The Boleyn Inheritance

Written by Philippa Gregory
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Gregory’s latest novel focuses on the lives of three women, all of whom bear witness to the Boleyn family’s legacy: Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife; Katherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife; and Jane Rochford, whose sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, and husband, George Boleyn, went to the executioner’s block because she testified against them. Gregory alternates their narratives, and we hear their stories in the first person as they experience their daily lives.

Anne, the maiden from Flanders, who has lived her life under her brother’s thumb, is finally free to leave her bondage. She travels to England to become Henry’s wife and finds herself a stranger in a strange land. She cannot speak the language, her clothing is unfashionable, and her initial response to Henry – revulsion – does not earn her Henry’s good graces, even before they are married. She is clearly not long for the throne of England. How Anne is falsely accused and manages to avoid the axe is a miracle of storytelling.

Kitty Howard is groomed to seduce Henry and to manipulate the Howard family – cousins to Anne Boleyn – back into the king’s inner circle. She is a silly, pitiful, yet beautiful girl who is in love with love. She entices Henry away from Anne and sees her life as a revolving door of new dresses, jewelry and pretty young men.

Jane Rochford is, perhaps, the most moving of Gregory’s characters because she is so depraved. Spying for her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Jane manages to bear false witness against just about anyone whose downfall will exalt her family line and ensure her fortune and title. Universally distrusted and loathed, Jane does not understand how manipulated she has been until it is too late.

Beautifully drawn characters, glorious storytelling – a tour de force from Philippa Gregory and a must read.