The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

So here it is, a new start to an old blog…again. I’m going to try not to think about what this means about my basic personality and just get into it: I’m blogging again.

The Other Boleyn Girl

 

I recently read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. This is the sixth book of hers I’ve read and I find that, generally, I enjoy them very much. What I like about her novels is how interesting they are. The first one I read was The Lady of the Rivers (part of The Cousin’s War series). I remember being skeptical at first, but quickly became completely captivated by it. The same has held true for all of her novels I’ve read so far.

 

The Other Boleyn Girl is about the ‘middle’ of King Henry VIII’s reign; Queen Katherine was getting older and had still not given him a son (which made the King very nervous), and the Boleyn Girls had begun to catch his eye. The book is told in the perspective of Mary Boleyn, of whom little is factually known in the historical record. Mary served as one of Queen Katherine’s ladies in waiting, giving her a close position to the higher ups of the royal court.

 

Mary’s family strategically plots a way for her to get close to the king in order to gain his favor and improve the family’s wealth, influence, and status. To achieve these means, they decide the best thing to do is use Mary as bait for an affair. In the novel, she is quite successful (though morally unsure about it), and her family is modestly rewarded for his affections…but they are hungry for more. Enter Anne Boleyn. While Mary is giving birth to Henry’s illegitimate son, Anne steps in to keep the King’s attention from wandering to another family. When it becomes obvious that he favors Anne over Mary once she is out of confinement, her family quickly changes strategies, and put all their hopes on Anne. Luckily (it seems), Anne has plans of her own, and it isn’t to just be a whore in the King’s bed.

 

There is quite a lot of hate on Philippa Gregory concerning ‘historical accuracy’. I’d like to quickly address this. First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a history buff, although ancient civilization is a passion of mine. But here’s the thing: Philippa Gregory is a novelist; in other words, one who makes things up for a living. I admire her work because she takes the bare bones facts we know, along with rumor and suspicion or events that may have taken place, chooses a narrator who would be able to tell the story she wants to get at, and weaves a story from there that is not only interesting to read, but also inspires readers (like me) to research the time period for themselves. I don’t pick up a Philippa Gregory novel in order to learn about historical facts, I read them to be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

This novel is fast paced, emotional, and exciting. I always find Philippa Gregory reliable to ‘pick me up’ when I feel myself falling into a reading slump. Although the book is over 600 pages long, the writing is good enough and compelling enough to make it seem half that length. It’s full of romance, ambition, revenge, and secrecy, I would highly recommend it.

 

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The White Princess, by Philppa Gregory (#5 Cousins’ War Series)

The White Princess
The White Princess, Philippa Gregory
Historical Fiction
544 Pages
Published: July 2013
Goodreads Page
Buy on Amazon.com

Political history has never been of particular interest to me, that’s generally why I never enjoyed ‘American History’ classes. I don’t necessarily enjoy such recent history (unless my new fiancé is telling me about it – his fascination with things automatically intrigues me) – I generally prefer ancient history…the older, the better. I’d never really considered learning anything about English History, or the monarchy of any country really, it never crossed my mind. After reading my fourth Philippa Gregory novel, however, I find myself captivated by the history. This is the beauty of books – changing people’s perspectives all the time.

The way I used to view Old English Monarchs::

A bunch of old guys and ladies wearing ridiculous outfits that looked heavy, arrogant, and proud.

The way I view them now::

Real people, who really existed. They had brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers – they had enemies and lovers – alliances and betrayals – fears and pleasures. Their lives at the time weren’t ‘He was such a scoundrel he murdered his wife’ or ‘He was the greediest King to ever rule England’ – there were every day struggles, a constant weight of custom and expectation weighing down upon them. They were at times insecure, other times certain of their convictions, but always having to ‘act’ their roles in the kingdom. The King and Queen could never be seen as weak – could never be questioned, always respected and revered – to question them was treason, but who was to tell them what was right, what to do? What a standard to live up to!

This particular novel, The White Princess, is told through the view of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, through her marriage to Henry VII, who stole the crown from her Uncle Richard III and founded the Tutor Dynasty (that is a lot of old guys in one sentence, eh?). This is the furthest in history the War of the Roses series has come so far, and I believe Gregory’s Tudor series takes over from here, although there is at least one more novel, The Last Rose, to be released in the Roses series.

Although this installment had plenty of scandals, mystery, rebellions, and emotion, it was not my favorite. Of all the books I’ve read so far, The White Princess reminds me most of The White Queen, which is the story of The White Princess’ mother, also named Elizabeth. What I was expecting to find out from this novel, is apparently impossible to know for sure. What happened to the princes in the tower?? This is apparently a question never answered with certainty in history.

Although I thought certain elements of the story were almost brutal (and apparently there is no historical support for them), the creativity and story weaving of Gregory is like magic. Yes, she can be a little repetitive, but I find that actually helpful in novels like these, where the reader is not necessarily familiar with the social structure of the times. For example, I think there are less than 5 names in the entire novel that are not Margaret, Edward, Henry, Elizabeth, or Richard, and there are a lot of active players in this novel. We have to know whose title is who’s, who their alliances are, what their ‘job’ may be, if they’re loyal to the king or under suspicion, if they have children, where they may fall in succession to the throne, etc. etc. Repetition of these facts when they’re important really seemed to help me understand what was going on when it was important to know.

I definitely recommend Philippa Gregory’s work. It’s fiction, of course, so don’t come into it thinking she’s just plotting facts, like a hundred historians before her; she brings them to life, shows us their possible motivations, makes them real to us, hundreds of years later. Every time I finish one of her books, I have the serious compulsion to pick up another right away.
They’re good ;-)

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The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

This book came as a bit of a surprise to me. I came across it at a local grocery store when I was perusing the bookshelves, and I bought both it and The Kingmaker’s Daughter, with the new Starz series covers::

The White Queen

Book 1 in The Cousin’s War Series

The Kingmaker's Daughter

Book 4 in The Cousin’s War Series

I already own The Lady of the Rivers, which is the first book I read in this series, even though it’s technically the third book; in this case, I don’t think it matters much which book you read first, it’s all the same story give or take twenty or thirty years, told from different perspectives. The Lady of the Rivers is told through the eyes of Jacquetta (Woodville) the Duchess of Bedford, the mother of the narrator in The White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who becomes the Queen of England; so in a way, I read them in the correct order, chronologically.

You guys, from what I’ve experienced of Philippa Gregory’s writing in those two books, you can’t put them down! When I read The Lady of the Rivers, first as an audiobook, it was in my ear constantly, and when I read The White Queen this week when I was home sick, I read the whole thing, in one sitting. The thing about these books, is it brings history to life. I’m honestly not sure what parts are fact and fiction, though I assume all the major moving parts are facts: the battles and their outcomes, the marriages, the people ‘favored’ by the court. You’ve got to read them for yourselves!

I must mention: I started The Red Queen (book #2 in the series) as an audiobook, and I hated it. I can’t even remember if I finished it – I think I did. The main character of that book, Margaret Beaufort, is detestable. I couldn’t stand her to the point it almost made the book unreadable. If it wasn’t an audiobook, I probably would have stopped reading near the beginning. Ick.

I love that you get to see it all through other people’s eyes. Margaret Beaufort from The Red Queen is a scheming crazy woman who wants to see her son on the throne and strives from the moment of his birth to get him there, automatically putting her at odds with the characters in The White Queen, who are of the house of York, while Margaret is of Lancaster. Elizabeth Woodville falls desperately in love with the bachelor king on the side of the road and they marry in secret, elevating all of her family to the highest rankings in England. It’s all very complicated and political, but once you’re reading, Gregory makes it really easy to catch on to and shows you the motivations of the monarchy to give out favors – neither too little or too much. You can bet I knew nothing about English monarchy before I read these books. Still don’t, really, just a about a few throne changes in the mid 1400s!

The White Queen follows, as I mentioned, Elizabeth Woodville, from a lonely widow living with her parents, to Queen of England in only a few short weeks. The King, Edward _____ fell instantly in love with her, and though he tried to forget her (because she was of too low a rank to be considered for his wife, politically), he found he could not, and married her in secret. Although King Edward elevated Elizabeth to queendom, that doesn’t mean everyone was happy about it, and they had to make both their ‘friends’ and enemies happy very quickly once she took the throne. The peace didn’t last long, however, as Edward had many rivals to the throne who commanded armies – including the wife of the King Edward overthrew to claim the throne, Margaret of Anjou, former Queen of England. The politics become complex then, as the present queens mother was the former queens most trusted lady in waiting during her reign, but it never becomes an integral part of the plot in this book. It’s amazing how quickly you come to care for the characters in this novel. The meeting of the King in the road by Elizabeth and her two boys is the opening of the book, and already I was rooting for her with more emotion than some books draw from me at their climax. If it’s not Gregory’s writing itself that draws you in, it must be her obvious love of her subjects, because you can’t put these books down! I’m very excited to see the new Starz series based on these books.

The White Queen is definitely worth a try, just for that chance that you might fall in love with it, as I have; then you will have found another fantastic author’s body of work to read your way through. That’s never a bad thing!

The White Princess is the ‘next’ book in the cousin’s war series, and was published this month. I will be picking it up right away, if you’re curious ;-)

Consequently, I own The Other Boleyn Girl, which I’ve found out is the second book in another of Gregory’s series’. Looks like I’ll have to get my hands on the rest of those as well! I’ve read that the order of them doesn’t matter much for those books either, anyone else have an opinion before I dive in?

Thanks for Reading Everyone,
Until Next Time,
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