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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Mistress of the Vatican

1. After reading Mistress of the Vatican, has your perception of the Catholic Church changed? If so, how?

2. At age fifteen, Olimpia was almost forced into a convent for life against her will. How do you feel this stamped her personality? What effects did it still have decades later?

3. Do you believe there was a sexual relationship between Gianbattista Pamphili and Olimpia? Why or why not? If so, do you believe it had stopped by the time he was elected pope?

4. Do you feel Pope Innocent was right to turn against Olimpia? Why did he reverse his decision and bring her back to power? Was this the right move? Did the pope truly love her?

5. Olimpia is, admittedly, a flawed heroine. Which of her characteristics do you admire? Which do you dislike? Would you have liked to have been her friend? Why or why not?

6. Do you think Olimpia loved Gianbattista? Do you think she loved her granddaughter Olimpiuccia? How about her children? Her first husband? Her sisters in the convent? Did she really love anybody?

7. If Olimpia had been born in the mid-twentieth century instead of the late sixteenth, what do you think she would have become? If she had been born in a less misogynistic society, would she have been a nicer person?

8. What differences did you notice between a seventeenth-century conclave and a modern one? Between a seventeenth-century papal funeral and a modern one?

9. Could you describe life in seventeenth-century Rome for the very wealthy? For the very poor? What disasters affected rich and poor alike? What measures did the government take to protect the population?

10. Why do you think Olimpia's riveting story has been forgotten by history? Do you believe that the Church is uncomfortable that it was once governed by a woman?

Mistress of the Vatican
by Eleanor Herman

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2009
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0061245569
  • ISBN-13: 9780061245565