Alison Weir’s latest biography was published simultaneously in England as Mary Boleyn: ‘The Great and Infamous Whore’. This is not the first biography of Mary, but there are very few; her sister Anne usually gets all the attention.
The resurgence of interest in Mary does seem to be traceable to the publication of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl in 2004, and Showtime’s The Tudors (2007-2010) didn’t hurt either.
Weir gave an NPR interview titled ‘Great and Infamous Mary: The Other ‘Boleyn’ Girl back in October. Even better is an interview in the Riverfront Times (out of St. Louis), in which Weir talks about Mary’s reputation and how it transformed during her lifetime and after. Weir has great sympathy for Mary. She believes, for example, that Mary was an unwilling participant in both of her rumored affairs, with Francois I and with Henry VIII.
WEIR, Alison. Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings. 364p. reprods. appendix. bibliog. index. Ballantine. 2011. Tr $28. ISBN 978-0-345-52133-0. LC 2011029091.
Adult/High School–Teens who have read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (Touchstone, 2004) and want to learn more about the young woman who was mistress to King Henry VIII will find many answers in this book. As sister to the more famous (or rather, infamous) Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII, our knowledge of Mary’s relationship to the king is filled with rumor and innuendo from those present at the court. Weir sets out to unravel the mysteries behind Boleyn by following court gossip, public records, letters, and historical discussion. Many historians have speculated on her private life not only with King Henry, but also on rumors of her earlier affair with the French king, and the theory that one or more of her children were sired by King Henry. That Mary was able to escape the notoriety of her sister and retire to a quiet life with a husband she loved is remarkable for her time and station in life. Because of its exhaustive research and attention to minute detail, the book can be difficult to follow. Dedicated YAs will follow the intricate relationships and the author’s meandering trail of events and people. And while not many teens will read this volume from cover to cover, it is compelling enough to entice history readers, and the author provides a good sense of what it must have been like to live under the shadow of this idiosyncratic king. Recommend it to students who want all the details on the happenings in King Henry’s court, and more specifically on Mary and her family. Appendixes cover the lives of her children and include portraits thought to be of Mary and her second husband, William Carey.– Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA