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Aurora Book Club Next Meeting -[masked] - 7pm

From: Julia W
Sent on: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 12:16 PM
I thought I would share with all of you a great article I found regarding our next read "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory. This was posted by Philippa Gregory on her website. If you are interested in taking at look for additional information it is

I am often asked about the relationship between my historical research and the fiction of my novels, and with the renewed success of my novel The Other Boleyn Girl and the film which is based on the novel, more and more people are curious as to where fact ends and fiction and film making begins.


My Tudor novels are always driven by the history and the research determines the story. I do not invent events to change the story. I think anyone who knows the history of the period would see that the bare history alone gives an amazing and exciting story. The fiction serves to fill in the gaps in the historical record ? for instance Mary?s courtship with Stafford where we know the result: the secret marriage based on a passionate love described by Mary herself in a letter) ? but we don?t know the circumstances.

And of course, since I am writing in first person, I cannot offer an account which allows for contradictory records. If I were writing a history book, I would have the luxury of saying : on the one hand? on the other hand?but perhaps?. As a writer of fiction I have to take the most likely version and incorporate it into the body of the narrative with an air of conviction.

In order to help readers who want to know more about the research, or read the history for themselves, I provide an author?s note and also a book list. This is not to destroy the illusion of the novel, nor to claim that the book is a scholarly history, it is to give the readers assistance with their own reading, and I know that many readers appreciate this. In addition, I often write about my historical research and writing process and this is published in newspaper articles and posted on my website Philippa

What follows is some of the more controversial issues in the history itself and in the novel.


We may never know the exact dates of birth or be certain about the birth order of Anne Boleyn, her brother George, and sister Mary ? the ?other? Boleyn girl of my novel. These were children of a rising ambassador at the court of Henry VIII, they were not noble or royal children and their dates were not thought sufficiently important to record.

We know that the Boleyn parents were married in 1500. (Starkey) and so the children cannot have been born before that date. When Anne became Queen and later historians tried to establish her birth date they varied from the earliest possible date: 1500 (Gregorio Leti) to 1507 (Camden).

She was said to be nearly thirty when she was executed, in 1536 (Clifford) which would support the 1507 date, and when her body was exhumed in the Victorian period the archaeologists then thought she had been between twenty five and thirty at the time of her death. (Weir), which would suggest a birth date of 1511. Thus we have a range of possible birth dates for Anne, in the eleven years from 1500 to 1511.

As to Anne?s place of birth, her chaplain Matthew Parker suggested that he was her ?countryman? implying that they both came from the English county of Norfolk where the Boleyn family lived until 1505. This would suggest a birth sometime between 1500-1505.

Her brother George may have been about 27 when he became a privy councillor in 1529 which gives him a birth date of around 1502, but this is too early for a younger brother of three with older dead siblings. Alison Weir thinks he was born in 1504 and that he was the youngest of the three surviving Boleyn children.

We have no date of birth for Mary Boleyn at all, but since she was married in 1520, she would have been sexually mature at that age and could not have been born after 1508.

There is no conclusive evidence of birth order either. Anne was sent to France into royal service first, which gives a firm indication that she was the older sister (Warnicke). She joined the schoolroom of Margaret of Austria?s in 1513, when she could have been as young as six years old (Warnicke); and an impressive marriage was planned for her to her cousin the Earl of Ormonde in 1520.

Negotiations dragged on for Anne?s betrothal, which meant that Mary ? despite being younger - was married first in February 1520. (Warnicke). She would have been of age to marry at 12 years old. When Anne was given her letters patent as a Marchioness she was named as ?one? of the daughters (Weir) rather than the oldest daughter; which is suggestive but not decisive.

In the novel, I go with Warnicke?s birth order and suggested dates of birth as I think them the most persuasive. But I have to emphasis that nobody knows for sure: there is just not enough evidence.


Both Boleyn girls were accused of unchastity at the French court, but these accusations emerged a decade after their time in France, from prejudiced sources. In 1533 Francis 1 of France told the Duke of Norfolk, Anne?s uncle that she ?had not always lived virtuously? (Weir) and Henry VIII told the Spanish Ambassador ? who himself always referred to Anne as a ?whore? out of loyalty to his countrywoman Katherine of Aragon ? that Anne had been ?corrupted? in France. (Weir). These remarks come as Anne?s reputation was being traduced prior to her execution.

Mary?s reputation was also attacked, the papal nuncio called her ?a very great and infamous whore? and Francis 1 referred to her as ?my hackney?. (Weir)

However these comments were not noted at the time of Mary Boleyn?s highly succesful marriage to a courtier high in royal favour: William Carey, nor was it apparently discussed at the time that Mary became Henry VIII?s acknowledged mistress, nor when her sister became Queen. If Mary had been whore to two Kings we might expect someone at the time to observe this scandalous piece of gossip.

The French main court was notoriously promiscuous but the Boleyn girls were under the protection of Queen Claude, the Queen of France whose court mostly lived outside Paris away from her husband?s court. Weir describes her court as ?a nunnery? where girls were expected to conduct themselves with ?modesty and decorum by observing and almost conventual routine based on prayers, good works, and chastity.?

It seems unlikely that two English girls of good family, hoping to make good marriages, placed in such a court would have the opportunity to become ?notorious?, nor would Queen Claude have taken them into her service if their reputations had been in any way questionable, or kept them if they were dishonoured.

Why Francis should have slandered both Boleyn girls can perhaps be explained by the constant competition between him and Henry VIII to establish supremacy in martial arts, diplomacy and theology and perhaps here ? in the bedroom too. The criticism by the papal nuncio and the Spanish ambassador is easily understood by their hostility to the rise of the Boleyns and their loyalty to the papist Queen, Katherine of Aragon.

Personally, I think the unquestioning repetition of such slurs on these girls (perhaps as young as ten, no older than fifteen when they joined Queen Claude?s court) is part of a male criticism of young women. It seems to me most likely that Mary Boleyn was a virgin on her marriage (for why would William Carey accept a ?notorious whore? into his family?) but since she became Henry VIII?s lover soon after her marriage, historians have made the assumption that since she was a whore with one King she might well have been a whore with another.

This extreme view of female sexuality ? that a woman is either a whore or chaste and that there are no degrees of behaviour ?is inherited from the great analysts of the Tudor period: the Victorian historians, and carries with it their view of female sexuality and their prejudice against women. We see it also in their negative view of Katherine Howard: another proclaimed ?whore? and their lack of analysis of Katherine of Aragon: a ?good? woman.

In the case of Katherine Howard it has taken a long time for historians to consider her reputation with sympathy and understanding, and in the case of Katherine of Aragon there are historians even now who cannot accept that she may have lied about the consummation of her first marriage, because that would be a ?bad? act of an otherwise ?good? woman.

This is, of course, a feminist issue as it deals with a sexist slant on historical facts. I think it very important that historians should challenge views of women from the past bearing in mind the traditional prejudices against women. In this sense I am proud to be writing a modern history of women.


In April 1536 Thomas Cromwell appointed a commission to look into the possibility of treason by the Queen. They found evidence to charge the Queen with adultery with Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and her musician Mark Smeaton.. They also named her brother George Boleyn as her incestuous lover to enhance public revulsion against her, and because they had the benefit of incriminating testimony from George Boleyn?s wife, Lady Rochford, Jane Parker.

Anne was accused of treason ? in that she plotted the death of the King that she might marry one of her lovers ? witchcraft, which also carried a death penalty, and treason in slandering the King with her brother, when it was alleged they discussed his impotence. She was also accused of poisoning Katherine of Aragon and attempting to poison Lady Mary Tudor, though these charges did not come to court. She was found guilty of all these charges, by a panel of the peers of the realm and sentenced to death. (Weir).

It is generally accepted now that Anne was guilty of none of these crimes but at the time she was thought to be guilty and though the gathering of evidence against her was prejudiced the trial itself was fair, according to the rules of the time (Warnicke). The charge of incest with her brother is the most controversial now, but at the time it was the alleged adultery with a working class man, Mark Smeaton which was more shocking to her contemporaries. (Weir)

Retha Warnicke suggests that the men accused of adultery with Anne may have been notorious libertines ? which as she explains could also imply hommsexual acts.

In my novel, The Other Boleyn Girl I am bound by the convention that the narrative is by Mary Boleyn. I think that Mary, as her sister-in-law Jane Parker, would have been struck by the intimacy between Anne and her brother George, and would have been well aware that her sister was desperate to conceive a child, that the King was unwilling or impotent with her, and that her sister was a woman of great determination and few scruples.

In the novel I leave Mary uncertain as to what Anne may have done, and later, in The Boleyn Inheritance I show Jane Parker coming to the realisation that her accusations against Anne and George were primarily founded on her own jealousy. Personally, I think that Anne and George must have discussed the terrible danger that Anne faced, I think it likely that they discussed the king?s sexual problems, and how Anne might conceive the son that would save her life and her family?s fortune. I cannot know, and nor can anyone else on the present evidence, whether the charge of incest and adultery against Anne was based on truth, suspicion, or lies.


Mary Boleyn married William Carey on February 4th 1520 and it seems likely that she took the eye of Henry VIII in 1522 when he was 31 and ending his affair with Elizabeth Blount. In 1524 Mary gave birth to a girl named Catherine, and her husband, now Sir William Carey, was granted lands after the birth. In 1526 she gave birth to a baby boy: Henry, and her husband was given the prime job of Keeper of Greenwich Palace.

Rewards were also showered on her family to coincide with each birth. This is suggestive that Henry was rewarding the family and the husband for use of Mary. The affair probably ended during Mary?s second confinement when Henry was attracted to her sister Anne. (Starkey, Weir et al)

Both children took the name Carey and Mary remained Sir William?s acknowledged wife until his death in 1528, when Anne took the wardship of Henry, but not Catherine.

Neither Mary, nor her two children born during the affair with the King ever claimed that these were Tudor bastards, nor did the King acknowledge them. There was gossip that Henry Carey was the king?s son and bore a striking resemblance to the king (Varlow). However, this does not prove their paternity either way.

Henry VIII did not need to acknowledge a bastard son. He already had one in Henry Fitzroy (Blount?s son) and at the age of 31 he would have been confident that he would conceive a legitimate son with a future wife ? possible Anne who came from fertile stock and had a fertile sister. Henry believed that his lack of a male heir was because his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was cursed. He knew of no reason why he would not have a son in a marriage blessed by God.

Acknowledging a second bastard son would be of no advantage at this time in Henry?s life ? indeed it might create unsettling fears about his potency and fertility - and would increase the pretensions of the Boleyn family.

In later life, Catherine Carey made no claims to royal parentage but a comparison of the portrait of her daughter Laetitia to Elizabeth 1 suggests a strikingly strong family resemblance, these look like two Tudor girls. The Lady Penelope, by Sally Varlow has new evidence on Catherine?s birth date which suggests that Catherine was indeed a royal bastard and argues convincingly that the King would not have shared his mistress with anyone.

Heraldic specialist Bernard J Barrell in an unpublished essay on the tomb of Henry Carey in Westminster Abbey suggests that the heraldic devices claim royal paternity ? but only after death when Tudor jealousy of close kin was safely avoided.

Henry Fitzhugh?s article on my website (Philippa shows the family tree of his descent from Henry Carey and demonstrates his belief that Henry VIII fathered the two Carey children.

Once again, in this story we do not yet have any absolutely conclusive proof, but it is my opinion that Henry would not have shared his mistress, both for reasons of pride and health. and that children born during the course of the affair would therefore most likely be his. Accordingly, this is the story I tell in the fictionalised account: The Other Boleyn Girl.

With the Tudor novels, I am experimenting with a new way of approaching historical fiction which has become identified as my style. It is based on rigorous historical research which forms the basis of the story, and then written in the first person, often in present tense, in an attempt to take the reader into the real world of the Tudor court in an immediate and engaging way.

Readers understand that the books are fiction: we cannot know what someone, dead five centuries ago, was thinking and feeling. But this style is a doorway to the imagined consciousness of the period and has been a joy for me, and for many millions of readers.

Sources cited

David Starkey, Six Wives, The Queens of Henry VIII, Random, 2003.

Sally Varlow, The Lady Penelope, Andre Deutsch 2007.

Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, CUP, 1989

Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Random House 1991.

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