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This reading group guide forThe Kingmaker's Daughterincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Philippa Gregory. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter is an adventurous and exciting novel that tells the story of the daughters of the ruthless Earl of Warwick. Anne, the Earl’s youngest daughter and the novel’s narrator, is a fanciful young girl at the start of the story—but by the end, she has grown into a woman who knows of both the pleasures of love and the deep, devastating pain of loss.
The destinies of Anne and her elder sister, Isabel, have been decided by their father, and they are used repeatedly as pawns in his plays for political power. But when he turns against Queen Elizabeth and King Edward IV, the same king he fought to put on the throne not so long ago, he is killed in battle, leaving Anne and Isabel to fend for themselves in the lives he has created for them. Their paths ultimately lead them to the court of Elizabeth and Edward, where it is never fully clear to them who is friend and who is foe. Anne and Isabel, both having married one of the King’s brothers, must fight to protect themselves and their families from a queen who appears to be ready to strike at any moment for the sins of their father.
Throughout, the great wheel of fortune keeps turning: Both girls have to constantly choose between loyalty to their husband and loyalty to the other people that they love. The right course of action is never clear to them. In the end, as Anne lies on her deathbed in the company of Elizabeth’s beautiful eldest daughter, one thing is certain: “You can go very high and you can sink very low, but you can rarely turn the wheel at your own bidding” (ms-367).
Topics & Questions for Discussion
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?
2. 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?
3. If The Kingmaker’s Daughter was narrated by Isabel instead of Anne, in what major ways do you think the tone of the novel would change? How might the main characters be portrayed differently from Isabel’s point of view?
4. Anne’s feelings toward Elizabeth Woodville grow colder as the novel progresses. Consider the below quotations from the beginning of the book, and discuss: What might the Queen Anne presented in the novel’s final pages have to say about her earlier words? a. “She is breathtaking: the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. At once I understand why the king stopped his army at the first sight of her, and married her within weeks.” (ms-1) b. “We don’t like the queen.” (ms-21) c. “I cannot see the queen as my enemy, because I cannot rid myself of the sense that she is in the right and we are in the wrong . . .” (ms-51)
5. “You can go very high and you can sink very low, but you can rarely turn the wheel at your own bidding” (ms-367). The tarot card the Wheel of Fortune is a theme that runs throughout the novel. Discuss the Wheel of Fortune and its implications for each of the main characters. Does fortune favor any character in particular? Do you feel that the characters are at the mercy of fortune, or do they make or choose their own fates?
6. Isabel is forever changed when she gives birth to a stillborn baby boy in a storm at sea. Anne notes that many people blame the tragedy on witchcraft, or an evil curse. Do you think Isabel agrees with their assessment? Who do you think Isabel, in her heart, blames for the death of her son: Her father? Herself? Anne? Who do you think is ultimately to blame, and why?
7. It is clear that the men in the novel play a large part in shaping the destiny of the women around them—but what major decisions do the women in the novel make for themselves? Which female character do you feel is the most in control of herself and her path? Consider that character’s status in the novel; do you think her power, or lack of it, at court contributes to the power she holds over her own life?
8. What role do the mothers in the novel play? Discuss how they are viewed and treated by their children, their daughters- and sons-in-law, and their husbands; do you think they are deserving of the treatment they receive? Also consider what it means to be a mother during the time period in which the novel takes place; what are a mother’s main responsibilities, and which mother in the novel do you think fulfills her responsibilities most successfully?
9. Anne learns how to be a queen from both Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville. What virtues do each of these queens teach her, whether directly or indirectly, and how does she employ those virtues when she finally becomes the Queen of England? Ultimately, which queen do you feel had the stronger impact on Anne’s regal style?
10. “I see Richard’s warmth toward her and I wonder again, what is courting and what is charade?” (ms-360) Consider the relationship that develops between Richard and young Elizabeth. How much of it do you think is truly a calculated political move by Richard to discredit her betrothal to Henry Tudor, as he protests, and how much of it is for his own pleasure? Further, how does his relationship with Elizabeth change his feelings for Anne? By the end of the novel, how has their love changed?
11. Anne and Isabel’s father, the powerful and ruthless Earl of Warwick, is known throughout England as a powerful Kingmaker—yet, he is not the only “kingmaker” in the novel. Which other characters might you consider to be a maker of kings, and why? Which kingmaker do you feel is the most successful?
