Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn Reckoning’ by Laura Anderson


  1. The Duke of Norfolk declares: “William is his father all over again – what he wants, he gets” (page 257). Do you agree with Lord Norfolk’s assessment? Why or why not?
Laura Anderson 'The Boleyn Reckoning'
Laura Anderson ‘The Boleyn Reckoning’

I think it becomes more so towards the end of the book as William suffers betrayal by his best friend and the woman he loves. He isn’t willing to give things up without a fight, so strikes out at those around him. Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and wouldn’t stop until he achieved that. He broke with Rome to achieve it, and changed the religion of the entire country, suppressing revolt and rebellion at home and abroad. William seems to have the same attitude towards Minuette, but doesn’t realise that she doesn’t share the same hopes. He kills people who disagree with him (George Boleyn and Princess Mary) and tries to gain foreign support for an unpopular match.

  1. Elizabeth tells William that she can always be trusted to put England’s good before her own personal interests (page 367). Are her actions in England’s best interest? Do you agree with her assessment of her motives, or is she serving her own personal interests? Had William not murdered Robert Dudley and confined Elizabeth to the Tower, do you think she would still consider William’s death and her ascension to be in England’s best interest? What are Elizabeth’s defining characteristics that make her a more desirable monarch than William?

I think that Elizabeth knows how distracted William would be if he married Minuette, and she also understands, when Minuette and Dominic are married, what William’s emotions would be and how he would deal with the situation – I think that’s why she encourages them to flee. It is largely about the interests of the country, but I think that she also wants to do what is best for her friends. Elizabeth knows that, if William doesn’t have a son and heir, then she will succeed to the throne, and she knows that William’s revenge on Dominic and Minuette could ruin the country, so she does what she can to stem it. I think that Elizabeth began to see that William was becoming more like their father, and more unstable in the betrayal, so I think she did come to believe that her own accession was in England’s best interests. Her best characteristics are her patience and loyalty to those who are loyal to her, and her long-term friendships. She knows how to value people and the importance of valuing people. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn Reckoning’ by Laura Anderson”

Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. The novel starts off with a description of hawks soaring in the sky and swooping in to slaughter their prey. In the same manner, the novel closes off with an image of a fox attacking a hen coop. What is the significance of these animals and what do they symbolise?
'Bring Up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel (2012).
‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel (2012).

Hawks tend to symbolise awareness, intelligence and a regal bearing. Possibly this is a sense of what is to come – the intelligent and ambitious Anne Boleyn losing awareness of her position as queen and what it relies on (Henry VIII’s love) and ending up being beheaded on the orders of her husband, the king. In the case of the fall of Anne Boleyn the fox represents Cromwell, and the hens are Anne and her faction who are brought down. However, this could also foreshadow what is to come for Cromwell when he becomes one of the hens, along with the rest of the reformist party, and they are attacked by the foxes (the conservative faction).

2. How has Cromwell’s upbringing influenced him to become the shrewd and ambitious man that he is? What is the significance of Cromwell refusing to adopt the coat of arms belonging to a noble Cromwell family even as he widens the chasm between his father and himself? How does Cromwell view family and how is it different from his own experience growing up?

I think the fact that Cromwell had such a difficult relationship with his father encourages him to get away and prove himself. He wants to be a better person than his father. I think this difficult relationship also enhances Cromwell’s ambition and desire for power – he wants to feel the power that he didn’t have when at the mercy of his father. Cromwell doesn’t want to be a part of the inherited nobility – his religious beliefs encourage the rise of self-made men, and promoting them on the basis of their abilities and not their wealth or title. I think Cromwell doesn’t want his own wife and children to experience the family life he had when he was younger – he tries very hard not to exhibit the same characteristics as his father did, and tries to create a happier home. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel”

Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. What does Holbein’s portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell’s character that even Cromwell, himself, recognises? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

I think that Cromwell becomes more ambitious when he gets a taste of power. I think he likes to thwart those in power with his knowledge, like when Wolsey is demanded to give up the great seal. I think that Cromwell doesn’t come across as more sympathetic in ‘Wolf Hall’ than in other books featuring him, as we see the deaths of his wife and daughters, and the fall of his mentor in his own eyes, rather than the eyes of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. I think he is a very caring person with a ruthless streak in his religious beliefs. I think Holbein’s portrait captures Cromwell’s essence in not flaunting his rising position, but still showing his power with the books and papers around him. It’s very clever that it’s not explicit, but it still shows the reined-in power.

