I was gifted ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ as part of a set of three by my mum when I was a teenager – The other two books were ‘The Constant Princess’ and ‘The Boleyn Inheritence’ ( Book Review: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory ) both by the same author. This is my second copy of that book having worn my original copy into dust from re-reading it so often over the years. It is one of my all time favourite books.
The basic plot of this story is that the Boleyn family wants the favour of the king and are willing to put their daughter into his bed in order to achieve it. They start by pushing forwards Mary, who has his children and seems to be pleasing him, until Anne supplants her and begins putting bigger and bolder ideas into his head. Anne Boleyn will not consent to be his publicly acknowledged whore – she wants to be his queen. As she charms the king away from her sister, and away from the Catholic church, Anne becomes a serious political player in the Tudor court, shaping the course of history with the Great Matter.
I like the way that the book acknowledges the two-faced nature of the Tudor court – how the Boleyn’s courtier face is so starkly different to their conversations behind closed doors. The layers of loyalty within the court, and within the great families, makes for a political climate fit to burst into flames at a moments notice. The job of maintaining peace in this dangerous game ought to belong to the king, but he is portrayed as an over-excited puppy who flits between this treat and that toy as his whims dictate. The queen, who has managed to keep a semblence of harmony until now, finds that as the Boleyns rise to power and aim for her place on the throne, her own grip over the peace of the court is slipping away. For, as this book regularly reiterates, without the favour of the king nobody has any power at all.
Mary Boleyn is a brilliant character, and the relationship between the three Boleyn siblings is both endearing and turbulent. Their brother George affectionately refers to his ‘Marianne’ and ‘Anna-Marie’ throughout the book, the three Boleyns presenting much like the three muskateers against the world. The twists and turns in their relationship as they grow closer and further apart in turn is fascinating to watch. Greogory has captured sibling rivalry, and the affection that cannot be quite abandoned, in all of its sharp and cutting glory.
I absolutely adored this book, especially Mary as a character. She starts off very innocent, and maintains a certain amount of that even as courtier life shakes off a lot of her earlier naivety. She alone amongst the Boleyns shows sympathy to the queen for her ordeal, and genuinely falls in love with the king as a man rather than for his crown. This adoration is shaken only by the realisation of his selfish nature after she becomes the mother of his children, and as it turns out she sees him go to her sisters arms without much regret for loss of the man – more for loss of her position as his mistress.
The book examines closely the balance between jealousy and pride in a sibling – how happy you can be for them balanced against how far from the spotlight it pushes the other sibling which is something that Mary and George are both forced to ackowledge after Anne has been crowned. “Anything I achieve will be seen as her gift” George states, telling Mary that she will always be overlooked now. Always ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’. Ironically, when history inevitably catches up to the end of Anne Boleyns story, being overlooked turns out to be quite handy…
If you liked this, you may also like: