I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole series from Alison Weir and what a way to end! Although the previous two for me were the weakest (‘Anna of Kleve’ and ‘Katheryn Howard’). This one brought the series back up to the levels of the first three books in the series. Katherine Parr is often just remembered as the sixth wife and the one who survived, but this offers a new insight into her life and the people who she affected and who affected her most.
Katherine Parr has always fascinated me – she was the only one of Henry’s wives to have married twice before her marriage to the King (Katherine of Aragon was married once before) and then once after as well! She is a really intriguing woman who suffered so much through her life and died tragically as well, though at least it was a natural death rather than a beheading!
The book was full of detail and well-paced. I had thought that maybe Weir would rush through Katherine’s first two marriages, but she didn’t, and I think that was actually my favourite part of the book – the bit that I know least about, and certainly is least written about Katherine. The focus tends to be on her royal marriage and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour and the controversy with Elizabeth, but it was these early marriages which really shaped her, so it was super interesting to read about those in a fictionalised way.
The ideas of betrayal and religion run throughout as Katherine struggles not to betray her own religious beliefs, or her feelings about Thomas Seymour, to those around her. This was a tumultuous period in English history where religion was very much an open question and Weir handles it sensitively with the views of the time not marred too much by the sensibilities of the present.
This was an excellent book to finish the series off on and this is certainly a series I will come back to again and re-read.
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Katherine, are separated – later on in the series he has an affair. In reality, there is no evidence that the marriage of the Brandons was unstable, it seems to have been relatively happy.
On screen, Henry Howard, is shown as being in his mid-forties and calls Katherine Howard his niece. In reality, Henry and Katherine were cousins, and he was actually only in his mid-twenties at this time.
When Princess Elizabeth meets Katherine Howard she looks around 13/14 years old, but in reality she would only have been around 6/7.
Henry VIII speaks of the death of the French dauphin just after his marriage to Katherine in 1540, but the dauphin died in 1536.
Henry VIII is shown condemning Viscount Lisle to death, but he actually died in 1542 when being given news of his release.
A marriage between Princess Mary and the Duke of Orleans is proposed on screen, but the duke was already married in reality by this point.
There is no evidence that Anne Stanhope cheated on her husband, the Earl of Hertford, let alone with his brother. This perhaps parallels the supposed affair of Hertford’s first wife with his own father.
What kind of tone does the novel’s opening scene instantly set, and what does it tell us up front about Hannah’s and Elizabeth’s characters? If you’ve read other fictional accounts of Elizabeth’s life, how does this portrayal of her compare?
I think the opening of the novel shows both Hannah and Elizabeth as very strong characters, but both have their secrets. It’s an interesting opening to contrast a very real person in Elizabeth I, whose life is so well-known, and an entirely fictional one, Hannah. Somehow their lives seem to seamlessly intertwine which is quite clever. I’ve read many other fictional accounts of Elizabeth’s life, but as she doesn’t play a very important role in the developing story in The Queen’s Fool, it’s difficult to compare, because in most stories she appears in she is the main character.
In public, Hannah plays the fool to Mary’s queen, but in private their bond is more intimate. Why is the relationship valuable to each of them, both personally and politically? How is Hannah’s connection to Elizabeth different?
I think Mary feels connected to those on the outside, as she once was. Hannah is different to those who pander to Mary and want her to give them something. Mary knows that Hannah is different and that she can relax her guard with her. I think it gives Mary a respite from the public persona that she projects. Elizabeth and Hannah’s relationship is more challenging because Elizabeth is more perceptive than Mary, and I think it challenges Hannah intellectually more than her relationship with Mary, but I think she benefits equally from both relationships in different ways. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Queen’s Fool’ by Philippa Gregory”