  1. What effect did Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?

I think that Cromwell’s relationship with his father affects a lot of his thoughts and actions now he is an adult. He seems to be very fixed on not ending up like his father, and having a better relationship with his children than his father had with him. He wasn’t brought up to a privileged way of life, so he can see more clearly than those at court the importance of promoting people for their abilities rather than their wealth and titles. He believes that, in the future, self-made men will have an important role in running the country, more so than the old nobility who represent the medieval period that has now been left behind – men like him represent the future. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful?
'The Virgin's Lover' by Philippa Gregory (2004).
‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory (2004).

I think Dudley was quite manipulative in a way. He used what he knew was Elizabeth’s weakness to get close to her, and make her almost dependent on him. He tried to ingratiate with her when she was vulnerable and alone. I think there were so few people who had things in common with Elizabeth that she was automatically drawn to someone who shared one of the most important experiences of her life and that shaped her into the monarch she was. I think there was also an element that no one really treated Elizabeth as a normal person apart from Dudley – everyone else saw her either as a bastard or a queen. I think he is successful at first, but that, as Elizabeth settles more into her role, she realizes how dangerous it could be and changes her approach to him, at least in public.

  1. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, “In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses” (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is?

I think that Dudley knew that he could never have that life, even if he wanted it, and I think that when he and Amy married he wasn’t so attached to Elizabeth. His father was on his way up, but not yet at the height of his power. He must have known that his future was at court. I think that Amy was blinded by her love for him, and assumed that he and she wanted the same kind of life. It was inevitable with who his father was that Dudley was destined for a life at court rather than in the country, and I don’t think that he really wanted any other kind of life. I don’t think Amy really understood Dudley, or his love for the court, because she had never been there, and I think it was difficult to understand the allure without having experienced it yourself. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’ by Philippa Gregory


  • What reasons do Jane Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and Anne of Cleves each have for seeking a place in Henry VIII’s court? Do any of them believe it might be dangerous to be a part of the royal circle, or is it a risk they’re willing to take? Does your opinion of each woman change over the course of the novel?
Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory

I don’t think Anne of Cleves had much of a choice in the end. She was a pawn in the arena of international politics. I don’t think she sought it; so much as it was thrust on her by her father and brother. No doubt she was excited about the prospect of becoming queen, but she must have also heard the stories about Henry VIII’s treatment of his previous wives, which no doubt made her a bit nervous. I think that Katherine Howard sought a place at court because it was expected of her. She was brought up to know that, as a Howard, she was important. I think she wanted the pretty dresses and jewels and the male attention. I don’t believe she had any deigns on being the king’s wife. Jane Boleyn was more complicated. She had been at court in the years when Henry VIII was still a golden prince with his whole reign ahead of him. She saw the divorce and the break with Rome – she was at court because it was expected for a noble lady. I think Katherine and Anne must have known that it was dangerous to be around the king from the start, but I don’t think Jane truly knew it until Henry VIII executed her sister-in-law and husband. After that point, I think Jane saw it as a risk she was willing to take. I actually grew to like Jane less and less over the course of the novel. She made her own fate.I liked Anne more and more, as she survived and came out of her marriage well-off. My opinion of Katherine didn’t really change – she was silly and naive but ultimately a victim. For me, she was the character that didn’t really come fully to life – she was a shadow compared to Jane and Anne. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’ by Philippa Gregory”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn King’ by Laura Anderson


'The Boleyn King' by Laura Anderson (2013).
‘The Boleyn King’ by Laura Anderson (2013).

1. If “History is written by the victors”, what do you think is the biggest impact of changing a story?

The biggest impact of changing a set story, particularly one where it was written by the winners, is that you can show it from a different point of view – what would have happened if the losers had in fact won? That is what is shown in this story – what if Anne Boleyn hadn’t been executed and had a son to become King? In changing history for fictional purposes it opens up a new realm of thought and possibility, and opens up more avenues for discussion and debate. ‘What ifs’ are a huge part of history. What if Germany had won the Second World War? What if Prince Arthur hadn’t died in 1502? What if the Princes in the Tower hadn’t been murdered and Edward V had ruled? All of these and more are unanswered questions that historians have tried to explore. But we will never know the answers, because the events didn’t happen. There is infinite possibility to explore, but it offers little insight into the history that did happen. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Boleyn King’ by Laura Anderson”