The Tudor royal family has barely survived a disastrous winter. Now English ships and soldiers prepare for the threat of invasion. But William Tudor—known as Henry IX—has his own personal battles to attend to. He still burns for Minuette, his longtime friend, but she has married William’s trusted advisor, Dominic, in secret—an act of betrayal that puts both their lives in danger. Princess Elizabeth, concerned over her brother’s erratic, vengeful behavior, imperils her own life by assembling a shadow court in an effort to protect England. With war on the horizon, Elizabeth must decide where her duty lies: with her brother or her country. Her choice could forever change the course of history.
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“Powerful . . . action, intrigue, star-crossed lovers, and all the drama period fans have come to expect . . . Fans should remain satisfied with the thrilling finale-for-now.”—Booklist
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LAURA ANDERSEN’S NOVELS ABOUT THE IMAGINED SON OF HENRY VIII and ANNE BOLEYN ARE: “excellent . . . quick-paced” —Booklist (starred review) • “delectable and full of intrigue” —New York Times bestselling author Tasha Alexander • “impossible to put down” —award-winning author Stefanie Pintoff
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18 March 1556
Today the Duke of North-umberland stands trial at Westminster Hall. Dominic traveled to London yesterday to take part, though I know he is conflicted. Robert Dudley has told him that someone other than his father is behind all the twists of treachery these last two years, but Robert will say no more to Dominic. He has demanded, rather, to see Elizabeth. Dominic asked me to help persuade her, but I did not try very hard. Why should she go? Whether there is one traitor or twenty in this, it was North-umberland himself who held Elizabeth and me prisoner. For that alone he must answer.
Besides, all Elizabeth can think of just now is William. It has been three months since the nightmare of his smallpox and the effects . . . linger.
Perhaps the resolution of North-umberland’s fate will release us all from this sense that we are snared in the moment before action. The tension of waiting is almost more than I can bear.
The trial of John Dudley, Duke of North-umberland, was presided over by George Boleyn, Duke of Roch-ford and Lord Chancellor of England. Traditionally, it was the Earl Marshal of England who conducted such trials, but William had delayed bestowing that hereditary office on the young Duke of Norfolk after his grandfather’s death. Certainly Roch-ford did not appear to mind.
While Dominic settled into place with the other peers who today would sit in judgment of North-umberland, his attention was almost wholly given over to contemplating Roch-ford himself. Three months ago the imprisoned Robert Dudley had made an enigmatic accusation aimed at the Lord Chancellor but had thus far refused to provide any details. Robert seemed to believe that even if his father were convicted today, William would be merciful as to the sentence and so there would continue to be time to consider the matter.
Dominic knew better.
The doors at the back of the hall opened and North-umberland was escorted in. The hall at Westminster was a rich backdrop to today’s trial. A stage had been erected in preparation, hung with tapestries and a canopy beneath which was a bench for North-umberland. Dominic viewed the tableau with a cynicism that he had learned from Roch-ford—the trappings might argue respect for the accused, but they served primarily to remind those watching how far the man had fallen.
Now in his early fifties, North-umberland had always been the image of a rough, plainspoken outsider, his physical presence a reminder of his military prowess. But today he looked diminished, his high, broad forehead and dark pointed beard emphasizing rather than hiding the new gauntness of his face. He conducted himself with gravity, three times reverencing himself to the ground before the judges. Dominic thought wryly it was the most humility he’d ever seen from John Dudley.
The hall was crowded with spectators, including members of London City’s guilds as well as diplomats and foreign merchants who would no doubt be taking careful notes and sending word of the proceedings far and wide across Europe. England had been the subject of intense Continental scrutiny for quite some time—what with her young and untried king, her inflammatory religious divide, and her highly desirable and unwed royal princess. England might not be a powerhouse like France or Spain, but it was very often the critical piece that determined the balance of power.
And now a peer of the realm was being tried for his life. Not to mention that a mere five months ago—despite a peace treaty— a French army had engaged English troops in battle on the Scots border, and since that time England’s king had been mostly absent from public view. Everyone in England and Europe knew that William had been ill, and some correctly guessed at the smallpox that had driven him to seclusion. Now even his own people were beginning to grow restless. They had waited years for William to grow old enough to take his father’s place as a reigning monarch. They were not content to leave the government in the hands of men like Roch-ford and North-umberland, rightly distrusting the motives of such powerful men. The people wanted their king.
This trial was the first step in appeasing the public. North-umberland was hugely unpopular. Although Dominic had not been in London when the duke and four of his sons were paraded through the streets to the Tower, he had heard countless versions of how they were booed and mocked, pelted with rotten fruit and even stones. With William not quite ready to return to public view yet, North-umberland’s trial for high treason was a distraction.
It was also a sham. The original plan had been to have Parliament pass an Act of Attainder against North-umberland, avoiding a public trial and allowing the Crown to quickly confiscate the duke’s lands. Granting him a trial instead in no way meant that North-umberland stood a chance of acquittal. There could be no doubt of the verdict; this trial was for the sole purpose of placating the populace.
Roch-ford opened the proceedings with a reading of the charges, none of which Dominic could dispute: the calculated secret marriage between North-umberland’s son, Guildford, and Margaret Clifford, a cousin to the king and thus in line to England’s throne. That disastrous marriage had been annulled after Margaret had given birth to a boy, but North-umberland’s impudence could not be overlooked in the matter. And then there was the damning charge of with intent and malice aforethought confining Her Highness, Princess Elizabeth, against her will: Dominic had seen firsthand the duke’s intent to keep hold of Elizabeth in his family castle until William agreed to listen to him. Related to that last was also the charge of raising troops against the king—again indisputable. For the last two charges alone, North-umberland’s life was forfeit.
But Dominic was less easy about the other charges that had been considered behind the scenes. Charges that North-umberland had conspired to bring down the Howard family two years ago, that the duke had offered alliance with the Low Countries, even claiming in writing that Elizabeth would be a more amenable ruler than her brother . . . Dominic had been the one to find those damning letters in North-umberland’s London home. He just wasn’t sure how much he believed in them. Papers could be forged. Letters could be planted. Witnesses could be co-opted to a certain testimony. And it hadn’t escaped his attention that those particular charges were not being tried in court today.
“We’ll keep it simple,” Roch-ford had said. “Leave out the messier aspects of North-umberland’s behavior.”
And that was why Dominic kept a wary eye on Roch-ford. Because the messy aspects of this business were also the most open to other interpretations. More than eighteen months ago, the late Duke of Norfolk had died in the Tower after being arrested for attempting to brand the king a bastard and have his half sister, Mary, crowned queen. Dominic now believed, as most did, that the Duke of Norfolk’s fall had been cleverly manipulated.
“What say you, John Dudley?” Roch-ford asked after the reading of the charges.
“My Lord Chancellor,” North-umberland responded, rising. His dark eyes, always alive with intelligence beneath the highly arched brows, looked at each juror in turn, and Dominic felt an unexpected grief at the imminent loss of this bright and capable man. “My lords all,” he continued, “I say that my faults have ever only been those of a father. I acknowledge my pride and ambition, and humbly confess that those sins have led me to a state I do greatly regret. But I have not and could never compass a desire to wish or inflict harm upon His Most Gracious Majesty. My acts were those of a desperate father to a willful son. Guildford’s death is greatly to be lamented, but I do desire nothing more at this time than to be reconciled to my king and his government.”
The presentation of evidence lasted only forty minutes; then North-umberland was led out of the hall and the jury retired to discuss their verdict. It took far less time than Dominic was comfortable with, and the outcome was never in doubt. Roch-ford and the twenty-year-old Duke of Norfolk (grandson of the man who had died in a false state of treasonable disgrace) were the most vehement of North-umberland’s enemies, but every other lord on the jury had cause to resent the duke’s arrogance and ambition. And as Dominic studied each man there, he was keenly aware of an undercurrent of fear, deeply hidden perhaps, but real. There was not a single peer present whose family title went further back than Henry VII’s reign, and most of them had been ennobled by Henry VIII or William himself. The Tudors had broken the back of the old hereditary nobility, raising instead men whose power resulted from their personal loyalty and royal usefulness. It was true of Dominic himself—the grandson of a king’s daughter, perhaps, but in more practical terms only a son of a younger son with no land or title at all until William had granted them to him.
