After seeing previews for The Other Boleyn Girl, I knew I wanted to read the book by Philippa Gregory first. I have always been intrigued by this time period mainly because when I first stared reading trashy romance novels, they were always set during either King Henry VIII’s reign or Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The Other Boleyn Girl was no trashy romance book, but a historical fiction told through the eyes of Mary Boleyn, who was once mistress to King Henry VIII and watched the rise and fall of her sister Anne Boleyn.
A brief history lesson, Henry Tudor broke free from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he could set aside his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, and instead marry Anne Boleyn. This was huge during that time period because the Church no longer held authority and Henry seized all the power. His whims ruled everything and to question Henry could result with your head on the chopping block.
Mary is the narrator of this story and from the beginning she touches upon the rivalry between her and Anne. As Mary states, “There could hardly be a world for me without Anne, there was hardly world enough for us both.” They are night and day from one another. While Mary is fair and angelic, Anne is seductive and bold. But both are Boleyn girls and must heed to their family’s never ending ambition.
First Mary becomes Henry’s mistress and Anne must serve and help Mary advance the family name. Mary keeps the king’s attention for a few years and even has two children by him. Eventually his attention wanes and he begins to sniff around the other Boleyn girl. Soon Mary is commanded to step back while it is Anne’s turn to make a play at the King.
Anne will not settle for being Henry’s whore like her sister and instead has sights for the throne. Anne’s ambition knows no end and she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. As history notes, she does become Queen, but the price is deadly. After giving birth to Princess Elizabeth, Anne knows that her next child must be a male heir. Unfortunately she cannot carry a child to term after that and is accused of witchcraft, adultery and incest where she is found guilty and beheaded.
Mary is a bystander in all of this and must watch in horror the choices her sister makes to accomplish her desires. Upon watching her sister’s beheading, Mary states, “And then the sword came down like a flash of lightning, and then her head was off her body and the long rivalry between me and the other Boleyn girl was over … He [the King] had taken my other self: Anne.”
Philippa Gregory did such an amazing job painting a vivid picture of this time period. While I felt the book ran a little long, I did love all the detail and attention she put into the story. She stayed true to the historical timeline and depicted the events as she imagined how they occurred.
I loved the relationship between Anne and Mary. They were sisters and cared deeply for one another, but also their worst enemy at the same time. They always tried to best each other and in the end, Anne paid the biggest price for it. Anne was such an interesting character to read. You could feel her determination and strength but also her desperation to maintain her hold on the King and how it drove her to do inexplicable acts. I also liked how Gregory chose to use Mary as the narrator. Her docility and sweet manner was a nice disparity to Anne and it played out well in the story. Until this book, I never even knew there was another Boleyn girl. History only writes about one.
There are so many other themes involved with this novel that I could go on and on about each one. Gregory touches upon homosexuality, women’s rights, the sanctity of marriage, socio-economic classes and so forth. The book is well balanced and I really enjoyed reading it. It gave me a keener insight into Henry’s reign and I want to pick up her novel, The Virgin’s Lover, which is about Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth.