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This review is also on my goodreads page under the name Alexander Catt and on my Amazon account under the name of Alexcatt97 and on my ciao account under the username alexcatt97
The book was sadly very disappointing because for me it just failed to teach me much about Mary Boleyn with the book being filled with too much detail about things and people which seem extremely irrelevant to the biography making it hard to be entertained by the book at all. Also many things in the book are repeated many times which made me wonder whether Weir really had enough evidence about her life to warrant a biography of Mary Boleyn especially when she dosent reach many conclusions herself throughout the book but constantly faulting other authors conclusions again making it harder to find out more about Mary in this book. A key example of something that annoyed me throughout this book is how Weir would go into too much detail about something and then say that it wasnt true or didnt happen which made me wonder why it was in there at all although it was good when she dismissed popular views of Mary Boleyn as that is more justifiable to be in the book.
Because of this, it was very hard to learn new things about Mary Boleyn because many of the conclusions had already been made by many other authors so she was just repeated the same evidence. The description of the book says that Weir states compelling evidence to reach her conclusions about the paternity of Mary's children. I failed too see how these conclusions where "compelling" at all as it stated what I already knew which I had already learned from many other authors including fiction authors. I would say that this book may be better for someone who knows nothing about her at all to read because for someone with knowledge of this subject will just be bored as evidence is just being repeated to make the same conclusions which does not make it a very interesting read.
Despite this I think that the first two sections of the biography were very interesting and started the book extremely well but the book went downhill in the next section called "Into the realm of France" and continued to go downhill with the section "A very great whore" which seemed extremely over written and boring because of that. In the next few sections the book gradually improved and the sections named "Hiding Royal Blood" and "The sister of your former concubine" stood out in the book in my opinion. Sadly the book again failed to impress me with the next section but ended well with the 11th and 12th sections.
===The Eldest Daughter===
This section was one of the best in the book in my opinion because learning about the Mary's family history and where they came from is an interesting one in itself but Weir portrays it in a way which just makes it even better and made me really interested in the book and made me want to read more of it as it set quite a high standard which unfortunately was not met throughout the book to my disappointment.
===The Best of Husbands===
Again I did find this section interesting and seemed well researched as well. I found that the family history of William Carey was quite interesting as well which made the section better but I would say that I didn't find it as good as the first section which was a disappointment because I found that some of the information that Weir stated in this section was very irrelevant to the book and therefore it was kinda pointless being there in my opinion which made that section boring in some places but overall still good.
===Into The Realm of France===
This section in my opinion was a real struggle to get through even though it wasn't that long and for many reasons. The first being that the information from my point of view was presented very poorly in this section and not up to Weir's usually standard. Secondly I thought that Weir went into great detail or over explained really small things or things that didn't matter as much which really made this section drag a lot. Thirdly more of the information I found was very irrelevant to the story of Mary Boleyn. For example Weir mentioned a lot of information and evidence to do with Anne Boleyn but some had no connection really to the point of the book. This section was a low point in the book.
===A Very Great Whore?===
Thankfully this section was an improvement to the last and I found it quite interesting and was actually able to learn a lot about Mary, but also quite a lot about her sister and mother which was also interesting. I do think though that again this section went into too much detail with some of the evidence and sometimes Weir over stated her points which again made the section slightly drag but overall it was good.
===William Carey of The Privy Chamber===
This section was shorter than the last so it didn't drag as much but I wouldn't say that I found it particularly interesting because I just didn't really think that the story of William Carey is that entertaining so that section was sort off a disappointment again as the only parts that I really liked in this section were the parts which actually had relevance to Mary Boleyn and included her but my opinion on this section may just be my personal view.
===The Assault on the Castle of Virtue===
As the last few sections were sadly disappointing, this section was more enjoyable and from this section I saw that the book was slightly improving which I was happy about. I wouldn't say this section was as good as the first two were but definitely more enjoyable that some of the others. This section was a section where I did actually learn quite a lot about Mary Boleyn and her affair with Henry VIII which I was happy about as it was one of my main reasons for reading this biography.
===Living in Avoutry===
I will not say too much about this section because it was very similar to the standard of the section before so again I was happy and was having better hopes about the book although it still needed some improvement as still there is some irrelevant information throughout this section and the one before in my opinion.
===Hiding Royal Blood===
I would say this is one of the sections where I learnt the most throughout the book and I have always found it enjoyable to read about the children on Mary Boleyn because they seem neglected by historians in my opinion as there is not much work done that is based around them. Despite this I do have to say that some of the information and conclusions stated where the same as many other authors which was disappointing considering the book's description said that it stated "compelling evidence" about the children. Overall though I did enjoy this section.
