Discussion Questions – The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory


The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory

  1. The King’s Curse pans over forty years of Lady Margaret Pole’s presence in and around the Tudor court, as she and her family rise and fall from favour with Henry VII and then Henry VIII. How do Lady Margaret, her characteristics, and her goals change over the course of her life at and away from court?
    • Margaret at first is ambitious for herself and her brother, and then her sons, but she comes to realise that what is more important is that they survive.
    • Margaret’s goals change as the people she cares about die generally – her first goal was to help her brother, Edward Earl of Warwick, then Elizabeth of York, and then her husband and sons.
    • As Margaret becomes more experienced she begins to understand the politics of power and how her family came to fall from power, and grows to accept it to an extent.
    • The turning point in Margaret’s thinking comes with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, because Margaret thought him to be invincible in a way.
  1. Discuss the meaning of the title, The King’s Curse. What is the actual curse? How does Henry VIII’s belief that he is cursed affect his behaviour? Do you believe that the curse that Elizabeth of York and her mother spoke against the Tudors comes to fruition?
    • I think the title refers to the curse that Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York are said to have enacted against the person who killed the Princes in the Tower.
    • The curse would affect Henry VIII if his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the one who killed the Princes, as Gregory suggests in ‘The Red Queen’ as well as here.
    • I think in a way Henry VIII is determined to outrun the curse so he begins to kill off anyone with a claim to the throne so that the only heir left is his own son.
    • Eventually the curse does seem to come to fruition as the Tudor line dies out and the crown descends instead through the female line of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, and the rulers of Scotland.
  1. Consider how deeply Margaret is affected by the execution of her brother Edward, “Teddy,” the Earl of Warwick. How does this affect her familial loyalty and influence her actions? What does it mean to Margaret to bear the name Plantagenet? What does the White Rose mean to her?
    • I think that, at first, Margaret didn’t believe that Henry VII would execute her brother who was just a naïve boy – from all accounts he was mentally stunted from his time in the Tower.
    • When Margaret has children of her own she becomes even more determined that they won’t suffer the way she and her brother did for their Plantagenet blood.
    • I think at the beginning of the novel Margaret saw the name Plantagenet as marking her out as special and blessed, but towards the end she sees it more as a curse as it pulls apart her family.
    • Even towards the end Margaret believed that the White Rose was the rightful ruler, but she wasn’t willing to risk as much to bring it about.

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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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Book Review – ‘The First Horseman’ by D.K. Wilson


The First Horseman by D.K. Wilson

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

1536. In the corrupt heart of Tudor London a killer waits in the shadows… The Real Crime: Before dawn on a misty November morning in 1536, prominent mercer Robert Packington was gunned down as he crossed Cheapside on his way to early morning mass. It was the first assassination by handgun in the history of the capital and subsequently shook the city to its core. The identity of his assassin has remained a mystery. Our Story: Thomas Treviot is a young London goldsmith and a close family friend of Robert Packington. Through his own upstanding social connections – and some less upstanding acquaintances he has made along the way – Thomas launches a dramatic investigation into Packington’s death. As Thomas searches for revenge, he must travel from the golden heart of merchant London, to the straw-covered backstreets of London’s poorest districts before reaching the country’s seat of power: the court of King Henry VIII. Before long he is drawn into a dark conspiracy beyond his wildest imaginings and claiming justice for his friend starts to look impossible. Especially when Thomas realises that Robert wasn’t the man he thought he knew… [Description from Waterstones]

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. Since I’ve read it, I have seen some reviews comparing it to the Matthew Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom. However, I think that Sansom is a better writer, and better at shaping his characters, so as long as you don’t go in expecting too much you won’t be disappointed.

I like the fact that the story was based on a real-life unsolved crime – the murder of Robert Packington in London in 1536. At this time London was split by divisions over religion and politics. This book deals with the religious divisions quite well, and explores what can be hidden in a man’s soul even when outwardly he is something else. I also loved the meld of real life characters like Thomas Cromwell and Robert Packington with the fictional like Thomas Treviot. It gives a sense that you can relate to the people you know even if the story is alien.