Or consider Roch-ford, Dominic thought, who might have been only a talented diplomat or secretary if his sister had not been queen.
The problem with being raised up by personal loyalty was that one could as easily be unmade. And thus it was today—the jury would find North-umberland guilty because William wished it as much as because it was right. And after all, Dominic would vote guilty without more than a slight qualm, for he had ridden through the midst of North-umberland’s army last autumn and knew that it had been but a hairbreadth of pride and fear from open battle against the king.
They returned to the hall and North-umberland stood to face the jury as, one after another, each member personally delivered his verdict. Dominic saw the glint of tears in North-umberland’s eyes as Roch-ford pronounced the traditional sentence of a traitor—to be hung, drawn, and quartered—and concluded with, “May God have mercy on your soul.”
There was open triumph in George Boleyn’s voice.
Elizabeth was with her brother when Dominic and Roch-ford returned to Richmond to report on North-umberland’s trial. They met the two dukes in the palace library, a chamber William would once have overlooked. Not that he wasn’t well-read and intellectually curious, but before the smallpox that had nearly killed him at Christmas, William would more likely have been found playing cards or dice or tennis or riding through the royal park. Solitude and lassitude were new habits of the king.
Elizabeth studied her younger brother, noting worriedly that he had still not regained all the weight lost during his illness. William had always been tall and lean, but the hollows in his face were new, as was the paleness that could not be ascribed entirely to winter. The pallor of his face was accented by the carefully trimmed dark beard that made him look rather rakish in some lights. The beard was also new since the illness.
The library was not entirely empty of others, but the half-dozen quiet attendants in the chamber were there in case of sudden need, not as entertainment. They kept to themselves at one end of the library, giving the royal siblings plenty of privacy.
And of course, there was Minuette—though these days one hardly needed to specify her presence. Wherever William might be, Minuette was at his side. The only place she didn’t follow the king was his bed at night, and Elizabeth wondered how long that restraint would last. Since his illness, William’s devotion to the childhood friend he’d secretly betrothed had grown perilously near to obsession.
When Roch-ford and Dominic entered the library, the Lord Chancellor dismissed the attendants, then offered his official report of North-umberland’s conviction. William, seated beneath the col-ourful canopy of estate, received the news in frozen silence. Another lingering effect: his characteristic restlessness was often submerged beneath lengthy periods of stillness. When Roch-ford handed the king the execution order to sign, William took it without a word, almost as though he had no interest in the matter.
It was Elizabeth who said, “Thank you, Uncle.”
That stirred her brother enough to say flatly, “You may go. Lord Exeter will return the order to you shortly.”
Roch-ford gave them all a long, hard look—lingering with disapproval on Minuette seated so near the king that she was almost beneath the royal canopy of estate. As William intended her to be. There was a time when Minuette would have looked uneasy at Roch-ford’s fierce attention, but today she merely matched the chancellor’s stare with one of her own. It almost made Elizabeth smile. Minuette might look demure and innocent—in her gown of white and amber and with her honey-gold hair artfully arranged with jeweled combs—but her devotion to William was absolute. She would not be cowed from doing what she thought best.
And Roch-ford, for all his concern, was not ready to bring his discontent to open argument. Elizabeth knew it was coming—this inner circle of just the four of them could not be allowed to last much longer—but for today the Lord Chancellor held his tongue. He left them alone.
They had always been exceptionally close: the “Holy Quartet,” Robert Dudley had named them. But since his brush with death, William had kept his sister, his love, and his friend even tighter around him. Was it for comfort? Elizabeth wondered. Or protection?
Alone with those few he trusted absolutely, William stretched out his long legs in a gesture that made the tightness in Elizabeth’s shoulders ease. She rejoiced with every moment that spoke of William as he had been before.
