Friday, 19 February 2010

History Recommendations February 2010

(1) Mary Boleyn: Josephine Wilkinson.

In the last few weeks I have been trying to read more history during the day. Now don’t get me wrong, I am reading lots of history at the moment particularly since I have just finished the first three chapter drafts of my dissertation. What I mean by reading more is that I have just been looking to read more for fun as opposed for my work. The city library has just been refurbished and so they have many more history books than they used to including new books. I was very pleased to pick up the first two. Josephine Wilkinson’s 'Mary Boleyn' and Leanda De Lisle’s 'The Sister’s Who Would be Queen.' The latter of which I will be reviewing next, but now on to the first of these books.

This is a book that I have been looking forward to reading. Mainly because I have quite a few books on Mary’s sister Anne, but in many of these books you don’t learn much about Mary at all. Aside from Philippa Gregory’s popular novel 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Mary has not received much attention. In the beginning, I was surprised by the length of the book, it being less than 200 pages. However, when I began to read it became obvious why. The large double spaced print of the book suggested that there was not a great deal to tell, and that in a paperback edition the book would be even smaller, perhaps no more than 100 pages in standard print and 1.5 space. Looking at the sources used in the study a wide range of both primary and secondary evidence is used, but even then you could get a sense that there was not much available evidence on Mary herself, and what was obtained was from other records on Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. This is okay though as it helps to explain the length of the book. There is probably not enough evidence for a longer study. Unfortunately, I felt that there may not have been enough evidence for what she had written because sometimes I felt that he attention went more to Mary’s sister Anne, of which we all know more about. Of course proper context is needed and for this Anne's position needs to be explained, but perhaps Mary was lost a little in the middle as the author reiterates Anne Boleyn’s rise to precedence. The focus does come back to Mary in the end when her second marriage is discussed. In places the author had to rely on circumstantial evidence, but she held up her arguments by coupling this evidence with the documentary evidence. This is seen with regard to the paternity of Mary’s children, which is something that we cannot know for certain, but the author offers her own views as to who it could have been.
Nevertheless, it was good to read a book on Mary as opposed to Anne. This along with the recent biography on Jane Boleyn brings to the forefront some of the more forgotten characters in Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s story. I did find that the book was very well written. I found it easy to follow, but the author also had a clear argument which is refreshing to see in popular history. Even if there is not much about Mary to know, I would still recommend this book particularly to anyone who reads often on the Tudors or on Anne Boleyn, and wishes to know more about an often forgotten sister.