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Read an excerpt from Mother's Daughter

By Date: June 26, 2019 Tags: Excerpts

It all comes down to this.

In The Last Wife, Mary (daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon) and her half-sister Bess (daughter of Anne Boleyn) were taken under Katherine Parr’s wing and restored as rightful heirs. In The Virgin Trial, Mary reluctantly stood by Bess during a time of deceit and peril. And now, in Mother’s Daughter, Mary has taken the throne as England’s Queen Regnant, and is constantly reminded of how easily her trust in others— especially those who can usurp her power—can be tested. With her confidants all frightened of Bess’s well-guarded intentions, Mary is stuck. She just wants to exist comfortably with her sister, someone who understands where she came from. Instead she’s forced to keep Bess at an arm’s length. But perhaps that was for the best.

In this scene, Mary is feeling low from an unsatisfactory engagement to Philip, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and stressing over who will be her heir, when Bess visits and the question of who has what it takes comes crashing down.  



 At table. MARY sits at the seat of power. She is anxious and not well. To her right is a gift box. BESS enters. 

BESS Your Majesty.

MARY Shut up. 

BESS I respect you. I want to show it. 

MARY Siddown.

A moment. The sisters assess each other. 

BESS How are things with Philip?

MARY He sent a proxy to our engagement party. 

BESS Oh. Darn.

MARY And his father sent me a present.

MARY shows BESS the pendant brooch.

Sorta hoped he’d do the shopping / himself.

BESS Oooo, a pearl. A really big pearl.

A long silence while MARY continues to look at BESS. BESS feels this. 

MARY Do you trust me?

BESS With what?

MARY Talk to me. About the rift. Between us.

BESS (a little too defensive) What have you found out?
Good Lord: what are you hiding?!

An impasse.

BESS (the rift) Okay. Like. Politically?

MARY Let’s start with religion.

BESS Well . . . I don’t see us as being that divided. I mean, I come to mass with you every day.

MARY Do you keep your fingers crossed?

BESS What do you mean by that?

A moment.

MARY Where do you think God is?

BESS In England?

MARY If God was a part of your body, what part would God be?

BESS I think . . . my mind.
Well . . . ?
Is there a right answer?


BESS My mind, then. Where do you think?

MARY My heart. 

Both, right?

MARY The heart is more sentimental than the mind. More emotional. More . . . out of control.

BESS I never thought of it that way.

MARY You don’t believe in the old traditions, do you?

BESS These questions are weird.

MARY Don’t! equivocate!

BESS Okay! Why do you want to know? 

MARY Because . . . it’s the only way out.

BESS Of what.

MARY If you believe one thing, and I believe another thing, one of us has to change what they believe: one of us has to convert.

BESS Or what?

MARY Or you and I will never have peace. Our country will never integrate again.

BESS looks at MARY without giving anything away.

Simon says I should worry about you.

BESS Oh, I’m all right. I had that little cold last week, that’s all—

MARY Bess. Worry about you.

BESS Oh. Like that kind of worry.

MARY My engagement to Spain has pissed off the French.

BESS You had to know that would happen.

MARY The French are pushing me to marry / Edward—

BESS Edward Courtenay.

MARY Uhuh. It would be an . . . impressive strategy, don’t you think? One that you might choose.

BESS He is the great-grandson of a king.

MARY You like him, don’t you.

BESS I think he’s cute.

MARY I’ve heard. 

BESS What?

MARY That the French are backing a plan to put you and Courtenay on the throne.

BESS Together?

MARY Married.

BESS On your throne?

MARY That’s the one. 

BESS You know how I feel about rumours.

MARY I’ve taken action against him.


MARY Courtenay’s in custody.

BESS Oh. Is he.

MARY We’re questioning him now. 

BESS What do you think he’ll say?

MARY Everything. I don’t suppose he wants another fifteen years in the Tower.

BESS I don’t suppose.

MARY What do you think he’ll say about you?

BESS There’s nothing to say.

MARY Off the record.

BESS I don’t speak off the record. You taught me that.

MARY I did. Which only complicates the picture.


MARY I can’t trust you!

BESS That’s not / fair.

MARY You’ve done it before, Bess! With Thom? To Eddie?
(asking the question) Are you going to marry Edward Courtenay and try to take the throne from / me?

BESS You’d rather I was married off to some lonely European three times my age and sent to Lower / Slobbovia!

MARY Oh, for Pete’s sake: answer me honestly for / once!

BESS (answering honestly) Okay. Your ideas are ridiculous: you can’t put the country in reverse; it won’t work.
I’m just being prudent. You give me no / choice. 

MARY Don’t do this. Don’t do this. God, you are just like your moth/er.

BESS I am / not!!

MARY You look just like her. You’re about the same age now as she was / when— [Anne came on the scene with Henry].

BESS I can’t help looking like my / mother.

MARY Forgive me for all the hatred you stir in my / heart.

BESS Hate me! Go on then! Hate / me!

MARY I want you to go. Go.


MARY GO! So I / don’t—

BESS I can believe what you believe. I can believe anything. 

MARY See, your heart can’t possibly do that. It would just be changing your mind.

BESS Don’t send me away, Mary. Don’t. Don’t send me / away!

MARY You’ll do anything to get what you / want!

BESS I can’t help being more determined than you. I was born this way. I can’t help being the talented sister.

MARY reels.

MARY You’ll kill me, won’t you. You won’t even / blink.

BESS Don’t ask those / questions.

MARY Jesus. I have helped / you!

BESS You promised Father.

MARY And what? Oh, I get it. That’s why you promise nothing. That’s why you are faithful to no one. That’s why you have no religion: you make no choices; you sit on the fence, because / then—

BESS Then no one gets hurt.

MARY I am someone! If you kill me it will hurt!

BESS Never. I would never do that, Mary. You have to believe me.

MARY But if I just happen to die as a result of one of your plots, then . . .

BESS We are after the same thing.


BESS Yes. And you don’t have what it takes. You may have inherited the right to rule, but you simply don’t have the talent.

MARY It doesn’t take TALENT to draft legislation and have you killed!

BESS Do it then. Don’t just threaten it! Let’s see you do / it!

MARY Damn / you!

BESS No, damn you! 

MARY One of us will be damned. It’s inevitable. One of us will be damned by the other’s indoctrination. Because there is a chasm between us that will never be bridged. Because I can’t trust you. And you won’t trust me.

An impasse.

BESS I’m sorry, Mary.

MARY For what.

BESS For being the one who’ll win.

MARY Fuck you.

MARY makes up her mind to proceed.


MARY hands BESS the gift box.

I was saving it for Christmas.

BESS Don’t send me away. I don’t have anyone anymore.

MARY Just! Take it! Take it with you. Put it in your stocking at Hatfield.

BESS You think you can hurt me?



Another impasse.

I can hurt you more. You have to kill Jane Grey!

MARY I don’t. I don’t.

BESS She’ll never convert. Her faith is in her heart. Just like yours. You have to kill that sentimental heart. You have no choice!

BESS opens the box and takes out a small silver crucifix. She looks at it. Looks at MARY. She makes the sign of the cross, then kisses the crucifix.



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