Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Last Tudor'

  1. What role do faith and religion play during the time period represented in The Last Tudor? What is the relationship between religion and politics, and how does this relationship affect the cultural climate of England? Is the country mostly united in their faith or divided? What impact does this have on the royals of England?
  • After the Henrician Reformation, there was the mid-Tudor crisis, already with differences of faith across England.
  • Edward VI was a devout Protestant as he had been raised, Mary I was a devout Catholic as her mother Katherine of Aragon had been, and Elizabeth I looked for a middle way in religion having seen the chaos of her brother’s and sister’s reigns.
  • Edward VI altered his Device for the Succession to stop Mary I succeeding to the throne and returning the English church to Rome.
  • Politics was based on religion – generally people who supported Edward VI and Jane Grey were protestant, and those who supported Mary I were Catholic, although Mary I did at first also attract the support of protestants as the real claimant to the throne by Henry VIII’s will.
  1. What is “the true religion” according to Lady Jane Grey? Why does Jane believe that she and her family do not need to earn their place in heaven as others do? Does her faith ultimately serve her well? Discuss.
  • Jane Grey believes the true religion is protestant – each is influenced in religion in the way that they were raised.
  • Protestants believe in pre-destination – that it is already decided whether you go to heaven or hell before you’re even born and you can’t influence that through good works.
  • Good works leading to heaven is a Catholic doctrine.
  • Jane Grey relies on her faith and it ultimately helps her to die, but she wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if she wasn’t staunchly Protestant.
  • Edward VI settles the succession on Jane Grey because she is Protestant, rather than his Catholic half-sister Mary I.

