Fleeing violent rebellions in Scotland, Mary looks to Queen Elizabeth of England for sanctuary. Though promised protection, Mary, perceived as a serious threat to the English crown, is soon imprisoned by her former friend as a “guest” in the house of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick. The newly married couple welcomes the condemned queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court.
To their horror, they grow to realize that the task will bankrupt their estate and lose them what little favor they’ve managed to gain as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. And Mary is not as hopeless as she appears, manipulating the earl and spinning her own web of treachery and deceit, as she sharpens her weapons to reclaim her Scottish throne—and to take over Queen Elizabeth’s of England.
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