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Book Review – ‘The Taming of the Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Why would a woman marry a serial killer? Because she cannot refuse… Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives – King Henry VIII – commands her to marry him. Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn’s trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as Regent. But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her. The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy – the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant… [Description from Waterstones]

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel of Philippa Gregory’s, because I haven’t really liked many of her later novels; I much prefer her earlier ones. Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, has always intrigued me – I think that, as Henry VIII’s only twice-widowed wife she has a lot of life to discover before she married Henry VIII, and it doesn’t seem to have been much written about. However, if you’re looking for a fictional account of Katherine Parr’s early years then this isn’t it. The story starts with the death of her second husband, Lord Latimer.

Parts of this book I did find quite disturbing (I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which bit in particular if you’ve read it), and although I’m not convinced that it happened as Gregory wrote it, it does definitely reflect what we know about Henry VIII’s controlling personality. There are quite a few places in this novel where it really makes you question what you know about Henry VIII, and wonder if perhaps he was affected by a fall from his horse, or any other number of theories which attempt to explain why his personality seems to have changed. Of course, one could suggest that power just went to his head, but I guess we’ll never know the whole truth.

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Book Review – ‘The King’s Curse’ by Philippa Gregory


The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

The riveting story of Margaret Pole, daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, and was one of the few surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty after the Wars of the Roses. Plantagenet, once carried proudly by Margaret like a crown upon her head, is now, at the end of the 15th century, the most dangerous name in England… [Description from Waterstones]

This book of Philippa Gregory’s came as a pleasant surprise to me. Some of her books really hit the mark and are addictive, but some I struggle to read at all. This wasn’t one I struggled with – the first third of the book in particular I was hooked with, as Margaret Pole struggled to deal with the fate of her brother, Warwick, and the supposed curse enacted on the Tudors for the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

I think that the characterisation of Margaret Pole was interesting as there isn’t really a lot of emphasis on her in fictional portrayals of the Tudors, and there aren’t many biographies either, which is strange as she lived from the reign of Edward IV through Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII, and most of the way through the reign of Henry VIII. Her family was the last of the Plantagenets (aka the White Rose) and she was executed for treason, along with her father, brother and son.

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Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 4


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
  • After 4 failed marriages Henry VIII married Katherine Howard
  • She had a guilty secret
  • Final wife Katherine Parr more obedient but not all she seemed
  • 1539 Henry VIII aged 48, first 3 wives dead
  • Henry stuck in a loveless marriage with Anne of Cleves – called her fat and ugly, he was so disgusted he couldn’t have sex with her
  • Big problem for Henry and the Tudor dynasty
  • The king only had one son, and child deaths were common
  • Just months into his marriage to Anne Henry began to look around for her replacement but didn’t look far
  • 1539 aged 17 Katherine Howard arrived at the Tudor court – came from a rich and powerful noble family
  • Henry fell in love at first sight
  • Katherine was everything Anne wasn’t – made him feel manly
  • Henry saw Katherine as virginal “blushing rose without a thorn”
  • Within months of arriving at court it is believed Katherine became Henry’s lover
  • Spring 1540 Henry was seen making regular trips day and night to Katherine’s house, and planned to wed her
  • Anne had to go – just 6 months after the wedding Henry left Anne
  • Used her previous engagement to a French nobleman to annul the marriage – she was paid off and sent away
  • 28 July 1540 Henry and Katherine married, just 2 weeks after the annulment of Henry’s previous marriage
  • Being queen was everything Katherine dreamed it would be
  • Henry showered Katherine with jewels and showed her off at banquets and hunting expeditions
  • Henry in love and lust, drunk with desire – sexual problems disappeared

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David Starkey – Henry VIII: the First Brexiteer


