Thursday, May 15, 2008

Review: The Boleyn Inheritance, by Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Inheritance is the story of Henry VIII's fourth and fifth wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Anne of Cleves comes to England, the product of a dynastical alliance between the Duchy of Cleves and Tudor royal house.
She arrives speaking no English and quickly becomes distasteful to her husband when she rejects him. And even when they divorce six months after marriage, Anne of Cleves is still not safe from the tyranny of her ex husband. Ultimately, she's the character we most sympathize with. Her inheritance is the lands that once belonged to Anne Boleyn, which she was given at her divorce.

History has a bad impression of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. The former sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn sent her sister-in-law and husband to their deaths--allegedly to save her inheritance, though more likely than not because of jealousy. Part of the story is told through Lady Rochford's eyes, and its an interesting view. She sees herself as utterly blameless. At the very end, she pretends that she's mentally unstable so that she won't be executed--a gamble that eventually doesn't pay off. This was a detail that Gregory made up to show that Jane Boleyn was mentally unstable for having sent her brother and sister-in-law to their deaths, though I would argue that, in order to fully realize what she had done, Jane Boleyn was completely sane.

In the Author's Note at the end of the book, Gregory claims that she wanted to show Katherine Howard as anything but silly; but there's no other way that Henry VIII's foolish and vain fifth wife can be portrayed. Married at sixteen to the fat, aging king, Katherine Howard has an affair with Thomas Culpeper, the handsome Groom of the Bedchamber. She naievely believes that, because she's Queen of England, she'll be saved from the ax. Her inheritance is the block, which she requested be brought to her chamber the night before her execution, so that she could practice.

This is the best book I've seen from Philippa Gregory in a long time. The Boleyn Inheritance is a welcome change from the single-person narratives she's written in the past, where the main character is seen as utterly blameless and pure. I liked The Boleyn Inheritance maybe more than I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl.


Lezlie said...

This was my favorite Gregory book by far. I'm glad you liked it! I kept telling my husband, "I know how it all ends, and I'm still hanging on the edge of my seat!" :-)

Have a great day!

PS I'm reading Alison Weir's "Innocent Traitor" right now, and if you liked "The Boleyn Inheritance", you might want to give it a try. The style is very similar, told with multiple narrators.

Laura said...

I read The Other Boleyn Girl earlier this year, and I've been wondering how this one compared. I'm glad to hear it is also a good read!


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