“Sentenced to be hanged, disemboweled, and quartered,” William said to Dominic, of North-umberland’s fate. “I’ll commute that to beheading, of course.”
“You have nothing to plead else?”
Elizabeth tightened again. They had not told William of Robert Dudley’s plea to see her, of his claim that another man had as much to do with North-umberland’s fall as his own actions. But despite their silence, William knew Dominic very well. Clearly he sensed there was more than just the usual caution behind his friend’s reserve.
But Dominic did not hesitate. “North-umberland held Elizabeth and Minuette against their will in Dudley Castle. He raised an army that could only have been meant to be used against you. I have nothing to plead for him.”
William nodded, then stood and crossed to the table where pen and ink waited. The Duke of North-umberland must die. The three of them watched as he signed in swift, bold strokes—Henry Rex. His father’s name. His ruling name.
He handed the signed order to Dominic, as always entrusting his closest friend to see his will carried out. Of all of them, Dominic appeared the least changed by William’s recent near-death. Reserved, loyal, darkly watchful . . . only now and again did Elizabeth see Dominic’s green eyes gleam with emotions she could not always name. The gleam today seemed to her one of approval or possibly, like herself, relief that William had taken another step to returning to himself.
As though he read their minds and wished to increase their happiness, William said abruptly, “I’ve settled on Easter for our return to London. We’ll spend it at Whitehall and celebrate lavishly. Masques, tournaments, riding through the streets to Westminster Abbey for service . . .”
Elizabeth added tartly, still trying to gauge when and how to speak to her brother as before, “All elaborately designed to set people’s minds at rest and give them reason to rejoice in their brilliant king.”
Through everything—Roch-ford’s report, William signing North-umberland’s death—Minuette had not moved and her expression had not altered. Another change: that the girl once so bright and merry and easily read now kept her own counsel to a frightening degree. Everything she did seemed calculated for William’s sake.
At last she stood and walked to William, facing the king without touching him. There was something poignant, almost painful about the pairing, an indefinable twinge that set Elizabeth’s heart wringing, as Minuette smiled gravely and said to William, “The people are waiting to rejoice in their brilliant and handsome king.”
William flinched slightly and kept himself angled a little away from Minuette’s gaze. Keeping his left side turned always to the shadows.
The smallpox, which had covered his face and chest and arms wholly, had not scarred so thoroughly. Indeed, he had healed almost cleanly, and if one looked at him from the right, one saw only the perfect face with which he’d been born. But on the left, the sores had left a brushstroke of scars behind, like a brush swept carelessly across a canvas.
Minuette was the only one who dared speak of it openly, or to touch. She did so now, resting her hand on William’s ruined cheek, which was only partially covered by his newly grown beard. “The people love you, Will, as we do. The rejoicing will be honest. What matters more than that you are still here?”
Only Minuette could make William smile these days. He did so now, and Elizabeth thought if only her brother could be brought to smile more, to be himself more, to quit brooding on the scars, that people would hardly notice them. We see what we expect to see, she thought. Will must make people expect to see only the king and all will be well.
Minuette slipped into Richmond’s Newe Park well after dark, shivering in the glooming fog. Only when William retired for the night did he release her from his presence, and then only because he intended to drink heavily before bed. Minuette knew she would have to deal with the drinking at some point, but for now she was only too glad to have the night hours for her husband. The dark was their ally. Their only ally these days.
It was all supposed to have been finished by now. They had wed secretly (and illegally and, according to the Protestants, heretically) last November, with every intention of confessing to the king at Christmas. Then William had been stricken with smallpox. And in the space of days when they feared for his life, plans and confessions had fallen to the wayside.
But not their marriage. And not our love, Minuette thought as Dominic wrapped her in a fierce embrace, his cloak enfolding them both. As she knew every line of his body in the dark, she also responded to his every thought and desire before they were ever expressed, and so their kiss was not so much one of welcome after a long day of secrecy but a kindling of their longed-for marriage bed. Minuette had come to think of herself in these last weeks as one of the marble statues she might come across in the palace or garden. Lovely and impeccable and unfeeling, confined to an ordained form and unable to move at will.
