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104 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written with much new Information
I have always loved reading English history, Anne Boleyn was always of special interest to me. But, until recently, there had been no information about Mary Boleyn or the workings of the Boleyn family.

This book explains, in wonderful detail, the life and times of Henry VIII, his courtiers and his women. The story of Mary Boleyn, who apparently bore a child by...
Published on August 30, 2011 by hasselaar

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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Research, But Little Real Substance
If you're expecting a historical fiction novel like "The Other Boleyn Girl" packed with romantic details about Mary Boleyn's trysts with Kings Henry VIII and Francis I, this is not the book for you. "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings" is a scholarly, biographical non-fiction work in which Alison Weir employs her usual thorough researching skills to dispel some of the...
Published on October 12, 2011 by Book Woman


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104 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written with much new Information, August 30, 2011
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I have always loved reading English history, Anne Boleyn was always of special interest to me. But, until recently, there had been no information about Mary Boleyn or the workings of the Boleyn family.

This book explains, in wonderful detail, the life and times of Henry VIII, his courtiers and his women. The story of Mary Boleyn, who apparently bore a child by Henry, is fascinating. In contrast to recent movie and TV productions, her life is revealed in a truthful, interesting and honest fashion.I most enjoyed the attention to detail and the explanations of what would have been considered normal at the time that these issues occurred. Times have certainly changed! The description of the life of the Boleyn girls while at the French court is an amazing soap opera, full of scandal and intrigue. The English court is much the same.

Her relationship with her more famous sister, Anne, is throughly covered. The probing insight into the character of Henry VIII was quite revelatory. Instead of the horrible monster which has been betrayed, he is shown as having some endearing qualities (while young) and as being no better or worse than many of his contemporaries.

I found myself reading this book far into the night, riveted to the exciting story. This book is a wonderful discovery and I plan on reading more books by the author.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive achievement!, September 3, 2011
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Mary Boleyn! The kinder, gentler sister, perhaps. It hardly seems possible that another drop can be squeezed out of the Tudor dynasty, then comes along this heady brew! You may think as I did that I knew just about all there was to know about Henry VIII's reign, but much is said, much more, right in this book that hasn't been said before. So here we go back to the sixteenth century with veteran Tudor writer Alison Weir pulling us into the refreshing story of Mary Boleyn, and she's not going to let us go until we finish the book and sit there somewhat exhausted. If you weren't a Tudor aficionado before, you're one now! And you will learn a lot about Henry's England and the famous persons who did strut and fret their hour upon that stage. Weir states firmly and with proof that the three surviving Boleyn children were born in the order of Mary, Anne and George. She puts her money where her mouth is, providing footnotes to all her descriptions of people and what they did, presenting two sides to every argument.

Weir starts out by debunking the rumors, persistent for years, let alone centuries, that Henry was sexually prudish and might even have had an erectile problem. Since marital relations were forbidden when a woman was pregnant, Henry, during all of Katherine of Aragon's pregnancies, had plenty of time and opportunity to find gratification elsewhere. Although not a lecher like his brother king Francis I across the Channel, Henry got around. But Weir debunks the often cited rumor that Henry had syphilis. If he had had the disease he would have been treated with mercury, and since all the medical potions he took are minutely recorded it is exceedingly doubtful that he ever had syphilis. Mary Boleyn's second child, Katherine, was very likely fathered by Henry. Weir gives substantial evidence. Henry probably also fathered a child named Etheldreda by a palace laundress. There are probably other bastards but the only one Henry acknowledged was Henry Fitzroy, the son of the mistress that preceded Mary Boleyn, Bessie Blount. Fitzroy died at seventeen years of age, shortly after his stepmother, Anne Boleyn, was executed.

Weir's book is turgid with facts and if you are not a gung-ho Tudor enthusiast you may find "Mary Boleyn" daunting and just too full of details. However, Tudor fans will be purring. Through the ages Mary's first husband, William Carey is often pawned off as a nobody. He actually was a fine catch, being one of the privileged gentlemen in King Henry's Privy Chamber and even distantly related to the King. These young men were chosen for their multiple talents, which included jousting, tennis playing, witty conversation and even card playing savvy. They had also to be totally trustworthy because of their close proximity to the King. Mary may never have loved William Carey, we simply don't know, and there is plenty of evidence she became Henry's mistress shortly after her marriage. There is also credible evidence she had also shared the bed of Francis I when she was in France for Mary Tudor's wedding to Louis XII, but luckily for her, she was never considered tarnished goods.

Some historians believe that Henry actually quizzed Mary about Francis' performance in bed and how did Henry's prowess compare with that of his fellow king? We don't know Mary's reply, but I imagine she was pretty tactful. Weir thinks Henry probably forced Mary to be his concubine. He could not force Anne when he started pursuing her, but Mary was a very different personality. Mary kept her head, literally, by being compliant and being very discrete.

Mary Boleyn had two children during her marriage to Carey. Henry, the eldest, was thought by some contemporaries and historians to be the bastard of the king but as Weir explains at great length,a royal paternity was very doubtful. The second child, Katherine, had red hair, and according to Weir bears a resemblance to both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. Henry VIII would never acknowledge a bastard daughter. Katherine grew up to marry Francis Knollys, and Mary Boleyn's granddaughter was the famous Lettice Knollys whose second husband was Elizabeth I's love, the Earl of Leicester. (Lettice's first husband was Robert Devereaux and the couple were parents of the ill-fated Earl of Essex).

As other reviewers have noted "Mary Boleyn" is not a book about the Tudors for you to cut your teeth on if you are not well acquainted with sixteenth century England, However, if you are well steeped in Tudoriana, this book will fill in a lot of cracks. Henry VIII especially emerges quite differently out of the pages of history as more of a roué than hitherto surmised, but not a vulgar libertine like Francis I. He emerges, too, as a bit more likeable, at least when he was young, and Mary Boleyn steps a bit more lively over the literary terrain because Weir fleshes her out. Other figures including Anne Boleyn and Mary's father Sir Thomas Boleyn, come to life under Weir's deft hand. If you are not heart and soul committed to Tudor England with substantial background information already tucked in your head, this fact- laden biography may be just too unpalatable to digest. The Tudor enthusiast will be astonished at the nuggets in this book and you will get the feeling Weir turned over every stone in London to get the facts for you.

We will follow Mary through her life. She is widowed when William Carey dies of the sweat. Henry VIII settled an annuity on her so that she was not destitute. It is often said that Mary got nothing from her liaison with the King, but the annuity kept her from poverty. She went on to marry a common soldier, William Stafford, which brought contempt pouring down on Mary's head for marrying far beneath her station. However, though her sister Anne, the Queen, sneered at her, Anne may have been jealous as Mary's second marriage was a love match on both sides. Anne had just miscarried a boy, a child that would have saved her. In later years Elizabeth I had a special fondness for Katherine Carey perhaps knowing that Katherine was actually her cousin. The Tudor line did not end with Elizabeth but flourished like the green bay tree. Many famous descendents claim Mary Boleyn's heritage, including Elizabeth II.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Research, But Little Real Substance, October 12, 2011
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If you're expecting a historical fiction novel like "The Other Boleyn Girl" packed with romantic details about Mary Boleyn's trysts with Kings Henry VIII and Francis I, this is not the book for you. "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings" is a scholarly, biographical non-fiction work in which Alison Weir employs her usual thorough researching skills to dispel some of the myths about Mary Boleyn which books like "The Other Boleyn Girl" have helped to perpetuate.

Some readers have complained that this latest Alison Weir book is a little dry and too academic. It's true that she doesn't have the admittedly more lyrical writing style of Antonia Fraser, her contemporary in English royalty non-fiction. Ms. Weir usually has a more objective, "just-the-facts" approach to topics, but still with enough interesting details to capture your attention.

The problem with this book is not with Ms. Weir's writing style, but with her subject matter. Since Mary Boleyn did not become Queen of England like her more famous sister Anne, there just is not enough documented historical evidence about her to create a fully rounded word portrait of her. Ms. Weir is often forced to resort to educated speculation to fill in the many gaps about her motivations and her actions, so we never get a clear idea of what sort of person Mary Boleyn really was. However, some of the speculation we do get is very interesting to fans of the Tudor period, such as the fact that Mary's daughter Katherine, the eldest of her two children, just may have been fathered by King Henry.

