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We know that Mary Boleyn (who died in 1543) is Anne Boleyn's sister, and that she apparently had affairs with both King François I of France, and King Henry VII of England. We know, too, that she married twice and apparently had two children. Most historians suggest that she is the eldest of the three surviving Boleyn children: Mary, Anne and George. The royal affairs may have made Mary notorious, but there is little to suggest that she had any influence or power in either the English or French courts. Many will be familiar with the portrayal of Mary Boleyn in `The Other Boleyn Girl' by Philippa Gregory, and the films based on it.

`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. Mary's role in these events and her relationships with these people can be inferred but are not known with certainty.

The strength of Ms Weir's book, for me, is that she largely dispels the myths about Mary's supposed promiscuity. It seems highly likely that, as Ms Weir writes, Mary Boleyn's affair with Henry VIII was discreetly conducted. Otherwise, if Katharine of Aragon had been aware of it she could have used the fact of it in the defence of her own marriage, and surely would have. Henry VIII's argument for annulling his marriage to Katharine so he could marry Anne Boleyn was based on Katharine's earlier marriage to Henry's older brother Arthur. Henry having an affair with Anne's sister Mary created the same degree of affinity.

Those without some background in Tudor history might find this book challenging. As a Tudor enthusiast I found it provided some interesting food for thought.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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