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Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings Paperback – September 4, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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A Letter from the Author: Mary Boleyn on Film
Mary Boleyn has been portrayed several times on screen. In Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Valerie Gearon plays her as the dark-haired, ‘pliant eldest daughter’ of Thomas Boleyn. Henry VIII’s affair with her is dated to 1523; Anne Boleyn complains: ‘We have had the King in the bosom of this family for three years!’ When next we see Mary, she has been banished to Hever and is pregnant with Henry’s child. Sir Thomas tells her she must make no trouble about being abandoned, to avoid putting her family at risk.

Mary warns her sister: ‘Learn from me, Nan. Lock up your heart.’ She has clearly lost her own heart: when the King visits, she sits weeping alone. It is inevitable that film makers make dramatic capital from the scenario of one sister snaring the King who has abandoned the other.

Watching the film today, one is struck by its integrity and the efforts made to achieve a degree of accuracy, which are markedly absent from some modern historical films.

Clare Cameron made a cameo appearance as Mary in Henry VIII (2003). When the King (Ray Winstone) descends on Hever to court Anne, Mary is big with a child he doubts is his--and faints at the sight of him. This is one of many gratuitous scenes in the series. The pregnant Mary is about to be married to ‘a provincial book-keeper’. Later, bending the historical chronology, Henry says he will grant Mary lands, a title and a good marriage; and he titles her father Earl of Essex (his title was in fact Earl of Wiltshire!)

In 2003, the BBC filmed Philippa Gregory’s novel, The Other Boleyn Girl. Henry VIII’s interest in Mary (Natasha McElhone) is dated to to 1524, and Katherine of Aragon (why is she always shown as black-haired in films?) is improbably aware of the affair. Mary is manoeuvred by her family into becoming the King’s mistress, but she loves her husband, William Carey, and only reluctantly succumbs. But as their intimacy deepens, she comes to favour Henry, and a rift opens between her and Carey.

William Stafford, who will become Mary’s second husband, appears early on in the unlikely guise of a servant of the Boleyns, when he would have been about twelve years old!

Mary becomes pregnant in 1525. Her father is worried that the King will stray while she is unavailable to him, so he pushes Anne into Henry’s path. Inevitably, Henry falls for Anne. Mary is shown being confined as a queen, taking to a darkened chamber in readiness for the birth. Henry VIII was discreet in his illicit amours, and these ordinances were laid down only for the Queen, so this is just pure silliness.

Mary gives birth to a son, but the Duke of Norfolk tells her that the King no longer desires her because he wants her sister. Only Stafford is there to support her.

Mary is forced to wait on Anne, whom she now hates, and to witness her flirting with Henry. Carey tells her to forget the King, and forces himself on her, fathering a daughter. But the chronology is skewed, as is the likely paternity of the children. Carey dies after Anne becomes queen in 1533 (in reality, he died in 1528). When Anne tries to wed Mary to the fictional Lord Farnley, she marries Stafford in secret. When she confesses, she is banished for disgracing the family.

Mary is then seen suggesting that Anne lie secretly with another man in order to conceive a son, when in reality, she was likely in Calais during Anne’s fall. In the series, it is she who asks their brother George, ‘Could you lie with her?’ Later, she comforts Anne for the loss of the son George has incestuously fathered, and after Anne’s arrest, she attends her in the Tower.

There is no sense of politics in the film, as in the movie, The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), starring Scarlett Johansson as a rather vacuous Mary. The costumes are often anachronistic and the chronology shaky. The story is told on a superficial level, and follows a similar plot to the TV movie. At the end, Mary is seen watching Anne’s execution; but the real Anne did not weep on the scaffold. The most far-fetched scene is where Mary rides back to court afterwards and snatches Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, carrying her off to be reared with her own children in the country.

In the TV series The Tudors (2007-2010), Mary Boleyn (Perdita Weeks) appears in six episodes. From the moment you see the eighteenth-century coach in the opening shots of the series, you know that historical integrity is going to be an issue. Hopeless chronology, dated costumes and unforgivable factual errors spoil a series that is often well acted by a strong cast. The Tudors inhabits a world of its own: only occasionally do you get a sense of Tudor England. Many of the female characters, like Mary, look like modern fashion models with breast implants and teased hair.

We see the King of France pointing out Mary to Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. When Henry later asks Mary what French graces she has learned, she offers him oral sex. Later, we see Mary waiting on her sister Anne and visiting Calais with the royal party. Anne and Mary are depicted as being very close and affectionate, which may not have been the case in real life. In the show it is Mary (not even recorded as being present) who carries the Princess Elizabeth to her christening. Later on a heavily pregnant Mary--had Anne not already noticed?--confesses that she has married Stafford secretly, and the Boleyns banish her from court.

Mary Boleyn is misrepresented in popular culture because of such films. It concerns me that the demarcation line between historical fact and fiction has now become blurred. Why would one ever want to change history? The truth, as Byron famously said, ‘is stranger than fiction’.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“This nuanced, smart, and assertive biography reclaims the life of a Tudor matriarch.”—Publishers Weekly
“Weir has achieved the enviable skill of blending the necessary forensic and analytical tasks of academia with the passionate engagement that avocational history lovers crave.”—Bookreporter
“Top-notch . . . This book further proves that [Weir] is a historian of the highest caliber.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Weir matches her usual professional skills in research and interpretation to her customary, felicitous style.”—Booklist


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034552134X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345521347
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By hasselaar VINE VOICE on August 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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