Read this book only if you're interested in factual details about the Tudor dynasty and want the real story about Mary Boleyn - what little is known of it.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wading through the myths, September 14, 2011
By 
mickey71 "mickey71" (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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I was a Tudor scholar before it was cool...before "The Other Boleyn Girl," book or movie, or the TV series. I have read all of Alison Weir's nonfiction works, and like her, was appalled by the historical inaccuracies of "The Tudors." (Yeah, I know, it was for entertainment, not education.) So I was definitely looking forward to her biography of Mary Boleyn and jumped at the chance to get an early copy from Vine.

I was NOT disappointed. There is no doubt that writing about Mary Boleyn isn't easy. Very little historical documents (original sources) exist about her. Still, her name has survived for centuries, and myths and half-truths have been built up around her. How to find the truth?

Alison Weir cleverly looks at all the documentation about anyone CLOSE to Mary Boleyn, including her grandparents, parents, famous sister and brother, first husband, second husband, children, and niece Elizabeth I. A lot can be deduced from what IS said versus what ISN'T said. I think she makes a fine argument for Henry Carey not being Henry VIII's son. I also agree with her argument that Katherine Carey was, most likely, his daughter.

I've read reviews that complain about how much this book is about other people. Well, again, Weir is looking for real facts before she goes to the secondary sources. Plus, if you read this book and believe it's all about Anne Boleyn...you've obviously never read a biography of Anne Boleyn. There's really very little here about Anne, given the facts and details history records about her. (See Weir's previous nonfiction works, "The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn" or "The Six Wives of Henry VIII," for example.)

BOTTOM LINE: Anyone looking for a romance novel or historical fiction, this is NOT for you. This is a biography. It is heavy on historical facts, lots of references, and details that wouldn't interest many people. On the other hand, if you like nonfiction, if you're tired of the historical novels and interested in where the myths started, check it out.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious historical look at a shadowy Tudor figure, September 17, 2011
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Alison Weir faced two big challenges when writing her newest biography. First, her subject, Anne Boleyn's sister Mary, is someone who has left few verifiable traces in the historical record. It's one thing to be able to depict a woman living hundreds of years ago if that woman left letters, a journal, or was the subject of contemporaneous writing, but Mary Boleyn appear relatively rarely in the historical records remaining from that time. Weir's second challenge is the fascination about Mary Boleyn created by various fictional interpretations of her, most recently "The Other Boleyn Girl" movie and novel. Many people first learned about Mary Boleyn from these fictionalized sources, which portray her variously as a whore who bounced from king to king, or the jealous sister of King Henry VIII's second wife, or a victim of her father's political ambition and machinations. It's probably not a big surprise that, lacking solid historical evidence to flesh out the character of Mary Boleyn, historians and writers have resorted to embellishment, imagination and in some cases fabrication. But while these interpretations don't have much historical support, they do create expectations that a biography of the real Mary Boleyn will contain lots of sex, violence and intrigue.

All of the above means that if you are considering reading this book, you first need to decide whether you are interested in the real Mary Boleyn, knowing that it will be a drier version, or an imagined version of her that is full of melodrama but not likely to be true. In short, do you want historical biography or hysterical fiction?

Weir makes clear from the get-go that her aim in writing this book is the former. She wants to clear the record, debunking popular ideas about Mary that aren't based on the available evidence, and giving her best theories about what Mary Boleyn may have been like. I've read quite a bit about the Tudors, and it seems to me that Weir has done an excellent and thorough job of reviewing all available sources; figuring out which sources are more reliable than others; and rejecting (with explanations for why she may reject a particular source) questionable material. She asserts some theories or best guesses as to what Mary Boleyn's character was like, marshalling evidence (from contemporaneous accounts, letters, property records, birth & death records, wills, and others) in support of her hypotheses. She even revisits some of her earlier interpretations of Mary Boleyn, revising her opinions where appropriate to reflect newly-discovered evidence.

The advantage of this approach is that the reader gets a thorough understanding of what we know about Mary Boleyn's life and a clear sense of what remains unknown. The disadvantage of this approach is that there just isn't enough historical background to satisfy our curiosity about Boleyn's personality. While you leave the book knowing a lot about what Mary Boleyn was not, you get a less clear sense about what she was. I want to make absolutely clear that this is not at all due to Weir's research or writing (they are top-notch) but it's just the unavoidable result of trying to uncover the truth about a woman who lived so long ago and did not leave a great written record.

