Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Other Boleyn Girl

I recently finished reading, and then watching, The Other Boleyn Girl (book by Philippa Gregory). I found the book absolutely fascinating and enjoyed the movie just as much, despite many critics arguing the Hollywood film 'butchered history'.  I have decided to answer some questions on accuracy that people have had with the film

In the film Mary Boleyn was depicted as desiring a quiet country life, devoted to her new husband.
In reality, Mary lived in France for several of her teen years, at court in attendance on Mary Tudor (wife of Louis XII and sister of Henry VIII) and on Queen Claude (wife of Francis I after Louis's death). She was reputed to have had several affairs at the French court, possibly with King Francis himself. Mary was recalled by her father to England in 1519, possibly because of her promiscuous behaviour, and became a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon, Henry's queen. Mary wed Sir William Carey, a notable courtier (not a simple merchant as portrayed in the movie), in 1520. King Henry attended their wedding. She became Henry's mistress very soon after her marriage, and there is no indication that she was unwilling.

There has also been some controversy over who was oldest, Anne or Mary. The film suggests Anne is the oldest Boleyn child, however most historians agree that Anne must have been younger.  Anne and Mary were at the French court during an overlapping period, though the dates when each first came to France are sketchy. It is known that Mary returned to England first, to be married, in 1519. Anne did not return to England for her own marriage until 1522. Mary's earlier marriage is very strong evidence for her being eldest. In those days, younger sisters just were not married off before elder sisters. Girls had no choice but were contracted in marriage to increase family status; as the eldest girl had the most status, she was always married off first. Also, in 1596 Mary's grandson claimed the family title of Ormonde, based on the fact that Mary was older than Anne (since their brother George died without children). In the absence of male heirs, the title would go to the eldest sister and her children, so it would have been claimed by Elizabeth as Anne's child, had Anne been older than Mary.

The film shows Anne's anger that Mary won Henry's interest, however in actual fact Anne was sent abroad in 1513, whilst only twelve, and did not return from the French Court (where she went in 1514) till 1522, two years after Mary's wedding to William Carey and her subsequent affair with King Henry.

Mary was also not Henry's only mistress (as the film suggests). Henry had a mistress, Bessie Blount, an unmarried woman who served as maid of honour to Catherine, in 1514, years before Mary Boleyn. He acknowledged her son Henry Fitzroy, born in 1519, as his son. "Fitzroy" means "son of the king." Henry honoured his illegitimate son with the title of Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Henry was known to be unfaithful to his established mistresses as well as to his wives.

There is also some debate over whether Mary's son was indeed fathered by Henry (as the film shows). He may well have been; her affair with Henry ended in mid-1525, and her son was born in early March 1526. His resemblance to Henry was remarked upon, and he was widely assumed to be the king's son. However, Henry never acknowledged him so there is doubt. Henry had acknowledged Bessie Blount's illegitimate son so the fact that he did not claim Mary's son argues against it. But there are reasons he might not have: (1) Bessie Blount was unmarried, so there was no other claimant to be the father, while Mary had a husband who could have been the father and gave the boy a legitimate name. (2) Henry was in love with Anne and may have felt awkward acknowledging a son by her sister. Queen Elizabeth granted her cousin-possibly-brother the title Lord Hunsdon late in his life.

Anne did also not secretly wed Henry Percy, as the film does. She did enter into a secret betrothal with him, which was broken off when his father refused to support it. It is unlikely that their relationship was consummated.

Henry also trusted Anne over Mary (not the other way round, as shown in the movie). In fact, when Mary's first husband William Carey died in 1528, Henry promptly gave guardianship of two-year-old Henry Carey (who may have been his son) to Anne. Henry's surviving love letters to Anne indicate that he was worried about Mary's "easy virtue" (meaning she was promiscuous) and that is why he made Anne the guardian of her nephew. The child was raised at court under Anne's care.

The film lacks a sense of the passage of time. Henry courted Anne for seven years and they were married
for three years before she was beheaded.

In the movie Henry never smiled at Anne once he agreed to annul his marriage. Anne and Henry had a long courtship and a short affair before their three-year marriage. Henry first became attracted to Anne in 1526. They did not wed until seven years later in 1533. He was devoted to her for many years despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they did not have a sexual relationship for most of that time. All evidence - including Henry's love letters to Anne - indicate that they did not have a sexual relationship until shortly before their wedding, when Anne became pregnant with Elizabeth. He certainly began to lose interest in her sometime around her first or second miscarriage. His worry that she would only bear him a daughter as Catherine had, and the knowledge that he had already weathered one very messy and unpopular shed-a-wife scandal, led him to think of replacing her with another wife as well.

The movie also showed Anne pushing for annulment or divorce. This is true, at least partially. Anne certainly refused to get into his bed until he could marry her. However, it is also true that Henry was already obsessed with having a male heir and very distressed by Catherine's failure to produce a living son. Catherine was six or seven years older than Henry and suffered several miscarriages, still-births, and two short-lived sons. She also bore him Mary, who would later become Queen of England as the famous Bloody Mary. By 1529, the doctors declared that Catherine (about age 42) would have no more children. Henry, who had studied for the priesthood at one point, began to reflect on the verses from Leviticus stating that a man who took his brother's wife would be childless. At this point, Henry was also becoming more and more enamoured of Anne Boleyn. It is possible that he had considered annulment before Anne's arrival, since he was obsessed with the idea of having a male heir. Anne's resistance to his overtures only strengthened his resolve to dissolve his first marriage. The pope stalled on granting an annulment, and Anne stalled on sleeping with Henry. Catherine was banished in 1531 and Anne installed in her rooms in the palace. Sometime between 1531 and 1533, Anne and Henry began a sexual relationship. Anne was soon pregnant, and Henry again had hopes of an heir. He declared his marriage null on the grounds that Catherine had been his brother's wife and therefore the marriage was unlawful, and he married Anne in secret in 1533. The break with the Catholic church was inevitable after that.

The film shows Mary pleading with the king and visiting Anne, however she did not actually intervene on behalf of her siblings. Mary did not visit either of her siblings in prison. There is no evidence that she wrote to them or communicated in any way; certainly she did not approach King Henry on Anne's behalf. It is known that her second husband was overlooked when Henry was passing out favours to Anne's male relatives, and she tried to seek Henry's favour for her husband through highly placed people at court, not by approaching him directly. Henry had already removed her son (and possibly his) from her custody, when her first husband died, and given him into Anne's custody. There is plenty of evidence that Mary had absolutely no influence with the king.