry for choice and admiration. Identify how they describe one another early in the novel, and discuss how their opinions change over the course of the story. Do you think they ever really knew one another, or do you think their affection is just another casualty of Mary and Elizabeth's treacherous conflict?
4. On page 55, George compares Elizabeth and Mary. He says, "My queen Elizabeth is a most solid being, as earthy as a man. But this is a queen who is all air and angels. She is a queen of fire and smoke." How else are the two queens compared throughout the novel by different characters? How do they describe themselves in comparison to each other?
5. George holds tightly to a noble, genteel way of life that has all but slipped away in England under Elizabeth's rule. How do you feel about see more