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Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings    by Alison Weir order for
Mary Boleyn
by Alison Weir
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Alison Weir has written about some of the most fascinating figures in history including: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn. In Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Weir writes about a woman mostly remembered for her family connection to Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. But Mary's legacy is not limited to being the sister of Henry VIII's tragic second wife. Mary was labeled the English mare and the great whore by her contemporaries. In this book, Alison Weir traces Mary Boleyn's whereabouts, from her initial arrival at the court of Louis XII to her marriage to William Stafford, in order to dispel the myth about Mary's reputation.

The author acknowledges that Mary had a sexual encounter with King Francois I during her time in the court of Louis XII serving Henry's sister, Queen Mary. However, Weir argues that Francois and Mary's affair was no affair at all. Instead, Francois and Mary probably had a one night stand. Weir presents solid evidence that Mary did not stay long enough in France to become Francois' infamous plaything, that he would pass off to courtiers and eventually King Henry VIII. Instead, the author argues that Anne Boleyn spent more time at the French court, first serving Queen Mary and later Queen Claude.

Weir insists that Mary's affair with Henry VIII started after her marriage to Henry Carey. One of the most damaging rumors about Mary is that she married Henry Carey already pregnant with the king's child. Mary's marriage to Henry is seen as rushed and the groom as insignificant. Once again, Alison Weir separates fact from myth by pointing to Carey's royal blood. Carey was the king's cousin, descended from King Edward III. The paternity of Henry and Mary's son Henry is also satisfactorily discussed. Weir compares Henry's treatment of a bastard son, looking at Elizabeth Blount and Mary's son. Henry's son by Elizabeth Blount was treated as a prince of the kingdom and lavished with various royal titles. Henry Carey, however, enjoyed no such favors.

Alison Weir blames Mary's unsavory reputation on contemporary religious figures who held a firm grudge against the Boleyn family. In order to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII would have cut all ties with Rome and reformed the Catholic faith in England. Weir traces Mary's poor reputation and the source of numerous rumors about the Tudors to Bishop Rudolfo Pio, who was sympathetic to Katherine of Aragon. The author also reveals how some of the slander against Mary was actually meant for Anne Boleyn.

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings shatters the dark cloud that has hovered over Mary Boleyn's name for centuries. I found Weir's arguments about Mary's undeserved reputation strong and convincing. I also enjoyed her speculation on Mary's relationships with her sister and her father. There were a few things that irked me about the book, however. The author contradicts her own arguments. For example, she writes that Henry VIII would not have wanted an affair with a woman who had been the lover of his nemesis. On the same page, she writes that Henry would have enjoyed being able to boast that he had bed the same woman as his enemy. Weir also writes that Henry and Mary's affair was insignificant, but also states that Henry may have been attracted to Anne due to her physical resemblance to Mary.

Nevertheless Mary Boleyn: Mistress of Kings presents valuable information about a woman who has been unfairly treated through the centuries. Once again, Alison Weir has written a terrific biography.

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