Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Mary Boleyn, The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir

Mary Boleyn, The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir
Publication Date: September 12th 2012
Format: Paperback 416pp

Synopsis (from the publisher):
"New York Times bestselling author and noted British historian Alison Weir gives us the first full-scale, in-depth biography of Mary Boleyn, sister to Queen Anne as well as mistress to Anne’s husband, Henry VIII—and one of the most misunderstood figures of the Tudor age. Making use of extensive original research, Weir shares revelations on the ambitious Boleyn family and the likely nature of the relationship between the Boleyn sisters. Unraveling the truth about Mary’s much-vaunted notoriety at the French court and her relations with King Fran├žois I, Weir also explores Mary’s role at the English court and how she became Henry VIII’s lover. She tracks the probable course of their affair and investigates the truth behind Mary’s notorious reputation. With new and compelling evidence, Weir presents the most conclusive answer to date on the paternity of Mary’s children, long speculated to have been Henry VIII’s progeny. Alison Weir pieces together a life steeped in mystery and misfortune, debunking centuries-old myths to give us the truth about Mary Boleyn, the so-called “great and infamous whore.” "

My Review: 

Mary Boleyn's fame over the past decade has grown immensely due to the release of Philippa Gregory's novel, and later film, The Other Boleyn Girl, but how reliable is this depiction? Did Mary bear the King two children? Did she beg mercy from the King, risking her own life, for her sister Anne? Was she the virtuous sister? Was she the younger sister? These are just a few of the questions that Weir sets out to clarify in her historical biography, Mary Boleyn, The Mistress of Kings

There is no doubt how much meticulous research went in to the creation of Mary Boleyn, The Mistress of Kings, especially considering the limited amount of textual information on Mary's life. In order to bring to life such a historical figure, Weir is forced to lay down the bits of concrete information about Mary as a foundation for her life story, and build up the rest using information from those who would have surrounded her, and from major court events she more than likely would have attended. Such a feat is handled with precision and skilled deduction, ultimately resulting in a biography that corrects popular fictitious beliefs and illuminates, through suggestion, the hazy areas of Mary's life. 

Like all of Weir's work, this biography is extremely well written, no detail is left unattended, and the deductions are well laid out for the reader to comprehend. However, these deductions make up three halves of the book, with only a quarter being based on explicit textual evidence about Mary's life. Considering the fact that a triangulation of textual evidence from other members of the court is needed to make the deductions, and each deduction builds upon the previous one, it is understandable that overlap and reiteration will occur, but there is a point when it becomes overdone. Halfway through the book it begins to read like a history of the Tudor court rather than a biography, and towards the end all the chapters blur together in their repetitious manner. It is for this reason that the rating and recommendation are not as high as the first chapters indicated they would be. 

Overall, Mary Boleyn, The Mistress of Kings is a worthwhile read if you are interested in learning the truth behind the popular depiction of Mary's life, and about the lives of those she would have associated with during her lifetime. In addition to this, I listened to the audiobook while reading the physical copy of this book (interchanging them depending on my location) and I would highly recommend the audio version; Maggie Mash is a wonderfully engaging narrator. 


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