About the Author
Jean Plaidy is the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, also known as Victoria Holt. Her novels have sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.
Reading Group Guide
Katherine of Valois was born a princess, the daughter of King Charles VI of France, but her father was known to most of the nation as “Charles the Mad” by the time Katherine was old enough to know him. Given to unpredictable fits of insanity, the monarch was not a reliable parent. The young princess lived a secluded, unsteady life with her brothers and sisters, awaiting their fathers sane moments, suffering through his madness, watching their mother take up with their uncle, and wondering what the future would hold. Katherines fortunes appeared to be changing when she was married off at age nineteen to King Henry V of England. Within two years, she gave birth to an heir, but her happiness was fleeting- soon after the birth of her son, she lost her husband to an illness acquired in battle.
Exiled from court, forbidden to return to France, and no longer allowed access to her child, Katherines every action was watched carefully; with Joan of Arc inciting the French to overthrow English rule, the Queens loyalty to England was a matter of intense suspicion. A relic of a former age, Katherine had brought her dowry and borne her heir, what use was she to England? The matter was quickly settled, she would live out her remaining years alone, far from the seat of power. But no one, even Katherine herself, could have anticipated that she would fall in love with and secretly marry one of her guardians, Owen Tudor-or that a generation later, their grandson would become the first king of the great Tudor dynasty.
The questions in this guide are intended as a framework for your groups discussion of The Queens Secret.
1. What were your thoughts on the opening of this novel? How did knowing where Katherine would eventually wind up frame your impressions as the plot proceeded? Why do you think the author set up the action this way?
2. A refrain that Katherine often repeats throughout the novel is first voiced by her sister Isabelle on page 43:
Who would be born royal?I often think, Katherine, how much happier we might be if we were just simple people. We should perhaps be able to lead our own lives.
To what extent do you see this as truth, and to what extent do you think it is oversimplification on the part of Katherine and her sister? In what ways would their lives be easier if they were not royals, and how would they suffer differently? Is it fair for Katherine to make that wish, given all that she gains by virtue of her station in life? Would they necessarily be able to lead their lives in the way that they choose had they been born to a different postion?
3. Consider the way that Katherines life experience parallels that of her sister. In what ways does the example and the advice of her beloved Isabelle drive Katherine to act? What lessons does she take to heart?
4. Several times throughout the novel, prophecies are used as political devices. Where do you see prophecies quoted, and what purpose do they serve to those passing them along? Where do you think these prophecies come from, and do you think they hold any truth? Which characters are apt to ignore prophecies, and which take them seriously? Why do you think this is?
5. Katherine is used wholly as a political pawn when she is married off to King Henry, but in the end, she really doesnt seem to mind. Why is this? What about him, or her situation, makes her so trusting that this will be a positive development for her? What do you think would have happened to her if Henry hadnt accepted the marriage?
6. Where does Katherine get her ideas about love? What models does she have for the relationship between a husband and wife? Did you think that her expectations are realistic? Do you feel like they were fulfilled?
7. There are a number of expatriats in The Queens Secret: Katherine herself, her mother Isabeau, James of Scotland, and others. Discuss the role of homeland and nationality as it plays out in the novel. Where does a persons loyalty lie when they are far from home? Who sees their differentness as a source of pride, who sees it as a nonissue, and who turns it to his or her advantage? What are the benefits and the drawbacks to living in a country that is not ones own?
8. Discuss the role of a king, as you see it portrayed in this novel. What are the responsibilities of the monarch, and in what ways do the kings we see carry them out? What pitfalls are along the way? And what role, if any, should the queen play in his life? Katherine says at one point that she believes her father could have been a great king if her mother had not been there to lure him away from his duty. Do you see this as a valid point or just wishful thinking from a daughter who loves her father?
9. Consider the character of Queen Isabeau. What effect do her actions have on her children and on the future of her country? In what ways does she use power well, and what miscalculations does she make? What lasting lessons does she impart, purposefully or not, to her daughter Katherine? Were you surprised at any point by her?
10. It is clear that Katherine loves her son Henry, but after she marries Owen Tudor and starts another family, she more or less leaves him alone, in large part out of fear of discovery. What were your feelings about the way Katherine handles motherhood? Did you think there was anything more she could do for Henry? Did you think she abandoned him too soon, choosing instead to worry for her other children? Or did she have a choice in the matter? Would you have done anything differently, were you in her shoes?
11. What is it that Katherine sees in Owen that makes her fall so deeply in love that shes willing to risk her life to be with him? And what is it about her that inspires him to do the same?
12. Discuss the issues of secrets and trust in this novel. Which secrets are betrayed and trusts broken, and which are well kept? How do Katherine and Owen know whom they can trust to be part of their household and not betray them? Did you worry at any point that they had not chosen wisely?
13. The life and death of Joan of Arc have an enormous impact on a number of characters in The Queens Secret. Why do you think this is? What does Joan mean to France, and what does she mean to Katherine? What did you think of this portrayal of her?
14. Were you surprised by young Henrys tacit approval of Gloucesters arrest and imprisonment of his mother and Owen Tudor? Do you think he could have done anything to stop it? If so, why does he choose not to, and if not, why not?
15. Henry VI, Katherines son, became a well-known ruler in his own right. From what you know of his later life and reign, what did you think of his portrayal in The Queens Secret? What events and personality traits are foreshadowed here that come to bear as Henry comes of age? From what you see in the novel, what kind of ruler would you imagine him to be, and how does this compare to what you know of his legacy?