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The Boleyn Reckoning Reader’s Guide

By Laura Andersen

The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen


3 July 1546
Hampton Court Palace

Only when forced to move his uncomfortably corpulent body did King Henry VIII feel the burden of his age and ill-health. In his mind he was still in his prime: rising forty, limber on horseback, three steps ahead of everyone in his court, passionately wed to a queen who might frustrate at times but just as often satisfied his every physical and intellectual desire. These days he moved as little as possible, preferring to make the world come to him in only slightly more literal a manner than during the more than thirty-five years of his reign.

But today he endured the indignities of being helped into the privy gardens of Hampton Court, settling into a wide gilded chair beneath a portable canopy of estate that shielded him from the erratic summer sun, then dismissed the hangers-on in order to ponder the tableau before him.

He fancied for a moment that Cardinal Wolsey, so long dead, looked approvingly over his shoulder at the gardens that had once been the Cardinal’s own. How could Wolsey complain of his treatment at the king’s hands when at the far end of the gardens stood the living proof that Henry had been right all those years ago? Henry’s son, royal and healthy. A dark-haired boy like Anne, but with the king’s own sea-blue eyes and an unconscious litheness of body that Henry envied. He shifted restlessly in his seat, the pain of his long-injured leg stabbing a reminder of his own rapid aging. Prince Henry William Tudor (it was the king who had insisted on the second name, harking back to William the Conqueror) had just celebrated his tenth birthday, born forty-five years to the day after King Henry himself.

“Should I summon him?” Anne’s seductive voice had not changed in fifteen years. She leaned gracefully over his shoulder and smiled at their son. “I think you’re making all the children nervous.”

“They’ll not be children for long.” Henry, like Anne, studied the quartet of youths, who knew perfectly well they were being watched but had been instructed by the royal guards to continue with their own amusements.

William, naturally, was the center of the group, although often as not he was twinned with the Wyatt girl who was of an age with her future king. The child’s hair was the color of honey, and Henry thought she would grow into a beautiful woman. Her mother had certainly been, though in the days he’d known her Henry had been obsessed almost wholly with Anne.

The other two in the group had something of the same watchful, wary aspect to them though physically they were nothing alike. Elizabeth was a daughter to be proud of, so very Tudor with her red-gold hair like a banner and her mind as sharp as a blade. She reminded Henry of his youngest sister, Mary, though he hoped his daughter would behave with rather more sense where her personal life was concerned. And then there was the Courtenay boy—though not so much a boy. He was fifteen, a skillful swordsman and an instinctively talented soldier. More importantly, he was naturally self-effacing and loyal, qualities that would stand him in better stead than the ambition and deviousness of too many court members.

“Send William and Courtenay to me,” Henry told Anne. “You may take the girls off with you. I wish to speak to the boys alone.”

Dominic followed two paces behind William, wondering why he’d been included in what was obviously meant to be a father-son discussion before they parted ways. Tomorrow William would return with his own household to Ashridge while King Henry and the court moved on to Whitehall. Dominic knew the girls were as curious about his inclusion as he was. Elizabeth had turned considering eyes upon him, thoughtful as was her wont, and Minuette had very nearly spoken up in surprise. But, in Queen Anne’s presence, she’d managed to turn her surprise into a charming farewell.

The royal privy gardens of Hampton Court were alight with brilliant colours and awash in the heady fragrance of flowers and cut grass. Because of the constant pain in his legs, King Henry was rarely seen standing and today he waited for them in his great carven chair, so heavily gilded it outshone the summer sun.

Dominic made his quiet obeisance expecting to do no more than shadow the young prince as usual. But it appeared the temperamental king had something specific to say to him.

His blue eyes fixed piercingly on Dominic, King Henry announced, “Lord Rochford has recommended that you be knighted at Christmas. What say you to that?”

Caught by surprise, and never easy with words, Dominic fumbled his response. “Lord Rochford is very kind, Your Majesty.”

Henry treated that statement with the contempt it deserved. “My brother-in-law has never been kind in his whole life, boy. If he says you’re ready, then you are. But why wait until Christmas? You’ll return to court next month, both of you, when the Admiral of France arrives to ratify the peace treaty. We’ll conduct the knighting then.”

The king turned those intense eyes on his son, who was trying to suppress his delighted grin. “I take it that pleases you, William?”

“Yes, Father. May I knight him?”

The king huffed in disbelief. “You’re a child, yet, and no knight yourself. Think you to step into my place so soon?”

For all his youth, William had his mother’s shrewdness. “No, Father. But how shall I be prepared to rule if I am never allowed to do anything?”

“Ha!” Henry gave a genuine shout of laughter. “A question I long pondered with my own father. Now there was a man for holding tightfisted to power. And money. And every possible privilege he could grasp. I daresay he thought he’d live forever and he was not overeager to teach me to follow him.”

“But you are wiser, Your Majesty.” William’s submissive tone didn’t quite hit the right note, and Dominic winced inwardly. King Henry did not care for clumsy flattery.

With narrowed gaze, the king said, “Don’t try to finesse me, boy. Only your mother has ever dared that. No, you may not knight your friend here, but perhaps . . . What say you, Courtenay? Is His Highness the Prince of Wales prepared to assume more royal responsibility?”

“I am certain your wisdom will guide you, Your Majesty.” And please stop asking me questions, Dominic thought desperately. He was always afraid of putting a foot wrong and losing the capricious king’s affection.

But today there was real approval in the king’s expression. “A careful man you will make, Courtenay. Mark that trait, William, and value it. When one is king, any friend is to be cherished. But a careful friend all the more so. Charles Brandon was as good a friend as I ever had, but his lack of care led him very near the edge on occasion.”

“As when he married my aunt?” William said thoughtlessly.

Under his breath, Dominic muttered, “William.”

