From #1 New York Times bestselling author and “queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) comes a riveting and scandalous love triangle between a young woman on the brink of greatness, a young man whose ambition far exceeds his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them.
In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen, yet one woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will draw her husband back to the center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be.
Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country where treason is rampant and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisors warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls back in love, a question hangs in the air: can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen? When Amy is found dead, Elizabeth and Dudley are suddenly plunged into a struggle for survival.
Reading Group Guide 1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful? 2. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, "In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses" (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is? 3. Elizabeth appoints Dudley Master of the Horse and later awards him the Order of the Garter. Why doesn't she appoint him to a position of political power, such as a member of the Privy Council? Dudley and William Cecil each want to be the more favored advisor to the queen. How does each man go about trying to accomplish this? Would you say they are rivals? 4. In many ways the politics of the court is like a dangerous game, fueled by rampant corruption and scheming families angling for wealth and favors from the queen. Cite some examples that illustrate this, including the people who are closest to Elizabeth. 5. It is Cecil's "deep-rooted belief that the intelligence of a woman, even one as formidably educated as [Elizabeth], could not carry the burden of too much information, and the temperament of a woman, especially this one, was not strong enough to take decisions" (93). Is Cecil underestimating Elizabeth? Discuss the way the men of the court and the Privy Council view women in general and Elizabeth, as the monarch, in particular. 6. Elizabeth, believing she is being pursued by an assassin, runs to the Diary House at Kew to seek safety with Dudley. How does this encounter mark a turning point in their relationship? 7. Dudley remarks to Cecil about the Earl of Arran, "If it's not one damned opportunity seeker, it is another. To what end?" (226). Can the same be said of him? Does he truly care about Elizabeth, or is his courtship of her to satisfy his own ambition? 8. Elizabeth says to Dudley, "I have to play myself like a piece in a chess game....I have to keep the Spanish on our side, I have to frighten the French, I have to persuade Arran to get himself up to Scotland and claim his own, and I have nothing to bring to bear on any of these but my own weight. All I can promise any of them is myself" (228). How does Elizabeth use the marriage game to her advantage as a political maneuver? 9. When Dudley visits Amy at Hayes Court, he finds his wife changed and is at a loss about "how to manage this strange new Amy" (258). How do their conversations -- while they are out riding and later in their chamber -- show how Amy has changed? If you were in Amy's position, would you have allowed Dudley to walk away from the marriage? 10. Compare Robert's feelings for Elizabeth and Amy. Amy says to her stepmother, "He loved me once, but everyone thought he condescended to the marriage, and it was always true that he thought very highly of himself. But with her it is different. He is a man transformed. She is his lover but still his queen, he admires her as well as desires her....He aspires to love her, whereas I was always an easy love" (279). Is Amy right? 11. When does Elizabeth begin to realize that she cannot marry Dudley and also remain on the throne? Why is there such hostility toward Robert Dudley from the members of the Privy Council and other nobility, as well as from the commoners? Is it justified? In numerous instances Elizabeth says that she cannot live without Robert or rule without him by her side. Why, then, does she ultimately decide giving him up is the right course of action? 12. In reference to Mary of Guise, the regent of Scotland, Cecil says to Elizabeth, "I have no objection in theory to assassination as an act of state. It could be a great saver of life and a guarantee of safety for others" (314). Applying this same logic to Amy, can Cecil justify her death as "a great saver of life and a guarantee of safety for others"? Do you think Elizabeth knew Cecil was referring to Amy when he told her that if he carried out his plan to prevent her from marrying Dudley, one person would die? 13. When Elizabeth asks if he is bothered by Amy's death, Dudley replies, "She was my wife of eleven years. Of course I grieve for her" (417). Do you believe Dudley is truly remorseful that Amy is dead, or is it more about the circumstances of her death and what it means for his political ambitions? 14. When Dudley finds his signet ring among Amy's possessions, he knows Elizabeth had a part in what happened. What conclusions does he come to about why Elizabeth might have done this? Ultimately, does Dudley reconcile himself to not being the king of England? 15. The Author's Note reveals several significant pieces of information: 1) Dudley wrote a letter to Elizabeth on his deathbed, which she then had with her when she died, 2) Dudley married Laetitia Knollys, and 3) historical records verify Elizabeth made incriminating remarks to the Spanish ambassador prior to Amy's death. Did finding out these things change your view of any aspects of the story? Do you believe Amy Dudley was murdered? 16. History has remembered Elizabeth as one of England's greatest rulers. What is your opinion of Elizabeth as a monarch, as this book depicts her in the first years of her reign? From what you learned about her in The Virgin's Lover, what characteristics and qualities do you think made her a successful ruler?
Philippa Gregory is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She founded Gardens for the Gambia, a charity to dig wells in poor rural schools in The Gambia, and has provided nearly 200 wells. She welcomes visitors to her website PhilippaGregory.com.
"...expertly crafted...readers addicted to Gregory's intelligent, well-researched tales...will be enthralled..." -- Publishers Weekly
"No lover of Elizabethan history should be without this novel, nor will any fan be disappointed with the meticulous research and marvelous portraits of Elizabeth, Dudley, and the court." -- Romantic Times