The Boleyn novels

Reading these two historical fiction works is like witnessing the scandalous affairs of King Henry VIII unfolding before my very eyes!

Philippa Gregory’s attention to the minutiae of Tudor court life and her lively retelling of the circumstances which drove the Boleyn sisters to rival each other for the King’s favour in The Other Boleyn Girl riveted me from the first to the last page. Told in the first person perspective through Mary Boleyn, the novel spans over 15 years, and takes the reader from Mary’s youth right through to Anne Boleyn’s execution.

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Seen through the eyes of Mary, Anne’s fate seems [to] smack of treachery and is simply the results of an over-indulged and slightly mad monarch who will stoop at nothing to gain and then destroy the women who drifted in and out his life. It doesn’t paint Henry VIII in a very flattering light, but then we already learnt that from European history taught in school.

What made this textbook material come alive for me was the author’s attention to the details from court dress and manners to the nuances in interpretation of each flirtatious and meaningful glance, to the minutiae of everyday life in Tudor England. The violent rages, silent anguish, quiet joy and unspoken fear of each character engage me on a deeper emotional level, such that I empathize completely with the heroine. No wonder this is being made into a movie, and I can’t wait to catch it on the big screen.

The Boleyn Inheritance continues about three years after the first Boleyn novel. This time round, the author chose to relate the story through three central characters of the period 1539 to 1542, with the last chapter of Henry’s life told through Anne of Cleves five years later.

The Boleyn novels

I must say the inane and childish thoughts of Katherine Howard drove me nuts, so much so I took to skimming the chapters told in her voice towards the last bit when she was incarcerated in the Tower of London. Anyone who’s read history would have known that she’s the other unfortunate wife who was beheaded by the by-now undoubtedly insane king. I couldn’t say I pity her. She’s such a silly airhead, and a vainglorious material girl who walked into her own death trap with eyes wide shut.

My sympathies lie entirely with Anne of Cleves and her very narrow escape from Madame Guillotine. She’s gracious, cool and kept her wits about her even though she didn’t start off on the right footing with the deluded middle-aged Henry in the grips of an identity crisis.

Of Jane Boleyn, the widow of Mary’s brother George, one would say she fully deserved her fate for her wicked betrayal, although she is to be pitied for her ill feelings of inadequacy and jealousy of George’s relationship with his sisters which led her to do the things she did. Through her eyes, the reader finally understood her misguided motive in colluding with her husband’s enemies in the first book.

So, if you’re in the mood to be entertained by some totally outrageous royalty, these two books are ample proof of Henry’s folly, and highly entertaining reads for a weekend at home.

5 thoughts on “The Boleyn novels

  1. ooh, you’re right about the movie. caught it on the flight to Paris
    just last month. the producers actually moved several scenes together,
    and blurred the timeline a little.

    it helped that you read the book first, otherwise you’ll miss quite a
    lot of the underlying rivalry and tension. I totally agree with you on
    The Boleyn Inheritance. It took me quite a while to get into it, andI
    was only interested in Anne of Cleves.

  2. I read The Other Boleyn Girl, the newer print in antisipation of the
    movie. It was so good I couldn’t pit it down till it was done. But then I
    watchedthe movie and it totaly confused me. The movie didn’t make any
    sense. It left stuff out and they changed stuff. I was not impressed
    with it at all. I was looking forward to it so much that it was a real
    dissapointment. If they are going to make movies out of books then they
    should use the book asthe script. Anyways after I read the book I became
    completely enthralled in Mary Boleyn. I completely agree with saying
    that King Henry was a selfish, self-centered man. Is the story goes on I
    liked him less and less, along with Anne. I can not believe that she
    treated her sister like that, and Mary stuck by her side. It showes what
    kind of people they are. I did start reading The Boleyn Inheritance
    and its alot harder to get into than TOBG. I can’t wait to find more
    books about Mary though.

  3. Marg,
    Ahh … I’ve found another historical fiction reader. ACtually, to be honest, you won’t miss much if you give Inheritance a miss … I enjoyed TOBG much more.

    I second seeing more period movies. being produced. I think TOBG is potboiler material … nothing sells like scandal. That said, I do wish to see a remake of The Three Musketeers, or someone turning Susan Wiggs’ Kingdom of Gold into a movie. Now that would be something I’d look forward to.

  4. When I was in high school, I made quite a study of English History far and above what we actually had to learn. I knew quite a bit about each of his wives and what always struck me is what a selfish, self-centered man he really was. I know that The Other Boleyn Girl will probably be a mega-hit. Part of me hopes that it will be because then we can get more period movies – and there are never enough of them. But part of me wishes they could have picked a more admirable person to make a movie of.

  5. I have read The Other Boleyn Girl, but haven’t quite got to The Boleyn Inheritance yet! I am currently reading another book about Anne Boleyn called A Brief, Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes – it’s an old book that is being republished soon, and it is very good. It tells Anne’s story, and at first it seemed that it was going to be an all rosy characterisation of her, but it’s not.

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