===The Sister of Your Former Concubine===
I my opinion this section stood out within the book because it really managed to compel me to read more of the book unlike most of the other sections and it didnt really have any irrelevant information in like the other sections so I could really enjoy this section and learn more about how the affair between Mary and Henry ended and how Anne Boleyn then caught his eye and started another affair. The evidence in this section was presented brilliantly compared to some other sections which I was pleased about.
===In Bondage and A Poor Honest Life===
These two sections were very similar and leaded on too each other very smoothly and once I had read the first of the two, I had to read the second because in my opinion that part of her life was very interesting when her husband dies and she has to support her children and then finding a new husband. Also Weir portrays it in that way as well which makes the last two sections very enjoyable and a relief because of some of the earlier sections.
The appendix after section 12 I found to be extremely boring because many parts seemed to be especially irrelevant which that I skipped a lot of that appendix moving on to the second one which was shorter and better than the first but still I think it was slightly pointless because 7 pages about portraits about Mary Boleyn and William Carey just seemed very over written. So both of those two sections were extremely poor in my opinion meaning that overall the book ended on a very poor note as the rest after that are just the Bibliography/references etc. Despite this I enjoyed the fact that Genealogical tables of the families in this book had been added at the end.
Overall I think that this book would have been better if it was a lot shorter only containing the evidence and information that actually concerned Mary Boleyn and the important members of her family missing out the information in this book which is very irrelevant and sometimes pointless because then I believe the book would actually be more interesting to read and be able to for fill it's purpose a lot better. I agree with many other people that have read this book that there is just not enough evidence about Mary to warrant a full scale biography about her.
What do you know about Mary Boleyn, sister of the better-known Anne? The chances are that whatever you think you know is incorrect or unsubstantiated. Recent fiction such as Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, along with various historical studies, have convinced us that it is certain that Mary gave birth to two children by Henry VIII, and that she was promiscuous and branded a whore - but these "facts" are far from proven.
Alison Weir's latest work Mary Boleyn: 'A Great and Infamous Whore' is the first full length biography of the lesser known Boleyn sister. With little historical evidence to go on, Mary has been misunderstood and misrepresented for centuries, and Weir aims to attempt to set the record straight.
Mary was likely the older of the two sisters, and is known to have had a dalliance (perhaps not a fully fledged affair) with Francois I of France, and later an affair with Henry VIII prior to his interest in Anne. She had two children, Henry and Katherine Carey, often alleged to be Henry VIII's illegimate children, although Weir's conclusion is that only Katherine is likely to have been the king's child (Henry Carey being the son of Mary's first husband). Mary's second marriage caused her to be estranged from her family, as she chose to marry a common soldier for love, unheard of in those days. It was a highly unsuitable match for the Queen's sister.
Weir's biography of Mary Boleyn makes for really fascinating reading. Not only do we learn considerably more about this woman who has been so misrepresented over time, but we share in Weir's research and examination of the scant evidence of Mary's life. Weir discusses her sources in full, and examines the various conclusions drawn from each piece of evidence - and then draws it all together to present the most likely scenario for what was happening in Mary's life at a particular time. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book, for it read almost like a mystery: Weir was seeking the truth, and sharing her investigations with her readers.
Mary Boleyn: 'A Great and Infamous Whore' had a different feel to it than any of Weir's books which I have read previously, in the sense of it being an investigation. I think this is due to the nature of her subject, there being little remaining evidence of Mary's life. There are not even any known portraits of her.
In fact, the subject of Mary's appearance is one which irritated me while I was reading the book. Weir comments on occasion that we don't know what Mary looked like, or even the colour of her hair - there are various different descriptions of this. After a few references to this, it occurred to me that I thought I knew what Mary Boleyn looked like, there being a nice full colour portrait printed on the cover of this very book. An examination of the dustjacket however revealed that this attractive woman on the cover of my book was in fact Queen Claude of France. Why on earth would the publisher print a portrait of an entirely different person on the cover of a biography? There are portraits which exist which could perhaps be of Mary Boleyn (although Weir believes they are not) - surely that would have been a more sensible cover choice.
The cover aside, Mary Boleyn: 'A Great and Infamous Whore' is a very enjoyable read, and I have finished it feeling like I have a little more insight into this mysterious woman. Weir's writing, as ever, is accessible and enjoyable, without ever being patronising. I hope that this book is a popular one, as it could do a lot to undo the damage done by misleading histories or embellished fictional accounts of Mary's life.
This review was originally published on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk. A review copy of Mary Boleyn was provided by the publisher through Curious Book Fans.