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Young Jane Popyncourt comes to England from France in 1498 when she is eight years old to be a companion and French tutor to the two daughters of Henry VII. When her mother dies shortly thereafter, Jane becomes a regular member of the royal court.
But all that changes when the duc de Longueville arrives in 1513 as a French prisoner of war. Accompanying the duke is Guy Dunois, a childhood friend of Jane's who will help her discover the truth about her past and her mother's mysterious death.
The chemistry between Jane and Longueville is strong and soon leads Jane to become his mistress. Her new intimacy with the duke makes her privy to French political secrets, and King Henry VIII enlists her as a spy. She is hesitant to engage in this kind of deception, but when she learns the duke has only lustful feelings for her, she uses their relationship to return to France to uncover the secrets of her mother's last days and her reasons for fleeing France when Jane was just a child.
As Jane makes her way to France, she discovers the perfidy that has cost her family their ancestral lands. Now all she has to do is use the skills she honed in the royal court to win over the king of France and persuade him to award her her rightful inheritance.
1. Jane learns about her royal connection as an adult, but there are earlier clues to her secret lineage. What are some hints that Jane is "not quite servant, not quite family" (308) to the Tudors?
2. Jane confesses, "For some reason the other girls among the children of honor had never taken to me, and I had always felt more comfortable spending my free time with the boys" (76). Do you think the other women at court treat her fairly? Why or why not?
3. Secret or mistaken identities abound in the novel, from Perkin Warbeck, the executed "pretender to the throne" (24), to Jane's own royal lineage. What threat do "royal bastards" (10) and imposters pose to the crown? Do you think that Jane's mother was murdered because of her royal blood? Why or why not?
4. Jane slowly learns the difference between lust and love over the course of the novel. When does it become apparent that her relationship with Longueville is based solely on "a storm of passion" (100)? When does Jane's love for Guy first come to light?
5. "Friendship cannot truly flourish at any court. Neither could love" (352). Are there exceptions to Jane's statement? Which characters seem to have found love or friendship at court? Do their attachments seem genuine? Why or why not?
6. Jane outwits two kings who try to seduce her: Henry VIII and François. Compare Jane's strategy with each king. How does she sidestep their advances? Which strategy seems more successful?
7. What do you think of Longueville's character? What is his approach to courtly love, sex, and marriage? Is he a villain in the novel? Why or why not?
8. "True pleasure combines happiness and contentment with passionate love" (358). How does the Pleasure Palace fail to live up to its name? Where does Jane finally find true pleasure?
9. Jane realizes that in the English court, "Everyone around me knew exactly who they were and where they belonged"(92). Do you think a person's lineage and social standing are as connected today as they were in the Tudor era? Why or why not?
10. Almost all of the characters of The Pleasure Palace
were actual members of the Tudor court. Which historical figures especially came to life as you read the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Set the mood at your book club meeting by playing music from the Tudor era. You can find music files at www.tudorhistory.org/topics/music/midi.html.
2. Challenge your book club to a match of bowling, Tudorstyle! You can use croquet balls or softballs as "bowls," and a wooden stake as a target, or "mistress." Whoever throws the bowl closest to the mistress wins the match.
3. Using the descriptions of dress in The Pleasure Palace
for inspiration, draw a member of the Tudor court in full costume. Try your hand at sketching Jane in her velvet gown, or Henry VIII in his brocade doublet and jeweled codpiece.
4. The Tower of London, "a palace as well as a prison" (85), is a key setting of the novel. Research the Tower's fascinating history. You can learn about the prisoners, treasures, and folklore of the Tower at www.camelotintl.com/tower_site/index.html.