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Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,211 Ratings  ·  424 Reviews
Sister to Queen Anne Boleyn, she was seduced by two kings and was an intimate player in one of history’s most gripping dramas. Yet much of what we know about Mary Boleyn has been fostered through garbled gossip, romantic fiction, and the misconceptions repeated by historians. Now, in her latest book, New York Times bestselling author and noted British historian Alison Weir ...more
Hardcover, 364 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Best Books About Mistresses
49th out of 346 books — 658 voters
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Best Books About Tudor England
98th out of 510 books — 1,341 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I think the real problem with biographies of lesser known women in history, is that there just isn't enough known information out there about them to make their biographies interesting. Women's lives just weren't recorded in any detail so there is often no "paper trail" to follow and we just don't know what they thought or even where they were at any given time, so a biography like this one comes pretty much down to speculation from very little hard evidence or the author has to admit that we ju
Maia B.
Sep 06, 2011 Maia B. rated it it was ok
Correct me if I'm wrong, but biographies normally focus mostly on their subject, no? The vast majority of the pages in the book are given to whoever the author has chosen to write about. The biographee is supposed to emerge as a real person and not only a story by the end, and we are supposed to come away knowing a lot about him/herher.

If those are the standards for biographies, I'd say this book kind of fails. I've read Philippa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl" (but didn't enjoy it much), and
Dec 27, 2011 Hannah rated it it was ok
Rating Clarification: 2.5 Stars

I've enjoyed reading Alison Weir's non-fiction books for a long time, but sadly have to say that I think she did her fans a disservice with the publication of this book.

There is just too little known about the life of Mary Boleyn, and although I'm confident Weir did her best with the mountains of reference material culled by and available to her, this book suffered from far too much conjecture, speculation, and educated guesses. In the end, all Weir (and we as read
Rick F.
Jun 05, 2012 Rick F. rated it did not like it
too too too much facts and names and no narrative- I do not need to read 10 pages about what year Mary might have been born
Anne Boleyn this, Anne Boleyn that. Everyone always focuses on Anne. What about her sister, Mary? Alison Weir’s latest historical effort, contrives to bring some attention to Mary Boleyn.

The book begins with a slow start, as the first chapter focuses on whether Mary or Anne was the eldest sister. Unless you consider this crucial information you just can’t live without or if you have already made up your mind on the statistic; then this chapter isn’t vital to the whole of the book and you can ski
Sep 17, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing
Before you read this book, you need to decide whether you want a romanticized but historically inaccurate interpretation of what Mary Boleyn might have been like, or a serious historical biography that debunks myths and gives "just the facts, ma'am." If you are interested in the latter, then and only then should you dive into this book. I have been reading a lot about the Tudors and was perfectly happy to take a historically-based, no-myths-allowed look at what we know about Mary Boleyn, Anne's ...more
Oct 30, 2012 Kara rated it really liked it
Shelves: tudor-fact

It doesn't grab you by the throat and shake you the way her Lady in the Tower does, but it is very, very thoughtful, leaving the reader pondering possible new angles of the Tudor court and Mary Boleyn.

Also, I have never seen so many question marks in a book *ever*, which probably makes this the most honest history book ever.


Just bought a copy. Review of second-time-round thoughts to come.


For a long time, the British Historians Bathroom had graffiti scrawled on the stalls reading: ‘For
Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had a love affair that catalyzed a political and religious revolution in England. But years before they married, Henry had an affair--no one knows for how long, or how serious--with Anne's sister Mary. After writing numerous books about Henry VIII and his wives, Weir has set out to delve into the history of Mary Boleyn.

The problem is, there isn't much history to delve into. We have two letters by her, and some information about her travels during young adulthood. But w
poorvi cowkur
Jan 21, 2016 poorvi cowkur rated it really liked it
Obscured by the Henry and Anne Boleyn epic love saga, the story of Mary Boleyn has been lost to us,much of historical works relegating her to an insignificant character, popular as Henry's discarded mistress,in her family's sudden rise to fame and the cataclysmic fall that soon followed. Although this can be due to the fact that much of Mary's story is left incomplete in contemporary Tudor archives and only a few of her letters survive, it can be hard to identify, through the prejudiced voices o ...more
Since Philippa Gregory published the populist fictional novel The Other Boleyn Girl in 2002, the book has been turned into a BBC television series and a Hollywood movie, but as interest in Tudor England has experienced an upturn so too has the fog of myth and misconception surrounding the history. The blurb of this latest historical non-fiction claims to "[explode]... the mythology" surrounding Mary Boleyn and "[uncover] the facts", and I must admit I was curious to see what conclusions Weir's r ...more
Peter Weissman
Jun 30, 2012 Peter Weissman rated it really liked it
I read this book because I was asked by the publisher to copyedit it (which I do freelance, for several publishers). More precisely, in this case, to "unanglicize" the English version of Mary Boleyn for the American edition.

Though while editing I'm more involved in the text than the average reader--albeit less than usual on his assignment, which had been edited before and thus called for no "styling" from me--I do actually read the books I edit. (I'm asked about this often.) And as a reader, my
Well, then.
My life is a lie--as is everything I thought I knew about Mary Boleyn. Turns out Jean Plaidy's thoughtful portrait of her as this sweet, vague bed-hopper is just not on--unfortunately, nor is Plaidy's portrayal of Anne as a clever, intuitive person seeking to avoid sexual promiscuity because of what happened to her sister. Shame, because that was my favorite portrayal so far.
But helas...Anne's a bitch.
On the plus side, however, Mary's not a whore. Much. And she actually had a really
Jan 06, 2015 Meaghan rated it really liked it
This is quality I've come to expect from Alison Weir's royal biographies. Little is known about Mary, and there's much more conjecture than fact, but Weir was able to put together a detailed and reliable account of her life and the (tiny) part she played in Tudor history. I was surprised to see Weir listed Ethelreda Malt among Henry VIII's bastards, but whatever. A not-to-miss for Tudor junkies.
Rio (Lynne)
I didn't think I had much interest in this book. After being bored to death, by another book I was reading last night, I scanned the kindle looking for something else and this popped up. I decided to download a free chapter, next thing I knew I wanted to read the whole thing. I pretty much wanted to see if my beliefs about Mary coincided with Alison Weir's.......after all the false information out there about The Boleyns...thank you Ms. Gregory. The author's findings and theories paralleled to m ...more
Rebecca Huston
A fairly good look at the life of Mary Boleyn, with some attempt at accuracy. Weir sifts through what is actually known about Mary Boleyn, and works hard to dispell most of the more wild stories. On the other hand, there is so very little that is confirmed fact, that there's a lot of repetition and padding in this. Depending on how much you actually know about the time and history of the Tudors, you might or not like this book. I found it to be fairly readable, but the best part was actually in ...more
Steven Peterson
Apr 13, 2014 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
A nice biography--especially with so little information about its subject:

his is a well written book. It focuses on the life of Mary Boleyn--Queen Anne Boleyn's sister. The author, Alison Weir has a major challenge, though: There simply is not a great deal of information on the subject of this biography. And what there is is often contradictory, sketchy, political polemic of the time. . . .

The subtitle, "The Mistress of Kings," refers to alleged liaisons with French king Francois I and English k
Pauline Montagna
Mar 11, 2014 Pauline Montagna rated it liked it
This is really a book for historians and writers of historical fiction, as it can't be called a great read. However, for those who are interested in how history is written it is fascinating. We think we know Mary Boleyn from novels like The Other Boleyn Girl, but in reality very little is known about her and we would know even less if it weren't for her more famous sister. This is demonstrated by the pages and pages of careful reasoning and examination of small clues it takes just to establish M ...more
C.S. Burrough
Aug 08, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History readers
Like all Weir biographies this delivered and more, for me.

The historically sneered at 'loose' sister of Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII's favourite Gentleman of the Privy chamber, was the daughter of an Earl-envoy and Countess-Lady-in-Waiting to both Queen Elizabeth of York and Catherine of Aragon.

A queen's Maid-of-Honour, Mary was also the esteemed aunt of Elizabeth I. And the dearly beloved mother of two top ranking courtiers (her daughter Lady Knollys became chief Lady of Elizabeth's Bedchamb
Claire M.
Feb 15, 2012 Claire M. rated it liked it
Did I need to read yet another Tudor biography? Apparently. I think I have all of Alison Weir's books or damn near all of them. She always does a fine job of marshaling together the facts, and if she doesn't have the humor of Antonia Fraser or the truly biting (delicious) wit of David Starkey, then she makes up for it in a solid presentation that doesn't leave too many questions.

This is largely a book not so much about Mary Boleyn--because it becomes glaringly obvious very early on that you can
Jul 26, 2012 Amerynth rated it it was amazing
I have enjoyed reading all of Alison Weir's non-fiction books (I haven't read any of her fiction novels) and "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings" was no exception. The book is meticulously researched and well-sourced, allowing Weir to go about debunking some of the popular myths and legends about Mary Boleyn, which have been reinforced by decades of popular fiction (and now) television shows.

For those who don't know, Mary Boleyn was the mistress of Henry VIII years before her sister, the unfortu
Sep 19, 2011 Jaylia3 rated it really liked it
Mary Boleyn’s story is full of drama, twists of fate and changes in fortune. She was probably the mistress of both Francis I of France and Henry VIII, who was her sister Anne’s future husband, but based on an exhaustive study of the historical record Allison Weir believes Mary may have had very little choice in the matter both times. She was married off to William Carey, a marriage that was arranged by her family and approved by the king, and there is some indication that her daughter with Willi ...more
Oct 22, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: favourites
I had been greatly looking forward to reading this book from the first moment that I heard Alison Weir was writing a book on Mary Boleyn. Mary has always fascinated me, I think she is an extraordinary woman and it seems as though there is so little known about her life. I was eager to start reading Weir’s book in the hopes that I would learn a little more about the mystery that is Mary Boleyn.

Weir states that there is very little evidence at all to suggest that Mary was a “great and infamous who
Apr 07, 2013 Mer rated it really liked it
While there is very little on the historical record about the less (in)famous sister of Anne Boleyn, mistress to King Henry VIII, Weir has done a good job not only of piecing together what remains but theorizing about the grey area. While the tantalizing possibilities of phrases like "may have been" or "probably" became a bit grating after a time, and admittedly, much of the book is about Mary's contemporaries, looking at those what-if's in conjunction with the people with whom she surrounded he ...more
Having read less about the Tudor period than many other people who are interested in that time, I was really looking forward to reading the non-fictionalized story of Mary Boleyn. This book did tell me her story, but not always in the way that I was hoping.

There are lots of facts, a huge amount of information, but for my tastes, there was too much explaining why other researchers' and authors' conclusions were wrong. Much of that detail would have been, in my opinion, better put in footnotes or
Sep 22, 2011 Julie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, vine, fiction, tudor
Weir’s comprehensive portrait of Mary Boleyn effectively dismisses recent misconceptions made about her in books like The Other Boleyn Girl. She was not just the notorious whore sister of Anne Boleyn, jumping into bed with kings, as Weir’s meticulous research proves. Mary’s prominent place in court was due to her father’s ambition, first as an attendant to Mary Tudor in France, then in the extravagant courts of Francois I and Henry VIII. Yes, she was the mistress to two kings, but she also fulfi ...more
Oct 08, 2011 Suzanne rated it liked it
I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher, and was intrigued to hear the “true story” about Mary Boleyn, the mistress of King Henry VIII and sister of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Anyone who has read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory or watched Showtime’s The Tudors, is left with a confusing jumble of misinformation about Mary Boleyn. Alison Weir’s work of non-fiction is meticulously researched and for me, definitely set the record straight.

That said, I don’t think
Mary (BookHounds)
Nov 13, 2011 Mary (BookHounds) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, 2011, amazon-vine
Alison Weir is probably my favorite non fiction historical author since she can make the drollest facts read like fiction. She really brings to life the true story about Mary Boleyn based on excruciating details she unearths from snippets of letters, official royal documents and details that were overlooked by other biographers. Weir claims that Mary was probably not the "whore" history has portrayed her to be, but a victim of circumstance and was forced into a brief relationship with the King o ...more
May 23, 2012 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Having read Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl (and enjoying it somewhat, while finding many faults with it), I appreciated Alison Weir's biography of Mary Boleyn for its attempts to recuperate Mary through historical fact. However, although Weir claims in the introduction that there are many misconceptions and misrepresentations about Mary Boleyn that Weir intends to set straight, Weir's biography is riddled with mere suppositions, and she merely interprets, in a different way, the same f ...more
Alison Weir does it again. She has to dig deep into the historical record and ferret out a life that isn't well represented and is basically all rumour and hateration. Mary Boleyn only has two surviving letters, but we don't know anything about her besides the nicknames that history gave her. "A great and infamous whore." Reading any historical fiction on the subject of Henry VIII is nearly always inaccurate to some degree.

Now, to construct her portrait of Mary Boleyn, Weir definitely had to do
Oct 14, 2011 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The U.K. edition of this book was subtitled "The Great and Infamous Whore", so it's understandable that you might pick this up expecting salacious details and scandals. If so, you'll be disappointed (and may I direct you to Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl - trust me, you'll like it).

Alison Weir is an enjoyable writer, and her work is meticulously researched. The problem here is that there just isn't much verifiable information on the subject. Mary Boleyn is best known for her affair
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  • Mistress Anne
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  • Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth, 1527-1608
  • The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty
  • A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg
  • Catherine Howard: The Queen Whose Adulteries Made a Fool of Henry VIII
  • Henry VIII: Man and Monarch
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Alison Weir (born 1951) is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her
More about Alison Weir...

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