But every time she came into Dominic’s arms, the marble shattered and she was a woman again: warmed and passionate and imperfectly real. Before their marriage, Minuette had thought Dominic cold in his behavior, frustrated by the control that left her bewildered and wondering if he wanted her at all. Their weeks at Wynfield Mote as husband and wife had broken that illusion forever and so, even though they could not abandon themselves completely at court, the memory of his hands tracing every inch of her body before following the path with his mouth heated her blood. Tonight she could almost feel that her palms rested on Dominic’s bare chest and not the black wool of his doublet.
At last, much too soon, they drew apart just enough to breathe. Minuette let herself rest in Dominic’s embrace, his cloak sheltering them both from the petulant wind of too-early spring. Her only peace in an increasingly turbulent world.
“What will happen to his sons?” she asked quietly. She did not need to specify North-umberland’s four sons; Dominic read her these days with an ease that went beyond familiarity to the almost uncanny.
“It is the duke himself people hate. His sons will remain in prison for now, but I suspect they will be safe. Not their lands or titles, though—there will not be another Duke of North-umberland for a long time. But I think John Dudley would count the title well lost if it saves his sons.”
“Does he still expect to be pardoned?”
She felt Dominic’s shrug. “I suppose I will find out when I deliver the order tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry it has to be you.”
“Better me than Roch-ford. At least I will not gloat quite so openly.”
She drew a little away, so she could see his face—or at least its outlines—as she asked, “What are you going to do about Robert’s accusations?”
“When am I going to tell Will about them, do you mean? One step at a time, my love. First let’s get him back into the world. Spring is upon us, which means campaigning, which means we’ll find out if the French intend to continue their aggressions. I’m watching Roch-ford, but honestly, after destroying Norfolk and North-umberland, who is left for the man to bring down?”
“You,” Minuette answered softly but firmly. “And me. Roch-ford does not trust your influence with the king, and he despises me heartily.” She hesitated over the next part, for she knew her husband’s mind, but one of them had to be practical. “Do you never think that, rather than being our enemy, we could turn Roch-ford to our best ally?”
Against William, she meant, or at least the king’s anger. Because William was going to be angry. He was going to be furious when he found out they had married behind his back. While Minuette was secretly betrothed to William himself.
She often wondered what she could have done differently. How had they come to this, the lies and the betrayals? But she and Dominic had made their choices and they could not be unmade. All that could be done now was to mitigate the damage. And for that, they would need allies.
Elizabeth was the obvious choice, but Minuette would not burden her friend with this when she had been so worried about her brother. Besides, the princess had her own touchy royal pride and might not be entirely understanding. But Roch-ford was, above all, practical. Combined with the fact that he wanted nothing more than to ensure his nephew did not marry a common girl for love alone, and the chancellor seemed the perfect choice to counsel and aid them.
If only Dominic could be persuaded.
She read his resistance in the hard lines of his chest and shoulders and was not surprised when he shook his head. “I do not trust Roch-ford in the least. And I will not attempt to ally myself with a man who may be a traitor simply because it is convenient for me.”
There had been no real chance of a different response. Where Roch-ford’s core principle was practicality, Dominic’s was honour. He would never use a man he despised simply because it could benefit him. Minuette had not really expected him to agree. She had only proposed it so he could not accuse her later of acting without consulting him first.
She could never regret having married Dominic, secret and hurried as it had been. But from the moment William’s eyes had opened and his slow recovery began, Minuette had felt a great pressure that spoke of unavoidable disaster. She didn’t know what form it would take or when it would strike, but every choice she made each day seemed designed only to delay the flood that threatened to overwhelm them all.
Once, she’d been confident in her ability to find a solution that would preserve not only themselves as individuals, but their friendships. Now her confidence was gone and when she wept, which was often, it was for a tangle of troubles far beyond her abilities to solve.
At such times there was a terrible whisper in her head, poisonous and treasonous. If only William had not survived . . .
