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Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir

Posted By Claire on January 27, 2011

US Cover

US Cover

Alison Weir has just sent me this article about her book, Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore which is due to be released on the 6th October 2011 in the UK and the 4th October in the US, with the slightly different title Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings):-

Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir

Everyone knows Henry VIII as the King who married six times; his matrimonial adventures have been a source of enduring fascination for centuries, and the interest shows no sign of abating. But not so much is known about the King’s extra-marital adventures, and it’s clear that most people have the wrong idea about one lady who was briefly his mistress: Mary Boleyn.

In recent years, in the wake of Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl, and the two films based on it, the public have become fascinated by the story of Mary Boleyn, whose sister Anne was Henry VIII’s second wife. Above all, speculation now rages as to whether Mary’s two children actually were the King’s bastards, rather than the legitimate offspring of her first husband, William Carey. It is a question frequently asked at my book events, and people also want to know if Philippa Gregory’s portrayal of Mary Boleyn is accurate – and it is clear that most of them care very much that it is.

Mary Boleyn was a little more than a footnote to history before The Other Boleyn Girl appeared, but my interest in her dates back to the 1960s, and my original unpublished research on her from the 70s; but when I came to look at her history afresh for my forthcoming biography (Mary Boleyn:”The Great and Infamous Whore”, published by Jonathan Cape on 6th October 2011), I became aware of many misconceptions and myths that are often accepted as fact, even by historians.

Mary Boleyn represents just one short episode in Henry VIII’s chequered love life. Although he was married for many years to the virtuous Katherine of Aragon, it is clear that he had fleeting affairs in his youth, and by 1514, he had become enamoured of Elizabeth (‘Bessie’) Blount, one of his wife’s maids of honour. Their affair lasted for five years, until Bessie bore Henry his only acknowledged bastard, Henry Fitzroy, in 1519. The King then married her off to his ward, Gilbert, Lord Tailboys, and had Fitzroy brought up as a prince, bestowing on him the royal dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset in 1525, and even contemplating settling the succession on him. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Blount had been eclipsed by the woman who was probably her successor in Henry’s bed, Mary Boleyn.

Like her sister Anne, Mary Boleyn had spent her formative years at the licentious French court, where she seems to have had a brief and discreet affair with King Francis I. It is often said that she acquired a reputation for promiscuity while in France, but there is no good evidence for that. Then she disappears from history for five years. My research suggests that she stayed in France before returning to England to be married, in 1520, to William Carey, Henry VIII’s cousin and an upwardly mobile member of his Privy Chamber.

Mary probably became Henry VIII’s mistress in 1522. We do not know for certain how long their affair lasted. She bore two children, Katherine in 1524 and Henry in 1525, and many now believe that they were the King’s bastards. Against all my expectations, I have found new and compelling evidence that proves their paternity almost conclusively.

Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Boleyn was probably over by the time he began pursuing her sister Anne, and then, in 1527, commenced proceedings to have his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled: this was his celebrated – or notorious – ‘Great Matter’, which would end in the Reformation and the severance of the English Church from that of Rome. That is mostly beyond the scope of my book, but it needs to be mentioned, because Mary Boleyn’s chief historical significance was that her affair with Henry VIII placed him within exactly the same degree of affinity to Anne Boleyn as he insisted that Katherine, his brother’s widow, stood in relation to him. And indeed, that barrier to his marriage to Anne was without doubt the grounds on which their marriage was annulled, two days before Anne was beheaded for treason in 1536.

By then, Mary Boleyn had fallen from favour. William Carey had died in the terrifying sweating sickness epidemic of 1528, and in 1534, in secretly marrying William Stafford, a man far below her in station, Mary incurred the anger of both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who banished her from court. There is no reliable mention of her returning there after that time, and it is unlikely that she and her sister were ever reconciled, or that she was a witness to Anne’s fall; and it seems she only had occasional contact with her motherless niece, the future Elizabeth I – although that contact may have been beneficial to Elizabeth.

It is often said that Mary retired to Rochford Hall in Essex with her new husband, but she did not gain possession of that house until much later, and it seems that she lived abroad for some years. She died in obscurity in 1543. Her children, however, survived to enjoy glittering careers at the court of their cousin, Elizabeth I, and their story forms the final chapter of the book.

I have enjoyed exploring the many grey areas of Mary Boleyn’s life and career: her relationship with parents and siblings; her education; the rather shocking circumstances in which she became Henry’s mistress; where she was and what she was doing in the years in which she barely features in the historical record; and whether there are any authentic portraits of her. Above all, I wanted to discover whether she deserved her promiscuous reputation. Was she used by her family to advance their fortunes, or was she just a girl who liked a good time? What does her life tell us about morality in Renaissance courts and the double standards that prevailed in regard to male and female promiscuity? What did it mean to be the King’s mistress?

Mary Boleyn’s is a tale that has never fully been told, and it is my hope that this biography will add to our understanding of this much–misrepresented lady and her relations with Henry VIII.

by Alison Weir

Comments

15 Responses to “Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir”

  1. Jenn says:

    I couldn’t be more excited about this book. Allison has got to be my favorite author of the Tudor period. I own many of her books and can’t wait to add this one to my personal collection. I’m thankful that she did a book on Mary Boleyn. I’ve had so many questions about her.

  2. TudorRose says:

    Interesting. It is a must read. I need to get this book. Well especially if it is going to shed more light on the woman who was just no more or no less than a mere mistress to not only the King of France but also to that of the King of England but edventually does find long lasting happiness that she finds with William Carey and later William Stafford. It does make me wonder what exactly was going on at the courts of England, France and beyond because it just seems that there had been no morality there what so ever, it is a little like todays society the only different is that people then dressed more appropriately plus they were actually married off to give them respecterbillity, nowadays that would not be granted or bestowed upon you unless you were of a title of course or of nobillity but apart from it seems no different and come to think of it that is why I think Anne was also given the same credit because they probably thought the people of the court att he time that is, like sister like sister even though that had been and was not the case. Mary may have been what the french king called her but Anne certainly was not.

  3. Lisby says:

    This one sounds fantastic. I am very interested in what the author has uncovered. Mary is an ancestor to all of the most important families of Britain, including the ruling family. It’s time someone wrote a true(er) version of her story.

  4. Randy says:

    This book sounds absolutely fantastic!

    Ms. Weir is THEE official word on everything Tudors, IMO.

    I will be picking this one up on October 6th.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I can’t wait for this book to come out!! I am looking forward to reading about her new findings! 🙂

  6. Shoshana says:

    I have eagerly awaited this book on Mary Boleyn by Alison Wier! It is long past time that attention is given to Mary and I am sure this book will spark much interest in her. Hopefully, that history will translate into new research into her life and new facts will emerge giving us a clearer picture of hers and Henry’s relationship, that with her sister, and her marriages. I have often thought that if Mary’s children were also Henry’s, she made the correct decision in keeping that knowledge under wraps and raising them away from court politics. Doing so gave the children the liberty of finding their own way within the rules and laws of Henry without the added pressures of a constant light shining on them as Henry’s bastards. I also want to learn more about Mary’s second and last husand, Stafford. He must have been a remarkably selfless person for the times as he had to know their marriage would essentially end any courtly ambitions he might have had – prehaps we will find an exordinary love story there. I hope so; Mary certainly deserved some happiness in her life; as did most of the Tudor ladies caught up in Henry’s love life.

  7. Lisa says:

    I have also pre-ordered this book and have a lot of books by Alison Weir. I read Josephine Wilkinson’s ‘Mary Boleyn’ and whilst enjoyable (read it in no time) it didn’t fully answer all the questions so am hoping that this latest one does, particularly about her life after Court and her marriage to Stafford. I wrote about Mary Boleyn at University and she has always been one of my favourite Tudor’s. I too have always felt that her two older children were Henry’s. They were certainly always favourites of Elizabeth I.

  8. Nicole says:

    I’m very interested in reading this Book regarding Mary Boleyn’s life. I have just discovered that I am Mary’s 17th Great Grand Daughter from Henry Carey. Can anyone please give me some books to do research on this part of my family. Non Fiction Please!

  9. natalia says:

    I’m looking forward to this book, but the cover – rather than being an unknown woman c 1520 – I believe is the young Duchess Claude of France c 1515. Does anyone agree?

  10. Karen says:

    I absolutely LOVE your site!! I have been sitting here for almost 2 hours reading all your reviews and the comments!! I am a huge fan of the Tudors and the history that surrounds them for years now! I am so much a fan that I made my own nobility dress!! I am big into renaissance festivals, costuming and good novels!!!! I agree with many things you have said on the books I have read!! I will be coming back to your site more often!! Thanks so much for making my day!! 🙂

  11. Claire says:

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you so much for your very kind words, have you checked out our main website http://www.TheAnneBoleynFiles.com? There are lots of Tudor history fans on the forum there and lots of articles on Anne, Henry VIII and Tudor people and times. 🙂

  12. Adrienne Dillard says:

    I really don’t like the subtitle as I don’t believe that Mary was a whore in the least. But I adore Allison Weir and have a great fascination with Mary so of course this is on my must have list. I am DYING to know what her conclusive evidence is as I have my own beliefs of who the father was. Can’t wait until October!

  13. Courtney Shinaberry says:

    I’m quite curious about the portrait on the cover of this book. Weir is obviously going to take up the issue of whether or not there are any extant portraits that can be reliably identified as Mary, and the presence of the image on the book jacket seems to suggest that it might be a contender. What I find particularly interesting about this image is that it seems virtually identical to a portrait (supposedly) of Queen Claude of France painted by Corneille de Lyon in the 1530s/1540s. The hair is tidied up a bit, the shape of the brows is slightly different, and the dress is blue as opposed to black, but the neckline detail appears to be the same, as is the general character of the portrait, suggesting to me that one might be a copy of the other. I’m interested to know if Weir addresses this, and if so, what her take on it is.

    The portrait of Queen Claude can be seen here:
    http://www.gogmsite.net/the_early_1500s_-_up_to_155/subalbum-claude-de-france/1530s-or-1540s-queen-claude.html

  14. Courtney Shinaberry says:

    Ah! Missed Natalie’s comment above before I posted! Glad someone else noticed, so I’m sure Weir did as well. I know we’re all anxiously awaiting a discussion on this!

  15. Jass says:

    Hiya

    I went to the site aand the cover does look like Queen Claude maybe Mary looked a bit like her and thats why King Francis 1 was so nasty about her .

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