THE BOLEYN KING by Laura Andersen: A Reader’s Guide
An Interview Between Anne and Minuette
30 April 1554
We are here with Queen Anne in a brief pause before this summer’s festivities. Even briefer than I expected it to be, since William has decided to send me to Mary’s household. The queen, in a burst of sentimentality I would never have predicted, has asked me to sit with her this afternoon and speak of the past. I think she sometimes wishes to mistake me for my mother—at least, I have the sense that she has not had a friend to confi de in for many years. And I am curious enough to take advantage of my likeness to my mother.
ANNE: Well, Genevieve, what shall we speak of? My opinion of the English wool trade, perhaps? The fallacies in Bishop Bonner’s arguments against Protestant reforms? Last year’s failure by the French to invade Tuscany?
MINUETTE: You are teasing me, Your Majesty.
A: Don’t let my children know. They would not respect me so well if they thought I could tease. Very well, it is the personal you are interested in. As is every seventeen-year-old girl.
M: What personal things interested you at seventeen?
A: At seventeen I had already been years at European courts, in the Netherlands and France. You and I are not entirely dissimilar, for the companion of my girlhood was Princess Claude, later Queen of France. But my world was somewhat more expansive than yours. You’ve never left England, the farthest you’ve ever gone is . . . York?
M: As you know very well. Did you miss your family all those childhood years away?
A: Well, I was often with my sister, Mary. Also, during those years on the continent, my father was a frequent visitor on royal business. I suppose it was my mother I knew the least in those years.
M: And now? There’s only—
A: Only George left. But honestly, we two were always the ones who understood each other. He is the only one who never saw me as a means to an end. For George, I have been an end in myself. That is as family should be and so rarely is. It is a pity you have no siblings.
M: It is difficult to miss what one has never had. I have my friends, and I cannot see how even siblings would be dearer to me.
A: Perhaps you are the fortunate one in that. You can choose your loyalties and not have any thrust upon you by blood. So tell me, Genevieve, what loyalties will you choose beyond your friendships with my children and Dominic Courtenay? I am given to understand that there is a young man who grows daily more enamoured. But that is only to be expected; you are a young woman poised to break men’s hearts. The question is, are you as taken with him?
M: I hardly know, Your Majesty. It is . . . How does one fall in love? In an instant, or through time and experience?
A: You are young, aren’t you? To fall in love is simple. To hold that love . . . Well, that’s the trick. Men fall in love in a rush of desire. Women are more practical. We have to be, since we are so often at the mercy of men’s desires.
M: Are you saying you’ve never been in love?
A: I’m saying that’s a question you know better than to ask. Did I not
teach you discretion?
M: You also taught me boldness. There are still stories of how your father and Wolsey forced you and Henry Percy to separate against your wishes.
A: Youth is made for hopeless romance.
M: So you’re saying it was a romance.
A: I’m saying it was hopeless. It is an important distinction for a woman
of the court to make. Do not trust men with your heart— or anything
M: How does one know whom to trust?
A: Have you learned nothing in your years at court? Trust is for saints and madmen; all else must look to themselves. A lesson I would have you learn from me, and not through hard experience.
M: Why is it that everyone thinks I am so likely to be taken advantage of? Just because I am not Elizabeth does not mean I am stupid.
A: Not stupid, no. But you have a quality very like your mother: the disposition to see the good in everyone.
M: Is that what you liked about her? I assume you liked something about my mother, since you appear to have had so few women friends in your life.
A: Friendship is a luxury for a carefree life, the kind I only had in my
youth. Once caught in the snares of royal politics, I needed friends
who were useful and women’s usefulness will always be limited. And
you needn’t pity me for that. Tell me, Genevieve, excepting Elizabeth,
do you have any women friends?
M: I thought I did. . . . Perhaps you are right. Do you think—if you had known the cost of what was to come—you would have made the same choices when the king fell in love with you?
A: That is presupposing I had a choice.
M: One always has a choice.
A: Ah, the righteousness of the young and untouched. You’re right, I could have chosen my sister’s path: king’s mistress for a time, to be discarded when no longer wanted and married off to a man who would always know he was taking the king’s leavings. That was not a choice I could live with.
M: So you have no regrets? You would not change anything if you could?
A: I won, didn’t I? No one thought I would. Men lined up to watch me fall: Wolsey, Cromwell, my uncle Norfolk, the entire hierarchy of the Roman church. But here I am—the widow of one king and mother of another king. The English Church is fi rmly planted, no more to be uprooted by Popish interference. And for all her righteousness and piety, it is not Catherine’s blood but mine that will run through the English throne for generations to come.
M: Catherine is gone, but Mary survives and many call her Henry’s only true heir. If it were in your power, what would you do with Mary?
A: It is in my power, and to be ignored is a far more powerful statement than even to be punished. Mary will fade away in obscurity until history has quite forgotten her.
M: Politics, princes, popes . . . you are right, Your Majesty, I am less interested in those things than in the personal. In all that surrounded your marriage, I am mostly interested in just one thing: Did you love him?
A: What makes you think I will answer that?
M: Because no one ever asks you, and I think you like the personal, as well.
A: I loved the man who called me darling, who wrote out the great fervour of his passion, who defi ed his councilors to have me, who dared to claim our love as the only requisite for a proper marriage. . . . That man I have always loved. As your mother knew very well, for she asked me the same question more than once during the years Henry and I
M: So I get my impertinence from my mother?
A: It is not impertinence when the motive is genuine concern. Like your mother, your heart is in everything you do. Perhaps you will be the happier for it—or perhaps it will leave you desolate.
M: Perhaps both, in which case I think I would count the happiness
worth the desolation. As, I suspect, you have done.
A: And with that, I believe we are fi nished. Thank you for the talk,
Genevieve. It has been most . . . invigorating.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. If “History is written by the victors,” what do you think is the biggest impact of changing a story?
2. William says, “I will be the best because I’ve earned it. I don’t need you to hand me my victories.” (page 12) Do you think this is true? Is William a self-made man? Does your opinion change of him by the end of the book?
3. Why do you think their reputation within the court is so important to people like William and Elizabeth? Why are even conjecture and rumor dangerous? Do you think Minutte and Dominic feel the same way?
4. William and Elizabeth are of royal parentage. Dominic is the son of a supposed traitor. Minuette is the daughter of a trusted servant and confidante. How much do you think parentage matters to these characters? Where does it affect them most in life? How
have they each overcome the generation before them?
5. The rift between Protestants and Catholics is a huge divide in
The Boleyn King. Compare and contrast it to today’s societal divisions in America, such as Republicans and Democrats, or even between the suburbs and the city.
6. In tweaking history for this story, the author opens up a world of possibilities. What historical event do you think would have the greatest impact if changed? What would that impact be?
7. In the context of this story, what qualities do you think make for an ideal servant? An ideal ruler?
8. In an age where social standing is of the utmost importance, what do you think is the most important reason for a person to be married? Why? Does your opinion change for royalty versus commoners?
9. Do you think members of royalty can have friends? What about someone like a present-day world leader? Could you be friends with your boss, or your employees, the way William and Dominic are friends?
10. Compare and contrast how each of the four main characters deal with the ideal of castle intrigue.
11. What would be the most unnerving secret message that you could receive? In what manner?
12. Compare and contrast what is deemed public in this novel versus what is deemed private. How does that compare to today’s Internet culture?
13. What is said in letters in this novel versus what is said out loud? Which do you think has more impact? Which method of communication is more important to you?