" However, when Mary moves with William to the country, it shows another aspect of English life that is not as lavish as the court. The author writes, "She taught me how to churn butter and how to make cheese. She taught me how to bake bread and to pluck a chicken, a dove, or a game bird. It should have been easy and delightful to learn such important skills. I was absolutely exhausted by it" (Gregory 507). This shows how hard the people work every day just to survive, while the royal court really has very little to do but amuse themselves.
This was not a time of great industrialization and invention. England was more medieval than adventuresome during this time, and there were still knights and jousting tournaments. While England was becoming a European force, it was through wars and political maneuvering rather than in industrialization and exploration. Henry's time was one of internal strife and social upheaval, rather than what would come in later centuries with the Industrial Revolution and the technologies that grew from that.
Politically, the King was the leader of the country, but Cardinal Wolsey was just as much of a political leader as King Henry was. The author writes, "She knew as well as I did that since Cardinal Wolsey ran the kingdom, a word from him carried the same weight as the king" (Gregory 137). Of course, Wolsey falls from grace when he cannot procure an annulment for the King, and eventually dies in the Tower awaiting a trial. In a very controversial decision that rocked England, Henry changes the law himself so he can marry Anne when he finds out she is expecting his child. Gregory writes, "He treated her with immense tenderness and respect, and he rushed through a new law, so that they might be legally married, under the new English law, in the new English church" (Gregory 440). Henry takes on more and more power in his desperate attempt to produce a legitimate heir, and he changes the way the English believe, and what they think about their King, as well. Mary thinks, "Never dreaming that English justice would come to mean Henry's whim, just as the church had come to mean Henry's treasury, just as the Privy Council had come to mean Henry and Anne's favorites" (Gregory 441). She thinks like the people think as they become disillusioned with their king and his new queen.
When Henry takes over the Church and allows his own marriage, he has committed political suicide with the Catholic Church. They excommunicate him and urge English people that are still loyal to the Pope to defy Henry. His administration spirals out of control when he makes the decision to try Anne and George for adultery, and he spends the rest of his life desperately marrying woman after woman to try to gain a male heir, which never happens. His daughter, Elizabeth I eventually takes the throne, and becomes the first woman to rule England, and one of her greatest rulers.
The author, Philippa Gregory, has written numerous historic novels, and this one became the first of several other books about the Tudors. "The Other Boleyn Girl" was turned into a successful 2008 film starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as the two sisters, and Gregory was not involved in the writing of the screenplay. She uses a great deal of research as the backbone of her novel, and in an interview she says, "My Tudor books are specifically set in a place and a time, and that is accurate to the historical record when that is available. Sometimes, I can base a scene in the novel almost exactly on an account by a contemporary eye-witness" ("Philippa Gregory Watches"). Thus, her experiences and time spent researching help her write her novels, but they also suggest the topics for her novels, as well. She continues, "My own interest in women's history and my aversion to English snobbery led me to write "The Other Boleyn Girl" as a triumph of the common sense of Mary Boleyn over the ambition of her sister Anne" ("Philippa Gregory Watches"). Her experience in research helped her uncover the information on Mary that helped her decide to write about her, but her experience as a writer helped her flesh out the characters and bring them to life in the book.
Gardner was born in Kenya but moved to England at a young age. She still lives in England with her family. She has a PhD in eighteenth-century literature, and she has worked in broadcasting in England. She wrote her first book, "Wildacre" while she was getting her PhD, and once it became a bestseller, she began writing full time. A reporter notes, "In her later novels, Gregory pioneered the genre which has become her own: fictional biography, the true story of a real person brought to life with painstaking research and passionate verve" (Editors). She found the inspiration for "The Other Boleyn Girl" in a library. A British reporter notes, "Her Archimedes impersonation in the library was prompted by her discovery of the other Boleyn girl - not Anne, doomed second wife of Henry VIII, but her older sister, Mary" (Whetstone 20). She also believes that her experience with studying eighteenth-century gothic literature helped prepare her to be a writer and create these historically accurate novels. She is also an expert at research, as the details in this book clearly show. She knows what went on at court, who the major players were, and the details of everyday life, and it shows in this book.
She does not just do library research, she visits locations and buildings where her story takes place, so she understands the layout of the rooms, where the characters would be during key scenes, and she visits their homes if they are still standing. She found the homes of Mary Boleyn and visited them to ensure she had the details right in the book. She says, "Tracing Mary Boleyn's story was like being a detective. She sometimes appears in the histories, in the margins, but many books do not even mention her. One of the great pleasures of trying to find her was visiting her homes" ("Philippa's Quest"). Because she has become a very successful author, she has the time to carry out this research and the time to pour through materials to get the information right. She had a hard time finding a lot of detailed information on Mary, so that is why this is a fictional biography instead of a historic biography.
The book gave the author the idea for three other novels about the Tudors that were also extremely successful, and the book won several awards. The editors of a book review web site note, "The Other Boleyn Girl' is becoming a classic historical novel, winning the Parker Pen Novel of the Year award 2002, and the Romantic Times fictional biography award" (Editors). The author's life and training as a journalist and literary expert helped prepare her to write this novel, and her experience researching details helps her recreate the situations and characters so they become real for the reader. Her ability to deeply research subjects also helps give her ideas for her writing, as well. She says, "The research for the novel takes nearly twice as long as writing it, and it forms the backbone and the structure of the story" ("Philippa Gardner Watches"). Her success with historic novels continues, as she is working on another book, "The Other Queen," while she is researching the War of the Roses.
In conclusion, this book is a very interesting look at the life of a woman many people did not know existed. Reading it introduces the reader to the society, political climate, and economic situation of England during King Henry VII's rule, and how manipulation by the Boleyn family helped throw England into political and religious chaos. King Henry continued to deteriorate after he beheaded Anne, and he continued to search for a male heir that would continue his family line. He never found a wife to give him one, and his daughter ruled instead.
Editors. "Philippa Gregory." Bookbrowse.com. 2009. 14 April 2009.
Gregory, Philippa. " Philippa Gregory Watches as her Bestseller 'The Other Boleyn Girl' Gets the Hollywood Treatment." Times Online. 2008. 14 April 2009.
-- . "Philippa's Quest for the Truth About Mary Boleyn." PhilippaGregory.com. 2009. 14 April 2009.
-- . The Other Boleyn Girl. New York: Touchstone, 2001.
Whetstone, David. "Philippa Enjoys Boleyns' Legacy; Best-Selling Author Philippa Gregory Is Riding High on the Lives of the Tudors." The Journal (Newcastle, England)…