Talk at Whitley Bay Playhouse on 6th May 2018

  • The first Brexit was the Break with Rome
  • England was a pariah state – an enemy of Europe
  • Henry VIII fortified the coastline which was the largest scheme of fortification
  • Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
    Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
  • Cartography and maps became important
  • Holbein’s image – the Whitehall mural shows Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
  • When Jane Seymour died it was the “smartest career move in history”
  • Anne Boleyn was “brilliant as a mistress but catastrophic as a wife”
  • The words in the middle of the Whitehall mural say that Henry VII was a good king ending decades of civil war but Henry VIII was better as he released England from papal bondage
  • The mural was displayed in Henry VIII’s private rooms
  • Appetite for fame
  • Importance of Erasmus and education “virtue, glory, immorality”
  • Foreign influence – Henry VIII’s astronomer was French, his painter was German and his armour came from Italy
  • France = sex and sophistication, Anne Boleyn raised there
  • Media revolution – printing, books, Caxton’s printing press
  • In the early 16th century typography was introduced
  • Representational painting explains why we are so interested in the Tudors – we knew what they looked like
  • Images make things real
  • Henry VIII is at the centre of England’s history – England different after Henry VIII
  • The Reformation was the greatest change between the Norman conquest and the present day, Reformation partly undoes the conquest
  • English Channel not a barrier but a means of communication
  • Easy to invade England with her natural harbours
  • Henry VII sailed from Honfleur in 1485 – French invasion with tactics, ships, money and army Continue reading

Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 3


Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
  • Jane Seymour often overlooked – Henry called her his true love
  • Taught Henry the importance of family, battled to reunite him with his daughter and gave him a son and heir
  • Cruel twist of fate – Jane was snatched from him
  • Death and betrayal turned Henry into a bitter and cruel man
  • Made his most disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves
  • 1536 Henry VIII was aged 44, divorced one wife and other in the Tower awaiting execution for adultery and incest
  • Anne’s infidelity humiliated Henry and cast doubt over his sexual prowess
  • While Anne was in the Tower Henry tried to find her replacement
  • Jane Seymour caught the king’s eye, age 24 and had served both Katherine of Aragon anf Anne Boleyn
  • Virtuous, unassuming and honest
  • Henry sent Jane a letter but she sent it back unopened – wanted to make an honourable marriage
  • Henry’s chivalrous side and aroused his desire
  • Once Henry set his mind on having something he would do anything to get it
  • Henry courted Jane in earnest – before Anne Boleyn was executed Jane was in sight as wife number 3
  • 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn beheaded on Tower Green
  • Anne still hoped for a last minute reprieve and mercy from Henry who had loved her but Henry had already switched his affections to Jane
  • Henry and Jane were planning their future together
  • Less than 24 hours after Anne’s death Henry and Jane were engaged
  • No record of how Jane reacted to Anne’s beheading but didn’t hesitate to step over Anne to the throne
  • Far steelier than anyone realised
  • 11 days after Anne’s beheading Henry and Jane married, Henry in love
  • Not everyone shared Henry’s affection for Jane
  • Chapuys reported that Jane was of middling stature and no great beauty, proud and haughty, of no great wit
  • Why did Henry marry Jane? Had previously been married to 2 attractive and intelligent women
  • Henry liked Jane because she was so different – compassionate, loyal and do what he told her without question

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Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn was the most notorious mistress in English history

Intelligent, sophisticated, ambitious

Captivated Henry VIII

Together Henry and Anne destroyed Katherine of Aragon

Anne became too confident and paid for the crown with her life

1529 Henry VIII in love with Anne for 3 years

Was lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon – tired of being mistress

Anne promised Henry a living son – the one thing Katherine had failed to give him – but she wouldn’t sleep with Henry until he left his wife

Katherine refused to step aside – loyal wife for 2 decades

Katherine wouldn’t give up Henry without a fight – Katherine asked Henry to allow marriage to be judged in public court

Katherine had chance to save marriage and crown

Katherine had been preparing for this her whole life – not to be crushed by any man

All or nothing

21 June 1529 great hall at Blackfriars priory – struggle made public

Henry and Katherine faced each other in the divorce court in front of public audience

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Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 1


Henry VIII c.1537.
Henry VIII c.1537.

Henry VIII most infamous monarch in English history

38 year reign, 6 marriages

Divorced, beheaded died, divorced, beheaded, survived

Women more than wives – also queens

Formidable individuals, all changed history and shaped Henry VIII and England

What was it really like to be married to Henry VIII?

Passions, obsessions and betrayals

 

Katherine of Aragon

Often overlooked

Warrior queen who taught Henry how to be a king

Love, passions and tragedies that tore them apart

November 14 1501 Katherine prepared for wedding night in London, aged 15

1000 miles from home speaking little English

In front of thousands of people in St Paul’s Cathedral married Prince Arthur, heir to English throne

Katherine was to be English queen Continue reading