Discussion Questions – ‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper

'The Queen's Confidante' by Karen Harper (2012)
‘The Queen’s Confidante’ by Karen Harper (2012)
  1. Whom did you find the most interesting character in The Queen’s Confidante?
  • For me the most interesting character was Elizabeth of York, wife and queen to Henry VII, and mother of Prince Arthur.
  • I thought that the way that Elizabeth was portrayed in this novel was interesting – obsessed with what happened to her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, and determined to remember them.
  • The historical record doesn’t tell us much about what the Tudors thought about the fate of the Princes, aside from an insinuation that Richard III killed them.
  • I thought that Elizabeth’s love for and obsession with finding out what happened to her brothers and her son was admirable, and it also showed a softer side to Henry VII in the end.
  1. Who would ever expect tyrannical Henry VIII to have had such a beautiful, loving mother? Do you know of children who have turned out very differently from their parents, in personality, values, and general attitude toward life? Does a parent really have so little influence over his or her children?
  • I think, had Elizabeth of York still been alive after 1503, she would have had a more marked influence on the future Henry VIII – her gentler ways would have softened Henry VII’s harsher approach.
  • I think a lot of children turn out very differently from their parents’ – I know I am very different from both of my parents, but not necessarily in a good or a bad way, just different.
  • A lot of what makes the child the adult they become is the environment they grow up in – if you grow up in a loving environment you are more likely to be loving to other people.
  • Henry VIII was loving like his mother, but his love had a darker edge and his love turned to hate, especially with Anne Boleyn.
  1. If Prince Arthur had lived, how might English history have turned out differently?
  • Without Henry VIII having taken the throne, there likely wouldn’t have been an English Reformation, no Bloody Mary or Elizabeth I, and the English royal family probably wouldn’t have descended through the Stuart line.
  • Some historians suggest that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were in love and that their marriage was consummated and, if this were true, Katherine may well have had a son as well as daughters, without her seven-year widowhood affecting her fertility, as has also been suggested.
  • England might have entered a new golden age, as Henry VII had hoped, and the Tudor dynasty might have survived, but this is one of the great what-ifs of history – we might not have had the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution or countless other events which now define English history.

  1. Viscount Lovell is identified as the villain of the novel early on, and we read to find out whether he can be stopped before implementing his plan to destroy the Tudor succession. What devices does Karen Harper use to create suspense around Lovell?
  • Harper creates suspense by not concluding for definite for most of the novel that it is Lovell behind it – he is one of many who could have been behind it. There is enough reasonable doubt that you can entertain suspicions of others.
  • Harper also plays on the fact that Lovell was never actually found dead, he just vanished. This makes Harper’s version of events seem plausible, especially given Lovell’s Yorkist connections to Edward IV and Richard III and his support of the rebellions against Henry VII.
  • In a way Lovell was stopped in the end, but not before he already causes some kind of carnage, and I suppose he does destroy the Tudors because Henry VIII has no grandchildren, so the throne passes to the Stuart cousins.
Elizabeth of York c.1500.
Elizabeth of York c.1500.
  1. Did you notice that although Queen Elizabeth has power, Varina has the freedom to act? Discuss the pros and cons of being royal versus being a commoner, for both men and women, during this time. Which would you rather be?
  • I would rather be a commoner for the general freedom, but royals and nobles had the chance at an education that commoners didn’t, and I think that would sway me.
  • Royalty means that you have a certain degree of protection from prosecution, at least until the wives of Henry VIII – you had slightly more freedom to act, but only within the confines of marriage.
  • Commoner women could strike out on their own, more likely once widowed, and make their own way in the world, although they did then risk being accused of witchcraft or being a scold and punished.
  • Men had the power in any relationship whether common or royal, but royal men could rule an entire kingdom where commoner men were king in the household, and killing a husband wasn’t just murder but petty treason.
  1. Do you have any sympathy for Christopher Gage, Varina’s suitor? Is he justified in being angry when Varina finally turns down his marriage proposal?
  • I think that, in some ways, Christopher is justified in being angry disappointed as Varina does seem to have led him on in some ways.
  • However, Varina has also tried to let him down gently, and resents him interfering in her home life when she hasn’t pledged herself to him in any way.
  • I wouldn’t say I have sympathy for Christopher as he seems to me to be far too pushy, self-centred and sure of himself when it comes to Varina’s answer.
  • If Christopher had accepted Varina’s dismissal early on, when she tried to let him down gently, it would have been easier for both of them to deal with.
  1. Do you have any sympathy for Viscount Lovell? When does faithfulness to a lost cause become terrorism? What line does he cross?
  • In some ways I do have sympathy for Lovell because he has seen the family that he worked for his whole life pulled down and replaced by an upstart.
  • Many people on the opposite side (including Henry Tudor himself) stuck to their guns when all seemed lost, so there was no reason to suppose that Lovell couldn’t win out in the end.
  • Lovell crosses a line by killing innocent children – Prince Arthur is a child just as the Princes in the Tower were, and Richard III was hated for the belief that he had them killed.
  • It is one thing to believe in a cause and press for a resolution, but it is another to start killing and plotting harm behind people’s backs.
  1. What do you think happens to Nick and Varina after the book ends?
  • I hope that Nick and Varina end up happy – they seem well-suited and share a lot of the same values and attributes.
  • Varina was my favourite character after Elizabeth of York because she seemed so out of her depth when thrown into these events, but copes really well.
  • I just hope Varina wasn’t pursued for witchcraft or anything else and that, if she was, Henry VII would step in to save her, remembering what she did for his wife.
  • I think Nick would have been a great father to Varina’s son and I hope that he didn’t let either of them down, because I think Varina deserves a happy ending.

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