Kara's Reviews > Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir
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's review
Oct 30, 12

bookshelves: tudor-fact
Read from October 06, 2011 to October 30, 2012

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 a good time, call Mary B.’

Alison Weir snickered along with the rest of the pack, adding little doodles of Tudor roses doing suggestive things with melons, but, now, like a reformed bully, she is here to try and scrub the lewdness away, and to try and tell an accurate portrait of a real, complex, three dimensional woman, without all the crass innuendo. Finally, someone is here to do more than brush Ms. M. Boleyn off with a joke and a stereotype.

Weir digs down deep through the tertiary, secondary and primary sources, taking a hard look at the characters of the sources as well as bringing a modern day police investigation level of attention to means, motive and opportunity, putting special emphasis on issues of timing and motivation.

She starts with an aggressive look at when Mary might have been born and moves on from there, applying the same attitude of –do-we-know-this-or-are-we-just-repeating-gossip? throughout as she tries to figure out where – and when – Mary spent her girlhood, teenage years, and early twenties.

She puts a lot of effort into establishing when a woman was pregnant, since a woman in her third trimester was 99.9 % most likely not engaging in any extra-marital affairs and would restrict other activities, such as galloping across the countryside, which helps establish where a woman was in the months right before giving birth.

She examines what “everyone knows” about May – that she slept with the King of England and the King of France – and comes to the conclusion that just becomes “everyone” says so… doesn’t necessarily make it true. She finds a little evidence that Mary could, maybe, have slept with the two kings – but not as much as you’d expect, give how sure historians have been about those “facts” for the past 400 years.

If she did sleep with Henry VIII, then it was an extremely well-kept secret, an affair conducted with absolute discretion – and with virtually no material gains for Mary.

Then a very close examination of who was the father of Mary’s two children. Basically, short of time machine and a DNA kit – we don’t know. I think the historical fiction book Doomed Queen Anne, summed it up best when Mary is asked who is the father of her son, she says in a rather miserable voice: I don’t know.

Then, as Anne takes center stage, Weir follows Mary along in the back wings, explaining how Mary played some part in support staff to Anne’s rise, but was just as much shoved to the side by the rest of the family.

When she marries William Stafford we get the extra fun tidbit of the fact Mr. Stafford was a solid 10 years younger than her (YOU GO GIRL!) and after an exhaustive look at all the fact Weir can come to no other conclusion than it was an honest to goodness love match, a true case of choosing love over the 1001 Practical Real World Reasons This Can Never Work.

Good for Mary – no matter what people say about her, she had the courage to make her own choice and not be afraid. A rare quality in this world.

So, there’s fallout, and yes, love is grand, but there was that money issue, and it looks like Mary spent pretty much the rest of her life living down a few pegs on the social notch, since most of the paper trail after her marriage is about job postings, inheritance squabbles, and disputed annuities.

Also, big surprise, Weir dug up evidence on were, exactly, Mary was when the execution of her sister went down and found some very hard evidence that points to Mary being in Calais at the time, of all places. Of course, it makes sense, since Calais was a good place to set out for if a.) you needed a job and b.) it was prudent to be out of the country for a few years.

Mary might very well have passed in the street the executioner on his way to the dock to set sail for England to kill her sister!

After that, Weir is left with not much more on Mary, but does a decent job examining what became of the rest of her family, tied as they were to Tudor politics, what with the never ending Howard-Tudor connection that always lead to some interesting epsidoes in history, of which Mary was only one.

So, the graffiti remains (thanks Philippa), but at least this has been added to try and balance things out.

Of course, no one is in a hurry to do anything about the crude drawings of Henry VIII holding a bloody ax in one hand and a phallic shaped chicken leg in the other…
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message 1: by Celise (new) - added it

Celise I actually like Gregory's Tudor novels, but I do recognize that there are historical inaccuracies so I try to enjoy them more as the fictional part of historical fiction. Thank you for reviewing this, you've actually cleared a few things up for me without my having to read it (yet).

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