I very much enjoyed the book and appreciated Weir's desire to defend a woman who has been the subject of so much misunderstanding and in some cases deliberate maligning. The time period and Mary's proximity to the infamous King Henry VIII and the executed Anne Boleyn were fascinating to me. Readers who are looking for a romanticized or soapy interpretation of Mary Boleyn's life are, however, bound to be disappointed. We just don't know enough about her for Weir to be able to provide such an interpretation without crossing over from history and biography straight into fiction. But for those seriously interested in Tudor history, the book is fascinating and informative.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, so *that's* what happened!, October 22, 2011
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Sometimes it's no fun to know the authentic history behind fictional characters. I was quite willing to suspend my disbelief in reading The Other Boleyn Girl (and watching the movie afterwards), just as I have been for all the Henry-the-VIIIth historical fiction I have consumed over the years. (Which is a lot. I can quit reading about that era anytime I want to. Sure I can.) In fact I am rather cheerful about not just suspending my disbelief, but hanging it from the rafters and tickling its feet, because sometimes the fun of the historical events is imagining the true motivations of real-life characters... in all the variations that may present themselves.

Especially when it comes to this batch of people, whose love-or-lust and obsessive desire for a son changed the whole of European history. Arguably we barely need fiction for this story, because the truth is so much more dramatic. Who needs a soap opera when you have Henry VIII as a main character... a man who, apparently, could not keep his sausage in his codpiece?

When I'm ready for the ACTUAL history -- written by a scholar who knows how to keep her reader engaged -- I have long turned to Alison Weir. I read her The Six Wives of Henry VIII whenever it came out (Amazon says 1991), and have scooped up at least half of her books since. She manages to tell us what we KNOW happened, based on historical records; to impart the historical assumptions (such as the motivations of people who might have badmouthed anyone else... yeah like there was any of THAT in Henry VIII's era...); and to present us with the most likely "what really happened." Which is to say: Weir is easy to read and reliably interesting.

And Weir does this exceedingly well in her biography of Mary Boleyn, a woman who faded into relatively obscurity... which, apparently, was exactly what Mary intended. Her sister and brother had their heads whacked off, but Mary managed to marry the guy she WANTED to marry, and to get her butt out of court so that she might have a decent chance at a reasonable life. Given the royal circus, that was likely the most sane outcome of anyone in the vicinity.

Despite that obscurity, Mary Boleyn was influential -- not the least of which is because she was, as the title says, "the mistress of kings." Or so the evidence implies... at least it implies it with a jackhammer. For example, Henry's argument that his marriage to Queen Catherine was invalid because she had been his brother's wife, and it was a no-no to get it on with a sibling. That became a stumbling block with his proposed marriage to Anne because, well, um, he'd carried on with her sister. Weir traces the who-when-and-how, little of which is easy to figure out (not even birth years are obvious, much less the timeframe for the Henry-and-Mary hanky panky).

And Weir illuminates us with "How about that!" facts along the way.

For instance, in an interview I read long ago, Phillipa Gregory said that she was inspired to write The Other Boleyn Girl by discovering that Henry had a pleasure boat named the Mary Boleyn; it made her say, "Who the heck was that?" Weir demonstrates that it almost certainly had nothing to do with Henry's relationship with Mary Boleyn; the king bought at least one other boat from her father Thomas Boleyn, and probably didn't change the name. So much for the historical accuracy of a writer's muse; I'm glad Gregory didn't know about that or we would have missed out on a lovely historical novel.

One "aha!" for me was Weir pointing out that Anne Boleyn was probably RH Negative. All the evidence points to that, at least: one healthy birth (Elizabeth), followed by a late-term miscarriage (probably a boy), and then a series of miscarriages. I'm not sure it changes anything, but somehow I like having a logical explanation.

All in all, this was an enjoyable book that filled in a the gaps in my knowledge. I won't press it upon you and insist you read it, but if you are into the Henry VIII era it is a no-brainer.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The compelling truth, August 29, 2011
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Alison Weir's fantastic research unearths the truth about Mary Boleyn amid all the rumors that survived her life. Weir details Boleyn's family history, the rumors that were spread during and after her life, and where evidence cannot be found, she details how likely all the rumors are to be true.