She buried herself in Dominic’s arms once more to shut out that thought. William had survived and she was glad of it, and if there were terrible prices to be paid in future she would pay without faltering.
“It will be all right,” Dominic whispered, his hands stroking her hair. “It shall all come right in the end.”
And there was a measure of how the world had upended itself: that Dominic had all the confidence and she all the doubt.
“After the execution, I will speak to Robert again,” Dominic continued. “Perhaps his father’s death will loosen his tongue and he’ll provide evidence against Roch-ford.”
And whether he does or not, Minuette thought, I shall have to make my own choice about whether to approach Roch-ford.
Reading Group Guide
3 July 1546
Hampton Court Palace
Only when forced to move his uncomfortably corpulent body did King Henry VIII feel the burden of his age and ill-health. In his mind he was still in his prime: rising forty, limber on horseback, three steps ahead of everyone in his court, passionately wed to a queen who might frustrate at times but just as often satisfied his every physical and intellectual desire. These days he moved as little as possible, preferring to make the world come to him in only slightly more literal a manner than during the more than thirty-five years of his reign.
But today he endured the indignities of being helped into the privy gardens of Hampton Court, settling into a wide gilded chair beneath a portable canopy of estate that shielded him from the erratic summer sun, then dismissed the hangers-on in order to ponder the tableau before him.
He fancied for a moment that Cardinal Wolsey, so long dead, looked approvingly over his shoulder at the gardens that had once been the Cardinal’s own. How could Wolsey complain of his treatment at the king’s hands when at the far end of the gardens stood the living proof that Henry had been right all those years ago? Henry’s son, royal and healthy. A dark-haired boy like Anne, but with the king’s own sea-blue eyes and an unconscious litheness of body that Henry envied. He shifted restlessly in his seat, the pain of his long-injured leg stabbing a reminder of his own rapid aging. Prince Henry William Tudor (it was the king who had insisted on the second name, harking back to William the Conqueror) had just celebrated his tenth birthday, born forty-five years to the day after King Henry himself.
“Should I summon him?” Anne’s seductive voice had not changed in fifteen years. She leaned gracefully over his shoulder and smiled at their son. “I think you’re making all the children nervous.”
“They’ll not be children for long.” Henry, like Anne, studied the quartet of youths, who knew perfectly well they were being watched but had been instructed by the royal guards to continue with their own amusements.
William, naturally, was the center of the group, although often as not he was twinned with the Wyatt girl who was of an age with her future king. The child’s hair was the color of honey, and Henry thought she would grow into a beautiful woman. Her mother had certainly been, though in the days he’d known her Henry had been obsessed almost wholly with Anne.
The other two in the group had something of the same watchful, wary aspect to them though physically they were nothing alike. Elizabeth was a daughter to be proud of, so very Tudor with her red-gold hair like a banner and her mind as sharp as a blade. She reminded Henry of his youngest sister, Mary, though he hoped his daughter would behave with rather more sense where her personal life was concerned. And then there was the Courtenay boy—though not so much a boy. He was fifteen, a skillful swordsman and an instinctively talented soldier. More importantly, he was naturally self-effacing and loyal, qualities that would stand him in better stead than the ambition and deviousness of too many court members.
“Send William and Courtenay to me,” Henry told Anne. “You may take the girls off with you. I wish to speak to the boys alone.”
Dominic followed two paces behind William, wondering why he’d been included in what was obviously meant to be a father-son discussion before they parted ways. Tomorrow William would return with his own household to Ashridge while King Henry and the court moved on to Whitehall. Dominic knew the girls were as curious about his inclusion as he was. Elizabeth had turned considering eyes upon him, thoughtful as was her wont, and Minuette had very nearly spoken up in surprise. But, in Queen Anne’s presence, she’d managed to turn her surprise into a charming farewell.
The royal privy gardens of Hampton Court were alight with brilliant colours and awash in the heady fragrance of flowers and cut grass. Because of the constant pain in his legs, King Henry was rarely seen standing and today he waited for them in his great carven chair, so heavily gilded it outshone the summer sun.
Dominic made his quiet obeisance expecting to do no more than shadow the young prince as usual. But it appeared the temperamental king had something specific to say to him.
His blue eyes fixed piercingly on Dominic, King Henry announced, “Lord Rochford has recommended that you be knighted at Christmas. What say you to that?”
Caught by surprise, and never easy with words, Dominic fumbled his response. “Lord Rochford is very kind, Your Majesty.”
Henry treated that statement with the contempt it deserved. “My brother-in-law has never been kind in his whole life, boy. If he says you’re ready, then you are. But why wait until Christmas? You’ll return to court next month, both of you, when the Admiral of France arrives to ratify the peace treaty. We’ll conduct the knighting then.”
The king turned those intense eyes on his son, who was trying to suppress his delighted grin. “I take it that pleases you, William?”
“Yes, Father. May I knight him?”
The king huffed in disbelief. “You’re a child, yet, and no knight yourself. Think you to step into my place so soon?”
For all his youth, William had his mother’s shrewdness. “No, Father. But how shall I be prepared to rule if I am never allowed to do anything?”
“Ha!” Henry gave a genuine shout of laughter. “A question I long pondered with my own father. Now there was a man for holding tightfisted to power. And money. And every possible privilege he could grasp. I daresay he thought he’d live forever and he was not overeager to teach me to follow him.”
“But you are wiser, Your Majesty.” William’s submissive tone didn’t quite hit the right note, and Dominic winced inwardly. King Henry did not care for clumsy flattery.
With narrowed gaze, the king said, “Don’t try to finesse me, boy. Only your mother has ever dared that. No, you may not knight your friend here, but perhaps . . . What say you, Courtenay? Is His Highness the Prince of Wales prepared to assume more royal responsibility?”
“I am certain your wisdom will guide you, Your Majesty.” And please stop asking me questions, Dominic thought desperately. He was always afraid of putting a foot wrong and losing the capricious king’s affection.
But today there was real approval in the king’s expression. “A careful man you will make, Courtenay. Mark that trait, William, and value it. When one is king, any friend is to be cherished. But a careful friend all the more so. Charles Brandon was as good a friend as I ever had, but his lack of care led him very near the edge on occasion.”
“As when he married my aunt?” William said thoughtlessly.
Under his breath, Dominic muttered, “William.”
For the length of several seconds, King Henry seemed to gauge how offended to be at his son’s impertinence. At last, he said with only slight coolness, “As when he married your aunt without my knowledge or permission. I hardly know myself why I forgave them, save I loved them both so well. And what is a man without family or friends? As long as no one forgets there is only one king.”
“Well,” William said, and this time his tone of teasing was perfectly judged, “I don’t think Dominic would run away with Elizabeth without my permission. Dominic never looks twice at any girl.”
“There’s a world of difference between the ages of ten and fifteen,” King Henry said knowingly. Wondering how the hell he kept being dragged into this awkward conversation, Dominic endured the king’s look of sly amusement with burning cheeks. “I’ll wager he looks twice, and more than looks.”
Then that amusement—as though the king knew all about Dominic’s awkward encounters last winter with the innkeeper’s daughter—was replaced by the unmistakable bite of authority. “But it’s true, Courtenay, and I take my son’s point: you have not Charles Brandon’s recklessness. Nor your uncle of Exeter’s. And all the better for you.”
Dominic swallowed against the memory of his uncle’s treasonous end and his own father’s possible entanglement in the affair, and bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty,” he said, in fervent agreement.
The king leaned back in his chair, looking all at once tired and heavy with every one of his fifty-five years. “Rochford will make the arrangements for your knighting. And when you return to court, William, you may be my deputy in some of the matters with the Admiral of France.”
William bowed solemnly. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
The king dismissed them and Dominic felt air return to his lungs as though he’d been underwater during the entire encounter. As they walked toward the river, he caught the unusually pensive expression on William’s young face. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
“That I don’t want to get old,” William said. “I don’t want to be . . . I want to be young, Dom, and strong forever.”
“Better to grow old than to die young, Will.” Surely Dominic’s own father would have gladly traded the chance to be old and infirm rather than to die of a brief illness in the Tower before the age of forty.
But the practicality of Dominic’s words were lost on the young prince. “I may grow older, but I will not end confined to a litter chair whenever I wish to move.”
And then, with a familiar stubborn expression and the lofty tone of one born to rule, William announced, “Just wait, Dom. I will rule myself as well as I rule my kingdom until the very last day of my life.”
1. The Duke of Norfolk declares: “William is his father all over again—what he wants, he gets” (page 257). Do you agree with Lord Norfolk’s assessment? Why or why not?
2. Elizabeth tells William that she can always be trusted to put England’s good before her own personal interests (page 367). Are her actions in England’s best interest? Do you agree with her assessment of her motives, or is she serving her own personal interests? Had William not murdered Robert Dudley and confined Elizabeth to the Tower, do you think she would still consider William’s death and her own ascension to be in England’s best interest? What are Elizabeth’s defining characteristics that make her a more desirable monarch than William?
3. Discuss the theme of loyalty in this book. William and Elizabeth often are faced with choices related to balancing loyalty to their family versus loyalty to their country’s interests. Minuette and Dominic are forced to choose between loyalty to each other and their own personal happiness and loyalty to their life-long friends and personal senses of honor and duty. What choices would you have made in their positions? Which character do you consider to be the most loyal?
4. On page 278, Minuette asks herself: “Am I whore, or am I savior?” What do you think of her bargain with William? Are her actions disloyal to Dominic? What would you have done in her position? Does Minuette’s history with William and the fact that her heart, “so long twined with William in friendship, would demand its share of [that] hour” (page 278) color your opinion of her actions? Why do you think Minuette later refuses to make a similar bargain with William in exchange for Dominic’s life?
5. After William had all-but announced his engagement to Minuette, was there any reaction he could have had to the news of her secret wedding and miscarriage (short of labeling her a traitor) that would have enabled him to save face at court? How could he have reacted differently without becoming a laughing stock in England and abroad? Considering how much he fought for the right to marry her (with his council and foreign ambassadors pushing for a strategic marriage) was his reaction reasonable in the context of the time? How would you react if similarly betrayed by a close friend?
6. On page 224, Minuette asks herself “At what point could pain have been avoided?” How would you answer this question? Was there a moment at which Minuette could have acted differently in order to spare William’s pride and feelings? If so, what should she have done?
7. At one point, the Duke of Norfolk tells Dominic “You were a traitor the moment you took [Minuette] from [William]” (page 261). Do you agree? Was Dominic a traitor? If so, at what point did his actions become treasonous? If not, what label would you give his choice to deceive the King?
8. What do you make of Minuette’s refusal to tell William the last lie that could have granted herself and Dominic safety? Considering they had been lying for a year, why do you think she chose the moment before they were scheduled to flee to come clean?
9. William had to make several difficult decisions regarding the lives of family members, significantly his half-sister Mary and his uncle George Boleyn; how do you think those decisions impacted him? Did they pave the way for his later decisions to convict Dominic and Minuette of treason, and to imprison his sister? What would you do if a family member or close friend posed a serious threat to your position, success, and happiness, personally or professionally? What if the threat were to your country?
10. How have the various relationships between the four central characters evolved over the course of the series? Compare the William in The Boleyn King to the one who rides to battle the Duke of Norfolk in The Boleyn Reckoning. How has his leadership style changed over the course of his reign? To what do you attribute these changes?
11. Is it possible for royalty to have true friendships, or is William right in thinking otherwise? Is it necessary for those in power to have an attitude toward mistrust? If so, can friendships exist anyway, or is perfect trust required for true friendship? What is your reaction to William’s decision to execute Mary Tudor? Was this the right choice for his government? What about for him on a personal level?
12. What is your reaction to William’s decision to execute Mary Tudor? Was this the right choice for his government? What about for him on a personal level?
13. What impact (if any) did the death of Jane and the loss of his son have on William?