THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL
Philippa Gregory

 


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Scribner Paperback Edition 2002
Reviewer Sissy Jacobson

1521-1536 Tudor England

King Henry VIII needs a male heir to the throne. He and Queen Katherine of Aragon have been married many years, but following a series of miscarriages, stillbirths, and one son who lived only three months, their only child is young Princess Mary. Time is running out for them; Katherine is thirty-seven. The people are beginning to blame the queen for the lack of an heir, since Henry has sired an illegitimate son by Bessie Blount, and christened him Henry Fitzroy.

The Boleyn/Howard family is popular at court. They are also exceedingly ambitious. When Henry’s roving eye falls on fourteen-year-old Mary Boleyn Carey, the family decrees she is to be separated from her husband of two years and sent to share a room in the queen’s chambers with Anne, her fifteen-year-old sister. If she becomes the king’s mistress, he must be certain any child from that union is his.

Mary is not happy to be leaving her husband, nor is she pleased about hurting Queen Katherine. Mary, the youngest and most favored lady in waiting, loves and admires the queen. Mary’s husband, William Carey, along with her brother, nineteen-year-old George, are favorites of the king. However, both William and Mary understand that her family must be obeyed.

Known around court as the three delightful Boleyns, their task is to plan entertainments for the king’s pleasure. He is never allowed to be bored. Mary, Anne, and George do their jobs well. It isn’t long before the king takes Mary to his bed. Their first child is a girl they name Catherine Carey.

Mary’s husband is given a knighthood and five parcels of land, and the Boleyn/Howard family is elevated in status at court and also given more property. When Mary gives Henry a son, he is acknowledged by the king and named Henry Carey. Sir William and the Boleyn/Howard family again benefit financially and in status with this birth. This is Henry’s second son but still no legitimate heir.

While Mary, expecting their second child, is unable to sleep with the king, the family decrees that Anne is to keep the king entertained. Vivacious, beautiful, quick-witted, Anne has long discussions with the king on a wide range of subjects, including theology. How far will Anne go with her discussions, flirting and entertaining while Mary is unavailable?

Before Philippa Gregory began writing THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, she studied the accepted histories of the period. She then made a timeline showing all the dates the characters were at court, which palace they were at on those dates, the rise and fall of sub-players, "noting especially the dates of birth of the children and miscarriages, and counted backward to see when the child was conceived." She visited the principal sites of the story and had discussions with expert historians. "The history is the structure of the story; that gives me the plot." The author states that all choices she makes from the sometimes-debatable histories can be defended as historical probability. "The history is the skeleton and the fiction is the breath." Ms Gregory also states, "Everything which deals with feelings and motivations are creative work rather than research work, of course."

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is fascinating in that we learn so much history from it. The frenetic pace with which the court is constantly vying for favor is tiring, the characters are real historical figures, and events such as the rise of Anne Boleyn, the eviction of the pope from England, and Henry becoming the head of the Church of England all come alive to us. If you like history, which I do, you will love THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. I highly recommend it to anyone in the mood for some in-depth fiction of this particular time in English history.

August 2004

 

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