12. Consider the different Kings and Queens who take the throne during the events of the novel. Who are feared by those around them? Who are liked? Who are respected? Of these three values—fear, love, and respect—which do you feel is the most important for a royal family to command from their subjects, and why?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Much of the novel is set in or around the notorious Tower of London. At the Tower’s official website (http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/ ) you can take a virtual tour of the grounds and rooms—including the Bloody Tower, where the two sons of King Edward IV were held before they mysteriously disappeared.
2. Christmastime was a time of great festivity for the King and Queen of England, a time in which they showcased their position through celebration. As Anne notes on page ms-337, “[Christmastime] is when people start to make a legend about our court and say it is as beautiful and as joyous and as noble as Camelot. a. Just as Richard commanded the best musicians, playwrights, and poets to do, create your own song, play, or poem for King Richard and Queen Anne. How would you praise them? b. Describe your own Christmastime celebration. If you were an English monarch, what festivities would you plan to showcase your court’s beauty, joyousness, and nobility?
3. “Margaret of Anjou taught me not to hesitate, that there would be times when I have to see the best thing for myself and take that course without fear . . .” (ms-159). Do you agree with Margaret of Anjou’s teachings? Share with the members of your reading group a time when you had taken a course without fear, without hesitation. Were the results as you had hoped?
4. Write each of the character’s names on slips of paper, and ask each of the members of your reading group to choose a name at random. Then, ask everyone to decide which three values are the most important to that character. Loyalty? Compassion? Power? Finally, discuss: Which characters share similar virtues? Which characters share opposite virtues?
5. Philippa Gregory is the author of multiple bestselling novels and is a recognized authority on women’s history. To learn more about Philippa and her books, visit her website at http://www.philippagregory.com/ .
A Conversation with Philippa Gregory
When you began planning to write this book, the next installment in your Cousins’ War series, how did you settle upon Anne as the narrator? What is it about Anne Neville, her voice and her story that called for your attention?
I wanted to write a book about both the Warwick daughters, but there is very little material available about both of them. Isabel dies earlier, so it was better to have Anne as the narrator. This is a bit of a cold-hearted technical choice – now I have researched her life and written a novel from her point of view. I must say that I have become tremendously fond of her, and I think her life demonstrates she was a courageous, persistent and determined woman who took her own decisions. A lot of the conventional histories of her life see her very much as a victim of the decisions of others – but I think she must have made many of her own decisions. Surely she could have gone into sanctuary as her mother did, when they landed in England and found that her father was dead? But instead she chose to march with the Lancaster army. Also, I don’t believe that Richard could have kidnapped her from her sister’s house and kept her in hiding before their wedding if she had been unwilling. Looking at her as a real person, facing real choices, has made her a deeply interesting character to me.
Anne interprets Elizabeth Woodville to be her enemy for much of The Kingmaker’s Daughter; and yet, there are moments in which Anne senses that Elizabeth is truly in the right. Did you intentionally write the book in such a way that readers who may not be familiar with Elizabeth’s story would find themselves questioning how “evil” she really is? Was it difficult balancing her good and “evil” values through Anne’s narration of her?
All of the books of this series have been involved with the different viewpoints of the different players of the Wars of the Roses, which were known at the time as the ‘Cousins’ War.’ There are times when Elizabeth is clearly in the right – as a crowned ordained queen facing rebels. But there are times when Anne and the reader must question what Elizabeth is doing. It’s been a complex and complicated series to write and there are no clear heroes or villains – though of course everyone will have their favorites. In this book especially, I wanted us to see how Anne’s first star-struck view of Elizabeth turns into fear, that Elizabeth inspired fear, but that also Elizabeth could be seen in a number of ways.
At the end of the book, Anne narrates, “I think of my childhood when Isabel and I were little girls and played at being queens. It is incredible to me that I am twenty-eight years old . . . and I no longer have any desire to be queen.”. If twenty-eight-year-old Anne could give eight-year-old Anne just one piece of advice for her future, what do you imagine it would be?
I think she would advise her to disobey her father early on, run away, and not to be trapped in the world of royal ambition at all. But of course, the eight-year-old Anne would not understand or follow such advice. Her father loomed very large for her for all her childhood, and her family was devoted to their ambition.