  1. Consider the title of the book. Who are the members of the Tudor family? Which character or characters does the title of the book refer to?
  • The Tudors in the main are Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. However, all of their descendents are technically also Tudors, including Jane Grey, though they descend through female lines rather than the main male line.
  • Other stems of the Tudors come from Henry VIII’s sisters, Margaret and Mary. Mary’s line is Jane Grey and her sisters, and Margaret’s line is Scottish, through Mary Queen of Scots, eventually leading to James I.
  • I think the title refers to Elizabeth and the succession – Elizabeth is the last Tudor.
  • Elizabeth I’s whole reign was dominated by who would succeed her, between the Scottish line of Mary Queen of Scots or the Grey line through Katherine Grey.
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
  1. Evaluate the roles and the treatment of women as represented in the novel. How are marriage and childbirth depicted? Is the education of women perceived as positive or negative? Would you say that the women of the novel are depicted as powerful or helpless? Do they garner much loyalty from the men in their lives? Discuss.
  • Marriage is depicted as something that should be desirable and bring advantage, but the women in the novel mainly marry for love.
  • Jane Grey marries for duty and her sisters, Katherine and Mary, marry for love – none led entirely happy lives.
  • Childbirth is depicted as a woman’s main purpose in 16th century England – to carry on her husband’s name and line, and to inherit his titles and wealth.
  • Education of women is seen as negative – Jane Grey is educated and is seen to be headstrong and opinionated as a result, not what a woman should be.
  • Women are depicted mainly as powerless in politics, at the mercy of the men around them; they only have power in their sexuality.
  • Women do get loyalty from the men around them; if they marry for love. There is less loyalty if they are a burden as Mary I is to Philip of Spain. They got loyalty if they were useful to their men folk, otherwise it was limited. Elizabeth I was different as she answered to no man.
  1. Katherine believes that “if you are a Tudor you don’t really have parents.” What does she mean? What does her statement reveal about family dynamics and the relationship between parent and child during this time?
  • Tudor loyalty is to the Tudor name and not to your parents or direct family.
  • You can be sacrificed for the greater good i.e. Jane Grey married to Guildford Dudley for the Protestant Tudor cause.
  • Elizabeth I locked up Katherine and Mary Grey when they married without permission, as their children would be heirs to the English throne.
  • At this time children didn’t really see their parents when growing up as they were raised by nursemaids, governesses or tutors and often sent away at a young age, raised in another household.
  • Children saw more of their parents if they were born to a poorer family as they had fewer opportunities and money to pay governesses etc.
  1. Why does Elizabeth punish Katherine and Mary for their marriages? Why does she refuse to show the same mercy for the Grey sisters that she shows for some others? Do you believe that her actions are justified or were you surprised by her lack of mercy to her relatives?
  • Elizabeth punished Katherine and Mary Grey because their marriages should have been a matter of state – they are in the line of succession.
  • With Jane Grey’s failed reign Elizabeth worried that they, as Jane’s sisters, could be used in the same way as people tried to use her against her sister, Mary I – possibly there were some family or protective feelings?
  • Elizabeth saw the Grey sisters as more of a threat than others because they were so close to the throne, and one of the sisters had already had a 9-day stint on the throne.
  • The Grey children are also heirs to the throne, the sons of Katherine Grey were favourites to inherit the throne if the Scottish line was overlooked.
Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.
Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.
  1. What does Mary Grey believe is Elizabeth’s greatest fear? What does Mary say that she has come to believe is the greatest sin and what does this reveal about Elizabeth? Do you agree that this “sin” is Elizabeth’s greatest flaw? How does this same “sin” or characteristic affect the others in the novel?
  • Elizabeth’s great fear was plots against the throne – people planning who her successor will be and them being used against her.
  • Mary Grey believes that not trusting people is a sin and Elizabeth’s greatest failing – Katherine and Mary Grey just wanted to live with their husbands and children, they didn’t really want the throne, having seen their sister die for it.
  • This sin is also Elizabeth’s greatest flaw because she loses support due to her lack of trust – the Greys could have been her greatest supporters had she seen fit to trust them.
  • It makes everyone afraid and scared to act in case they incur the famous Tudor wrath.
  • Elizabeth didn’t like wives of courtiers at court because she wanted all the men to admire her and not be distracted, and she made sure the ladies in her household were pure.
  1. How does each Grey sister respond to her incarceration? What is the outcome for each? What does Mary wear at the conclusion of the novel and what does she believe this clothing represents? Is her choice to do this surprising? Why or why not?
  • I think Mary handles her incarceration better than Katherine as she knows she wouldn’t be heir to the throne because of her dwarfism, so she doesn’t see herself in real danger.
  • Katherine Grey struggled, especially after her second son was born, as she was separated from both her husband and eldest son.
  • Katherine lost the will to live, thinking she would never see her husband and son again, which was actually her dearest wish.
  • Mary wears black to mourn all those she lost – her husband, both sisters, her parents, and I think she also mourns the house of Tudor, knowing that the Tudor dynasty will end with Elizabeth.
  • Her choice isn’t especially surprising as she has lost all those who she loved, even though she is finally free after years of captivity.
  1. What advice does Jane leave for her sisters after she receives the news of her impending execution? Do Katherine and Mary follow her advice? How does each interpret their sister’s final words?
  • On the eve of her execution Jane exhorts her sisters to trust only in God, learning to live and die. Jane believes that, by following the reformed faith, they will have an everlasting life in heaven.
  • Katherine learns to live in love, marrying the man she chose and having his children, no matter the consequences – she jumps in without thinking.
  • Mary is more circumspect and thinks through the consequences but marries the man she loves anyway, knowing she will incur the queen’s wrath.
  • Katherine and Mary place less emphasis on Jane’s religious beliefs than she does, learning from her example to live life while they can.
  • Katherine learns to die, but not as Jane did – she doesn’t see the point in living.
Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory
  1. Consider the theme of loyalty. Which of the characters is loyal and to whom? What seems to be at the root of their allegiance? Conversely, who betrays another person and why? Does the novel ultimately suggest to what or whom one should be most loyal? Explain.
  • Jane Grey is loyal to her religion and the reformed faith, as well as to Edward VI who put her on the throne.
  • Katherine and Mary Grey are both loyal to their husbands even when split apart – Mary wears black to mourn her husband’s death.
  • Northumberland is loyal to his own ambition.
  • Elizabeth I sees herself as being loyal to England and protecting her interests and that of the succession to the throne.
  • Suffolk betrays his own daughter; Elizabeth I betrays her Grey cousins, not allowing them to be happy; Mary I betrays Princess Elizabeth determined to protect her religion after her death.
  • The novel suggests one should always be loyal to the crown and one’s family, as they can protect you if you obey their rules.

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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