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King's Fool

King's Fool

by Margaret Campbell Barnes

About the Author

New York Times bestseller Margaret Campbell Barnes, now deceased, wrote several historical novels, including Brief Gaudy Hour, My Lady of Cleves, King’s Fool, The Tudor Rose, Within the Hollow Crown, With All My Heart, Isabel the Fair, The King’s Bed, Lady on the Coin, and Mary of Carisbrooke. Her novels have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

Reading Group Guide

1. Who is the real central character in King’s Fool?

2. In chapter two, Will says of himself, “I am one of those miserable sinners who hunger to be noticed. I need to bolster up my inadequacy with applause, as stronger men need breath.” What other characters does Will meet who are also this type of “sinner”?

3. In chapter five, as Joanna is extended to the first of the possible suitors her father finds for her, Will learns his “first valuable lesson about the power of ambition and the price which women are often called upon to pay for it.” What other women does Will later encounter who teach him more of the same lesson? In what ways do women today pay the price of men’s ambition?

4. Throughout the book, Margaret Campbell Barnes uses the hindsight of history to draw out the irony in Henry’s obsession with producing a male heir. In chapter nine, King Henry says to Will, “And what would happen to this country in the hands of a woman?” What do we know did happen? What is the irony behind his fears?

5. What moment in the story do you think marks the turning point in Will’s relationship with the king from one of service to one of intimate friendship?

6. In chapter thirteen, Will describes watching Queen Katherine of Aragon’s trial as “like storing in one’s mind a momentous hour of history.” Throughout the book, he is indeed an accidental witness to history. How does Will’s unique perspective and the author’s use of the first-person narrative give the reader a fresh view of a very familiar story?

7. The book splits quite evenly into two halves: The first is Henry’s reign and marriage with Queen Katherine of Aragon. The second half is the years following, with all of his other wives. We almost see two different kings, as well. Was there a specific turning point for the “two Henrys,” or was the change gradual?

8. Henry’s actions are driven by many different influences, though it can at times be hard to discern the root of his motivations. What are the political factors driving his actions? What are the religious factors? What do you think are the real, personal fears?

9. Thomas Wyatt says of Ann Boleyn in chapter eighteen, “It is often fear, do you not think, Will, which makes people relentless?” What is it that Anne fears? Is fear at the root of her dislike for Will?

10. After Anne Boleyn loses their second child, Henry blames her “for the whole up-turning of a Church and kingdom.” Can this blame really be laid entirely on Anne? Who else should be held responsible?

11. Throughout the book, how does Will’s attitude toward and relationship with the king change? What are the factors that cause this change?

12. Of all of Henry’s wives, it is his two foreign wives—Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves—who seem to manage him best. Why do you think that is? What qualities do each of these women exhibit that give them the ability to stand up to him as they do?

13. History has painted King Henry VIII as a tyrant, and he is most notably remembered for his remarkable number of marriages. Discuss Barnes’s portrayal of Henry. What about this Henry can you identify with, relate to, or even sympathize with?

14. What is the irony in the title King’s Fool?

Reading Group Guide written by Elizabeth R. Blaufox, great-granddaughter of Margaret Campbell Barnes


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