The Boleyn Inheritance
by Philippa Gregory

Published: 2008-12-30
Mass Market Paperback : 592 pages
9 members reading this now
5 clubs reading this now
12 members have read this book
From “the queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) comes this New York Times bestseller featuring three very different women whose fates are each bound by a bloody curse: the legacy of the Boleyn family.

After the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII of England decides to ...
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From “the queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) comes this New York Times bestseller featuring three very different women whose fates are each bound by a bloody curse: the legacy of the Boleyn family.

After the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII of England decides to take a new wife, but this time, not for love. The Boleyn Inheritance follows three women whose lives are forever changed because of the king’s decision, as they must balance precariously in an already shaky Tudor Court.

Anne of Cleves is to be married to Henry to form a political alliance, though the rocky relationship she has to the king does not bode well for her or for England.

Katherine Howard is the young, beautiful woman who captures Henry’s eye, even though he is set to marry Anne. Her spirit runs free and her passions run hot—though her affections may not be returned upon the King.

Jane Rochford was married to George Boleyn, and it was her testimony that sent her husband and infamous sister-in-law Anne to their deaths. Throughout the country, her name is known for malice, jealousy, and twisted lust.

The Boleyn Inheritance is a novel drawn tight as a lute string about three women whose positions brought them wealth, admirations, and power, as well as deceit, betrayal, and terror.

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Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. What reasons do Jane Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and Anne of Cleves each have for seeking a place in Henry VIII's court? Do any of them believe it might be dangerous to be a part of the royal circle, or is it a risk they're willing to take? Does your opinion of each woman change over the course of the novel?

2. Why does Anne of Cleves believe it is a matter of need for her to escape the house of her brother and mother? How does the advice Anne's mother gives her-to be demure, to wear chaste clothing-actually work against Anne in her relationship with Henry?

3. When Anne arrives in England, the courtiers "judge her harshly for her shyness and her lack of speech. They blame her for her clothes and they laugh at her for not being able to dance or sing" (75). Why do the members of the court refuse to give Anne a chance? How significant are the language and cultural barriers that hinder Anne when she first comes to England?

4. Compare the way the court initially treats Anne to how they treat her during the Christmas festivities at Hampton Court after the dissolution of her marriage to Henry. In what ways has she re-made herself? What is the single greatest factor in Anne's transformation?

5. Discuss the encounter in which the king comes to Anne of Cleves in disguise, and she rejects his advances. Why does this incident have such an impact on Henry's mental state? How is this incident a turning point for both Anne and for Katherine?

6. Does Jane realize the implications of having given evidence against her husband, George, and sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn? Did she do it to save George and Anne, or did she do it out of spite and jealousy? Why is Jane so eager to return to Henry's court given what happened the last time she was there?

7. Jane is reluctant to give false evidence against Anne of Cleves, as she's ordered to do by the Duke of Norfolk. Why then does she go ahead with it? Does Katherine Howard, who has a friendly relationship with Anne, feel any remorse about usurping Anne's place as queen? Why or why not?

8. What are Henry's motivations for setting Anne of Cleves aside? Is his decision not to have her executed a political one or a personal one?

9. Why does Anne prefer to remain in England rather than return to Cleves? Ultimately, is she satisfied with her life as a single woman?

10. How does the Duke of Norfolk use Jane and Katherine to further his own political advancement? Is Jane a willing participant or more of a pawn in the duke's schemes? How much responsibility does Katherine, who is fourteen years old when she first goes to Henry's court, bear for her actions?

11. When Jane is locked in the Tower awaiting sentencing, she decides to act crazy in order to avoid the executioner's block. Is Jane truly mad or merely a good actress?

12. The Duke of Norfolk tells Jane that she is "a byword for malice, jealousy and twisted love" and that she is "an evil woman" (457). What empathy, if any, do you feel for Jane? Does Jane possess any positive traits? If so, what are they?

13. In what ways does the memory of Anne Boleyn haunt Jane, Anne, and Katherine? What is each woman's "Boleyn inheritance"?

14. Did reading The Boleyn Inheritance give you an understanding of the inner workings of a 16th-century royal court? How so? Discuss the social and political realities of the time-particularly the roles of women-as they apply to the circumstances of Jane, Anne, and Katherine.

15. Have you read Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen's Fool, The Virgin's Lover, and The Constant Princess, all of which deal with Tudor-era figures? If so, how did The Boleyn Inheritance compare to these novels?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Author Q&A from the Publisher:

A Conversation with Philippa Gregory

Q: Why did you decide to structure the narrative from the perspectives of the three women featured in the book -- Anne of Cleves, Jane Boleyn, and Katherine Howard -- rather than tell the story through the eyes of one character?

A: I like to develop and change the style of the novel with each new book. I believe very strongly that the historical novel - just like the literary novel - can experiment with form. This story was one which really suited a three -person narrative and I thought that as long as I got the voices of the three women, distinct and clear on the page, then it would be a successful way of telling their stories.

