Jemidar's Reviews > Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3446052
's review
Sep 22, 11

bookshelves: history-biography
Read in September, 2011 — I own a copy


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 just don't know. Neither really makes for riveting reading.

While Mary Boleyn lived in interesting times and belonged to a family which was at the heart of politics at the time, she herself seems to have made very little impact. There are two extant letters, some legal paperwork to do with an annuity and her inheritance, and a whole raft of rumours. Not much for any biographer to go on, and Weir struggled to make much of it.

The good bits though, were the fact that Weir did seem to do thorough research and did turn up some interesting facts about Henry VIII and the Boleyn family that I was unaware of. And although she didn't "explode the mythology" or "present compelling new evidence" as claimed by the jacket blurb, she did reach some credible conclusions regarding Mary's life. It is not to say however, that I agreed with all the conclusions she came to in regards to Mary, as a lot of the stuff just can't be proved either way (there is really just not enough evidence or information) and it mostly comes down to an educated guess.

It was nice to see Weir take a more even handed approach in this biography as a common complaint about her work is bias, but in doing so she seemed to loose something because despite what others have said about her historical accuracy, I have always found her biographies very readable and at times, page turners. This one however felt like it was missing something, and I fear her efforts to be taken seriously as an historian has been detrimental to her writing style.

On the whole though, this biography was an enjoyable read and probably the most comprehensive book on Mary Boleyn available at this time.
30 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Mary Boleyn.
sign in »

Reading Progress

09/18/2011 page 36
11.0%
09/19/2011 page 66
20.0% 2 comments
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-50 of 50) (50 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I'll be interested to read your thoughts on this book. Her books generate quite a lot of comment, both good and bad. I've read a few if hers, and this is on my wishlist.


message 2: by Sabrina (new) - added it

Sabrina I too would be interested in your review Jemidar. This is also on my tbr list.


Abby Me too!


Jemidar Will try and keep you all updated :-).


message 5: by Anna (new)

Anna I adored Mary (and her gorgeous William Staff) in The Other Boleyn Girl and The Last Boleyn, so will be interested to hear what Weir makes of her. Will be following your updates and review!


Hannah Anna wrote: "I adored Mary (and her gorgeous William Staff) in The Other Boleyn Girl and The Last Boleyn, so will be interested to hear what Weir makes of her. Will be following your updates and review!"

I'm with you, Anna. I really enjoyed The Last Boleyn and look forward to reading Jemidar's updates/review for this one. It definitely *looks* like a TBR candidate!


message 7: by Dawn (& Ron) (new)

Dawn (& Ron) Jemidar, looks like it is all up to you, LOL.

I read The Other Boleyn Girl and really didn't care for it and haven't read another Philippa Gregory since. Does The Last Boleyn carry on the same themes? Or is it actually a sequel?


message 8: by Karla (new)

Karla The Last Boleyn is by Karen Harper. Was originally published by Zebra in the early 80s as Passion's Reign. It got reissued with a "respectable" cover much much later. :P I'm very curious about it - it (the first edition) has been on my TBR for a year or so.


Hannah Dawn wrote: "I read The Other Boleyn Girl and really didn't care for it and haven't read another Philippa Gregory since. Does The Last Boleyn carry on the same th..."

TOBG wasn't a favorite of mine either, but The Boleyn Inheritance I liked much better. However, I'm not generally impressed with PG. Personally, she writes too much sex and not enough factual history into her books IMO.


Hannah Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "The Last Boleyn is by Karen Harper. Was originally published by Zebra in the early 80s as Passion's Reign. It got reissued with a "respectable" cover much much later. :P I'm very cu..."

It's definitely speculative fiction, but enjoyable.


message 11: by Anna (last edited Sep 15, 2011 03:22AM) (new)

Anna I seem to be in the minority here, as I loved TOBG, although I agree that The Boleyn Inheritance was also very good :-)

Part of my review for Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn reads:

"...whereas TOBG is exciting and dramatic and veers somewhat away from the truth, The Last Boleyn is softer and subtler and seems to be a truer story."

So if TOBG didn't appeal to you as being too fanciful, The Last Boleyn may well be more your thing :-)


Jemidar Dawn wrote: "Jemidar, looks like it is all up to you, LOL."

Gee thanks Dawn, there's nothing like applying the pressure! LOL.

Generally, I preferred the TOBG to The Last Boleyn. (I agree Anna, Gregory's Willian Stafford was gorgeous!) I also enjoyed The Boleyn Inheritance. I've found that Karen Harper plays fast and loose with facts too, so I don't think her version of things is any more reliable than Gregory's!


Jemidar To be honest, I can't rememer that much about TLB (must've made a real impression on me!) whereas I found TOBG an exciting and riveting read. I thought it portrayed well the feeling of tension in Henry's court as well as the gossip and behind the scenes machinations.


message 14: by Anna (last edited Sep 15, 2011 06:54AM) (new)

Anna J, I preferred TOBG to TLB too, and also to TBI (I gave 5 stars for TOBG, 4 for the other two).

I also agree that Harper plays with the truth as much as Gregory does, but when so little is actually known about Mary, blanks do have to be filled in. I came away from TOBG thinking it was an exciting read, but not the most plausible story (particularly nearing the end), whereas with TLB, I just felt it to be more rounded and believable. However, TOBG is one of my all time fave books!

And yeah, Staff was gorgeous, one of my very fave Tudor men ;-)


message 15: by Anna (last edited Sep 15, 2011 03:27AM) (new)

Anna Hehe, sorry J, I just deleted my previous comment, and then re-added it after I'd tinkered with it, so our comments are all out of sync now!


message 16: by Anna (new)

Anna J, just out of interest, what did you think of Gregory's The Queens Fool? I loved it, and gave it 5 stars, the same as TOBG. I loved the story and the way it was told, but also have to admit that Robert Dudley in this book made me weak at the knees!


Jemidar I remember quite liking it but now can't remember much about it. I know a lot of people say the Jewish history is wonky, but I really liked some of the points it made about Mary I. Sorry, don't remember Dudley in this one so obviously he didn't make me weak at the knees. LOL.


message 18: by Anna (last edited Sep 15, 2011 06:55AM) (new)

Anna Yeah, I enjoyed seeing Mary I in a different light too. It was actually the first book I'd read that didn't paint her in her usual way, and it was what got me interested in finding out more about her, away from her usual portrayal.

That the thing with HF. If you enjoy a particular story, whether it be sensationalised or embellished, you can always research the real-life characters to get closer to the truth. I read HF for entertainment and biographies for facts (well, as far as an author's bias goes!).

As for RD in TQF, he was like a swaggering badboy rockstar, and made me feel like blushing teen with a crush ;-)


message 19: by Jemidar (last edited Sep 15, 2011 11:55AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jemidar I can put up with quite a lot of 'sensationalism' if the story is well written and a page turner. I've liked most of PG's Tudor books but not so much her Cousin's War ones. The other book I really liked of hers was The Other Queen, although most people didn't seem to like that one much. Bess of Hardwick fascinated me and it led me to reading a couple of her biographies.


message 20: by Anna (last edited Sep 15, 2011 09:37AM) (new)

Anna Of PG's Tudor books, the only one I've been disappointed by was The Virgins Lover, which was so damn dull. Especially disappointing after Dudley was H.O.T. in TQF, and a total yawnfest of a whiney bore in TVL. I liked The Other Queen, but would rank it fourth of her six Tudor books. Must be honest, Bess did my head in!

Of her Cousins books, I really liked The White Queen (although the Melusina stuff had me banging my head against a wall!), but am yet to read The Red Queen, as I've heard so many bad things about it. WTQ was what got me interested in R3, and thus, an obsession was born ;-)


message 21: by Jemidar (last edited Sep 15, 2011 12:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jemidar No, I didn't like TVL much either. I didn't mind TWQ and TRQ was okay, except the Joan of Arc stuff in that was a bit much. I'm undecided about reading The Lady of the Rivers though, because even people who normally don't mind PG aren't saying good things about it. Plus there's more J of A stuff :-(.

I thought your obsession was for RA!!


message 22: by Anna (new)

Anna Oh dear, sounds like the J of A stuff replaces the Melusina stuff. Arghhh! I too have read dodgly reviews about TLotR, and am very relecutant to continue with the Cousins series at all.

Hehe, Richard A, Richard 3; I have a thing about Richards, it seems! I'm willing RA to hurry up and play a tortured R3 ;-)


message 23: by Kim (new)

Kim Anna wrote: "Hehe, Richard A, Richard 3; I have a thing about Richards, it seems! I'm willing RA to hurry up and play a tortured R3 ;-) ..."

You and me both! :D


Jemidar Anna wrote: "Oh dear, sounds like the J of A stuff replaces the Melusina stuff. Arghhh! I too have read dodgly reviews about TLotR, and am very relecutant to continue with the Cousins series at all."

In TLotR you get both, by the bucket loads apparently!


message 25: by Karla (new)

Karla I saw that acronym and for a second I thought you were talking about The Lord of the Rings. :P


Jemidar Yes, it made me look twice too!


message 27: by Abby (new) - rated it 4 stars

Abby Am I the only person holding out against Phillipa Gregory?! I can't bring myself to read her books. I've heard too many bad things and I HATED the movie. So...hmmm I shouldn't knock it before I've tried it. Maybe I'll succumb to TOBG!

I have read TLB though and I quite enjoyed it. As you guys have said, William Stafford is lovely. It was great to read things from Mary's perspective. I do feel she was a bit of a victim of the times and of her family so I really sympathised with Harper's protrayal of Mary. Therefore, I went in with bias. Oh dear my reviews are not very good!


Jemidar PG is fine so long as you go in knowing what you're getting. A few of her Tudor books are real page turners and although the stories may not be as accurate as they could be, they made sense to me within the context of the story.

I personally, think she's a better read than quite a few other historical authors out there but people/reviewers seem to have got their back up over the fact that she's promoted as an historian, which she's not. However, the Cousin's War series seems to be suffering from the "big name churning out books" syndrome.


message 29: by Karla (new)

Karla Jemidar wrote: "I personally, think she's a better read than quite a few other historical authors out there but people/reviewers seem to have got their back up over the fact that she's promoted as an historian, which she's not."

Agree 100%. I'd read 2 non-Tudor books of hers and didn't much care for them, but I really liked The Constant Princess. So I'll read her Tudor books, and I'm definitely going to read the Wideacre trilogy because a GR friend loved the first book and we have the same tastes when it comes to twisted pseudo-Gothic/Victorian melodrama. :)

I can only read so much War of the Roses stuff before I get bored, so I'm sticking with what's already in my TBR and not bothering getting more, PG included.


Jemidar The PG's WotR stuff doesn't really seem to add anything to what other people have written.


message 31: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Jemidar wrote: "The PG's WotR stuff doesn't really seem to add anything to what other people have written."

No, they don't. Not at all.

I agree that PG probably wouldn't get bashed as much if she didn't promote herself as the big historian. IIRC TOBG said right at the get go that it was a novel, I forget the exact words but it was pretty clear to me she wasn't trying to retell history. J's right though, there are worse authors out there trying to write historical novels.


message 32: by Anna (last edited Sep 19, 2011 04:40AM) (new)

Anna Abby wrote: "Am I the only person holding out against Phillipa Gregory?! I can't bring myself to read her books. I've heard too many bad things and I HATED the movie. So...hmmm I shouldn't knock it before I've ..."

Abby, I loved TOGB as a book and refuse point blank to watch the film, as friends have said that it's nothing like the book, and is more about Anne than it is about Mary. Ridiculous, as the book's about the OTHER Boleyn girl. Friends also have said the William Stafford is almost excluded from the film, which is shameful as he's a huge part of the book. So don't let the film put you off the book forever!


message 33: by Karla (last edited Sep 19, 2011 05:11AM) (new)

Karla I haven't read the book, but I watched the movie and was so unimpressed by it. Which only makes me want to read the book more because it simply couldn't be worse. As a historical film, it was a fail. Its adaptation from the original source didn't even play a part in my opinion of the movie. It was really REALLY awful. Bad acting, bad script....only thing worse was the BBC miniseries with Ray Winstone, which I thought well and truly sucked as well with a crappy script from some hack's bottom drawer.


message 34: by Kelly (new)

Kelly I liked the book The Other Boleyn Girl, but as far as I could tell, the movie didn't bear a lot of resemblance to it. I don't remember the movie very well except for a sense that it kind of lost the idea of being about Mary and decided to be a generic Tudor story instead, and seemed a badly edited hodgepodge at that. It's been years so I could be remembering it wrong.


message 35: by Hannah (last edited Sep 22, 2011 05:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Hannah Good review, Jemidar. This one sounds like the biography she wrote of Katherine Swynford:
Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. There's very little factual info. she could provide, so she had to conjecture throughout the entire book. Still, it was a good read.

Based on your conclusions about her bias vs. readability, it sounds like she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't! Despite all, she usually always delivers a good read for me personally. Based on your review, I will definitely put this one on the TBR pile :)


Jemidar I definitely think it's worth reading, it just felt a bit 'meh' and I never really got a handle on Mary the person.

I really liked her Katherine Swynford bio even though it was mostly conjecture, it was fun, but in this one she actually admits that we cannot possibly know to a few things...shock, horror ;-).


message 37: by Hannah (last edited Sep 22, 2011 05:49AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Hannah Jemidar wrote: "I really liked her Katherine Swynford bio even though it was mostly conjecture, it was fun, but in this one she actually admits that we cannot possibly know to a few things...shock, horror ;-)..."

Agreed on liking the Swynford biog.

I'm OK with a historical writer admitting they don't know everything. I'm also OK with writers providing their pet theories in areas they have no factual backup. As long as they maintain it's only conjecture and speculation, and make a reasonable case for it, I'm good (even when it sometimes clashes with my own personal biases) :^P


message 38: by Misfit (new)

Misfit And that is the key, isn't it Hannah? Fessing up to what's known and not known and what is conjecture. It's when they go all over the net blabbing about what experts they are (and at least one who gets pretty damn snotty when she's called out*), that I get my feathers ruffled.

I couldn't finish the Swynford bio. It was just all K could have done this and K could have worn/eaten this...


*No, I am not talking about PG either.


Hannah Misfit wrote: "And that is the key, isn't it Hannah? Fessing up to what's known and not known and what is conjecture. It's when they go all over the net blabbing about what experts they are (and at least one who ..."

LOL - I'm assuming the guns are blazin' at Alison, right?

I haven't been in the know with the kerfuffle-in-question. Any way to tell me in a nutshell what happened (or a link)? I'll admit upfront that it still may not make me stop reading Weir. She's entertaining to me and I've enjoyed her work for years. I know she has her biases and pet theories, and I'm ok with that. So do I!


message 40: by Misfit (new)

Misfit Nah, I've never had a kerfuffle with Weir. It was two others who tried to cool up a lame brained scheme to expose that awful reviewer and get her thrown off of Amazon.


Jemidar Just don't read her fiction! Well, the first two were okay, but that last Eleanor one was atrocious. Is some ways her bios make better novels than do her novels! And I think that's what I missed about this one :-).


message 42: by Orsolya (new) - added it

Orsolya Doesn't sound too bad.

I honestly generally always like Weir. She is certainly my fall back author. Not every novel is perfect but overall, I'm a fan.


message 43: by Anna (new)

Anna Only just spotted your review, J. It's shame, albeit an understandable one, that nothing more concrete was unearthed about Mary. Did William Stafford get a mention, other than they were married? I know her claim-to-fame story is with the two kings, but it's her relationship with William that I wish we knew more about!


Jemidar Yes, there's actually quite a bit on William because he went on to have quite a career at court. He was at one stage one of the guards that stands outside the kings chambers with the pole axes. He did eventually remarry after Mary died, but it took him a while.


message 45: by Anna (new)

Anna Oh good, thanks for that. I've been dithering over whether to read this book as nothing new was written, but if Staff gets an indepth look, that may sway the odds!

I'm glad it took him a while to remarry; the one thing that annoys me about Charles Brandon is that he married within three months of his own Mary's death.


Jemidar Oh yeah, Brandon was a class act. He even stole his sons betrothed!


message 47: by Anna (new)

Anna Hehe, is it wrong that I'm not bothered that the 14 year old bride was stolen from the 10 year old son so the ageing father could claim her lands; what bothers me, as a Brandon/Mary fan, is that he should have mourned her for a whole lot longer then three months, especially after all they went through to be together, new lands or no new lands!

That's his only fault though, other than not actually looking like Henry Cavill ;-)


Jemidar You are so shallow. LOL.


message 49: by Anna (new)

Anna Yep, as a summer puddle :-)


MichelleCH The best, in my humble opinion, with speculative historical fiction is Sharon Kay Penman. Here be Dragons set in 13th Century Wales is amazing. She seems to be one writer that can strike the right balance.


back to top