There are many myths about Mary Boleyn, often from sources such as popular novels or films. In this excellent book, Alison Weir attempts to put the record straight about Mary's life. As other reviewers have already noted, there are parts of Mary's history where little is known, but the author has completed the task with admirable thoroughness and this is a very readable and enjoyable account.
The problems with recounting Mary's life begin early on - records do not show whether Mary was the eldest sibling or not. However, Alison Weir gives us all the evidence and suggests that probably Mary was older than Anne and George. Sent to France, Mary Boleyn succumbed to the temptations of the Court, led by the notorious Dauphin - later Francois I. "Rarely did any maid or wife leave that court chaste," wrote a contemporary. So, did Mary really have such a bad reputation, or did she actually spurn advances? Again, we are taken through all the possible scenarios. However, Anne was always seen as more intelligent and charming than Mary. While Anne remained at the French court, Mary seemed to drop from sight, out of favour.
The book continues with Mary's marriage to Willian Carey and the possibility of Mary's becoming Henry VIII's mistress. Mary had two children during her marriage to Carey - Katherine and Henry. Were either, or both, Henry's children? Again, Alison Weir looks at all the evidence with great thoroughness. A lot of what was said about Mary could have been malicious gossip about Anne Boleyn's family and there is no way of really knowing how long the affair between Mary and Henry lasted. One thing was sure, though, and that was that Anne did not intend to risk becoming just another discarded royal mistress. However, this book is not about Anne Boleyn. Despite her obvious importance, the author is careful to keep the attention on Mary. When William Carey died in 1528 of the 'sweating sickness', Mary was left poor and in debt, with two young children to support.
She did not feel appreciated, or cared for, by her family, writing sadly that, "I saw that all the world did set so little by me."
When Mary married William Stafford, she married for love. Disgraced, she was banished from court, and it is likely that she never met Anne again. The Boleyns suffered their cataclysmic fall in 1536, by which time Mary was poor but, hopefully, happy. Of the Boleyn siblings, she was the one who found love - "there was not in her the stuff of tragedy." There are, frankly, worse fates. Although there are obvious gaps in writing about someone in history, even someone so closely linked to the seat of power and intrigue of the Tudor court, Alison Weir provides a very readable and interesting account of Mary Boleyn's life. I have enjoyed all this authors books and this, in my opinion, is one of her best.