Review: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

Not an Infamous Whore

So, I have just finished my fifth book of the summer: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. This is the first full biography of Alison Weir, and I must say it emphasizes my belief that the little people of the world need to have more importance in history. Mary has been given a complete false representation in many historical fiction writings as well as in historical writings.  Alison Weir effectively goes through the primary documents and tries to understand where certain comments came from. Most of the comments so many have taken as truth were rumors spread across whole countries, and therefore unreliable. In many instances claims are made without anything whatsoever to base them on, or writers from the 18th century who did not cite their sources.

It is understood that many things are lost to us. There are plenty of documents that might be floating around in the universe lost in a drawer or in a box in an attic.  Of course, many have been destroyed by accident or entirely on purpose.  We cannot account for this lost knowledge.  Historians have to take what facts they can find and make logical conclusions.  These conclusions often vary but Alison Weir does a very good job of presenting the facts and then giving her conclusion based on that evidence. Sadly we don’t even have an identified portrait of Mary Boleyn, just a few that have been credited to portray her.

The picture on the cover is often said to be of Mary Boleyn.  There are several others.  All in all, I love Alison Weir’s writing and have read many things by her, including Henry VIII and his Six Wives. I think that it proposes many things that historians need to take a step back and think about.  Where do your facts come from and did you double check them?  I think much of the myths surrounding Mary Boleyn have come from unreliable sources that were just taken at face value.  It is sad that though she managed a much better life than her sister, Anne, she has such a horrible reputation and Anne is given pity.

Mary Boleyn married for love and lived into middle age, learning what her siblings did not.  She did not strive to be famous, royal, or to even benefit from her affair with Henry.  She simply lived, and did so with a much happier ending.  Perhaps Anne’s motto of “The Most Happy” was applied to the wrong sister.

Overall, this book reaffirmed something I was thinking about.  We often become obsessed with the well known figures of history.  Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, The Borgias, and others.  Yet, the characters who were behind them, who knew them best, are left in shadow or given a completely inadequate often false representation. In my Civil War class last semester we discussed the fact that though there are counts of how many soldiers died (over 700k) there are no overall counts for civilians.  A project could be put together, and it could be figured out, but no one has done it. Why not? Why do we not care for the normal people who were affected by the war? The mothers, sisters, fathers and brothers of soldiers whose homes were raided, orchards chopped down, and who may have even been beaten, raped or murdered.  These people deserve their own historical importance.

Perhaps I am slowly finding my own road that I want to follow as a historian.  I wonder what could be accomplished.  It is amazing to find out smaller details of the lives of those we want to know more about, and by understanding the people, we can better understand the time period. Of course, there is always the trouble that documents most often detail only those who are the most famous, but it is always worth a shot.


One thought on “Review: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books Every History Nerd Should Read – A Woman of Many Titles

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