On her deathbed, Anne dreams of her father sacrificing his horse as a pledge to his men. Why did you choose this particular scene for Anne to imagine as the novel comes to a close? What, ultimately, would you like your readers to take away from the novel about the Earl?
The story of the death of his horse is a very potent story about the Earl of Warwick – and it is said to have happened at two of his battles! I wanted Anne to imagine it on her deathbed because the thought of a life after death comforts her – as she dies so very young, and as she thinks of her dead child. I found it a powerful and moving image about the price of ambition. I’d like readers to think of the Earl of Warwick as the complex man that he was: hugely courageous, a man who made his own destiny, and hugely ambitious – for himself and his family. The book perhaps suggests that ambition is damaging and dangerous, so although it is a story about the kingmaker – about the highest political power – it suggests to the reader that sometimes the price is too high.
When talking with GoodReads.com, you discuss your intent to help develop the studies of women who are often forgotten, or thought of as stereotypical female roles, rather than remembered as the powerful political figures that they are. In your opinion, who is responsible for these women having been forgotten or remembered incorrectly in the first place, and who is responsible for making it right?
The women mostly had no political power – only the power that they could establish for themselves behind the scenes, and through their relationships to powerful men. So when histories are written and they focus on actions and decisions it is not surprising that they leave out the stories of women. To historians writing political history or military history there are simply almost no women in the story. Then I think there is a misogyny in history which judges women very harshly, and a laziness which allows careless stereotyping of women which would not be allowed for men – (like Henry VIII’s wives: the old one, the sexy one, the good one…). These are some of the reasons that history neglects or misjudges women, and it is the responsibility of all historians to correct these mistakes. Naturally, someone who is a woman, and who is interested in women, and is a feminist is going to be someone who will take to this work with great relish – that’s me! But there are also many many historians, both men and women, who take a particular pleasure in researching the stories of interesting women.
In another interview, this one on BookBrowse.com, you mention that you were writing as a journalist before you began writing fiction. Do you think that your skills as a journalist helped to inform your skills as a writer of historical fiction? If so, how? As a former journalist, do you feel more pressure to “get it right” when dealing with historical events?
The pressure for historical accuracy comes from my work as an historian: I studied history for seven years before I wrote a novel. But for four years before that I wrote as a journalist for newspapers and for the BBC and it was a good training in terms of writing quickly, daily, and on time. Also, as a journalist, you know that you have to simply sit down and write, you don’t tell your editor that you’re waiting for inspiration!
You’ve now written an astounding twenty-four books. Was the experience of writing some of those books different than others? Which book was the most difficult to write, and why do you think that is?
Every book is different from another. I think the most difficult was the second book of my career, The Favored Child. That came after the great success of Wideacre and everyone was keen to know if I would be able to write another good book – of course, I didn’t know either. It went through 12 drafts, the most rewriting I have ever done. I am amazed at how many books there are – but then I remember that I have been writing for 30 years. It’s a very long career.
Historical fiction books and other media (movies, television shows, and more) are experiencing a huge rise in popularity as of late. Why do you think this is?
I think people are interested in history during times of uncertainty, such as we are experiencing now. Also, the revolution in the 1950s of the way that history was researched and written has percolated through to popular exposition of history, and is proving to be very interesting to general readers as well as historians. The ‘new’ history is about narratives of ordinary people, social history, and so is far more interesting than the way that history used to be studied and then taught.
There is to be an upcoming BBC1 drama adapted from your Cousins’ War books, and The Other Boleyn Girl was made into a major motion picture. What is it like to see your writing brought to life on screen? Were you at all fearful of how your stories would be interpreted by directors and actors?
It’s always a bit unnerving when you have imagined something very strongly, to have to hand it over to another creative person who will have their views of how it should be done – but filmmaking is a collaborative business and it is also an adventure and a pleasure to see what good scriptwriters and good directors and good actors will do with a story. It’s thrilling to see the title come up on a big cinema screen… that’s a great moment.
Can you give us a glimpse into the project you’re currently working on? Is it another book in the Cousins’ War series? (Fingers crossed!)
I’m currently working on The White Princess, the story of Elizabeth of York, and I am loving the research and the writing.
Philippa Gregory is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Her Cousins’ War novels are the basis for the critically acclaimed STARZ miniseries The White Queen. Her most recent novel is Three Sisters, Three Queens. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds two honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She welcomes visitors to her website, PhilippaGregory.com.