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.
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.
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”
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?
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”
Throughout the book, Alison Weir shows how Katherine was raised to confirm to contemporary cultural and religious norms, and how this influenced her thinking and her actions. What impression did this make on you, and did it aid your understanding of her dilemmas and conflicts? Did this take on her story allow you to empathise more closely with Katherine’s choices?
I think that the standards and norms of 16th century England were very different to today. People believed very strongly in God and in the existence of heaven and hell and purgatory. They saw their lives on earth as a prelude to the afterlife. I think my background in history really helps me to understand the cultural and religious norms of the 16th century. I think that the understanding of the dilemmas and conflicts that Katherine faces in the novel depend on the contemporary culture and standards. You can’t understand Katherine’s motivations and feelings without understanding the context of the 16th century. I think that the emphasis on her religious devotions and the wellbeing of her soul were the central considerations for Katherine and understanding this made me understand more about what drove her to make the choices she did – she wasn’t being stubborn on purpose, she really believed she was saving her soul, and that of her husband. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – “Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen” by Alison Weir”
Titles: Princess of Wales / Lady Mary / Queen of England, Ireland and France / Queen of Spain
Dates: 18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558
Spouse: Philip II of Spain 1527-1598
Parents: Henry VIII 1491-1547 & Katherine of Aragon 1485-1536
Siblings: Elizabeth I 1533-1603 & Edward VI 1537-1553 (half-siblings)
Noble Connections: Mary was the grand-daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. She was also the cousin of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Her governess was the Countess of Salisbury, and her godparents included the Duchess of Norfolk and the Countess of Devon.
Title/s: Lady Anne Rochford, Lady Marquess of Pembroke, Queen of England.
Birth / Death: 1501? – 19 May 1536.
Spouse: Henry VIII of England 1592 – 1547.
Children: Elizabeth I of England 1533 – 1603.
Parents: Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde 1477 – 1539 & Elizabeth Howard 1480 – 1538.
Siblings: Mary Stafford c.1499-1543 / Thomas Boleyn c.1500 / Henry Boleyn c.1502 / George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford c.1504-1536
Noble Connections: Her uncle, Thomas Howard, was the Duke of Norfolk; her cousin, Henry Howard, was the Earl of Surrey; her father was the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde; her brother was Viscount Rochford; her sister-in-law, Jane Parker, was the daughter of Baron Morley.