Author: Alison Weir, 2011.
Genre: Biography. History. Non-fiction. Tudor England.
Other Details: Hardback. 352 pages.
In this book, the first full-scale, in-depth biography of Henry VIII's famous mistress, Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne, his second queen, Alison Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds Mary Boleyn and uncovers the truth about one of the most misunderstood figures of the Tudor age. - taken from Alison Weir's official UK site.
Alison Weir makes it clear from the outset that very little is actually known of Mary Boleyn in terms of primary sources and also that there have been a great many errors and wrong assumptions made in secondary sources over the years including her reputation as 'the great and infamous whore'. She freely admits that until the publication of Philippa Gregory's historical fiction The Other Boleyn Girl and its film versions that Mary had been considered a footnote in history. She also expresses concern about such novels and the TV series 'The Tudors' creating "a disconcerting blurring of the demarcation line between fact and historical fiction in the public’s eye" and that she is seeking to set the record straight.
Therefore, in terms of a biography of Mary Boleyn this is quite a thin work because so little about Mary can be confirmed including the duration of her affair with Henry VIII as both parties were very discrete and paper trails very limited despite the amount of research Weir has undertaken since her interest began in Mary during the 1960s. I was already aware of this when I picked the book up at the library but I have appreciated Weir's other non-fiction works on the period and trusted that she would have interesting things to say about Mary and the Boleyn family.
Indeed, over the course of the book Weir widens her scope to write about the Tudor court and places what is known about Mary in the context of her time. She also makes some educated guesses based on the evidence to hand, such as Mary's whereabouts during her sister's trial and execution and the paternity of her two children.
I find Weir's style very accessible and so this proved an enjoyable read. I found myself quite interested to learn about Mary's children in their later lives including their relationship with their cousin, Elizabeth. The book contains a number of colour plates though sadly there are no authenticated portraits of Mary Boleyn. Even the cover image is of Claude of France to whom both Mary and Anne served as ladies-in-waiting. There are plenty of notes, a genealogy chart and a select bibliography of sources following the main text.
Just to note that in the US this book has the slightly different title of Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings.