This reading group guide for Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree 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.INTRODUCTION
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In the third book of Kate Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court
series, young lady-in-waiting Elizabeth (Bess) Brooke takes center stage amid the tumultuous times of Tudor-era England. As a young gentlewoman, Bess enters court life a naïve and inexperienced maid. But history, fortune, and love change all of that, as young Bess climbs the noble ranks and witnesses the volatile nature of England’s royal, political, and religious climate. Holding tight to her one true love, Will Parr, Bess learns just how dramatically a life can be affected by royal decree—and how precious each moment truly is.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Under whose rule did Bess and Will’s love for each other flourish most? Consider Henry and Kathryn, King Edward, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth Tudor.
2. Would Bess have had a happier, easier life if she had married Harry or Jack?
3. As indicated in the author’s note, all but a few characters in By Royal Decree
were actual historical figures. Which ones did you find most appealing? Which came to life off the page?
4. Were you surprised at Bess’s arrow shot during Thomas Wyatt’s siege on Cobham Castle?
5. Considering the time, was it right for Bess to marry Will, even with Anne Bourchier entitled to the Parr estate? Do you ever feel sympathetic to Anne? And should true love prevail over royal decree?
6. Discuss the various uprisings and religious controversies that occur over the course of the story. When was the threat of imprisonment/ execution most palpable? Were you surprised at how quickly some courtiers changed their religious affiliations? (Consider especially Northumberland and Parr’s conversion to Catholicism while imprisoned.) Would you switch your beliefs under duress? How tightly should one grasp to what she thinks is right?
7. What did you make of Tom Seymour’s character? Was he nothing more than a lecher? How did you react to his ill-advised breaking and entering at King Edward’s palace?
8. Bess’s desire for a child remains unfulfilled by the story’s end. Should she and Will have fostered Mary Seymour? Do you think Bess is being honest with herself when she says that Will’s love is all she needs?
9. Which gentlewoman (besides Bess, of course) did you enjoy most? Can you trace the progress of her initial court mates through the story?ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Partake in Tudor-era sports like archery and tennis while dressed in your finest imitation of livery!
2. If you haven’t already, read the first two books in Kate Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court series, The Pleasure Palace
and Between Two Queens.
How do they compare? Who is your favorite protagonist (Bess Brooke, Jane Popyncourt, or Nan Bassett)?
3. Emerson goes to great lengths to paint a very distinct picture of the era. Discuss the facets of the court that come to life the most. For those with artistic inclination, try to paint or draw one of your favorite scenes!
4. If you get the opportunity, visit the Tower of London and imagine what it must have been like for poor Will Parr!
5. Research and watch any number of movies depicting the Tudor era. How do they compare to each other in terms of bringing the time period to life? Does the visual rendering match the image that Emerson creates in words? A CONVERSATION WITH KATE EMERSON Why did you choose Bess Brooke as the focal point for your third book in the series? What about her (compared to Jane and Nan) made you want to tell a story from her vantage point?
The first thing that caught my attention was the report that the Marchioness of Northampton had been the one to suggest Lady Jane Grey as a bride for Lord Guildford Dudley. Since this match turned out to be so significant to history, I wondered why she’d suggested it and if she had any idea of the possible consequences at the time. I cannot, however, draw any comparisons between my interest in Bess Brooke and my interest in Jane Popyncourt and Nan Bassett. I have a long-standing fascination with the lives of many relatively unknown Tudor women.In the opening scene, as King Henry flirts with the gathering of single women, he briefly singles Bess out. She escapes his gazes, but do you think she would have made a good queen?
I doubt it. She was still very young at that point—still a teenager. The other teenager King Henry married, Catherine Howard, was not a notable success in the role of queen.Did Bess and Will ever have children?
No.What is your research process like for writing these books? You obviously have an amazing grasp of the era and its events. Does it ever get confusing, especially with how volatile the regime and title changes appear to be?
I’ve been collecting information on the Tudor era for more than forty years, so much of my research is simply a matter of finding the right books on my shelves or notes in my file cabinets. For specific details, I rely heavily on inter-library loans and make frequent visits to the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There are many opportunities for confusion, and it can be a challenge to get the facts straight. It doesn’t help that modern screenwriters have taken such tremendous liberties with real people’s lives to create dramas for television series and movies. Little-known Tudor women are even more likely to be misrepresented, even by some highly regarded scholars, because there has been and still is less research being done into their lives than on the lives of more prominent women, such as the six wives of Henry VIII. My hobby (my husband calls it my obsession) is A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, which can be found at my website www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com. I’m constantly adding to this, and making corrections and additions to the existing mini-biographies. The number of entries will surpass the one thousand mark by the end of 2010.Your books have done quite well, and the Tudor era has been popular in a variety of other mediums. What about the era keeps readers and viewers coming back for more?
I suspect it is because the times (and King Henry himself) seem bigger than life, not only in spectacle and pageantry, but also in grandiose schemes. Real treason plots and spy stories abound, fruitful ground for the novelist. And, of course, there was always plenty of court intrigue for the ladies to indulge in.Did Bess actually take aim at Tom Wyatt with a bow and arrow? What was it like writing that scene? It’s a brief moment, but one that I think readers will be shocked by, as Bess would have become a murderer if not for Tom’s chain mail.
This incident is entirely fictitious. We don’t know where Bess was when Wyatt attacked the castle. But since we don’t, I felt free to have her join her family during the siege. If she was there, frustrated by events, distraught over her situation with Will, fearing she was about to see her father and his men slain by her cousin the rebel, why wouldn’t she be driven to help defend the castle? Since her ability with a bow had already been set up in an early scene in the novel, shooting at Wyatt didn’t seem to me to be at all out of character. Of course, she is shocked by her own action afterward, but I’m not sure she would have regretted it if she had succeeded in killing Tom. As it was, several of Bess’s father’s men were killed during the siege.Who is your favorite queen?
I don’t have one. I’m not particularly taken with any of King Henry’s six wives, or with his niece, Lady Jane Grey, or with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Many sixteenth-century Englishwomen are far more interesting to me—but I don’t have a favorite among them either.How do you choose where to embellish/alter history and where not to?
I try very hard never to change historical facts. If there are two interpretations of what happened, however, I feel free to pick the one that works best for my plot. I do embellish what is known, if my characters are involved, in order to offer a rationale for the behavior recorded by history.Do you create characters with a single purpose in mind?
I create very few purely fictional characters, but when I do, they are usually servants—a maidservant to act as a sounding board for my protagonist or a go-between to discover information she could not obtain on her own. Is it difficult writing an established character who has a predetermined personality and a well-known history of decisions? Are you still able to find artistic freedom within the confines of historical accuracy?
I find it a challenge to write about real people. There may be certain facts known about a real person, but his or her background and relationships to others are usually unrecorded by history. This gives me the freedom to extrapolate from what is known. I just keep asking myself why
someone would have done what s/he did and look at the other people around him or her and the events both earlier and later in his or her life to find answers. Are you working on another book in the series? If so, who are you going to focus on next?
The next book in the series, At the King’s Pleasure
, is the story of Lady Anne Stafford, who was at the center of a scandal at the court of Henry VIII in May 1510.