This reading group guide for Secrets of the Tudor Court: At the King's Pleasure includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Emerson. 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.
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Based on the historical life of Lady Anne Stafford—remembered as the woman who had an affair with both King Henry VIII and his companion, Sir William Compton—At the King’s Pleasure
takes readers on the incredible journey of her life at King Henry VIII’s court. Accused by her brother Edward, the Duke of Buckingham, of cheating on her husband, Anne is sent to a convent to pay for sins she did not commit. While Anne eventually returns to court with her husband, she never fully forgives her brother for his false accusation. It isn’t until Edward is brought under the scrutiny of the king that Anne realizes the importance and strength of family bonds.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. In the beginning Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, thinks, “In England . . . it paid to know what your enemies were thinking. It made even more sense to keep a close watch on your friends.” In what ways did it “pay” for the characters to know what was happening at court? It what ways did it not? Did Edward take his own advice to keep a watch on his friends, as well as his enemies?
2. Discuss Anne’s siblings. How would you characterize Edward, Elizabeth, and Hal? Can you name any similarities between Edward and Elizabeth? Between Anne and her siblings?
3. Consider Anne and her role at court. What does living at court represent for Anne? Arguably, the courtly life was both an escape and an entrapment—without the court Anne would not have been caught up in her affair with Will. But the court is also the setting where George and Anne first fall in love. Do you see the court as more of an escape or an entrapment for Anne?
4. The historical figure Lady Anne Stafford is said to have been mistress to both Will Compton and
King Henry VIII. In the novel, Anne is able to avoid the advances of King Henry, but she does eventually fall in love with Will. Do you think Anne was in love with both George and Will? Is it possible to love two people at the same time? Did you think Anne loved George more than Will? Or did she choose to stay with George out of obligation? Why or why not?
5. Reflect on the title of this novel—At the King’s Pleasure
. Who, in your opinion, was most at the king’s pleasure? How does the title reflect the milieu of King Henry VIII’s court? Do you think being at the king’s pleasure was a positive or negative situation?
6. Revisit the scene when George takes Anne to the convent (pp. 96–101). Why do you think George is so quick to believe Edward over Anne? Why does George harden his heart against Anne? Do you think his pride overcomes his desire to believe in the woman he loves?
7. “She had nothing of her own, not land nor chattel nor ready money. Even if she sold her book of hours and all the gemstones decorating her clothing, she would lack the means to live for more than a few weeks” (p. 117). What is the role of women at court? Consider Anne, Queen Catherine, and Madge Geddings in your response. How does the author highlight the role of women at court?
8. Taking mistresses was a common practice among sixteenth-century English aristocracy. Why didn’t Anne want to participate? Discuss Edward and Madge’s affair, which was public knowledge to everyone including Edward’s wife, Eleanor. Do you believe that Edward and Madge were truly in love? Why do you suppose Eleanor did not mind the affair?
9. Discuss the character of Cardinal Wolsey. Do you think he possesses any redeeming qualities? Why does King Henry give Wolsey so much power? Why are Will, Edward, and George all against Wolsey?
10. The desire for revenge is a central theme in the novel. Anne seeks revenge on her brother for forcing her to a convent and therefore losing her first child, while Edward seeks revenge on anyone who questions his authority. What are other examples of characters seeking revenge in the novel? How does revenge dominate the daily life and events at court?
11. On page 264, Edward declares: “I will do to King Henry what my father intended to do to King Richard at Salisbury, I swear it by the blood of Our Lord!” As the novel progresses, Edward makes several such declarations of regicide, a sin that was punishable by death. Why is Edward so obsessed with the monk’s prophecy that he will be king? In the end, what is responsible for Edward’s demise: his pride, his vanity, or his belief in the prophecy? Or was it some combination of all three?
12. How does Anne come to understand the importance of family? Was it only through Edward’s execution that Anne realized how important her relationship with her brother truly was? Consider the transformation that occurs in Anne’s relationships with her siblings and husband.
13. “Here is my solemn vow . . . We will name the child I carry in your honor, a living memorial neither king nor cardinal can deny you” (p. 338). Did Anne and George’s decision to name their next child after Edward surprise you? In the end, what do you make of Edward? Did you forgive him, as Anne and George had? Why or why not? Enhance Your Book Club
1. At the King’s Pleasure
is the fourth book in the Secrets of the Tudor Court
series by Kate Emerson. If your group hasn’t done so already, read the first three books in the series (The Pleasure Palace, Between Two Queens,
and By Royal Decree
). Compare and contrast the novels. What characters overlap? Does court life change with each book? Which book did your group like most?
2. Court life in England is a popular topic in contemporary film. Watch The Other Boleyn Girl
(1998), or Mary, Queen of Scots
(1971) with your group to further explore this time period.
