Title: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings
Author: Alison Weir
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Biography
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Alison Weir tackles the now-infamous sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary, trying to determine whether she deserved the sordid reputation she acquired during her lifetime, as well as putting to rest questions of whether one (or both) of Mary’s children could have been sired by King Henry VIII.
In Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Alison Weir takes issue with historians and fiction authors that have smeared Mary Boleyn’s name in the centuries since her death. Though she has acquired quite the reputation over the years, it’s surprising how little we know of Anne Boleyn’s sister. In this biography, Alison Weir attempts to separate fiction from fact and presents an entirely new, and very convincing, case for who Mary Boleyn really was.
Weir confirms that which we know as fact (yes, Mary was King Henry VIII’s mistress before he married Anne Boleyn) and tries to either prove or disprove the rumors that have risen around her. I was surprised by how little information survived about this notorious woman, especially considering how famous her family is. For example, historians aren’t even sure who was older, Anne or Mary. Weir highlights these issues and does her best to solve them, giving the surviving secondary evidence from the time period. She does an exceptional job reconstructing Mary’s past, and through her meticulous research, the reader gets a real sense of what the job of a historian entails.
While Weir does include speculation and opinion in Mary Boleyn, she does her best to make it clear to the reader when this is the case. As a result, the book comes across as a well-written and objective history. Weir does have an agenda with this book, but it’s the best kind - wading through the fictional (and false) portrayals of Mary to find the real woman underneath. It is filled to the brim with interesting facts, and Weir doesn’t hesitate to debunk even the most widely-told rumors. Even if you aren’t interested in Mary, the book is fascinating because of the sheer amount of history Weir takes on through the prism of Mary. And even if you aren’t fully convinced by Weir’s analysis, it’s very interesting to read about her research and sources, as well as where her thoughts stem from.
If you’re a fan of history, especially Tudor history, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings is a must-read. Weir’s non-fiction is accessible and engaging; she manages to make history come alive for the reader, rather than treating it as a dull and dry subject. She presents a portrait of Mary Boleyn without the rumors or notoriety, and readers can’t help but feel that, despite all the adversity she faced in her life, perhaps she was the luckiest Boleyn of all.
Other books by Alison Weir:
Captive Queen – Alison Weir