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The Constant Princess: 4 (Tudor series)
The Constant Princess: 4 (Tudor series)
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 29 Nov. 2007
One of Philippa Gregory's better historical novels. I admit that after some of her other novels, I was wary of this but I'm glad that I read it. `The Constant Princess' shows the early life of Katherine of Aragon, from her early childhood as the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile, raised to believe in her destiny as the future Princess of Wales and Queen of England, to her first marriage and the gradual blossoming of love between her and Prince Arthur, to the long years of widowhood and uncertainty before she finally marries Henry and becomes Queen.

Ms Gregory takes a different approach to most historical novelists in her decision to show that Katherine's first marriage was consummated, but I think that added a lot of depth to Katherine's character. I could identify with the pain of having to pretend that Arthur, whom she loved, had never been a `true husband' to her dilemma in later years, when her lie comes back to haunt her as her marriage to Henry VIII is investigated and telling the truth would mean that her beloved daughter would be disinherited and branded illegitimate.

All in all, I found her Katherine to be a strong woman, brought up from early childhood to believe that becoming Queen of England is her destiny, a human woman, a refreshing change from some of the plaster saints of other novels - and a far more likeable, realistic character than the Katherine of 'The Other Boleyn Girl'.

The book does let itself down in a few ways, most notably that by skipping ahead from 1513 to 1529, some of the most important events in Katherine's life, including the birth of her daughter, are left out. Perhaps a sequel, chronicling Katherine's life from 1513 until her death, might be an idea worth considering.

I found this book lacking in the extra something that would make it a truly memorable, five star book but it's worth a read and definitely deserves the four stars I gave it.

The Other Boleyn Girl
The Other Boleyn Girl
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Do not let `The Other Boleyn Girl' be the only thing you read about Anne, 22 Sept. 2007
This review is from: The Other Boleyn Girl (Paperback)
Although Anne Boleyn was well aware of the fact that her enemies were more than willing to spread lies about her, to accuse her of adultery, incest, witchcraft and anything else they could think of, I'm sure that she never imagined that more than four and a half centuries after her death, at a time when no reputable historian believes her to have been guilty of the crimes she was framed for to facilitate her murder, those same slanders would be dredged up again.

Was it not enough that these lies robbed an innocent woman of her life? Now her name is being defiled yet again to sell books. I hope that Philippa Gregory is proud of herself.

If we are to believe Ms Gregory - and I sincerely hope that nobody makes the mistake of doing so - Anne was a ruthless, manipulative schemer, utterly consumed by ambition even as a teenager, willing to do whatever it took to gain her the power she sought, regardless of who she hurt in the process. It is strongly implied that she was guilty of adultery and incest and her own sister suspects her of murder. (Ironically enough, in a later novel, `The Boleyn Inheritance', one of the narrators recants her accusations and confirms that Anne and George were innocent - are we therefore to believe that Mary was lying in `The Other Boleyn Girl' accusing her brother and sister of a capital crime? It would certainly make the character more interesting if that was the case) Anne's devout faith, and her enormous influence over religious affairs and foreign policy, are not mentioned. Anne was discreet about her charitable work but gave enormous sums to the less fortunate.

In contrast, her sister Mary is portrayed as a petal-fresh innocent, refreshingly naÔve and loving despite the corruption of the world around her, a mere child when the scheming of her family tears her away from her husband, forcing her to betray Queen Katherine, to whom she is devoted and unlike her selfish, ambitious sister, she truly loves the King. And the Queen. Even though she's breaking her heart by having an affair with her husband.

Of course, the real Mary Boleyn was somewhat different. For starters, Mary was almost certainly the elder sister, likely the eldest of the Boleyn children. She was not born in 1508 - unless, of course, she managed to be dismissed from the French court after a brief love affair with King Francois, then subsequent affairs with several of his courtiers that earned her the less than charming nickname of `the King's English mare', or the description `a very great whore, the most infamous of all', by the tender age of eleven. Far from supporting or encouraging these affairs, Mary's parents and younger sister were said to have been mortified by them.

Henry recognized neither Catherine nor Henry Carey as his children and whether or not he was truly their father is a question that may never be answered.

Anne did not steal her sister's son from her in the dual hopes of making herself more appealing to the King and robbing Mary of her great claim to his attention, rather it was Henry himself who granted Anne the wardship of her nephew, as Mary's husband had left her in great debt and unable to properly provide for him. Anne provided young Henry Carey with an excellent education, an act of kindness rather than one of malice as is depicted in this book. She also secured her sister a pension of £100 a year.

In this novel, Ms Gregory makes the fatal mistake for any historical novelist and plays favourites. Some degree of bias is inevitable but Ms Gregory takes it much further. The characters she herself seems to like are shown in the best possible light, while those she seems to dislike appear to have virtually no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, including poor Anne who seems like she should be starring in `The Omen' as Damien's twin sister. Rather than taking the existing facts about the life and actions of her narrator and explaining the reasons behind them, showing us what brought Mary to the path she ended up following, she chooses instead to cherry-pick, retaining the facts that support her rose-coloured view of Mary Boleyn and discarding those that would tarnish this image.

Katherine of Aragon is another character that Ms Gregory seems to favour; steadfastly standing up for her principles when Henry attempts to annul their marriage on the grounds that her prior marriage to his brother was consummated, refusing to accept the annulment, defending against it - and lying through her teeth in the process, according to another novel of Gregory's, `The Constant Princess'. What a paragon Katherine was! So loving to her faithless husband, so forgiving even to the erring Mary, so determined not to allow her daughter to be branded illegitimate... of course, what Ms Gregory chose not to tell us was that two of the options offered to Katherine; an annulment on the grounds that she and Henry had made an honest mistake by marrying when their union was forbidden, or retirement to a convent, would have enabled the marriage to be dissolved while allowing Princess Mary to remain legitimate and to retain her place in the line of succession. I would have to question whether it was truly their daughter that Katherine was thinking of when she refused to release Henry from their marriage, or if it was her own pride and ambition that dictated her actions.

Of course, one could take a different interpretation and assume that, as Mary Boleyn is narrating, she is deliberately distorting the facts in her own favour and in favour of those she likes and admires, and vilifying those she does not.

Frankly, I think that it is a shame that Ms Gregory chose to center her novel, not around Mary Boleyn but around a creation of her own, a new character inserted into the story in place of Mary Boleyn and a character who is, to put it bluntly, boring and one-dimensional, much like Hannah Green and Amy Dudley in later books. An account of the life of the real Mary Boleyn could have been fascinating, and given that she is a good writer, I do not doubt that she would have been able to make it a compelling read.

Enjoy this book as the piece of fiction it is by all means but please do not assume that it is in any way representative of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn or any of the other characters. It's not.

For those interested in the period, I would recommend the novels of Jean Plaidy and Margaret Irwin, and particularly Wendy J. Dunn's lovely book, "Dear Heart, How Like You This". Although, like all historical novelists, they take a few liberties, they treat the figures in their stories far more fairly than Ms Gregory is apparently able to.

Please, whatever you do, don't let `The Other Boleyn Girl' be the only thing you read about Anne.
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