The Last Boleyn

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The Last Boleyn
Author Karen Harper
Country United States
Language English
Genre Tudor period
historical fiction
Publisher Three Rivers Press
Publication date
2006 (orig. released in 1983)
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 592 pp
ISBN 0-307-23790-7

The Last Boleyn is a novel by Karen Harper.

Previously published as Passion's Reign in 1983, The Last Boleyn tells the story of the middle Boleyn child, Mary, who has not been given as much historical note as her siblings, Anne and George. The book describes how their father, Thomas, uses his own children to rise to power—a practice that was commonplace in sixteenth century England.

Plot summary[edit]

In 1512, it is decided that Mary will be sent first to the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria and then to the French court as maid-in-waiting to Louis XII's English wife, Mary Tudor. Although this decision leaves her mother, Elizabeth devastated, Mary is keen in working towards pleasing her father and advancing the Boleyns in society.

Mary grows to love her mistress, the Queen, and the two form a special companionship when the ailing Louis XII dismisses the other English ladies-in-waiting from court. Mary Tudor confesses that her brother, King Henry VIII, has promised that she will be free to marry whomever she chooses upon the death of Louis. Describing women as pawns to the desires of men, she gives Mary a chesspiece as a constant reminder of this; green and white, it symbolizes that they are both mere Tudor pawns.

With the death of Louis XII, his nephew, Francois, (with whom the young Mary is besotted), inherits the throne, and Mary Tudor is married to Charles Brandon in secret. With the marriage discovered by an angry King Henry, Thomas Boleyn decides to withdraw his daughter from the dowager queen's service, and have her instead in the household of the pious Queen Claude. Mary's younger sister, Anne arrives at the French court two years later, in 1517.

Avoiding the flirtations of Rene de Brosse, Mary is eventually cornered by the youth as he physically expresses his desires. The Italian Leonardo da Vinci, a favorite of the King, rescues Mary, and advises her to forever keep her eyes open if she desires to survive court. William Stafford, a servant to Henry Tudor, makes Mary's acquaintance, but she is altogether unimpressed and annoyed by his mannerisms.

As Francois's feelings towards his royal mistress, Francoise de Foix wane, he begins an affair with Mary. Although she is frightened of the possible backlashes, her father encourages the liaisons. Mary is seen as a possession by the King, and is traded amongst his friends as a whore; she quickly realizes that she was foolish to think that he could ever love her. When the English court visits France again in 1520, William Stafford warns Mary against allowing King Henry Tudor to take her as his mistress, while Catherine of Aragon and Thomas Boleyn discuss Mary's future in England.

When Mary returns to England, she is quickly married to William Carey, a gentleman of the royal privy chamber, who agrees to allow his newlywed wife to be mistress to the King of England. Unlike her predecessor, Bessie Blount, Mary is able to hold the King for five years. When Mary gives birth to a baby boy (Henry Carey) in 1522, the identity of his father is unknown.

Her sister, Anne, is a flirtatious, pretty girl at court, and catches the king's eye. Mary finds herself falling in love with William Stafford, the handsome man who sees and loves Mary for who she truly is. She has a love affair with him even though she still has a husband, but he loves her not. When her husband is killed in the summer sweat plague, her secret love affair with Stafford continues.

They are eventually married in secret and it remains a secret until she becomes pregnant and has to tell Anne, who had been Queen for quite some time, and the King. They are sent away to live at Stafford's Manor house. They live a very happy and peaceful life there as their love child is born.

For well I might a' had a greater man of birth, but I assure you I could never a' had one that loved me so well. I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen christened.

Historical Accuracy[edit]

Like most novels about the Boleyns, liberties are taken. The following are a few examples:

  • Ages and birth order of the Boleyn children: In the book the birth dates of Mary, George, and Anne are 1503 (George), 1504 (Mary), and 1507 (Anne). Most historians now agree on the following: 1499 (Mary), 1504 (George), and there is a dispute on the year of Anne's birth on whether it was 1501 or 1507.
  • Mary's education abroad: Mary is shown being sent to the court of Archduches Margaret at the age of eight in 1512. It is now clear that it was Anne, not Mary, who spent time in the Netherlands, and was sent there some time in 1513. Mary went abroad a year later around the age of fifteen, to be a lady-in-waiting to Mary Tudor. Anne did not arrive in France in 1517 but very shortly after her sister, in late 1514.
  • Anne is described as having a sixth finger. In reality, she never had one.
  • Physical and Characteristical description of Mary Tudor: The king's sister Mary is described as "gentle", "sweet" and "raven-haired", along with having dark eyes. However, the real Mary Tudor had red hair and blue eyes like her older brother Henry and was known for her tantrums. She was very spoiled and hot-tempered, often demanding her way, and could hardly have been called gentle or sweet by anyone.
  • Death of King Louis: On December 29, 1514, the king is said to have been "dead for a week" meaning that he would have had to have died on December 22. In actuality, Louis died on New Years Day in 1515.
  • Mary's affairs: Thomas Boleyn is not believed to have approved of her becoming King Francis's mistress, and likely was unaware of her actions at the time they occurred. She did become King Henry's mistress circa 1521/1522, and, despite the affair lasting for presumably several years (1521/1522?-summer 1525), Bessie Blount was the king's longest term mistress, maintaining his favor for approximately eight years at the most. Mary's first son Henry Carey was born around the beginning of 1526, not 1522.
  • Presence of Anne Basset: Anne Basset did not arrive at court until Jane Seymour was queen, yet she is portrayed prominently in a number of scenes in The Last Boleyn.
  • Mary's appearance: She is portrayed as ravishing in The Last Boleyn, mentioned several times as blond, blue-eyed, angel-faced. While Mary was considered to be the more attractive of the Boleyn sisters, seeing as Anne was olive-skinned and raven-haired, she was likely not quite so "blond" and was described as being "merely pretty". Only one contemporary portrait of her exists, and while the headdress conceals her hair, the woman in the painting has eyes that are dark brown, not blue.
  • Jane Parker is referred to as Jane Rochford throughout the book even before her marriage. In reality, "Rochford" was a name she gained after marrying George Boleyn, as he was the Viscount of Rochford. So technically, only then would she have been called "Lady Rochford" and not prior.
  • Mary in the book has a son by William Stafford named Andrew, when historically they had a daughter named Anne. Also, Mary's first child was Catherine and not Henry. Catherine was born first and Henry was born later while she was married to William Carey.

In all, Mary is portrayed differently from the usual promiscuous fool she is normally viewed as. Her outrageous affairs are dismissed as childlike naivete and misguidance, as well as an unfortunate situation.


For quote: Mary Boleyn.