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Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress

Posted By Claire on July 1, 2009

Mary BoleynI was so excited to receive a copy of Amberley Publishing’s “Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress” by Josephine Wilkinson that I sat and read it in a day – ignoring work, the family and the housework!

I’ve always wanted to know more about Anne Boleyn’s sister, and Henry’s mistress, and this book has definitely helped me with that mission.

The First Biography of Mary Boleyn

Described as the publisher as “The real story of the `Other Boleyn Girl´”, this book is the very first biography of Mary Boleyn and paints a detailed picture of this woman who is almost as shrouded in mystery as her sister, Anne Boleyn.

Josephine Wilkinson’s biography catalogues Mary Boleyn’s life from her birth at Blickling Hall, through her time as a “sex object” at the French Court and her years as Henry’s mistress, to her eventual fall from favour when Anne stole the limelight. The book also looks into what happened to Mary once she had been discarded by Henry, who her children were fathered by, her eventual second marriage to William Stafford, her return to court and the fall of the Boleyns, right through to her death in 1543.

There are also 16 pages of beautiful illustrations including portraits, photographs of places and drawings.

Henry’s Favourite Mistress

What really struck me, as I read the biography, was the depth of Mary Boleyn’s relationship with Henry. According to Wilkinson, and she provides plenty of evidence, Henry VIII and Mary fell in love and it was a relationship that lasted from 1522-1525, making it longer than many of Henry’s marriages and much longer than any of his other affairs.

It was also a relationship that may well have produced two children, Katherine and Henry Carey (Wilkinson provides evidence to argue that these two children could well have been the King’s), and, unlike his previous affairs, Henry did not discard Mary when she became pregnant, but carried on seeing her throughout her first pregnancy and resumed the affair again after her confinement.

Wilkinson really brought it home to me that there was a true affection between these two people, shown later by Henry stepping in to help Mary after the death of her husband William Carey, and I can only imagine how hurt Mary must have been to be replaced in the King’s affections by her own sister. Mary had accepted her “lot” as the King’s mistress and yet here was her sister not even content to be the King’s “mâitresse en titre”, the King’s official and only mistress, but aiming to be Queen.

Josephine Wilkinson ends her book with these words:

“Just two weeks before her death Mary’s former lover, King Henry, had married his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, but he was never again to find the peace and the love he had shared with Mary.”

Well Researched

Another thing I love about this biography is that it is obvious that Wilkinson values accuracy and truth over myth and rumour. Any opinions put forward are backed up by evidence and all sources are listed as “Notes” and in a “Bibliography”. I hate maybes and assumptions, and this book is not guilty of them.

MaryBoleynBookJosephine Wilkinson

Amberley Publishing say that the author, Josephine Wilkinson, “received a First from the University of Newcastle where she also read for her PhD. She is currently a scholar-in-residence at St Deiniol’s Library, Britain’s only residential library founded by the great Victorian statesman, William Gladstone. She is the author of “Richard III: The Young King to Be”, also published by Amberley. She lives in York”.

I also notice that Wilkinson is writing “The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn” which is sure to be enlightening for us Anne Boleyn fans.

Josephine Wilkinson’s “Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress” is available as a hardback from Amazon US, Amazon UK or from your local bookstore. The cover shown on the Amazon sites is completely different to my copy and the one shown on the Publisher’s site – just to confuse you!


2 Responses to “Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress”

  1. Gareth Russell says:

    I thought this biography was interesting and thanks for the great review. However, I didn’t agree with its central argument that the affair was long-lasting or a great love affair. The author didn’t include the letter from Anne to King Henry in 1528, in which she basically forced him to provide financial assistance for Mary in the wake of Sir William’s death. In Henry’s response, he agreed but chastised Anne for seeking to help Mary, since Mary was an immoral woman who the King compared to Eve! When this letter is taken into account, it puts a very different spin on the reality of Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Carey to the one offered by Josephine Wilkinson.

  2. Beth says:

    I’ve just finished this book. Although it’s nice to have a biography that focuses (or tries to) on Mary, Wilkinson does tend to stray towards Anne’s story a lot. Admittedly, Mary was involved here, but aside from pointing out the evidence for her being one of Anne’s ladies, she is barely mentioned for pages at a time. Another thing that I found quite irritating while I was reading the book is Wilkinson’s habit of summing up things from paragraphs I’d only just read. She does this many times throughout the book, which just makes me wonder whether she had a word count to fill or whether she considered her readers to have short attention spans. Either way, it was extremely irritating and took my attention away from the content. However, for Boleyn fans it is nice for Mary to have more of the limelight. For those only associated with Mary via ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ the book provides insight into the true events concerning her marriages and also the details of her time in France. It was also good to see both sides of the evidence for and against Henry and Katherine Carey being Henry VIII’s children. Wilkinson states that Mary is ‘a fascinating character in her own right’. It’s just a pity that in her own book, where she is supposed to be allowed to shine, her story is often overshadowed by Anne’s once again.

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