The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2)The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time Period: 1521-1536
Setting: The various courts of Henry VIII, Hever Castle, Rochford
Main Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Henry VIII

Opening lines: “I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.”

3 stars for me. Not so much because of her treatment of history – it isn’t as bad as the fabrications of the TV series “The Tudors” – and there is admittedly not a lot known about Mary Boleyn, including when she was born and whether either of her first two children were actually Henry’s or not. And who can fault an author for incorporating all of the more sensational claims of witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, etc.? It makes a whopping good tale! BUT, I find her characters too starkly black and white. Mary the good, innocent sister. Anne the scheming and vicious shrew. The Boleyn family ambitious at all costs. She practically beats you over the head with what you are supposed to think and how you are supposed to feel about these characters. Her style becomes too repetitive telling you the same things over and over again. But she portrays a court where all of these things certainly could have happened. You certainly get a feel for how long Anne had to keep Henry interested before they were finally married, and how exhausting it must have been. And I liked the story of the romance between Mary and William Stafford. She did marry against her family’s wishes and there is extant a very passionate letter by her defending her choice. This novel ends with Anne’s execution, but Mary went on to live quite happily and inherited all of the Boleyn holdings after her parents died, so she and William ended up quite wealthy landowners.

Book Description: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

Comments on the films:
The 2008 version starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana:
2 stars. Where do I even start? Fans of the book will be sorely disappointed. The time frame has been shortened considerable. Mary’s first husband just disappears with no mention of his death. There is no romance between Mary and William Stafford. Just a note at the end of the movie that they got married and lived happily. Mary has a son but no daughter, and there is nothing of her and her children which was one of the good parts of the book. It is all about Anne Boleyn, and with the time frame so shortened, it all comes off as ridiculous and unbelievable. Eric Bana is suitably regal as Henry VIII, but dark-haired and much too young here. The sets and costumes are gorgeous.

The 2003 version starring Natascha McElhone, Jodhi May, and Jared Harris:
3 stars despite the low budget sets and costumes. This is a little more intimate in format, and I kind of liked the confessional asides by the two sisters. I thought Jared Harris was too small to be Henry VIII and had none of the authority and hints of the tyrant he would become that Eric Bana portrayed. But all in all, it follows the book a little more closely and does not leave out key events like the death of William Carey. I still would have liked the romance between Mary and William Stafford developed a bit more.

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Gilt

GiltGilt by Katherine Longshore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Setting: England, London, Greenwich Palace
Time: 1539-1542

Main characters: Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Katherine (Kitty) Tylney, Jane Boleyn – Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

First paragraph: “You’re not going to steal anything.” I left the question–Are you?–off the end of the sentence. But Cat heard it anyway.

Favorite lines: “We spent yet another rainy day endlessly sewing. I wondered at all the shirts we sewed. For the poor. For Cat’s husband. How many shirts did he need? Or was it like the fairy tales, and the things unsewed themselves every night? Was she forever sewing the same shirt, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up a mountain for all eternity?” p. 279

I was pleasantly surprised by this first book in the Gilt Novels series. Told from the point of view of a lady in waiting to Catherine Howard, the 5th wife of Henry VIII. Although Catherine is vain, selfish, spoiled, ambitious and reckless, Kitty is loyal to her friend. At first we see the fun-loving (but reckless) side of Catherine Howard. This can be forgiven while she is a “nobody” in the employ of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. But once she has caught the eye of Henry VIII and become the Queen of England, her recklessness puts the lives of those around her at risk. You won’t lose much sleep over the eventual fate of Cat, but will Kitty survive and learn to stand on her own two feet? Kitty is based on a real person, but not much is known about her. Ms. Turner has given her a bit of a love interest. The ending is bittersweet – we don’t know whether or not there will be a happily ever after for her. The historical setting of the book seems well researched, but the use of contemporary teenage attitudes and mannerisms makes it clear the series is aimed at contempory teens. That might be off-putting for adults used to more “authentic” historical fiction, but it wasn’t as off-putting as I had thought it might be from the description of this series as “Gossip Girl meets the Tudor Court.”

The books in this series are not chronological and stand alone. They can be read in any order.

Description: When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

About the author: Katherine Longshore grew up on the northern California coast. At university, she created her own major in Cross-Cultural Studies and Communications, planning to travel and write. Forever. Four years, six continents and countless pairs of shoes later, she went to England for two weeks, stayed five years and discovered history. She now lives in California with her husband, two children and a sun-worshiping dog.

The Sixth Wife

The Sixth Wife (Tudor Saga, #7)The Sixth Wife by Jean Plaidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I have read Jean Plaidy for several decades. I devoured her books in my teens and had forgotten how good she is. Her historical research was top-notch, and she worked all those facts seamlessly into her narrative. While it may lack somewhat in psychological depth, for sheer emotional drama she conveys all the horror of being the wife of a psychopathic tyrant.

Book Description: Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was both foolish and unfaithful, and she paid for it with her life. Henry vowed that his sixth wife would be different, and she was. Katherine Parr was twice widowed and thirty-one years old. A thoughtful, well-read lady, she was known at court for her unblemished reputation and her kind heart. She had hoped to marry for love and had set her heart on Thomas Seymour, the dashing brother of Henry’s third queen. But the aging king—more in need of a nurse than a wife—was drawn to her, and Katherine could not refuse his proposal of marriage.

Queen Katherine was able to soothe the King’s notorious temper, and his three children grew fond of her, the only mother they had ever really known. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a volatile tyrant, books were Katherine’s consolation. But among her intellectual pursuits was an interest in Lutheranism—a religion that the king saw as a threat to his supremacy as head of the new Church of England. Courtiers envious of the Queen’s influence over Henry sought to destroy her by linking her with the “radical” religious reformers. Henry raged that Katherine had betrayed him, and had a warrant drawn up for her arrest and imprisonment. At court it was whispered that the king would soon execute yet another wife. Henry’s sixth wife would have to rely on her wits to survive where two other women had perished. . . .

Queen’s Gambit

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, London, Greenwich Palace, Whitehall Palace
Time: 1543-1549

Main characters: Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour, Dot Fownten (Dorothy Fountain)- chamberer to Katherine Parr.

First paragraph, Chapter I: “There has been a late snowfall and the covered turrets of Whitehall Palace disappear against a tapioca sky. The courtyard is ankle deep in slush and, in spite of the sawdust that has been strewn in a makeshift path across the cobbles, Katherine can feel the wet chill soaking through her shoes, and the damp edges of her skirts flick bitterly at her ankles. She shivers, hugging her thick cloak tightly about her as the groom helps Meg dismount.”

Favorite lines: “The laughter stops, leaving the room momentarily silent. There is an uncomfortable truth beneath the humor–even the innocent can fall. Meg sits still as a stone with a hand over her mouth. Sister Anne hides her face behind her fan, but her eyes betray her thoughts. If her sister falls, her family will tumble with her. Even Stanhope, who has whinnied laudest of them all, is shut up, though she loathes her brother-in-law and would gladly see him humiliated. Only Elizabeth laughs blithely. Is she too young to understand, or is she as callous as some say?” p. 181

“The women drop into deep curtsies, eyes glued to the floor. He heaves himself into the room and stands in his ermine and his armor of intricately embellished robes, the quilting and gilding and embroidery, and the embarrassingly large codpiece peeking out from the folds of his gown like some monstrous pet.” p. 275

I thought this was a very impressive debut novel. The author’s eye for detail, and her use of only the present tense throughout the book puts you right there in the room. I found it distracting at first, but as I got used to it I liked it. It’s almost like watching a play or reading a script. She deftly conveys the tension of living at court, husband to an unpredictable and dangerous man, the undercurrent of religious conflict and uncertainty, the intrigues of the Howard and Seymour families and the Privy Council, and the parallel story of Dot which gives something of an upstairs/downstairs look at the lives of the nobility and the servants. I read two-thirds of the book before discovering there was an audiobook version (performed by Georgina Sutton) which I have finished – nevertheless, I also plan to finish reading the book so I can continue to savor it!

Description: The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance – and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart. Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging king and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless, when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another. Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry’s sixth wife – and yet she has still not quite given up on love

About the author: Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first in English and an MA in creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and The Erotic Review and has had her fiction published in The Mechanic’s Institute Review. She presently works as a reader for Literary Scouts, Anne Louise Fisher Associates, whilst working on a series of novels based around the Tudor court, the first of which is QUEEN’S GAMBIT.