Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings Hardcover – Oct 4 2011
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Praise for Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
“[Weir] is well equipped to parse the evidence, ferret out the misconceptions and arrive at sturdy hypotheses about what actually befell Anne.”—The New York Times
“Well-researched and compulsively readable . . . Acclaimed novelist and historian Weir continues to successfully mine the Tudor era, once again excavating literary gold.”—Booklist
“It is a testament to Weir’s artfulness and elegance as a writer that The Lady in the Tower remains fresh and suspenseful, even though the reader knows what's coming.”—The Independent (U.K.)
“Compelling stuff, full of political intrigue and packing an emotional wallop.”—The Oregonian
About the Author
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of several historical biographies, including The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and of the novels Captive Queen, Innocent Traitor, and The Lady Elizabeth. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
`There is no escaping that an air of mystery pervades every aspect of Mary Boleyn's life. There is so much we don't know about her, and only so much we can infer from the scant sources that have survived.'
In this biography, apparently the first full-length biography published about Mary, Ms Weir seeks to identify the truth about Mary and her life. Was Mary promiscuous? On what basis was she known as `The Great and Infamous Whore'? What evidence exists to support the birth order of the Boleyn sisters? Ms Weir also sets out to examine Mary's time and reputation in France, the details of her affair with Henry VIII and the possible children born as a consequence. Ms Weir touches, as well, on Mary's treatment by her family as well as the relationship between Mary and Anne.
Unfortunately, because so little source material exists in relation to Mary, she does not emerge from the shadows of history. What Ms Weir provides is a framework for her life, a description of significant events (and people) which took place during her life time.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book explains, in wonderful detail, the life and times of Henry VIII, his courtiers and his women. The story of Mary Boleyn, who apparently bore a child by Henry, is fascinating. In contrast to recent movie and TV productions, her life is revealed in a truthful, interesting and honest fashion.I most enjoyed the attention to detail and the explanations of what would have been considered normal at the time that these issues occurred. Times have certainly changed! The description of the life of the Boleyn girls while at the French court is an amazing soap opera, full of scandal and intrigue. The English court is much the same.
Her relationship with her more famous sister, Anne, is throughly covered. The probing insight into the character of Henry VIII was quite revelatory. Instead of the horrible monster which has been betrayed, he is shown as having some endearing qualities (while young) and as being no better or worse than many of his contemporaries.
I found myself reading this book far into the night, riveted to the exciting story. This book is a wonderful discovery and I plan on reading more books by the author.
Weir starts out by debunking the rumors, persistent for years, let alone centuries, that Henry was sexually prudish and might even have had an erectile problem. Since marital relations were forbidden when a woman was pregnant, Henry, during all of Katherine of Aragon's pregnancies, had plenty of time and opportunity to find gratification elsewhere. Although not a lecher like his brother king Francis I across the Channel, Henry got around. But Weir debunks the often cited rumor that Henry had syphilis. If he had had the disease he would have been treated with mercury, and since all the medical potions he took are minutely recorded it is exceedingly doubtful that he ever had syphilis. Mary Boleyn's second child, Katherine, was very likely fathered by Henry. Weir gives substantial evidence. Henry probably also fathered a child named Etheldreda by a palace laundress. There are probably other bastards but the only one Henry acknowledged was Henry Fitzroy, the son of the mistress that preceded Mary Boleyn, Bessie Blount. Fitzroy died at seventeen years of age, shortly after his stepmother, Anne Boleyn, was executed.
Weir's book is turgid with facts and if you are not a gung-ho Tudor enthusiast you may find "Mary Boleyn" daunting and just too full of details. However, Tudor fans will be purring. Through the ages Mary's first husband, William Carey is often pawned off as a nobody. He actually was a fine catch, being one of the privileged gentlemen in King Henry's Privy Chamber and even distantly related to the King. These young men were chosen for their multiple talents, which included jousting, tennis playing, witty conversation and even card playing savvy. They had also to be totally trustworthy because of their close proximity to the King. Mary may never have loved William Carey, we simply don't know, and there is plenty of evidence she became Henry's mistress shortly after her marriage. There is also credible evidence she had also shared the bed of Francis I when she was in France for Mary Tudor's wedding to Louis XII, but luckily for her, she was never considered tarnished goods.
Some historians believe that Henry actually quizzed Mary about Francis' performance in bed and how did Henry's prowess compare with that of his fellow king? We don't know Mary's reply, but I imagine she was pretty tactful. Weir thinks Henry probably forced Mary to be his concubine. He could not force Anne when he started pursuing her, but Mary was a very different personality. Mary kept her head, literally, by being compliant and being very discrete.
Mary Boleyn had two children during her marriage to Carey. Henry, the eldest, was thought by some contemporaries and historians to be the bastard of the king but as Weir explains at great length,a royal paternity was very doubtful. The second child, Katherine, had red hair, and according to Weir bears a resemblance to both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. Henry VIII would never acknowledge a bastard daughter. Katherine grew up to marry Francis Knollys, and Mary Boleyn's granddaughter was the famous Lettice Knollys whose second husband was Elizabeth I's love, the Earl of Leicester. (Lettice's first husband was Robert Devereaux and the couple were parents of the ill-fated Earl of Essex).
As other reviewers have noted "Mary Boleyn" is not a book about the Tudors for you to cut your teeth on if you are not well acquainted with sixteenth century England, However, if you are well steeped in Tudoriana, this book will fill in a lot of cracks. Henry VIII especially emerges quite differently out of the pages of history as more of a roué than hitherto surmised, but not a vulgar libertine like Francis I. He emerges, too, as a bit more likeable, at least when he was young, and Mary Boleyn steps a bit more lively over the literary terrain because Weir fleshes her out. Other figures including Anne Boleyn and Mary's father Sir Thomas Boleyn, come to life under Weir's deft hand. If you are not heart and soul committed to Tudor England with substantial background information already tucked in your head, this fact- laden biography may be just too unpalatable to digest. The Tudor enthusiast will be astonished at the nuggets in this book and you will get the feeling Weir turned over every stone in London to get the facts for you.
We will follow Mary through her life. She is widowed when William Carey dies of the sweat. Henry VIII settled an annuity on her so that she was not destitute. It is often said that Mary got nothing from her liaison with the King, but the annuity kept her from poverty. She went on to marry a common soldier, William Stafford, which brought contempt pouring down on Mary's head for marrying far beneath her station. However, though her sister Anne, the Queen, sneered at her, Anne may have been jealous as Mary's second marriage was a love match on both sides. Anne had just miscarried a boy, a child that would have saved her. In later years Elizabeth I had a special fondness for Katherine Carey perhaps knowing that Katherine was actually her cousin. The Tudor line did not end with Elizabeth but flourished like the green bay tree. Many famous descendents claim Mary Boleyn's heritage, including Elizabeth II.
Some readers have complained that this latest Alison Weir book is a little dry and too academic. It's true that she doesn't have the admittedly more lyrical writing style of Antonia Fraser, her contemporary in English royalty non-fiction. Ms. Weir usually has a more objective, "just-the-facts" approach to topics, but still with enough interesting details to capture your attention.
The problem with this book is not with Ms. Weir's writing style, but with her subject matter. Since Mary Boleyn did not become Queen of England like her more famous sister Anne, there just is not enough documented historical evidence about her to create a fully rounded word portrait of her. Ms. Weir is often forced to resort to educated speculation to fill in the many gaps about her motivations and her actions, so we never get a clear idea of what sort of person Mary Boleyn really was. However, some of the speculation we do get is very interesting to fans of the Tudor period, such as the fact that Mary's daughter Katherine, the eldest of her two children, just may have been fathered by King Henry.
Read this book only if you're interested in factual details about the Tudor dynasty and want the real story about Mary Boleyn - what little is known of it.
I was NOT disappointed. There is no doubt that writing about Mary Boleyn isn't easy. Very little historical documents (original sources) exist about her. Still, her name has survived for centuries, and myths and half-truths have been built up around her. How to find the truth?
Alison Weir cleverly looks at all the documentation about anyone CLOSE to Mary Boleyn, including her grandparents, parents, famous sister and brother, first husband, second husband, children, and niece Elizabeth I. A lot can be deduced from what IS said versus what ISN'T said. I think she makes a fine argument for Henry Carey not being Henry VIII's son. I also agree with her argument that Katherine Carey was, most likely, his daughter.
I've read reviews that complain about how much this book is about other people. Well, again, Weir is looking for real facts before she goes to the secondary sources. Plus, if you read this book and believe it's all about Anne Boleyn...you've obviously never read a biography of Anne Boleyn. There's really very little here about Anne, given the facts and details history records about her. (See Weir's previous nonfiction works, "The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn" or "The Six Wives of Henry VIII," for example.)
BOTTOM LINE: Anyone looking for a romance novel or historical fiction, this is NOT for you. This is a biography. It is heavy on historical facts, lots of references, and details that wouldn't interest many people. On the other hand, if you like nonfiction, if you're tired of the historical novels and interested in where the myths started, check it out.
Especially when it comes to this batch of people, whose love-or-lust and obsessive desire for a son changed the whole of European history. Arguably we barely need fiction for this story, because the truth is so much more dramatic. Who needs a soap opera when you have Henry VIII as a main character... a man who, apparently, could not keep his sausage in his codpiece?
When I'm ready for the ACTUAL history -- written by a scholar who knows how to keep her reader engaged -- I have long turned to Alison Weir. I read her The Six Wives of Henry VIII whenever it came out (Amazon says 1991), and have scooped up at least half of her books since. She manages to tell us what we KNOW happened, based on historical records; to impart the historical assumptions (such as the motivations of people who might have badmouthed anyone else... yeah like there was any of THAT in Henry VIII's era...); and to present us with the most likely "what really happened." Which is to say: Weir is easy to read and reliably interesting.
And Weir does this exceedingly well in her biography of Mary Boleyn, a woman who faded into relatively obscurity... which, apparently, was exactly what Mary intended. Her sister and brother had their heads whacked off, but Mary managed to marry the guy she WANTED to marry, and to get her butt out of court so that she might have a decent chance at a reasonable life. Given the royal circus, that was likely the most sane outcome of anyone in the vicinity.
Despite that obscurity, Mary Boleyn was influential -- not the least of which is because she was, as the title says, "the mistress of kings." Or so the evidence implies... at least it implies it with a jackhammer. For example, Henry's argument that his marriage to Queen Catherine was invalid because she had been his brother's wife, and it was a no-no to get it on with a sibling. That became a stumbling block with his proposed marriage to Anne because, well, um, he'd carried on with her sister. Weir traces the who-when-and-how, little of which is easy to figure out (not even birth years are obvious, much less the timeframe for the Henry-and-Mary hanky panky).
And Weir illuminates us with "How about that!" facts along the way.
For instance, in an interview I read long ago, Phillipa Gregory said that she was inspired to write The Other Boleyn Girl by discovering that Henry had a pleasure boat named the Mary Boleyn; it made her say, "Who the heck was that?" Weir demonstrates that it almost certainly had nothing to do with Henry's relationship with Mary Boleyn; the king bought at least one other boat from her father Thomas Boleyn, and probably didn't change the name. So much for the historical accuracy of a writer's muse; I'm glad Gregory didn't know about that or we would have missed out on a lovely historical novel.
One "aha!" for me was Weir pointing out that Anne Boleyn was probably RH Negative. All the evidence points to that, at least: one healthy birth (Elizabeth), followed by a late-term miscarriage (probably a boy), and then a series of miscarriages. I'm not sure it changes anything, but somehow I like having a logical explanation.
All in all, this was an enjoyable book that filled in a the gaps in my knowledge. I won't press it upon you and insist you read it, but if you are into the Henry VIII era it is a no-brainer.