Norah Lofts’s tales of royal Britain have stood the test of time.
This international bestseller powerfully tells of the life of Katharine of Aragon, from her childhood in Spain to her reign and downfall in England as the first wife of Henry VII. A princess by birth and a queen by marriage, Katharine always held the highest aspirations for her life, never doubting a vision both she and her mother, Isabella of Spain, had of her becoming one of the great rulers of Europe.
This reading group guide includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
Questions for Discussion
1. When Katharine is preparing to go to England and marry Arthur, Isabella tells her, “Of all my children you are most like me and for that reason I wish to spare you. . . . There is nothing in this world that once taken in the hand is worth handling. . . . I pity you. You will have the world to deal with” (page 29). How do Isabella’s words foreshadow what lies ahead for Katharine? How does Katharine’s life parallel her mother’s life? When Isabella offers Katharine the choice of entering a convent instead of marriage, what is ironic about Katharine’s refusal?
2. When Henry realizes that Katharine will fight him in his decision to end their marriage he tells her, “Those who take up an indefensible position must expect to stand alone” (page 181). What does he mean? What is the significance of his statement as it relates to the book as a whole?
3. Does the endless bureaucracy Henry faces in dissolving his marriage to Katharine remind you of the bureaucracy we see today in similar situations?
4. Maria de Moreto is Katharine’s most loyal companion, servant and friend. How have the early events of Maria’s life shaped her? How has her bitterness and unhappiness in some ways made her a better friend to Katharine?
5. Discuss the theme of parents and children in the novel. Consider the relationships between Katharine and Isabella, Henry and his father, Joanna and her son the emperor, Chapuys and his mother, Katharine and Mary, and Maria de Moreto and her father. How are some of their problems the same, even though they come from different classes?
6. How do Chapuys’s feelings about his mother and memories of his relationship with her affect his relationship with Katharine and his attitude toward her?
7. Of Katharine and Arthur’s actions on their wedding night Lofts writes, “Two children, playing a game of make-believe, conspiring to deceive their elders! The little idyll, so soon over, and now dragged out into the pitiless scrutiny of the law” (page 240). How do some of the characters take actions that, while seemingly insignificant at the time, affect the outcome of their lives?
8. Lofts writes from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, we are able to see into the minds of most of the characters at one time or another. Why do you think she writes this way, instead of choosing only Katherine’s point of view?
9. Many of the characters who mediate between Katharine and Henry, even those who side with Katharine, express extreme frustration with Katharine’s stubbornness. “Even Fisher, completely convinced that her cause was sound and good, prepared to sacrifice his career and if necessary to give his life, felt that momentary repellence . . . that no woman should be so clear-thinking, so concise, so ruthless. . . .” (page 242). Discuss this passage. How are Fisher and other characters ambivalent toward Katharine? Why do you think that is?
10. How is Henry in some ways a sympathetic character, despite everything that he puts Katharine through?
11. Discuss Mary’s relationship to Katharine and Henry. Given what you know about English history and the futures of Mary and Elizabeth, how does Lofts foreshadow what is to come?
12. Discuss the importance of “the people” in the novel. How do the royal characters view them, and does the opinion of the common people influence their decisions?
13. What are the similarities and differences between the political and religious strife of Tudor England portrayed in this novel and the issues of our time?
14. Why does Katharine remain defiant for so many years, despite the obstacles she faces? Why does she hold out hope that Henry will return to her even at the end? How would you have acted in her position?
Enhance Your Book Club
Learn more about the genealogy of the world’s royal families at http://worldroots.com/brigitte/royal/sitemap2.htm and www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page1.asp.
Prepare a royal feast fit for a king (or queen), and don’t forget Countess Willoughby’s cure-all: wine. Each book club member can prepare a hearty dish in keeping with the spirit of the novel. Try foodnetwork.com for recipes like quail in rose petal sauce and roasted stuffed pheasant.
If you like this novel, try other fictionalized accounts of the royals by Philippa Gregory, Anya Seton, Hilda Lewis, and Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl was recently made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. The Tudors is a Showtime hit series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII.
Learn more about Norah Lofts at www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/l/norah-lofts/.
Norah Lofts was one of the best known and best loved of all historical novelists, renowned for her authentic use of period detail. Born in 1904 in Norfolk, England, Lofts wrote more than fifty books of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories over the course of her half-century-long writing career, including The King's Pleasure and Here Was a Man, and was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic.