Claire M.'s Reviews > Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir
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Feb 15, 12

Read in February, 2012

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't write a biography of Mary Boleyn--but a book about debunking all the myths that surround Mary Boleyn. Weir does a decent job of proving that there is a paucity of credible sources and only two letters that can be attributed to her hand. The woman didn't rate much if any commentary by anyone, not even those perennially gossipping French and Spanish ambassadors! Which given that is a biography of Mary Boleyn makes this book inherently problematic. We have a biography about an unremarkable woman (literally) who lived in remarkable times.

If you can't write about Mary, then you're left with no choice but to write about the other people who've written about Mary. The entire book is basically Weir taking on a slew of other historians for what she considers inaccurate and in some cases just plain made-up assertions about Mary Boleyn. And while I am not knocking Ms. Weir's research, the problem is that when you take away the fantasy (she seems to have a real bee in her bonnet about Phillipa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl" and all I can say is that, hey, it's fiction!), the leaping to conclusions, the suppositions, and the basic inaccuracies, then we are left with a bland young woman in an age of huge personalities whose only claim to fame is that she bedded two kings. A person who left so little mark on history that no one really has anything to say about her that doesn't relate to her much more famous (infamous) sister and her brother in-law/ex-lover, Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn seems to have been pretty enough to have attracted the attention of two kings, but even that is speculation. We don't even have a portrait that can be legitimately traced to her. In fact, the miniature on the book jacket is NOT her, and I think it a perfect metaphor for a book about someone who remains completely obscure despite the 400 pages devoted to telling her story. I came away feeling that the historians who made up a bunch of stuff or really stretched their interpretations of the sources to a strained degree did so because there really is nothing to tell here. It's kind of understandable.
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