The Other Boleyn Girl, is yet another historical fiction by Philippa Gregory. As the third novel in the ‘Tudor Court’ series, the novel explores exactly what the title states, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s infamous second wife, Anne Boleyn. In the novel, Gregory depicts part of the turbulent reign of England’s Henry VIII through Mary Boleyn’s eyes during her time in and out of court.
Already married to William Carey and barely 14, Mary Boleyn embarks on a several year affair with the King at the beginning of the novel, giving him both a daughter and a son, albeit both illegitimate. “Keep him coming forward but never let him think that you come forward yourself. He wants to feel that he is pursuing you, not that you are entrapping him. When he gives you the choice of coming forward or running away, like then—you must always run away. But don’t run too fast. Remember he has to catch you.” Despite only a year separating them in age, Mary is disastrously more naïve than Anne, who is cunning, intelligent and skilful in the art of seduction, earning the role as Mary’s adviser in the seduction of the King.
“I shall be dark and French and fashionable and difficult. And you shall be sweet and open and English and fair. What a pair we shall be! What man can resist us?”
Mary’s golden fair hair reflects her sweet and caring disposition. “I wanted the heat and the sweat and the passion of a man that I could love and trust. And I wanted to give myself to him: not for advantage, but for desire.” Mary’s decline begins when she falls in love with the King and thus begins to lose sight of the reason as to why she was being courted in the first place. Anne understands that “anyone can attract a man” and “the trick is to keep him,” and, more importantly, Anne understands that love is not important in seducing the King. She understands that “in this world ruled by men” the aim is to rise in status, and to bring her family with her.
The favour of the King is eventually tossed from Mary to Anne. “I have overturned the order. Nothing will ever be the same for any woman in this country again.” Anne bewitches King Henry into tearing the country apart in return for her love. In order to marry her, the King breaks with Rome and brings the Church of England under his control, all for Anne to give birth to a girl, Elizabeth, after promising him she would give him his coveted son. All of this leads to Anne’s demise.
“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.”
“Jane would be the next queen and her children, when she had them, would be the next princes or princesses. Or she might wait, as the other queens had waited, every month, desperate to know that she had conceived, knowing each month that it did not happen that Henry's love wore a little thinner, that his patience grew a little shorter. Or Anne's curse of death in childbed, and death to her son, might come true. I did not envy Jane Seymour. I had seen two queens married to King Henry and neither of them had much joy of it.”
By the end of the novel, Mary is evidently less naïve and more intelligent. She is the only Boleyn sibling with her head still attached to her body after the well-known demise of Anne and George. Her conscience, at first, would not allow her to desert her siblings, albeit her husband, William Carey, advises her to protect her children, especially her son, Henry, and the now motherless Princess Elizabeth.