Discussion Questions – ‘The Red Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory (2010).

  1. In the beginning of The Red Queen, young Margaret Beaufort is an extremely pious young girl, happy to have “saints’ knees” when she kneels too long at her prayers. Discuss the role of religion throughout Margaret’s life. What does she see as God’s role for her?
  • Margaret has always seen religion as her calling in this novel – right from the beginning she wants to enter a religious life and not marry as she is expected to do.
  • Margaret sees it as her role to work for the return of Henry VI and the house of Lancaster to the throne of England, and the overthrow of the Yorks.
  • After the death of Henry VI in 1471 Margaret sees god’s role for her as being to put her son on the throne of England and depose the Yorks.
  • Right until the end of her life there is plenty of evidence that Margaret was devoted to god and her religion – it doesn’t seem that she ever really wanted to marry but saw it as a necessity.
  1. As a pious young girl, Margaret wants to live a life of greatness like her heroine, Joan of Arc. However, her fate lies elsewhere, as her mother tells her, “the time has come to put aside silly stories and silly dreams and do your duty.” (Page 26). What is Margaret’s duty and how does she respond to her mother’s words?
  • The duty of all girls in the 15th century was to marry and advance their families, especially heiresses, who had a lot of worth to bring to a marriage.
  • Margaret’s duty and destiny certainly looked good when she was married to Henry VI’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor, and birthed a Lancaster heir to the throne.
  • Margaret seems to have had a strong will and tried to resist her mother’s wishes, but ultimately had to comply as she didn’t really have a choice.
  • I think Margaret knew that she would have to do what her mother told her to, but she also hoped that her mother would give in and allow her to do what she wanted and dreamed of.
  1. At the tender age of twelve, Margaret is married to Edmund Tudor and fourteen months later she bears him the son who will be the heir to the royal Lancaster family line. During the excruciating hours of labour, Margaret learns a painful truth about her mother and the way she views Margaret. Discuss the implications of what Margaret learns from her mother, and what is “the price of being a woman.” (63)
  • Margaret learns that, as a woman, she is disposable, and that her son is more important than she is (assuming it is a son of course).
  • Being a woman in the 15th century wasn’t easy because you were expected to marry young, make a good marriage and bear children, and that was it.
  • It was more likely for a man to outlive his wife, as women died in childbirth from a lack of hygiene, or issues which would be considered easy to deal with now.
  • I think that moment was a wake-up for Margaret because she realises that her mother will never be proud of her – she sees her as something to be used to better the family.

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Discussion Questions – ‘Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'Anne Boleyn a King's Obsession'

  1. From the opening scene of A King’s Obsession, Anne Boleyn is impatient for change—-for something new and exciting to happen. She is a capricious child, highly aware of her mother’s ancestry on one hand and her father’s ambition on the other. How do you think her character is influenced by this family background? How does Thomas Boleyn’s tendency to value his children in terms of their use to the Boleyn name affect Anne’s actions throughout her life?
  • Anne is immensely influenced by her family – her father and mother have both drummed into her in their own ways that theirs is a great family and they need to act in the family interests.
  • We are all influenced by our family and our environment, and I think that Anne’s childhood experiences in foreign courts and her father’s international influence played heavily with Anne.
  • Anne is determined that her father will be proud of her – her mother plays less of a role than her father I believe – and I think she acts to ensure that she will be remembered and will outdo her parents and siblings.
  • There is a definite sense of sibling rivalry, especially between Anne and Mary, as Mary comes to prominence first as the supposed mistress of Francis I and Henry VIII, but Anne betters her and becomes queen.
  1. By including Anne’s education in the courts of Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude and Marguerite of Valois, Alison Weir explores a fascinating world of high culture and intellect. What key lessons does Anne learn at each court, and how is her outlook changed by these three women? Does she manage to emulate them once she has the crown? Did anything Anne learned surprise you?
  • The main lesson that Anne learns is that women can wield power – she sees Margaret of Austria in particular wield power in her own right.
  • Anne also sees how dependent women are on their menfolk in this world – if they want to have power it has to be allowed by a king or emperor, and this is the mistake which Anne ultimately makes.
  • Her time at the courts of Margaret, Claude and Marguerite introduce Anne to the new religion as well, although it takes a few years to fully develop in her consciousness.
  • Anne does manage to wield her own brand of power, but it is dependent on Henry VIII’s love for her, and her power ceases to exist when Henry falls out of love with her.
  1. George Boleyn is a complicated and interesting character. He has a similar craving for power as Anne but has to find different ways to gain it. How are he and Anne alike, and how do they differ? On the surface he has far greater freedom, but is he also trapped into achieving the Boleyn family’s ambitions as firmly as she is?
  • George and Anne are quite similar in their personalities and their ambitions, but with George being a man he seems to have more freedom to take what he wants, where Anne has to depend more on others, particularly the men around her, to get what she wants.
  • George is also trapped into achieving the family ambitions – the main example of this is his marriage to Jane Parker. It is well known that their marriage didn’t seem to be a happy one, and it is rumoured that Jane actually spoke against George at the trial which condemned him to death.
  • George and Anne are more alike than either of them is to Mary – perhaps Mary doesn’t feel the same ambition as her siblings so doesn’t feel like she needs to push to get the best she can, perhaps she is more easily satisfied. After all, siblings can be complete opposites!