3. Host a luncheon that Anne and the other ladies in waiting may have enjoyed. Have each member of your group research and make a recipe popular in sixteenth-century England. Visit www.godecookery.com for some ideas. Over lunch, discuss the best and worst aspects of life in King Henry’s court. Would you have wanted to live at court? Why or why not? A Conversation with Kate EmersonKate Emerson is your pseudonym. As Kathy Lynn Emerson, you are the author of the Face Down Mysteries featuring Susanna Appleton. Why did you decide to write the Secrets of the Tudor Court series under a different name?
I actually write under several names, and the reason is the same for all of them—to let readers know what kind of book they’ll be getting. Although some of my mysteries are also set in the sixteenth century, the “voice” is different. And, of course, the novels in the Secrets of the Tudor Court
series aren’t mysteries, even though they may contain some elements of mystery, intrigue, and suspense. You’ve written several other historical novels. Did any of your previous books inspire this story?
Not really. I take most of my inspiration from the central character of each novel in the Secrets of the Tudor Court
series and Lady Anne has never appeared in one of my books before. Describe the research you had to do in order to correctly represent real-life characters such as Anne Stafford and King Henry VIII. In what instances did you make a choice between fact and fiction, and vice versa?
In this case I started by reading an excellent biography of the Duke of Buckingham by Barbara J. Harris. My next step was to make a timeline, filling in all the specific dates and events I could find for the period of the novel. I have an extensive collection of books on sixteenth-century England and my file cabinet contains a great deal of information I’ve collected in notes over the years, so it’s usually just a question of pulling together the details I may need on various people and places. I make a character sheet for anyone I think I’m likely to use. As for choosing between fact and fiction, for me there’s no choice to make. I pick fact every time. Of course, some facts are debatable, which gives me some leeway in interpreting history. And when no one seems to know what really happened, I feel free, as a novelist, to extrapolate from the details that have come down through the centuries. Who is your favorite character in the story? Why?
I have to confess a fondness for Will Compton. He’s always struck me as a charming rogue. I’m sure the real person was less appealing, but seeing him that way allowed me to understand why Lady Anne would be tempted by him. How did you come to be a writer?
I’ve been writing one thing or another since I was very young. My first literary efforts were newspapers for my dolls. I was an English/Drama major in college, but there were no creative writing courses offered at that time so I’d have to call myself self-taught as far as fiction is concerned. I finally made the commitment to write full-time when I decided I was not cut out to teach seventh-grade English. Do you have any interest in writing historical fiction set outside the Tudor era? If so, what other time period in history would you like to write about? Why?
I’ve actually written about several other historical periods under the name Kathy Lynn Emerson, specifically the 1880s in the United States, Colonial America, and the English/Scottish border in 1400. I also wrote an unpublished children’s book set in New York State in the 1920s. My interest in genealogy has led me to most of those eras. I have to say, though, that the sixteenth century is my favorite, and there is still plenty to explore in that hundred-year stretch. According to your website, you live and write in rural western Maine. Are you originally from Maine? Have you lived elsewhere? Explain how the place(s) you call home have helped shape you as a writer.
I’m originally from the Sullivan County Catskills in New York State, a rural area very similar to the western Maine Mountains where I now live. In order to write, I need quiet and solitude, so a rural environment is perfect for me. I can always travel to do research if I need to. What would you name as the major theme(s) of the novel? Why did you choose to focus on these specific themes in At the King’s Pleasure?
Revenge has been mentioned above, and it is certainly a factor, but most of my novels deal, in one way or another, with the difference between illusion and reality. Lady Anne and the heroines of the earlier novels come to realize that the gilded trappings of the court are tarnished. How they deal with this discovery affects how they deal with other characters and what they finally learn about themselves. Do you consider Anne something of a renegade? Unlike many women during her historical era, Anne is seemingly unafraid to stand up to her brother and to speak her mind. Is this part of Anne’s character historical or fictional?
I’m not sure she’s so unusual. Or a renegade. She married both of the men her brother picked out for her, apparently without a qualm. The occasions when she stands up to her brother come only after she has been gone from his household for several years. These scenes, of course, are fiction. We don’t have any records of actual dialogue between brother and sister, nor do we know what Lady Anne’s reaction was to being incarcerated in a nunnery. We don’t even know which nunnery it was, or what happened there. The specifics in the novel, including the loss of her child, are my invention, used to motivate what happens next. Who is your favorite author? Who are you reading now? What is next for you?
I don’t have any one favorite. In fiction I read primarily cozy mysteries, both contemporary and historical, and romantic suspense novels, with regular forays into the paranormal mystery genre. The book I’ve just finished reading, however, is Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn,
an excellent biography which is also research for my next historical novel, which will be set during Anne’s time as Henry VIII’s queen.