All my ideas of Mary Boleyn's life were based on The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, so I appreciated knowing which scandalous events happened and which were fictional embellishment for the sake of a good story. As someone who loves English history for the scandal, this book took off for me in the second half, when Weir weaves in Anne Boleyn's story as well.

I've always appreciated Mary Boleyn's part in her family history, and the truth about her affairs only increases my love for her storyline. I especially loved finding out more about the descendants from Mary Boleyn's line, which was detailed in the Appendix section. I was quite surprised!

After this book, I'm definitely checking more of Alison Weir's work. If you love the lineage and details plus the scandal, you will want to have this book in your collection.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Much Known, Not Much Said, October 6, 2011
I'm a fan of Alison Weir, and I've read other books of hers which I've enjoyed. The problem with this one is that, as the author states repeatedly, not much is known about Mary Boleyn. There is evidence and mentions and conclusions to be drawn, but it is minimal, and so this book is more of a catchall Boleyn rehashing that just happens to mention Mary more than others do.

Ultimately, this books is about trying to make someone important when she was so unimportant to barely recieve historical mention. The only real reason for it to exist in the first place is because of fiction books taking a romantic view of Mary and bolstering her into someone more significant than she actually was. Which is fine in a fiction novel, but Weir could have disputed the myths and given a comprehensive Mary Boleyn biography in one chapter.

I'd reccomend buying "The Lady in the Tower" instead, which is a wonderful and engaging read, and provides roughly the same history.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Commits the same offences for which it condemns others, January 8, 2012
By 
Judith Loriente (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
In the Introduction to this book Alison Weir states that many of the misconceptions about Mary Boleyn come from fiction, "Yet even historians have often been guilty of making sweeping, unsupported assumptions about Mary Boleyn. This became staggeringly clear when, having researched the original sources, I turned to the secondary ones, which are - with only a few honourable exceptions - littered with inaccuracies. ... Time and again, mere assumptions are presented as hard facts - I have lost count of the number of times I have noted a source not being cited - and dubious evidence is accepted indiscriminately, as will repeatedly be highlighted in the pages that follow." So the reader might assume that every statement this author makes will be rigorously documented with a citation that provides an author, a title, a volume number (if there is one) and a page number. The reader might also assume that this author will refrain from withholding information that might cast doubt upon her own theories, or from propagating stories for which she cannot locate a reliable source.

If so, the reader would be wrong. This book's citations, like those of all Weir's books, are so poor that she might as well not have provided them. In his review of The Lady in The Tower, historian John Guy complained about this, so that one might think Weir would have been shamed into finally starting to cite her sources properly. This has not happened. Most sources contain a title or author's surname, but almost always nothing further - no volume number or page number. Many state "L. & P.". "L. & P." is "Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII", published in twenty-one volumes between 1862 and 1908. Stating "L. & P." is not citing a source - it's telling readers who want to check a source to search for a needle in one of twenty-one massive haystacks.

Failure to locate a source for every statement is responsible for the first mistake I found. On p. 28 Weir writes:

"Even the King's admiring apologist, William Thomas, wrote in 1546 that `he was a very fleshly man' who `fell into all riot and overmuch love of women'."

Read William Thomas's The Pilgrim: A Dialogue On The Life And Actions Of King Henry The Eighth: By William Thomas. Edited, With Notes From The Archives At Paris And Brussels By J. A. Froude and you may be surprised to discover that his book contains no such statement. That's because William Thomas did not make it. Although she provides no citation, Weir probably copied this error from Joanna Denny's Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. Denny mistook the second quote on p. 62 of Eric Ives' 1986 biography of Anne Boleyn for a continuation of a quote of William Thomas's, when the second and third quotes were from George Wyatt - the citation at the end of the third quote states "George Wyatt, Papers, pp. 141, 143".

My second bugbear with this book concerns the birth date of Mary Boleyn's son Henry Carey. Weir states:

"The younger child was Henry Carey, born on 4 March 1525. Even allowing for the dating of the Tudor year from Lady Day, 25 March, the inscription on his tomb in Westminster Abbey states that he was in his seventy-second year when he died on 23 July 1596; that would place his date of birth in March 1525, which is corroborated by the inscription on his portrait at Berkeley Castle ... painted in 1591, which records his age as sixty-six. His father's Inquisition Post Mortem, taken in 1528, states that on 22 June that year, his heir, Henry Carey, was aged two years, fifteen weeks and five days, but the ages of heirs given in Inquisitions Post Mortem are not always accurate, and it is much more likely that he was three years, fifteen weeks and five days, since the epitaph commissioned by his family and the portrait commissioned by himself are far more likely to bear the correct date, which is 1525." (p. 140)

If Weir wishes to argue that Henry Carey was born in 1525, that's her right - there's always the possibility she is correct. But there are two flaws to her theory. Firstly, J. H. Round's The early life of Anne Boleyn: a critical essay states that Mary Boleyn's post mortem inquisition also indicated that her son was born in 1526:

"According to an inquisition taken at Mary's death (19th July, 1543), Henry Carey, her son and heir, must have been born on or about 1st April 1526 - a date which his epitaph roughly confirms." (p. 38)

Round doesn't provide a citation, so the reader has no way of independently confirming this. However, on p. 229 Weir states that Mary Boleyn "died on 19 July 1543". She cites as her source: "According to her Inquisition Post Mortem in the National Archives, cited by Round." So Weir knew that the inquisition after Mary Boleyn's death also indicated that her son was born in 1526. Getting Henry Carey's birth date wrong at one of his parents' inquisitions would have been a misfortune, but getting it wrong at both would have been exceptional carelessness. Does Weir really believe a mistake was made on the latter occasion, even though Henry Carey was an adolescent by then, and presumably knew how old he was? Maybe a mistake was indeed made twice. But as I reader, I don't appreciate any historian withholding information that jeopardises a theory, instead of presenting it and attempting to explain it away.

Weir's second argument to back up a 1525 birth date is that Henry Carey's portrait of 1591 "records his age as sixty-six" (p. 140). This is not necessarily true. One medieval way of counting people's ages was to count by the number of years the person was in, rather than the number they had attained. For instance, twenty-nine women walked in Jane Seymour's funeral procession, meaning that she was very likely in her twenty-ninth year, i.e. twenty-eight (rather than twenty-nine, as Weir states in her The Six Wives of Henry VIII). Sally Varlow's biography of Mary Boleyn's great-granddaughter Penelope Devereux - listed in the bibliography - also states that the inscription on Mary Boleyn's daughter Katherine Carey's portrait "states that it was painted in 1562 when she was aged thirty-eight, or in her thirty-eighth year". Since this portrait states "ATATIS SVAE, 38", Weir presumably knew that the "ATATIS SVAE 66" on Henry Carey's portrait possibly meant he was in his sixty-sixth year in 1591 - in which case, unless it was painted before 5 March, he would have turned sixty-five that year. This would fit with the birth date of March or April 1526 that was indicated at both his parents' post mortem inquisitions. Yet Weir definitely states, "The younger child was Henry Carey, born on 4 March 1525". This is a little strange coming from someone who complains of other historians, "Time and again, mere assumptions are presented as hard facts." As for the epitaph from 1596 stating that Henry Carey was in his seventy-second year when he died, I find it perfectly plausible that, in an age when people's lives weren't documented with endless paperwork, his family may have got his age wrong by a year.

Another questionable claim is that Etheldreda Malte, occasionally mentioned as a possible bastard of Henry VIII's, was "almost certainly Henry VIII's daughter" (p. 157). One of Weir's sources is Philippa Jones's The Other Tudors Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards. When I read The Other Tudors I assumed there was some convincing historical basis for the theory that Etheldreda was Henry VIII's daughter. Since then I have read Frederick Chamberlin's The Private Character of Henry VIII, in which he devotes a sprawling, five-page footnote to debunking this theory, and systematically tears apart the "evidence" on which it is based. I initially assumed Weir had not read Chamberlin's book, since it isn't in the bibliography, but then I checked her Henry VIII: The King and His Court, and found it listed there. Admittedly, that book was published a decade ago, so perhaps Weir read Chamberlin's debunking of the Etheldreda theory back then and subsequently forgot about it.

One of the bases for the belief that Etheldreda was Henry VIII's is that he allegedly dowered her with monastic lands. As Weir puts it, "The King did indeed make Etheldreda a large grant, as her dowry, of monastic lands" (p. 156). Yet Chamberlin writes:

"The plain understanding of these quotations is that Henry so loved this illegitimate daughter of his that he gave her important estates. He never did anything of the sort. He sold Crown ("Lands sold by the Crown. 17 Jan., 1547." [Henry died on the 28th] Item XV. of No. 712 in L. & P. XXI, ii.) Lands to "John Malte, tailor, and Awdrye his base daughter" for "1,312l.2d." That is one of the only extant entries dealing with this matter. The second entry is as follows: "Grants in September, 1546 - No. 33. John Malte, tailor, and Etheldreda Malte alias Dyngley, bastard daughter of the said John by Joan Dyngley alias Dobson. Grant for 1,311l. 2d., of the lordship and manor of Kelveston, Soms., and the lands in tenure of Robt. Cokkes in Kelveston ... (L. & P. XXI, ii. No. 200, Item 33.) It is clear that Etheldreda was not married when these lands were sold to her and her father." (1932 London edition, pp. 367-368).

If Weir thinks she can provide more exhaustive research than Chamberlin did, and prove that Etheldreda was indeed Henry VIII's, then she is welcome to try. But since she forgot about or didn't read Chamberlin's point-by-point denunciation of the evidence that forms the basis for this theory, she has done nothing of the sort here. She even definitely refers to Etheldreda as Elizabeth I's "other bastard half sister" (p. 237). A theory that is probably romantic bunk has been re-propagated as fact.

This book is still worth a read, if only to see how many unsubstantiated statements about Mary Boleyn have been made elsewhere and quoted here. Nonetheless, never assume for a moment that the book isn't doing the same thing, by providing inadequate sources or presenting dubious theory as hard fact. My inclination is to give it three stars, since popular history is so often little more than opinion and guesswork stated as fact, and this book is no worse in that regard than most. But the author's decision to criticise others for not citing sources, then proceed to cite sources that are so inadequate as often to be worthless - or not cite them at all, in the case of the mistake about William Thomas - means that I'm taking off a whole star for this hypocrisy factor.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars `What does all this tell us about Mary?', October 23, 2011
We know that Mary Boleyn (who died in 1543) is Anne Boleyn's sister, and that she apparently had affairs with both King François I of France, and King Henry VII of England. We know, too, that she married twice and apparently had two children. Most historians suggest that she is the eldest of the three surviving Boleyn children: Mary, Anne and George. The royal affairs may have made Mary notorious, but there is little to suggest that she had any influence or power in either the English or French courts. Many will be familiar with the portrayal of Mary Boleyn in `The Other Boleyn Girl' by Philippa Gregory, and the films based on it.

`There is no escaping that an air of mystery pervades every aspect of Mary Boleyn's life. There is so much we don't know about her, and only so much we can infer from the scant sources that have survived.'

In this biography, apparently the first full-length biography published about Mary, Ms Weir seeks to identify the truth about Mary and her life. Was Mary promiscuous? On what basis was she known as `The Great and Infamous Whore'? What evidence exists to support the birth order of the Boleyn sisters? Ms Weir also sets out to examine Mary's time and reputation in France, the details of her affair with Henry VIII and the possible children born as a consequence. Ms Weir touches, as well, on Mary's treatment by her family as well as the relationship between Mary and Anne.

Unfortunately, because so little source material exists in relation to Mary, she does not emerge from the shadows of history. What Ms Weir provides is a framework for her life, a description of significant events (and people) which took place during her life time. Mary's role in these events and her relationships with these people can be inferred but are not known with certainty.

The strength of Ms Weir's book, for me, is that she largely dispels the myths about Mary's supposed promiscuity. It seems highly likely that, as Ms Weir writes, Mary Boleyn's affair with Henry VIII was discreetly conducted. Otherwise, if Katharine of Aragon had been aware of it she could have used the fact of it in the defence of her own marriage, and surely would have. Henry VIII's argument for annulling his marriage to Katharine so he could marry Anne Boleyn was based on Katharine's earlier marriage to Henry's older brother Arthur. Henry having an affair with Anne's sister Mary created the same degree of affinity.

Those without some background in Tudor history might find this book challenging. As a Tudor enthusiast I found it provided some interesting food for thought.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings
Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir (Paperback - September 4, 2012)
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