Q: You say on your website (www.philippagregory.com) that The Boleyn Inheritance is currently your favorite of the novel's you've written. What makes this book stand out for you?

A: The most recent novel is often the favourite! But I think this one tells a fascinating story which is not well known, it rescues the reputation of two Queens who have been neglected and traduced by conventional history - historians still call Anne of Cleves 'fat' and Katherine Howard "stupid" so it matters to me that they are considered carefully as real people. It was a real pleasure to write,.

Q: You say in the Author's Note that of Henry VIII's six wives, the least is known about Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Why is that? When conducting research for this novel, did anything come to light about either woman that surprised you?

A: I think I was startled by the new material which shows how young Katherine was. That was probably the most striking piece of information. And the amazing deal that Anne managed to make as her divorce settlement.

Q: Jane Boleyn is a fascinating character and a little-known historical figure. Why do you suppose that no biography has been written about her?

A: I believe that people are working on her now, but there is nothing published at the moment. I think like many of these amazing characters in Tudor England, they have been overwhelmed by the bigger story. Also, many people have accepted her as simply 'wiclked' and then simply 'mad'. I suggest that there is likely to be a more complicated version behind this.

Q: You've written about four of Henry VIII's six wives: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard. Do you have plans to feature Henry's other two queens, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr, in novels?

A: I am very interested in Catherine Parr. I did quite a lot of Jane Seymour in The Other Boleyn Girl, so I feel I have looked at her. But Catherine Parr is an intriguing Queen, and another survivor.

Q: What can you tell us about the writing process for The Boleyn Inheritance? Did having a previous store of knowledge about the court of King Henry VIII to draw on make it easier in some ways to write this novel?

A: Every Tudor novel gets easier as I am building a body of knowledge and a library at the same time. But equally, every novel takes me somewhere new and interesting. This one to the politics of the later court, and the health of the older king. I feel rather warm towards Henry as I have now 'lived' with him for years and looked at his life from when he was a young charming boy to this old and dangerous tyrant. I love going back to the history books and thinking about him and the court, they are a familiar but always surprising story.

Q: The lives of Jane Boleyn and the young Katherine Howard end tragically. How did you maintain a boundary to keep from becoming too emotionally involved in such a heartrending story?

A: I hope you are hugely involved! I thought the death of Katherine was very poignant, and the detail of her practicing with the block is from the histories - it is probably true. The death of Jane should come as a surprise and a shock to the reader - that too is based on the accounts of the time who thought she was genuinely mad. The redeeming feature of the end of the novel is the survival of Anne of Cleves and her speech at the end .. I shall own a cat and not fear being called a whore Š is (in my opinion) the best thing I have ever written. It comes straight from the heart and from my own experience in that I think women have to be free and a key to their freedom is how they are perceived. They have to free themselves from fear.

Q: The Other Boleyn Girl is being made into a feature film starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana. Are you looking forward to seeing the story come to life on the silver screen? Were you involved in writing the screenplay or other aspects of the filmmaking process?

A: I am historical consultant on the project and I have been in touch with the writer, Peter Morgan all through the project. I have visited the set and seen some of the rushes. It has been very interesting and enjoyable and the performances that I have seen have been stunning. I hope very much it will be a great success, but I always come back to the novel which is my original and personal vision of the story. The film, by its very nature, is another version.

Q: You recently participated in an author event at the Tower of London. What is it like to set foot in such a historic place, one that has featured prominently in some of your works?

A: It is magical to walk where these historical characters walked, and on this evening, the Tower was closed to the public and we were able to be there in darkness with occasional glimpses of actors in Tudor costume. It is very very haunting.

Q: What other historical figures are you considering featuring in future books?

A: I am currently working on a novel about Mary Queen of Scots and fighting to get the time to write it! One of the problems that comes with success is that there are so many calls on my time. But everywhere I go I take my research books and my laptop and I love working on this character.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Another great book surrounding the court of Henry VIII."by Heidi F. (see profile) 07/31/08

Philippa Gregory tells another great story about the wives and court of Henry VIII. I always look forward to hear it from her research and her storytelling vision. Her books are always a quick read,... (read more)

  "Fun times at Tori's!"by Jenae H. (see profile) 07/29/08

Thanks Tori for a really fantastic night out. The pool was warm, the drinks were cold and the food was DELICIOUS! I really enjoyed catching up with everyone. Great job!

  "Great follow-up to "The Other Boleyn Girl""by Wendy G. (see profile) 07/07/08

This book was a very good read. Although it started slowly, it quickly became a "can't put down" selection.

  "Confusing at First; But worth it in the end!"by Tory T. (see profile) 01/28/08

I actually started my Historical Fiction love affair with this book. You should have some previous knowledge of Henry and anne before understanding Lady Rochford. But, once you get into it, you do! Overall... (read more)

  "Interesting perspectives from three voices. Philippa Gregory is adept at giving the reader a glimpse into daily life at court during the reign of King Henry."by Leslie D. (see profile) 01/08/08

I would recommend this book.

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