This is the story of Anne Boleyn, told through the eyes of her sister Mary. As a young girl, Mary finds herself manipulated by her avaricious family to become King Henry VIII’s lover, with an end to usurping Queen Katherine of Aragon. The Boleyn’s believe that if Mary becomes queen, they will be vastly elevated in terms of wealth and social status. Even after having two children by Henry, Mary finds his interest in her waning, and sees that he is turning his affections to her sister Anne. There is no other choice for Mary than to assist Anne in dethroning Queen Katherine. As she matures, Mary grows tired of the political games played in the royal court, and decides to make her own way in life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The Tudors have never been an exciting subject for me, but Philippa Gregory brings the era to life and makes it fascinating. It should be remembered that this is a fictionalised account of events, and there are differences between what Mary tells and what current historians believe. (For example, in the book Mary is portrayed as the younger sister, whereas in fact it is now widely accepted that she was older than Anne. Also, while in the book there is no doubt that Henry is the father of Mary’s children, in truth it was never known for sure).
Each character is distinct and interesting. Anne does not come out of this account well; she is portrayed as calculating and ruthless. Mary is drawn more sympathetically (perhaps not surprising as the book is told from her point of view). Another major character is their brother George, whose own fate is told in this story, and who is a charming and reckless man, who serves in the royal court. Henry himself is brought to life as a headstrong, spoilt young man, who is utterly handsome and charming in his youth, but who, during the period which the book spans, becomes bloated and unwell.
The story moves along at a steady pace, and even though I knew the ultimate outcome, I still found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to know what new developments were around the corner. I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Tudors (and if you have no interest, this might be a book to change your mind). After reading it, I found myself wanting find out more about this fascinating and brutal time in England’s history.