Discussion Questions – The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy


  1. Discuss the personalities of the three sisters – Jane, Kate and Mary. Who do you like best and why?
Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.
Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.

Jane comes across as serious, studious, intelligent, logical, quiet, impassioned, determined and resolved. Katherine, on the other hand, comes across as flighty, flirty, likes to be the centre of attention, loved, passionate and impetuous. Mary comes across as the outsider, serious, logical, strong-willed and determined, though most of these only towards the end of her life. The three are completely different and contrasting, and perhaps that it why they get on so well. Mary is the most like me, she is the one that I can most identify with as she is an outsider, but is strong and determined, although people don’t always see it. I like Mary the best, then Jane and then Katherine, possibly because that is the order in which I identify most with them.

  1. The Grey sisters have a little ritual in which they stand before the mirror and identify themselves as “the brilliant one”, “the beautiful one” and “the beastly little one”, making fun of the way other people see them. Discuss the outside world’s perceptions of the three sisters and how they see themselves. Discuss their relationship with each other. If they weren’t united by blood and family ties, would these three girls have been friends?

Making light of harmful comments (“the beastly little one”) or idle gossip means that they don’t have as much power to hurt you. It means that you know how the world sees you but you don’t really care, or seem not to care – it’s a form of armour. The world sees the sisters as very one-sided, but the girls themselves know that there is more to each of them than meets the eye. For example, Katherine is beautiful and seems flighty, but is steadfast in what she wants in the end. Jane has a loving, caring side when it comes to her sisters, but no one else. I think that, had the girls not been related by blood, they wouldn’t have naturally gravitated towards each other, but I think their relationship with each other enhances their own personalities, so I think if they hadn’t been related to each other they wouldn’t have been the same people.

  1. Because of Jane’s confession to Roger Ascham, history remembers her mother, Frances Grey, the Duchess of Suffolk, as a ruthless, ambitious, child-beating monster. The modern concept of child abuse was non-existent in Tudor times, and what we would today consider harsh punishments were not uncommon. What do you think about this? Was Frances Grey typical and merely a product of the time she lived in or did she cross the line?

I think Frances Grey did overreach herself – there were still limits on the punishments for children, especially royal and noble children. However, Jane was part of the royal family and was expected to marry in an advantageous way as her parents and the monarch wished. Perhaps she was allowed too much freedom in her earlier life, so when her parents told her what to do she rebelled against it. I think it is easier to do as you’re told if you don’t have a sense of freedom from the off. Jane seems to be treated differently from her sisters – possibly because she’s the eldest and the one that the most is expected from? But we don’t see the treatment of Katherine and Mary at their mother’s hands to the same extent we see Jane’s. Katherine was the golden child, and I think that Frances tried to pretend Mary didn’t exist a lot of the time. Perhaps Frances wants Jane to make use of her royal potential so pushes her harder, perhaps regretting her own lost chances and wasted ambition.

  1. Discuss the girls’ father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. In this book, he’s depicted as a weak-willed man of many vices and addictions – gambling, sweets, and Guildford Dudley. Compared to his wife, is he the good, fun parent? Discuss his influence on his daughters. Is it good or bad? Would their lives, or the course of the story, have been different if he had been a stronger or wiser man? Discuss his relationship with Guildford Dudley. Do you believe the two were lovers in the full physical sense or was it just an innocent infatuation that was really all talk and no substance?

I think, compared to Frances; Henry is the fun parent as he seems to have fewer inhibitions than his wife. I think that Henry is both a good and a bad influence on his daughters – he gives them the fatherly love which they seem to lack from their mother, but he also introduces them to vice and the dangers of greed and getting what you want. I think that Jane Grey might have had a chance of surviving had Henry not got involved in Wyatt’s rebellion – Mary I was inclined to clemency for Guildford and Jane until Jane’s father became involved in the rebellion, when she realised that it was too dangerous for them to remain alive as a focus for rebellion. I can’t imagine that Henry Grey would have an affair with his son-in-law. I think they just enjoyed each other’s company, and perhaps Guildford liked being close to Henry because he felt closer to Jane.

  1. In this novel, Lady Jane Grey deplores anything that even hints of sex and romance, urging those who are weak, or might be tempted, to fight against lust and “despise the flesh”. Why is she so vehemently opposed to what others consider a natural part of life? Does she really, as some suspect, secretly desire her handsome young husband but fight against a desire she loathes discovering inside herself, or does she really hate him? And is Guildford really as stupid and conceited as people think?
'The Fallen Queen' by Emily Purdy (2013)
‘The Fallen Queen’ by Emily Purdy (2013)

I think that, in a way, Jane is scared. I think she is scared of the act itself and scared of how it could make her feel with the right person. I think that she doesn’t like Guildford, although that’s not the same as hating him. Perhaps she thinks that she could desire him and like him if she’d let herself. Perhaps she feels forced into the marriage so is determined not to like Guildford on principle. I imagine I would feel the same if I was put into that situation. I think Jane is so opposed to it because the emotions related to it are inexplicable and it is an uncontrolled time when you’re that close to another person. Perhaps Jane needs to feel in control, again something I can relate to. I don’t think Guildford is stupid – I think he behaves that way because it gets him more attention and keeps him as the loved baby of the family. Conceited; yes, he probably is, being raised in a family who dote on him and who believe that they are the premier family in England when Northumberland is protector.

  1. Do you agree with Mary Grey that her eldest sister, Jane, chose and embraced the role of martyr and victim? If so, why do you think Jane did this? If you disagree, why do you think Mary thought this? And how do you see Jane?

I think that Jane did embrace the role of martyr and victim because she wanted to die in a way – she wasn’t particularly happy, and she never wanted to be queen. She must have known that, had she lived, she would have been a beacon for rebellion against Mary I, and then Elizabeth I, so no doubt she would have been deeply unhappy. Perhaps it was easier to die, and be remembered as a beautiful and intelligent young woman who promoted the reformist religion in England. I see Jane as a conflicted woman who is very focused on her studies, but wants something more – she wants to experience the excitement that Katherine does, but is also frightened. I think that, in some ways, Jane was a coward when it came to emotional entanglement because I think she was attracted to her husband, but was afraid of the intimacy and, possibly, the child that would have resulted and been dependent on her for its own life. Perhaps she was afraid that she would turn out like her own mother, and didn’t want to be remembered as such by her future children.

  1. Mary says that “all for love” should have been Kate’s motto. Is this true? If so, is it a good or a bad thing? Love definitely played a starring role in Katherine Grey’s life and death. Do you agree or disagree with the choices she made? Discuss her relationships with the various men in her life – her father, her two husbands, her father-in-law, and the minor dalliances and flirtations. How did they affect, mould and shape her? Why does she risk her life to save her father’s head from London Bridge? Did she really love her first husband, or was she, as Mary thought, simply in love with love? Should she have married Ned Seymour? Is his love for her sincere or does her royal blood play a role in his decision to secretly marry her? Does it stand the test of time even when they are separated?

I think that Katherine fell in love too easily. I think that she was more in love with the idea of love, and wanted people to love her and care for her. I think it destroyed her in the end because she married the man she loved in the end, but lost him and was separate from her children as well. I think her father doted on her, which is possibly why she felt such need for love – she was so used to it that she couldn’t let it go. I think Katherine was also conceited and that admiration was like air to her, hence the flirtations and little dalliances. I think Katherine was too young to really know or understand her first husband and just liked being the centre of attention at the wedding. Her second husband I think she came to love him dearly, especially when they were separated, as she could make him out to be the ideal man in the absence of the actual man. I think that Katherine’s royal blood does play a role in Edward Seymour’s desire to marry her – I think it couldn’t not, given who his father was. I don’t think their love would have lasted so long had they lived with each other on a daily basis.

  1. Discuss Frances Grey’s marriage to Adrian Stokes. Why does she really marry him? Throughout history, and even in the modern day, men routinely date and marry women considerably younger than themselves, but an older woman with a much younger man still invites comment, sometimes even jokes and laughter. What do you think of this? In this novel, her surviving daughters are clearly appalled by her actions, and Frances herself realises she is likely to become a laughing stock at court. Do you think this is justified?
Mary I 1554 by Hans Eworth
Mary I 1554 by Hans Eworth

I think that Frances, in a way, wants to distance herself from her Grey husband. I think she’s ambitious, but I think that she married Adrian Stokes because it was a way of distancing herself from that ambition, but she also kept her place at court as a member of the royal family. I think that she also wanted to show that she could do what she wants and marry who she wants, as she wasn’t likely to have any more children so it didn’t matter, unlike the marriages of her daughters. I think that a younger man in the Tudor period was still able to have children – the main point of marriage – whereas an older woman might not be able to have children. I think that people are mainly shocked because Frances is a member of the royal family, and it was expected, if she would remarry, that it would be to someone of similar status, not someone far below her on the social scale.

  1. After she becomes friends with Lady Jane Seymour, Kate begins to neglect and ignore Mary. They no longer share a room and drift apart until they are more like casual acquaintances than sisters. Why do you think this happened? How would you have reacted if you were in Mary’s shoes? Kate seems to dance in and out of Mary’s life at her own convenience, as it suits her, when she wants new clothes, and, after Lady Jane dies, when she has no one else to turn to. Even when Kate is in prison and makes Mary her confidante, it is still all about Kate, and she never asks about Mary. Do you think Kate uses or takes advantage of Mary? How does this make you feel about Kate?

