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The worst researched historical novel I have ever read
on 23 March 2011
It's only in recent years that I've learned anything about Anne Boleyn's sister Mary, who was Henry VIII's lover long before Anne was on the scene . Most of what I have learned about her is from works such as The Other Boleyn Girl, where, although Mary acts as the main narrator, the story still focuses largely on Anne.
Well, not anymore . In Karen Harpers 'The Last Boleyn' Mary Boleyn gets the chance to take centre stage, and to tell her own story, starting with the day when, as a young child, she learned that she was to be sent abroad to the court of of Arch Duchess Margeret of Austria, and then to the court of Mary Tudor, married to the aging Louis XII of France . The two Marys form a strong friendship - after all, they are both from home, doing their duty for their families and their kingdom . It is from Mary Tudor that the younger Mary learns an important lesson - in the great chess game that is life, only the King is powerful enough to do as he pleases, and everyone else, regardless of whether they be Queen, Knight, or Bishop, is really no better than a pawn for the King to play at his pleasure .
As she takes her first lover, the handsome new french king, Francis , Mary comes to realise that this lesson is very true, as the king uses her to repay debts to friends with sexual favours. When Mary learns that she is to go back to England, she is delighted, for not only will she be reunited with her mother, brother, and sister, but she will also escape Francis.
However, from being at the mercy of one king, she finds herself gaining the attenton of another almost immediately, and encouraged by her family, embarks on yet another royala affair ....
One of the first things I really liked about this book is that, unlike many other books where Mary is included, the story does not centre too much on her better known sister, Anne . Also, the book covers a much longer timescale than many others, beginning in 1512 when Mary is still a young girl, and ending shortly after Annes execution in 1536. I really liked the longer timescale, as it allowed me to get a really good idea of Marys character, and of the personalities of others around her .
However, the book is riddled with historical inaccuracies, beginning at the very start when Mary is sent to the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria at the age of only eight . In fact, most historians now agree that it was never Mary that went to Austria at all, but her Sister Anne.
Also, an entry in the book supposedly from December 29 1514 states that Louis XII has already been dead for a week - although his actual date of death was new years day 1515 .
Whilst the first inaccuracy mentioned could well be down to incomplete historical records at the time, the book having originally been published in 1983, the second just doesn't make any sense . Even in 1983, years before the internet made information easily available at the click of a mouse, surely there would have been some accurate historical reference book the author could have referred to in order to confirm a simple fact such as a date .
Reference is also made to Mary Boleyn and William Stafford meeting much much earlier than historical records show - in France in fact,in 1518 . In fact, records indicate the the two met in 1532, when Henry VIII and Anne travelled to france to meet King Francis, and Mary and Will attended . Reference is also made to them making their home in Wivenhoe, when records again show this to not be the case - they lived initially at Chebsey in Staffordshire, and then at Rochford Hall in Kent.
The book is certainly enjoyable and easy to read, but when there are so many inaccuracies, it becomes very hard to take it seriously . Yes, it is historical fiction, and I do expect some artistic licence in books of this nature, but when so much licence has been taken as to have people meeting years earlier than they did in real life, living in different places, and dying at different times, this loses any historical value whatsoever and becomes little more than a nice romantic story.
The thing that most annoys me is the fact that on the back of the book, there is a snippet of a review from the Los Angeles Times saying 'Impressively researched ..... the author has her historical details down pat.'
Well, I venture to suggest that the author has pulled her historical facts out of her backside . I would consider very little of this book factual, and would go so far as to suggest that anyone with even a passing interest in English history avoid this book . I normally regard a well researched historical novel as a great way to pick up a little extra knowledge without the dry and dull tone present in many biographies , but this particular book I regard as detrimental to learning.
2 stars . A nice romance tale, but offering nothing of value to anyone with an interest in history.