"Never again will history overlook Grace Plantagenet....Beautifully wrought and compelling, with vivid historical detail, this is a fascinating account of one woman's determination to discover the truth about her family." -- Michelle Moran, bestselling author of The Heretic Queen
"A fascinating and vividly written take on one of history's most mysterious episodes." -- Vanora Bennett, author of Portrait of an Unknown Woman
This reading group guide includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Anne Easter Smith. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Questions for Discussion
1. Review the quote from Aesop's fable about the wolf in sheep's clothing at the Prologue of this story. What connections can you make between this and The King's Grace? Which characters are deceptive? Which characters are deceived? Can deception ever yield positive results?
2. Margaret of York's "secret boy" is given several names throughout this story -- Jehan, Pierrequin, Perkin Warbeck, Richard of York (Dickon). Who is he? Which identity do you think he would choose for himself if it were up to him?
3. The mystery of the princes in the Tower has yet to be solved. What do you think happened to Ned and Dickon? Did they waste away in captivity, or did they perish at the hands of Richard III? Or Henry VII? Or the Duke of Buckingham? Who are the other likely suspects?
4. Choose one adjective you think best sums up the character of Grace Plantagenet and share it with the group. Were you surprised by how others in your group perceived Grace? Is she a likable or sympathetic heroine? Were there any points in the story when you wished that you could intervene to prevent Grace from making a mistake?
5. The King's Grace is full of examples of political ambition, scheming, betrayal, and accusations of treason. Are these things endemic to a monarchy of days gone by, or do you see these in contemporary democracies or other governments as well?
6. Why did Elizabeth Woodville (Dame Grey) agree to a marriage between Bess and Henry VII if she was such a loyal Yorkist? What do you make of Bess's change of heart and alliances toward Henry?
7. How do you view the other arranged marriages in this novel? Are they fair? Purposeful? Fulfilling? Based on your reading of this novel, what do you make of attitudes about marriage during this time? What about attitudes regarding fidelity, sex, or love?
8. Elizabeth Woodville advises Cecily on page 74, "...unlike those who do not have our privilege, we are not born to do as we please. There is a price to pay for our nobility." What is that price? Is it worth paying? Is there any freedom in being born of royal blood?
9. Who has the most power in this story? Are there different kinds of power? How is gender related to power in the novel?
10. What value does a piece of historical fiction such as The King's Grace hold for you? How might your understanding of this time period and these characters be different if you had read a nonfiction account of this story? What does fiction provide that nonfiction cannot? Where might fiction fall short?
11. Grace has several vivid dreams throughout this story. Discuss the images and messages in these dreams. Are they ominous? Do they give Grace reliable impressions or interpretations of her world?
12. Why do you think Perkin Warbeck never reveals his true identity to Henry VII or others at court?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Play a round of Balderdash featuring the words in the glossary. Have members in the group write false definitions for words like catafalque, excedra, houppelande, and sackbut, including the correct definition. Members vote on the definition they think is correct. Get one point if you are able to identify the correct definition and one point for every vote your false definition gets.
2. Provide a bowl of Richard of York's favorite fruit -- oranges -- and scent your home with cloves!
3. Research the characters of historical basis in the novel: Richard III, Henry VII, Edward IV, and Margaret of York. Where and how are these characters portrayed in other works?
A Conversation with Anne Easter Smith
Grace Plantagenet loves to solve a mystery and put together the pieces in the puzzle of her family history. You seem to enjoy doing the same through your extensive research. Do you feel a kind of kinship to Grace in this regard?
Oh, yes! Just keeping track of all the real characters and making sure I have them in the right place at the right time is a challenge. Thanks to my trusty wall chart, I can keep some sort of order to my research, but it is time-consuming. And always one piece of information leads to another and another, and soon hours have gone by while I fit facts together.
This is your third novel about the house of York. Did you know when you wrote your first novel, A Rose for the Crown, that this family would inspire you to write multiple books about them? How many more do you intend to write?