I think that Kate and Mary were only close when they were young because they only had each other and Jane, and I think after Jane was executed they remained close because no one else wanted to get close to them as their father and sister were attainted. I think that Katherine feels an affinity with Jane – they share the love of court life and have similar interests. I think that Katherine and Jane also grew close because of Katherine’s burgeoning relationship with Jane’s brother, Edward. I think that Mary regrets the loss of her only real friend because people tend to avoid her because of her physical deformity. I think that Kate did take advantage of Mary because she was so used to Mary always being there, and her not really having anyone else to turn to. I think Kate is so used to having everything being about her that she forgets that other people might need help or support as well. I think she’s been spoilt and that made her selfish.

  1. Why does Kate give up? Why does she stop fighting? Why does she burn Mr Roke-Green’s letter to Queen Elizabeth before he has a chance to send it? She died at only 28 after losing a long battle with depression. Could this have been avoided? Could she have won this battle? What, if anything, could Kate have done to ensure a happier or longer life for herself?

I think Kate gives up because she thinks she has nothing left to live for – she isn’t allowed to see her husband or children, and she lives for attention and love, which she is lacking at this point. I think she burns the letter because it’s easier to give up than to fight for what you want. I think Katherine is essentially quite weak because everything has been handed to her, and now she has to fight for it and doesn’t really know how. I think that Katherine gave up on herself and so felt like she had nothing to live for, so her body took its cue from her head and gave up too. If you don’t look after your body and feed it then it will give up, as Katherine’s did. Katherine could have lived longer if she’d looked after her body, but she probably wouldn’t have been any happier. The only way she would have been happy is if she’d been strong enough to move on and learn to love again; learn from her mistakes and rectify them the second time.

  1. Why does Mary, the practical and pragmatic one who should have known better, follow in Kate’s footsteps when she knows the danger that comes with marrying secretly, without the Queen’s consent? Discuss her relationship with Thomas Keyes. Why do they fall in love? And is it really love? During her sister’s imprisonment, Mary was constantly pushing Kate to fight and not give in to her depression, to find a way to go on with her life, yet, as Mary freely admits, when she is in the same position, she does not practise what she preached and actually goes mad for a time. How does this make you feel about Mary? Does it make her more human or a less sympathetic character? What do you think of our little narrator? Discuss what life must have been like for someone who was physically different or challenged in Tudor England. Did the difficulties and disappointments she faced make Mary a stronger or wiser person?

I think Mary follows in Katherine’s footsteps in marrying without the Queen’s permission perhaps because she believes that, with her deformity, no one would ever consider her to be queen material – she was very different to her sisters, Jane and Katherine, and perhaps truly believed she wasn’t worth as much so why not take it when it comes her way? I think she needs to feel loved and cherished, and she likes it, after not having had it for most of her life – she was shunted aside in favour of Jane and Katherine. I think Mary and Thomas fall in love because they are both outsiders and bond over their differences. Neither fits in with the life of the court, so I think they fall in love because of how much outside the swirl of court life they are. I think that Mary couldn’t follow her own advice because she lost more than Katherine in a way. Mary thought that no one could ever love her as they did Katherine, so when she found someone who did love her, she felt the loss more keenly. It makes her a more sympathetic character, because Katherine has been loved and feted her whole life while Mary was left out in the cold, so it seems more cruel to deprive her of the one person who really loved her. Physically deformity is still a moot topic today – people don’t like to talk about it, but in Tudor England it was seen as a sign of the devil; deformed foetuses were seen as a sign of the mother’s pact with the devil, for example. Perhaps that is why Frances can’t seem to love her – Mary is the physical representation of her own failings.

  1. Discuss Mary’s life after she is released from prison. Even though she still mourns her husband and has already made the decision to shut love out of her life, she spontaneously begins a secret affair with her stepfather, Adrian Stokes. Why does she do this? Is it a good or bad decision? And, why, when she is received back at court, does she insist on calling herself “Mrs. Thomas Keyes”? Is this an act of pride, insolence or defiance, or her way of honouring the memory of the man she truly loved?
Elizabeth I coronation portrait c.1610 copy of a lost original
Elizabeth I coronation portrait c.1610 copy of a lost original

I think that Mary likes to feel loved and, having been deprived of it until she met her husband, she likes to indulge herself. Adrian makes her feel normal and I think that Mary likes this, having been singled out for the majority of her life. It’s a good idea as it makes Mary more confident in herself, and enjoy her life, but it is a bad idea, as she can’t tell anyone, and secrets have a way of getting out and destroying lives. I think when she is received back at court, Mary wants Elizabeth to know that she isn’t cowed into denying her marriage – she is happy and proud that it happened, and no longer wants to hide in the shadows scared. However, I think it is also her way of remembering Thomas and feeling close to him.

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