Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper

I have been reading a lot of books by Karen Harper recently and I have to admit to thoroughly enjoying each and every one. What a gifted author she is! "The Last Boleyn" was originally titled "Passion's Reign" and I am not at all sure that I would have chosen to read it with that title. I have that ingrained aversion to lusty title's that shelving Harlequin novels in a book store left me with !

"The Last Boleyn" is the tale of Mary Tudor - five years a mistress to Henry VIII before Anne; faithful wife and mother after Henry. Although I had perhaps heard this before I had not registered the fact that the family name had, in fact, been 'Bullen' prior to Anne's Franophile-ization of her family name to the more readily familiar 'Boleyn'. Mary Bullen inherited her mother's more delicate blonde coloring - heritage of her lofty Howard lineage. I have always been of the impression that 'father' Boleyn was a power hungry, ladder climbing syncophant in the court of Henry VIII....a man who would pander his female children to his best advantage. Nothing I have read over the years has really change that opinion - even taking the vagaries of that time period into account.

Mary was sent to the French court at an early age - as lady-in-waiting to Henry's sister Mary during her short lived marriage to the aging French King. Upon the King's death Mary remains at the French Court attendant upon Mary and beguiled by the new French King Francois I. Anne Boleyn joins Mary at the French court for a time until Mary returns to England as a teenager - and becomes an integral part of the Court of Henry VIII. The book chronicles Mary's marriage to the cold, calculating William Carey - a husband who accepts the King's advances towards Mary as a way to accrue fame and fortune for himself. During her marriage to William Carey Mary has son  and, although she always claimed that he was William Carey's son - there has always been speculation that her son was, in fact, the progeny of Henry VIII .Mary is, ultimately, drawn to the jaded courtier William Stafford - a man whom she will ultimately marry in secret after the death of William Carey.
The odd thing about Mary Boleyn's story is that she was always derided by her family for not asking Henry for more - for not expecting more from him as his mistress. Anne was the rapacious sister . Oddly enough though it is Mary, and not Anne, who ultimately lives to a goodly age and retires from Courtlife with both her head and her happiness intact - thank largely, I am led to believe thanks to the love of Will Staford.
In contrast, this novel with that of Phillipa Gregory's book "The Other Boleyn Girl" - which is also narrated from Mary's point of view. I enjoyed both of these book tremendously, but I think that in some ways I prefer Karen Harper's work. I think that Ms. Harper follows the history very closely and she also managed to  keep me turning the pages of this book late into the night. Best bet - read both books because I think that the story of Mary Boleyn is truly a very good one !


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