Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
My freshman year world history teacher taught us that slant rhyme to remember what happened to infamous King Henry VIII’s wives and I found myself saying it throughout my reading of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory.
I must admit, it was a bit of a slow read–while some parts were definitely page turners (namely right before a wife was, spoiler alert, divorced or beheaded), for the most part, it was somewhat dry. This story follows the perspectives of Queen Anne of Cleves, Queen Catherine Howard, and Lady ( in waiting) Jane Boleyn. As such, Gregory employs the method of rotating focalization in order to tell the story of King Henry VIII’s court from each of their perspectives. Thankfully, at the beginning of each chapter, Gregory clearly defines who is presently speaking, when, and where, so it is easy to figure out what (and whose) part of history is being told.
I will say that I enjoyed the way Gregory married facts with fiction, but I do wish her author’s note at the end provided a little more information. It’s possible that some of why this book took longer to read through was because I kept interrupting myself in order to do a quick Google search on each of those women as well as other people mentioned in the book.
Overall, I did enjoy the book, I appreciated the fact that both Cleves and Howard were given a voice. I feel like the only wives of Henry I ever really heard about were Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn, so I would be curious to see if Jane Seymore of Catherine Parr would have as dramatic stories. Additionally, I’ve never really heard of Jane Boleyn, so it was fascinating to see just how entangled she became in the affairs and plots within Henry’s court.
I think that is really what is the biggest recommendation for this book: its topic and fact that it sheds new light upon it. I never would have given a thought to any of the ladies in waiting of the court, nor would I have really learned of anything about Henry’s other wives had it not been for this book. I also liked the fact that it was easy to determine when and where events were taking place. However, I think the constant focalization shifts, slightly bland overall tone, and fact that some of the chapters were really short (and possibly unnecessary) lessened the overall enjoyment I had from reading it.
Of course, if you like historical fiction, especially regarding Henry VIII, I think this is a fantastic choice. It gives a new perspective on all the court members that makes them seem realistic, accessible, and more human than movies about that same period, like The Other Boleyn Girl (coincidentally, the book that inspired the film is also by Gregory).