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Discussion Questions – ‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper


'The Queen's Confidante' by Karen Harper (2012)
‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper (2012)
  1. Whom did you find the most interesting character in The Queen’s Confidante?
  • For me the most interesting character was Elizabeth of York, wife and queen to Henry VII, and mother of Prince Arthur.
  • I thought that the way that Elizabeth was portrayed in this novel was interesting – obsessed with what happened to her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, and determined to remember them.
  • The historical record doesn’t tell us much about what the Tudors thought about the fate of the Princes, aside from an insinuation that Richard III killed them.
  • I thought that Elizabeth’s love for and obsession with finding out what happened to her brothers and her son was admirable, and it also showed a softer side to Henry VII in the end.
  1. Who would ever expect tyrannical Henry VIII to have had such a beautiful, loving mother? Do you know of children who have turned out very differently from their parents, in personality, values, and general attitude toward life? Does a parent really have so little influence over his or her children?
  • I think, had Elizabeth of York still been alive after 1503, she would have had a more marked influence on the future Henry VIII – her gentler ways would have softened Henry VII’s harsher approach.
  • I think a lot of children turn out very differently from their parents’ – I know I am very different from both of my parents, but not necessarily in a good or a bad way, just different.
  • A lot of what makes the child the adult they become is the environment they grow up in – if you grow up in a loving environment you are more likely to be loving to other people.
  • Henry VIII was loving like his mother, but his love had a darker edge and his love turned to hate, especially with Anne Boleyn.
  1. If Prince Arthur had lived, how might English history have turned out differently?
  • Without Henry VIII having taken the throne, there likely wouldn’t have been an English Reformation, no Bloody Mary or Elizabeth I, and the English royal family probably wouldn’t have descended through the Stuart line.
  • Some historians suggest that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were in love and that their marriage was consummated and, if this were true, Katherine may well have had a son as well as daughters, without her seven-year widowhood affecting her fertility, as has also been suggested.
  • England might have entered a new golden age, as Henry VII had hoped, and the Tudor dynasty might have survived, but this is one of the great what-ifs of history – we might not have had the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution or countless other events which now define English history.

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Discussion Questions – ‘Shakespeare’s Mistress’ by Karen Harper


'Shakespeare's Mistress' by Karen Harper (2009)
‘Shakespeare’s Mistress’ by Karen Harper (2009)
  1. What early hints do you see that the boy Shakespeare will become the writing genius? What sorts of traits do you see that indicate particular talents or tendencies?
  • The boy was very imaginative and determined to live life to the full with his friends – these experiences have given him something to draw on.
  • The boy Shakespeare seems to have wanted experiences – he led the others in the group astray, into trouble, or doing things they wouldn’t otherwise have done.
  • Shakespeare seems very determined and ambitious – he doesn’t want to stay at home with a family, he wants more out of life.
  • Traits like being charismatic lend themselves to actors and public speakers, whereas being bookish and hard-working are more academic traits, and being adventurous and a bit of a daredevil lends itself to travel, where imagination lends itself to writing and art.
  1. Over the years, some Shakespeare critics and scholars have argued that it would be impossible for a boy with Shakespeare’s small-town grammar-school background to write the brilliant plays he did with all their diversity and depth. Do you think such a mind could come from a rural background?
  • Good writing comes from experience and imagination – being able to use your experiences and develop them with imagination into a storyline.
  • You also need to understand people and emotions and, according to what Shakespeare and his family undergo in this story, it is certainly believable that he had experiences he could draw on.
  • I don’t think background necessarily precludes being successful, even in the 16th century, where background was more important than it is today.
  • Wolsey was the son of a butcher and Cromwell the son of a blacksmith, and they were two of the most powerful men in the realm – it also depends on luck and knowing the right people.
  1. Although Will and Anne Whateley are in love from their early days, they disagree on many things. Do you think this weakens or strengthens their relationship? Can two strong-minded people who disagree on key issues really get along over the years? In love relationships, do opposites really attract?
  • Some disagreements can strengthen a relationship because constant agreement can be boring and disagreements mean you’re comfortable expressing feelings to that person.
  • I think opposites do attract but don’t always last as you need something in common in order to fully engage and talk to each other.
  • Strong-minded people can get along over the years, and often the big clashes result in passionate reconciliations which can make up for the negative parts.
  • Opposites do attract because people like what they see as the exotic and unusual rather than that which is familiar to them.

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Discussion Questions – ‘Three Sisters Three Queens’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'Three Sisters Three Queens'

  1. Three Sisters, Three Queens opens on the eleven-year-old Princess Margaret, who, while spoiled and materialistic, is a product of her environment. What did you think of the choice to open the novel at this stage of Margaret’s life? What did you think of Margaret? Does it matter if we, the reader, like her?
  • I think it was a conscious choice to show her development through the most traumatic events of her life – the loss of her brother, mother, marriage to the Scots king, and the death of her father and husband.
  • I don’t really like Margaret in this novel – I knew the bare bones of her story but no more, and this doesn’t make me want to read more.
  • Margaret is spoiled all the way through and I don’t think her losses really change her as she continues to just go after what she wants.
  • I don’t think it particularly matters whether we like Margaret or not, as it is about her story and not so much about the character.
  1. Discuss the title of the novel in relation to the characters. Margaret, Katherine, and Mary must navigate their political relationships in addition to their familial relationships. Do you think they would have had stronger bonds with one another without their political responsibility? In what ways did it bring them closer together?
  • Margaret and Mary are sisters by blood and Katherine by marriage so in a sense Katherine is put on the back foot from the beginning.
  • Margaret is isolated from the other two in Scotland while Katherine and Mary are in London.
  • I think they would have had stronger bonds without the politics because Margaret wouldn’t have been sent to Scotland if there wasn’t a need for a political alliance, or Katherine to England, and Flodden wouldn’t have soured relations.
  • Politics brought them together because Katherine and Margaret both lost their husbands, though in different ways.
  • All three enjoyed happy marriages – Margaret to James IV, Katherine to Henry VIII (until it turned sour), and Mary to Charles Brandon.

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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.

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Discussion Questions – ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Kingmaker's Daughter' 2012
Philippa Gregory ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter’ 2012
  1. Anne, only eight years old when the novel begins, grows up over the course of the book’s twenty-year span. In what major ways does her voice change from the beginning of the novel to the end? At what point in the novel do you feel she makes a real transition from a young girl to a woman, and why?
  • Anne becomes more cynical towards the end once she has been through war, betrayal, death and everything that comes with it, losing many of the people she loved along the way.
  • The point when I feel Anne really made the transition from girl to woman was when she was forced to marry Edward of Lancaster – from that moment she experienced life in a way she didn’t want to, and that changed her.
  • Anne begins naive and thinks that everything will go right for her because she is a Neville and they are one of the greatest families in the land; this changes when her father, Warwick, turns his back on Edward IV and Anne realises that her name now marks her out as a traitor.
  • Anne becomes wiser throughout the work, but also more paranoid. Her high point is late in the reign of Edward IV when she is a happily married wife and mother, then it starts to go downhill as Richard III gains power.
  1. Consider the major turning points in Anne and Isabel’s relationship. How does their relationship progress as they grow up, marry, become mothers, and vie for power? At what point are they closest, and at what point are they the most distant? How do their views of each other change?
  • The point at which Anne and Isabel are closest is when Isabel is pregnant for the first time and they have to flee overseas with Warwick and Clarence; they both seem so scared they forget their enmity.
  • The sisters are most distant from each other after Edward of Lancaster is killed at Tewkesbury and Isabel and Clarence take Anne into their household – I think Isabel distances herself from Anne because she doesn’t want to be tainted and likes to lord it over her sister.
  • At first Anne sees Isabel as the all-knowing big sister, but I think she comes to realise that Isabel is in fact very vulnerable and puts on airs and graces to cover it; she likes seeming powerful.
  • I think in a way Isabel becomes jealous of Anne, as Anne seems to marry for love to Richard and be very happy with her husband in a stable relationship, whereas Isabel’s husband, Clarence, is volatile and unpredictable – Richard also seems to hold Edward IV’s trust, and so power stems from it, where Clarence does not.

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Discussion Questions – ‘The Lady of the Rivers’ by Philippa Gregory


Janet McTeer as Jacquetta of Luxembourg in 'The White Queen' (2013)
Janet McTeer as Jacquetta of Luxembourg in ‘The White Queen’ (2013)
  1. Jacquetta’s first main influence is her great-aunt, Jehanne of Luxembourg, who tells her: ‘A woman who seeks great power and wealth has to pay a great price.’ Why do you think she says this to her niece? Was she right, and what sorts of power would she have been referring to? Do we see the women in the story exercising other kinds of power?
  • Women could have power in several ways – they could have sexual power over men if they chose to use it, they could have political power like Margaret of Anjou, or they could have the power evidenced by respect and love, which is the kind of power Jacquetta has.
  • Margaret of Anjou notably tries to harness political power when her husband, Henry VI, is unable to due to sickness or madness (depending how you want to describe it), but she is called a she-wolf because of it.
  • Women should only have power in the 15th century when it is allowed to them by men who have control of their own country and their wits, and supported by a council of men i.e. Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr given the regency under Henry VIII when he’s at war.
  • Women exercise power over men through their sexual wiles and their looks – it is one of the only ways women could influence men in the 15th century without seeming out of place or being called a witch. It has long been suggested that Margaret of Anjou used “pillow talk” to persuade Henry VI.
  1. Joan of Arc is absolutely certain that her voices come from God. Jacquetta is much less sure where hers are from, saying, ‘I never think of it as a gift coming from God or the Devil.’ What sort of voices do you think they are hearing, and do their different beliefs affect the future of either character?
  • I think Jacquetta just accepts it as part of her life, and part of her legacy from the water goddess Melusina, whereas Joan of Arc sees it as a religious calling to spread the word of god.
  • From what I understand of the Woodville family from reading this book, ‘The White Queen’ and ‘The White Princess’ it seems like Jacquetta and her daughter and granddaughter get a sense when members of their family die or are in danger, and seem to be able to call up the weather or a curse to punish their enemies.
  • Joan of Arc is one of those famous figures from history who claims to have a direct line to god and she is able to influence those around her because they believe in the fact that she has a direct line to god – it is these “visions” that bring about her downfall.
  • Jacquetta is accused of witchcraft by the Earl of Warwick, but cites the protection of Margaret of Anjou in order to protect herself. I think there would have been an uprising had Warwick had Jacquetta executed because she was such a beloved figure on both sides of the divide.
  1. As the story opens, England is ruled by the boy king, Henry VI, as his father has died following his famous conquests in France. Was Henry V an impossible act to follow? What kinds of pressure were there on the young Henry VI? And how might things have been different if his father had not died when he did?
  • I think Henry V was a hard act to follow, even for a man let alone a baby, and Henry VI was influenced by those around him as he grew up, and quite often pushed to one side.
  • The advisors and protectors were pushing Henry VI to be like his father, so I think it provoked an opposite reaction from him, and he determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a different path.
  • Things could have been different if Henry VI hadn’t died when he did, because it would have given a chance for Henry VI to come into his majority without the rigours of kingship on his small shoulders.
  • England would have been ruled by a strong king who could lead England, rather than by a regency council without strong leadership. Perhaps the Wars of the Roses would never have erupted if Henry V hadn’t died when he did, as they broke out due to the weakness of Henry VI.

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Discussion Questions – ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory's 'The White Princess' (2013).

  1. How would you describe the grief Elizabeth experiences in the aftermath of her uncle, Richard III’s death? What notable details about their relationship does her grief expose? How does Richard’s untimely demise imperil the future of the York line?
  • It’s not just the grief of a niece for her uncle but a young girl grieving for the loss of the man she loved, and whom she hoped to marry.
  • Her grief exposes just how close she and Richard were and her hopes for their relationship – she really doesn’t want to marry Henry VII because she knows she can’t love him as she did Richard.
  • Richard’s death imperils the York line because there are no more direct male descendents not touched by treason or bastardy – Warwick is the only notable survivor of Richard Duke of York’s line, and his father was executed for treason.
  • Elizabeth of York is the true heir to the Yorkist line, and it is this which underpins Henry VII’s claim to the throne and his ability to hold the throne in the face of so much opposition; people believed Elizabeth was on the throne as well and so the civil wars were at an end with the two houses united.
  1. “Henry Tudor has come to England, having spent his whole life in waiting…and now I am, like England itself, part of the spoils of war.” (3) Why does Elizabeth consider herself a war prize for Henry, rather than his sworn enemy for life? What role does politics play in the arrangement of royal marriages in fifteenth-century England?
  • Through his marriage to Elizabeth of York Henry VII gained the support of the Yorkists in his attempt to keep the throne – in that sense she is a prize for him, the rightful heir of the York to unite the two warring houses of York and Lancaster.
  • Elizabeth can’t realistically be Henry’s enemy while they are married, or the marriage would never be successful.
  • I don’t think Henry ever really saw Elizabeth of York as an enemy – she was a pawn in the games of others to an extent in the same way that he was.
  • Politics is really the sole reason for a royal marriage – it is used to create alliances and gain new titles and wealth, but Edward IV, Elizabeth’s father, was the exception and married for love, as would Elizabeth’s son, Henry VIII.

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Discussion Questions – The Boleyn Bride by Emily Purdy


 

  1. Elizabeth Boleyn readily admits that she is a vain woman. What do you think of her vanity and pride and the way they affect her thoughts and actions? Do you agree that she was raised to be this way or do you regard this as an excuse and her attitude as more of a personal failing? Does she remain you of the Tudor era equivalent of the mean, pretty, snobby girls everyone encounters in high school? What do you think of the way she treats people, like her maid Matilda, her husband, children, and the men she has affairs with? Near the end of this novel she describes her husband’s attitude toward people as “use and then lose” – he discards them when they are of no further profitable use to him. Though, as far as we know, no one has ever died as a result of Elizabeth’s behaviour, is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
boleyn-bride-by-emily-purdy
The Boleyn Bride by Emily Purdy

I think that Elizabeth was raised to be vain and spoilt – she was a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, one of the greatest and most powerful nobles in England, and she would have been raised to know and understand this. However, I think that you can change the way you were brought up, but Elizabeth shows no desire to do so. It is one of her failings that she sees the only improvement she can make to herself to be social improvement – she can’t see any personal improvement being necessary. I think she treats people more as stepping stones to advancement rather than people in their own right – except her husband, who she initially sees as a block to her social advancement. She sees Thomas Boleyn as not being good enough for the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. I think Elizabeth and Thomas do treat people very similarly – Elizabeth uses people to help her social advancement and then discards them when they are of no use, in the same way that Thomas does.

  1. Discuss the marriage and relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn. Do you believe he deserves the contempt Elizabeth treats him with? She regards herself as superior, sneers when he changes the spelling of his name from Bullen to Boleyn, and rubs his family’s mercantile origins in his face whenever she has the chance. She glories in cheating on him with men of an even lower social status. What do you think of all this? How would you react, if you were in Thomas Bullen’s shoes, to a wife like Elizabeth?

I think that Thomas Boleyn was the archetypical man aiming for a higher social status – the Tudor court was full of them, and even outside the court, people were always aiming to better themselves. However, I think that, because Elizabeth was born into a well to-do family she was one of those who saw social advancement of the low classes (as she saw Thomas) to be silly. She believed, as many of the nobility did, that the country should be ruled by them and not by the “new men”, raised to the nobility by the likes of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Elizabeth enjoys rubbing Thomas’s nose in his origins I think because it establishes her as the primary partner in the relationship – she is of higher origins so should take the lead. I think she enjoys cheating on him with men of lower status because it emphasises Thomas’s own humble origins, and how far Elizabeth has to go to find someone lower than him. I think Thomas saw Elizabeth as his stepping stone to greater power. I think that, as long as she didn’t take lovers in public he didn’t really mind all that much. Continue reading