Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn Deceit’ by Laura Anderson


  1. In the opening chapter of the novel, Minuette writes: “William has commanded [John Dee] to give a private reading of our stars. Only the four of us— for it would not do to let our secrets, past or future, slip into wider circulation.” Yet, she keeps a journal that details many of their secrets. Do you think it is dangerous for her to do so? Would you, in her place?
Laura Anderson 'The Boleyn Deceit'
Laura Anderson ‘The Boleyn Deceit’

I think that, for Minuette, keeping a diary was dangerous and foolish, because she must have been aware that people would want to know the secrets of those closest to the throne, to whom she had unparalleled access – she was a prime target. However, I think it was also important for her to write in order to help her understand her own mind and her feelings, and what happens to her, particularly her confused feelings over William and Dominic. It seems unreal to her – she wants a record of her amazing experiences, hopefully to act as a lesson for future children and grandchildren. I think that, in her place, I would also keep a diary to act as ballast and to sort out the confusion in my own mind. I think that Minuette was also wary of what the reading would reveal – her feelings about Dominic being made clear to William was her main concern.

  1. When they meet with John Dee, Minuette reflects, “We all have motives that are less than pure.” Do you agree? Do you think that the nature of the court made it impossible to be anything but self-serving at heart?

I think that Minuette’s motives are pure because she wants to protect William from harm – she doesn’t mean to hurt him. Nevertheless, she leads the king on and becomes engaged secretly to the king’s best friend. That can only be hurtful in the end, particularly the prolonged deception. That would hurt William badly; doubly, because it isn’t just the woman he loves, but his best friend as well. The king may be a friend, but he is still used to giving orders and being obeyed. Being at court, you have to look out for yourself, and even if your own motives are pure, other people’s are not as much, and they can take advantage. Rochford has impure motives in order to protect himself and his power. He knows how fickle people can be. No one has entirely pure motives, because no one is that perfect. There is always something more.

  1. At one point Dominic says to Minuette, “Give me the word, and I’ll go straight to William myself and tell him the truth.” To which Minuette responds, “We can’t just throw this in his face. He’s not ready to hear it.” Why do you think Minuette is so set against being honest with William? Is it solely because she wishes to spare his feelings? Was there ever a moment when Minuette or Dominic could have (or should have) told William about their relationship?

Minuette feels for William like a sister feels for her brother. She loves him, but not in the way that he wants her to. She wants to protect him. William isn’t ready to give her up, and I don’t think he ever will be. She is the connection between his past and the future; she is a tenuous link between the royal life and real life. William is very reliant on both Minuette and Dominic, and if this was revealed to him, he would lose both of them, and it could tip him over the edge. Minuette and Dominic should have been honest about their feelings for each other right from the beginning to avoid any pain for William. It probably gets harder and will hurt more the longer they leave it to tell him. However, it is understandable, as it would probably never be a good time. Minuette does have feelings for William, but not the right kind.

  1. Ironically, though she is against confessing to William, it is Minuette who proposes the di praesenti marriage, arguing that “the court live[s] by its own rules.” Do you think she is being rational, or hopelessly naïve? What’s your opinion on how they handled the situation, and how do you predict the news of their secret marriage will be met by William? By Elizabeth?
Elizabeth I c.1546 by William Scrots
Elizabeth I c.1546 by William Scrots

Minuette is at heart still a naïve child – she never really had any major parental guidance. The closest she came was Anne Boleyn, and that wasn’t really a great relationship. Minuette wants the wedding done so that it cannot be undone. Both Minuette and Dominic are afraid of William and Rochford, as both have the power to hurt physically, emotionally and in the region of power and money. Minuette wants away from the power tangle that the quartet is ensnared in. She doesn’t want to marry William, so she sees the only way out as to marry Dominic. She wants to, but I think she rushes it because she wants out of the tangle with William. Part of her mind sees rational advantage, but she is mostly driven by her heart. I cannot imagine that Dominic and Minuette’s secret marriage will be met well by William – I think he truly loves Minuette.

  1. It is interesting that Dominic and Minuette never turn to Elizabeth for help or advice on their situation, especially given her ability to be incredibly rational and less volatile than her brother. Why do you think this is?

Elizabeth is first and foremost a royal, and her father’s daughter. She knows that her first duty is to the crown. I think she realises that William marrying Minuette is not in England’s best interests; however, I think she would also have felt duty bound to go to her brother. However, I think that Elizabeth wants William and Minuette together in a way, because it means that she might have a chance to marry her choice rather than for political reasons. Elizabeth knows about unsuitable relationships, from her experiences with Robert Dudley. I think she would apply this to the relationship between Minuette and Dominic, because she wants to. Elizabeth also has more on her mind with worries about the relationship with France, and the problems with the Howards and Dudleys, and Lady Mary. There is also the question of loyalty.

  1. Elizabeth excuses herself for “keeping her own counsel,” because she realizes that William too has “confidences kept,” even from her. Each of the “holy quartet” has their reasons for keeping secrets, some trivial, some life altering— do you think these secrets will ultimately rip them apart? Or are secrets sometimes necessary in order to keep people together?

William and Elizabeth keep secrets from each other to protect each other, and keep each other safe. They have each other’s best interests at heart, but don’t always go about the right way in helping and protecting each other. They hide their own follies and mistakes – they want to appear strong and right, even when they doubt themselves and each other. They may be friends, almost like family, but there is still a hierarchy – William and Elizabeth think about the country and the good of the many, instead of the good of themselves and the few. Minuette and Dominic have more time on their hands, and perhaps that is why they came to feel as they did about each other. I think Elizabeth guesses how Dominic and Minuette feel about each other, but not the extent of the depth of their relationship. I think the secret of Dominic and Minuette’s relationship will tear them apart.

  1. Robert Dudley is an interesting character because, despite how involved he is in court life, he also does his best to keep his head down and his nose clean, unlike his father. Do you think this is wise? What do you make of his relationship with Elizabeth? With William?
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester c.1560
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester c.1560

Knowing what Dudley was like in reality, when Elizabeth was on the throne, it makes his portrayal here more real and acceptable to the storyline. He appears to survive his father’s fall remarkably well, distancing himself from his parents and his siblings, and building a relationship with Elizabeth and the royal family. People were used to avoiding catastrophe, they almost planned for it. There were a variety of different outcomes planned for. He was wise to distance himself from his father because his father was overly ambitious and wanted too much power. His relationship with Elizabeth as portrayed here is based on the existing historical evidence. Whether or not Dudley would have pushed for a relationship with Elizabeth had she not been so close to the throne is unlikely. Dudley also had a distrustful relationship with William because of his ambition.

  1. The title of the book is The Boleyn Deceit. To whom or what do you think the title applies? Who are the deceivers? Who are the deceived?

Minuette and Dominic clearly deceive William by hiding their feelings for each other from him. Minuette seems particularly deceitful to William, although she deceives in order to be kind and to spare his feelings. John Dudley deceives by promoting a rebellion against William’s rule. William and Elizabeth both knowingly deceive the French delegations about William’s proposed marriage. They both know that William has no intention of marrying a French princess, but they both push for the match nevertheless. Rochford deceives both William and Minuette over the poisoning of Minuette. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, it seems that Rochford did poison Minuette. The whole Tudor court is a nest of deceit – it is difficult to find someone who is not deceiving someone else, but it all starts to come to a head with the Dudley conspiracy.

  1. Do you think that a true, balanced friendship can ever really exist between two people who are on vastly different playing fields of power, as William and Dominic are? Why or why not?

Friendship exists in a different form – friendship as close as two people can be with such a difference in status. Minuette, Dominic and Elizabeth all know that they will always have to answer to William. It’s inevitable that one day they will find themselves at William’s mercy. It is always going to be a matter of master and servant. The lower placed man (or woman) has to be very careful not to cross the line, as the master holds the power of life and death, and controls a man’s fortune and destiny. Dominic particularly does come close to crossing the line several times with William – however, William seems to understand that Dominic has his best interests at heart. Deceit is always worse when done by a friend, or someone closer than a friend, as Minuette is to him. Friendship can be true, but not always balanced.

 

  1. If given a choice, would you rather be the one in power (William), or serving the one in power? Why?

I would prefer to serve the one in power. The one in power has too much on his or her shoulders to fully enjoy or embrace life. There is a lot less pressure to merely do the bidding rather than to make the difficult decisions. However, if you do the serving rather than give the instructions then you are always at the mercy of others. If you’re in power, you’re never entirely sure who to trust, or who you can trust. There is always someone waiting to deceive you or take advantage. People always want something from you without giving you anything. It is difficult to have any true friends if you have to give them orders. You never know whether people truly like you, or whether they are merely using you to get ahead. If you’re in power then you don’t tend to have any privacy at all – your life is lived in front of an entourage of people.

  1. Do you see any parallels between William and Elizabeth’s relationship and that of Anne and George Boleyn?
'The Boleyn King' by Laura Anderson (2013).
‘The Boleyn King’ by Laura Anderson (2013).

In a lot of ways, William is quite like Rochford – William was almost brought up by Rochford. He wouldn’t have seen much of his father growing up, and Rochford would have been the one who checked up on him and sent reports to his father of his progress. William and Rochford probably also became closer in running the country and having to make the difficult decisions together. Elizabeth appears to have inherited Anne Boleyn’s looks, confidence, courage, and her way with men. Anne and George were very close – there were rumours of incest, and in reality that was one of the crimes for which Anne was executed, although it was unlikely to be true. You could almost say that the same relationship exists between William and Elizabeth, although it is definitely not incestuous. However, people do see their relationship almost as unnatural.

  1. How do the feelings between Dominic, Minuette, William, and Elizabeth shift over the course of the book? Compare their standing at the end of The Boleyn Deceit to their relationship as it was in The Boleyn King. Of the quartet, who do you sympathize with most?

I sympathise most with Minuette, because she appears to be caught in an impossible situation. Most people would love to have caught the eye of the king, and to be loved by him, but Minuette finds herself at odds with these feelings – she wants something more than ambition and power. Dominic falls more and more in love over the book, as do Minuette and William. William falls in love with Minuette and Minuette falls in love with Dominic, and Dominic with Minuette. It ends in a love triangle, with Elizabeth on the outside. They were a lot more relaxed in The Boleyn King than in The Boleyn Deceit, I think because there were fewer secrets in the first book than the second. They distance themselves from each other over the course of the book as the secrets come between them, knowing that it can only end badly.

  1. During a conversation about political strategy, Will’s uncle opposes him, to which William replies, “Do tell, Lord Rochford: if being king isn’t about me, then whom is it about?” Do you think this is the right attitude to have? Does your opinion of William change over the course of the book?

I actually became less fond of William over the book – I think he is blind to other people’s faults, and is beginning to take after his father, Henry VIII, and not in a good way. I think it is possibly also the influence of his mother, Anne Boleyn, as she was known for her forthright speech and behaviour. She went for what she wanted and got it. I don’t think that William’s attitude is the right one to have – though his methods are definitely better than Rochford’s (i.e. poisoning Minuette). Being king isn’t about one person, but about the good of the whole country. William shouldn’t do just what pleases him, but should worry about the health and happiness of everyone in his kingdom. I think Rochford has William’s best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t go about expressing himself in the right way to influence William.

  1. There have been many books written about the Tudors, not to mention the popularity of films and television shows about this time. What do you think is so fascinating about this particular era, and this particular family (for you personally, and in more general cultural terms)?
Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.
Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.

I think that what is so fascinating about the Tudors is that their reigns were a time of great change, and there is something for everyone – marriages and executions, births and fashions, common people and nobility. For me, what appeals the most about the Tudors is the amount of very powerful and influential women, like Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon and Elizabeth I. There is also a lot of controversy, like the fall of Anne Boleyn, and the death of Amy Robsart. A lot of the world’s most famous historical figures and events fall into this period, like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Bloody Mary, William Shakespeare, the Reformation and the Golden Age. Culturally, I think it adds a lot to our knowledge about the monarchy, and several laws enacted then are still in place in one way or another today.

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