I had no intention of writing another book after A Rose for the Crown, to be honest! But in order to have that published, I was unable to turn down an offer that included a second. By the time Margaret (Daughter of York) was finished, I felt as though I was on a roll, and so my agent and I proposed two more books to round out the York family story. The fourth book is being researched and will be about the matriarch of the house of York in the fifteenth century, Duchess Cecily.
You write in the author's note that Grace comes from a mere mention in the historical manuscripts. How difficult was it to imagine the life a central character we know so little about and to connect her to characters whose lives are more richly documented?
You must write a backstory for a character like that, and in some ways it gives me freedom to create who I want from it. I found Grace's historical anonymity a wonderful way to tell the story of the better known royals.
When filling in the gaps that historical evidence cannot provide, how do you make the determination whether or not an imagined event, dialogue, or action is authentic or possible? What questions do you ask yourself? Do you consult others for verification?
Ah, this is a dilemma for the novelist. I can only speak for myself and say that I try to be true to my characters from impressions I get from the facts I have gleaned from biographers, historians, and the contemporary accounts (those are the "others" you refer to). As long as my characters stay true to themselves, imagined events and dialogue should feel plausible.
Did you come across any stumbling blocks in trying to piece together this story?
Oh, dear, many! Perkin's is an exceptionally complex tale with no resolution as of today, and I had several "plot blocks" along the way. There was the day I called my editor, Trish, begging for help as I lay in a fetal position on the floor with four different versions of his story around me! In the end,
I went with my gut feeling that this young man must not have been a mere boatman's son but nobly born and hidden. Historian Ann Wroe's discovery of Margaret of Burgundy's "secret boy" in the Burgundian archives of her household accounts convinced me that there was more than a charitable connection between them.
What responsibilities do you, as a writer of historical fiction, feel toward your audience? Do you think those responsibilities would be different if you were a nonfiction writer?
I love this question, because I believe strongly that the role of a good historical novelist is to pique a reader's interest in the material enough so that he or she rushes off to the library and does more research on the subject. I look at myself as a conduit to greater knowledge of the period. I also feel responsible for the accuracy of the facts as we know them. We can take dramatic license with those we don't know -- within reason, of course -- under the banner of fiction. If I were writing nonfiction, however, I would feel a great responsibility not to make conjectures -- I try to avoid those kinds of writers in my research!
All three of your novels feature a female protagonist. Do you find it easier to write from a women's perspective, or do you choose these women because their stories might not necessarily be told otherwise?
Both. To be honest, I have reached my advanced age -- which shall be unspecified -- and I still have a hard time knowing how men think, so I have thought it best to stick with something I know. They say write what you know, so that's what I did. Besides, I think medieval women were fabulous and many forgotten, so why not tell their stories and the history they lived through their eyes?
Describe your process. Do you gather all the research and map out your story before you begin, or do you make discoveries as you write?
Now you will reveal me as being undisciplined, because I make but a rough outline! I had no experience in book writing before I launched into A Rose for the Crown and did not know about plot outlines, chapter lengths, and such. Of course, I am lucky enough to have history as my skeleton time line, but how I put the flesh on the bones is often up to my characters, who have minds of their own -- I kid you not! Grace was quite stubborn at very awkward times, and I had to ask Tom to chivvy her out of trouble quite often. What a sweetheart he was! As for the research -- it happens every single day I am writing. I think I have everything I need, but then halfway through a paragraph, I find I need to know a silly little thing like how to color lips in the middle of winter when the usual berry stain isn't available. That took me an hour, and when I had no luck, I left it out! (I have since found out that beets were used -- but were they available in England in the fifteenth century? You see what I mean?)
What are you working on next?
As I mentioned, my fourth book is about Cecily of York, also known as the Rose of Raby and Proud Cis. She and Richard, duke of York, were betrothed at a very young age and by all accounts had a strong, happy marriage with thirteen children, two of whom became king and another the wealthiest duchess in Europe. I have visited Rouen, where they lived during the end of the Hundred Years War when Richard was governor of Normandy, and then Dublin, where Richard was also sent as governor by Henry VI and where Cecily had George of Clarence. Before Henry married Margaret of Anjou, Cecily was the first lady of England.