For the length of several seconds, King Henry seemed to gauge how offended to be at his son’s impertinence. At last, he said with only slight coolness, “As when he married your aunt without my knowledge or permission. I hardly know myself why I forgave them, save I loved them both so well. And what is a man without family or friends? As long as no one forgets there is only one king.”

“Well,” William said, and this time his tone of teasing was perfectly judged, “I don’t think Dominic would run away with Elizabeth without my permission. Dominic never looks twice at any girl.”

“There’s a world of difference between the ages of ten and fifteen,” King Henry said knowingly. Wondering how the hell he kept being dragged into this awkward conversation, Dominic endured the king’s look of sly amusement with burning cheeks. “I’ll wager he looks twice, and more than looks.”

Then that amusement—as though the king knew all about Dominic’s awkward encounters last winter with the innkeeper’s daughter—was replaced by the unmistakable bite of authority. “But it’s true, Courtenay, and I take my son’s point: you have not Charles Brandon’s recklessness. Nor your uncle of Exeter’s. And all the better for you.”

Dominic swallowed against the memory of his uncle’s treasonous end and his own father’s possible entanglement in the affair, and bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty,” he said, in fervent agreement.

The king leaned back in his chair, looking all at once tired and heavy with every one of his fifty-five years. “Rochford will make the arrangements for your knighting. And when you return to court, William, you may be my deputy in some of the matters with the Admiral of France.”

William bowed solemnly. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

The king dismissed them and Dominic felt air return to his lungs as though he’d been underwater during the entire encounter. As they walked toward the river, he caught the unusually pensive expression on William’s young face. “What are you thinking?” he asked.

“That I don’t want to get old,” William said. “I don’t want to be . . . I want to be young, Dom, and strong forever.”

“Better to grow old than to die young, Will.” Surely Dominic’s own father would have gladly traded the chance to be old and infirm rather than to die of a brief illness in the Tower before the age of forty.

But the practicality of Dominic’s words were lost on the young prince. “I may grow older, but I will not end confined to a litter chair whenever I wish to move.”

And then, with a familiar stubborn expression and the lofty tone of one born to rule, William announced, “Just wait, Dom. I will rule myself as well as I rule my kingdom until the very last day of my life.”

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The Duke of Norfolk declares: “William is his father all over again—what he wants, he gets” (page 257). Do you agree with Lord Norfolk’s assessment? Why or why not?

2. Elizabeth tells William that she can always be trusted to put England’s good before her own personal interests (page 367). Are her actions in England’s best interest? Do you agree with her assessment of her motives, or is she serving her own personal interests? Had William not murdered Robert Dudley and confined Elizabeth to the Tower, do you think she would still consider William’s death and her own ascension to be in England’s best interest? What are Elizabeth’s defining characteristics that make her a more desirable monarch than William?

3. Discuss the theme of loyalty in this book. William and Elizabeth often are faced with choices related to balancing loyalty to their family versus loyalty to their country’s interests. Minuette and Dominic are forced to choose between loyalty to each other and their own personal happiness and loyalty to their life-long friends and personal senses of honor and duty. What choices would you have made in their positions? Which character do you consider to be the most loyal?

4. On page 278, Minuette asks herself: “Am I whore, or am I savior?” What do you think of her bargain with William? Are her actions disloyal to Dominic? What would you have done in her position? Does Minuette’s history with William and the fact that her heart, “so long twined with William in friendship, would demand its share of [that] hour” (page 278) color your opinion of her actions? Why do you think Minuette later refuses to make a similar bargain with William in exchange for Dominic’s life?

5. After William had all-but announced his engagement to Minuette, was there any reaction he could have had to the news of her secret wedding and miscarriage (short of labeling her a traitor) that would have enabled him to save face at court? How could he have reacted differently without becoming a laughing stock in England and abroad? Considering how much he fought for the right to marry her (with his council and foreign ambassadors pushing for a strategic marriage) was his reaction reasonable in the context of the time? How would you react if similarly betrayed by a close friend?

6. On page 224, Minuette asks herself “At what point could pain have been avoided?” How would you answer this question? Was there a moment at which Minuette could have acted differently in order to spare William’s pride and feelings? If so, what should she have done?

7. At one point, the Duke of Norfolk tells Dominic “You were a traitor the moment you took [Minuette] from [William]” (page 261). Do you agree? Was Dominic a traitor? If so, at what point did his actions become treasonous? If not, what label would you give his choice to deceive the King?

8. What do you make of Minuette’s refusal to tell William the last lie that could have granted herself and Dominic safety? Considering they had been lying for a year, why do you think she chose the moment before they were scheduled to flee to come clean?

9. William had to make several difficult decisions regarding the lives of family members, significantly his half-sister Mary and his uncle George Boleyn; how do you think those decisions impacted him? Did they pave the way for his later decisions to convict Dominic and Minuette of treason, and to imprison his sister? What would you do if a family member or close friend posed a serious threat to your position, success, and happiness, personally or professionally? What if the threat were to your country?

10. How have the various relationships between the four central characters evolved over the course of the series? Compare the William in The Boleyn King to the one who rides to battle the Duke of Norfolk in The Boleyn Reckoning. How has his leadership style changed over the course of his reign? To what do you attribute these changes?

11. Is it possible for royalty to have true friendships, or is William right in thinking otherwise? Is it necessary for those in power to have an attitude toward mistrust? If so, can friendships exist anyway, or is perfect trust required for true friendship? What is your reaction to William’s decision to execute Mary Tudor? Was this the right choice for his government? What about for him on a personal level?

12. What is your reaction to William’s decision to execute Mary Tudor? Was this the right choice for his government? What about for him on a personal level?

13. What impact (if any) did the death of Jane and the loss of his son have on William?

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