Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings

Written by Alison Weir
Review by Susan Higginbotham

Thanks to her famous sister and Philippa Gregory, the subject of Alison Weir’s latest biography hardly needs an introduction. Unfortunately, Mary Boleyn’s contemporaries did not anticipate that Mary would be of interest to future generations, so much of her life is a blank to us.

Weir makes a gallant effort to answer many of the questions about Mary – such as her birth date, the parentage of her children, the dates her affair with Henry VIII began and ended – but as she herself admits, the answers to most of these questions can only be educated guesses. She does, however, do the reader the service of noting some of the assumptions about Mary that are unsupported by fact (although she herself appears strangely eager to cast Mary’s mother in the role of a loose woman, based on rather shaky evidence).

Not surprisingly, given the little that is actually known about Mary and the need to put her life in context, there’s a great deal here about Anne Boleyn, although some of the material about other people, like Bessie Blount, feels a bit like padding. Still, I did find this a useful and well-written book, and while I didn’t find all of Weir’s arguments convincing, I did find them plausible.