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 – ‘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 – ‘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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Spotlight – Edward of Westminster


Name: Edward of Westminster / Edward of Lancaster

Title/s: Prince of Wales

Birth / Death: 13 October 1453 – 4 May 1471

Spouse: Anne Neville 1456-1485

Children: None

Parents: Henry VI 1421-1471 & Margaret of Anjou 1430-1482

Siblings: None

Noble Connections: Edward was the Prince of Wales, son of Henry VI of England. Through his mother, Margaret of Anjou, he was also related to the Kings of France. Through his wife, Anne Neville, he was also related to the Earls of Warwick, and distantly to Edward IV.

Events of their Lifetime: Deposition of Henry VI and accession of Edward IV 1461, Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville 1464, Readeption of Henry VI 1470, Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury 1471. Continue reading

Spotlight – Catherine of Valois


Name: Catherine of Valois

Title/s: Queen of England

Birth / Death: 27 October 1401 – 3 January 1437

Spouse: Henry V of England 1420-1422 & Owen Tudor?

Children: Henry VI of England 1421-1471 / Edmund Earl of Richmond 1430-1456 / Jasper Duke of Bedford 1431-1495 / Edward ?-? / Owen ?-? / Margaret 1437-1437

Parents: Charles VI of France 1368-1422 & Isabella of Bavaria 1370-1435

Siblings: Charles 1386-1386 / Jeanne 1388-1390 / Isabella Duchess of Orleans 1389-1409 / Jeanne Duchess of Brittany 1391-1433 / Charles 1392-1401 / Marie 1393-1438 / Michelle 1395-1422 / Louis 1397-1415 / John 1398-1417 / Charles VII of France 1403-1461 / Philip 1407-1407 Continue reading

On This Day in History – 8 June


Event– Death of Elizabeth Woodville
Year– 1492
Location– Bermondsey Abbey, England

Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.
Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.

Elizabeth Woodville died on 8 June 1492 at Bermondsey Abbey aged 55, where she had been rusticated on the orders of her son-in-law, Henry VII. She was suspected of having been involved in the plotting of Lambert Simnel in 1487 to seize the throne in the name of the Earl of Warwick and was sent to Bermondsey. It seems unlikely that she would work to topple her daughter and grandson, but it seems equally unlikely that she would willing retire from public life, from what we know of her.

Elizabeth was buried with her husband, Edward IV, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor on 12 June 1492 where her daughters, excepting Elizabeth and Cecily, attended her funeral. She specified a simple ceremony in her will, though some thought this not fitting for a Queen of England.

Further Reading
David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville (2013)
Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen (2006)

Spotlight – Jasper Tudor


Name: Jasper Tudor

Title/s: Earl of Pembroke / Duke of Bedford

Birth / Death: c. November 1431 – 21 December 1495

Spouse: Catherine Woodville c.1458-1497

Children: None

Parents: Owen Tudor c.1400-1461 & Catherine of Valois 1401-1437

Siblings: Edmund Earl of Richmond 1430-1456 / Edward ?-?

Noble Connections: Jasper Tudor was a half-brother to Henry VI, as a son of Catherine of Valois from her second marriage, as well as being uncle to Henry VII, and brother-in-law to Margaret Beaufort. His mother-in-law was Jacquetta of Luxembourg and his sister-in-law was Elizabeth Woodville. Continue reading

On This Day in History – 1 May


Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)

J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)

Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)

Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)

Spotlight – Edward V


Name: Edward V

Title/s: Prince of Wales / King of England and France

Birth / Death: 2 November 1470 – c.1483

Spouse: N/A

Children: N/A

Parents: Edward IV 1442-1483 & Elizabeth Woodville c.1437-1492

Siblings: Elizabeth of York, Queen of England 1466-1503 / Mary 1467-1482 / Cecily, Viscountess Welles 1469-1507 / Margaret 1472 / Richard, Duke of York 1473-c.1483 / Anne, Lady Howard 1475-1511 / George, Duke of Bedford 1477-1479 / Catherine, Countess of Devon 1479-1527 / Bridget 1480-1517

Noble Connections: Edward’s father was Edward IV, and his paternal grandfather was Richard, Duke of York. He was a descendent of John of Gaunt through this line. His maternal grandmother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, was from the Burgundian royal family. His sister, Elizabeth, became Queen of England, and her husband, Henry VII, was Edward’s brother in law. Richard III was his uncle. Continue reading