Review: The Boleyn Inheritance

#1.  The Boleyn Inheritance – Philippa Gregory

Boleyn Inheritance

From the book jacket –

Three women who share one fate, the Boleyn inheritance:

Anne of Cleves:  She runs from her tiny country, her hateful mother, and her abusive brother to a throne whose last three occupants are dead.  King Henry VIII, her new husband, instantly dislikes her.  Without friends, family, or even an understanding of the language being spoken around her, she must literally save her neck in a court ruled by a deadly game of politics and the terror of an unpredictable and vengeful king.  Her Boleyn Inheritance: accusations and false witnesses.

Katherine Howard:  She catches the king’s eye within moments of arriving at court, setting in motion the dreadful machine of politics, intrigue, and treason that she does not understand.  She only knows that she is beautiful, that men desire her, that she is young and in love – but not with the diseased old man who made her queen, beds her night after night, and killed her cousin Anne.  Her Boleyn inheritance: the threat of the axe.

Jane Rochford:  She is the Boleyn girl whose testimony sent her husband and sister-in-law to their deaths.  She is the trusted friend of two threatened queens, the perfectly loyal spy for her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a canny survivor in the murderous court of a most dangerous king.  Throughout Europe, her name is byword for malice, jealousy, and twisted lust.  Her Boleyn inheritance: a fortune and a title, in exchange for her soul.

Ever since reading The Other Boleyn Girl a few years ago, I have been a big fan of Gregory and her fantastic historical fiction books.  The Boleyn Inheritance was no different – I started reading this book yesterday and read it for several hours last night while waiting for midnight, then picked it back up again this morning and really didn’t stop until I had finished reading it this afternoon.  This novel sucked me in from the beginning and did not let go – all three women were relatable and I desperately had to find out what would happen with each of their lives.

This is the first novel by Gregory that I have read where she tells the story from more than one perspective.  In this case, it was very effective as the reader essentially got to hear the same story told by three different women who lived it, yet their roles were so drastically different from each others’.  What struck me most about these women was how utterly helpless they all were to control anything about their lives.  Every single decision was made for them, and even the very strong-willed among them – such as Anne of Cleves, who did everything in her power to be her own woman and make her own decisions – were completely controlled by the men around them.  And especially in the court of King Henry VIII, women had no hope.  They could do exactly as was expected of them, be perfect little angels who listened to the men in charge and do exactly as they were told, and the king would still find some reason to put them to death, or if they were lucky, exile.  As much of a horrible person Jane Rochford was, and as much of a “slut” Katherine Howard was, I simply found myself feeling so sorry for them.  They had no choice in any of their actions.  It was actually kind of heartbreaking to read about, especially regarding Jane, who honestly felt like she was doing the best she could for her family, yet was being manipulated by her uncle and suffered an awful fate for it.  

I loved this book, and I will be continuing to read Philippa Gregory’s work until I’ve finished it all (and hopefully by then, she’ll have written more!).  It was a fabulous book to kick off 2009, and I highly recommend The Boleyn Inheritance.

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13 thoughts on “Review: The Boleyn Inheritance”

  1. I read this last Christmas–I picked it up in the airport (my plane out of Puerto Rico was delayed). I enjoyed it very much, but I haven’t read anything else by her because they all seemed to be about the same thing. How different are her books from one another? I don’t tend to read more than one book by the same author in a year anyway, but I’m curious, because I haven’t read the Other Boleyn Girl yet, and that’s the one that everyone wants to talk about!

  2. I enjoyed this book as a fun beach or summer read. I actually read it when I was traveling through London several years ago. It isn’t historical correct, sort of a “based on the life of the Boleyn sisters,” but I wasn’t writing a research paper, I was just getting atmosphere. I have found that all of her books are similar, same feel, same basic time in history, I think it was the third one that I couldn’t finish.

  3. This is one of the few of Gregory’s books that I haven’t read, and I can’t wait to give it a try! I’ll admit, sometimes it takes me longer than I would like to get into some of Gregory’s work (The Constant Princess felt like it might never get off the ground) but your review made it sound like this wouldn’t be a problem with this particular book! Thanks so much for the great review, and I can’t wait to read what sounds like an amazing book!

  4. I read the The Other Boleyn Girl a couple of months ago and I quite enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading this too some day. I was struck by the helplessness of women as well. I thought that was the case with both Mary and Anne, who’s generally thought of as being manipulative. But really, she didn’t have all that many choices. None of the women did.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one so much, and your review definitely makes me want to get to it sooner.

  5. I have been a big fan of Gregory, especially the Boleyn books since reading most (maybe all) of them since finishing college in June. I’m trying to get into “Earthly Pleasures” right now. The last Gregory book I read was “The Queen’s Fool” which was one of my favorites as it covers the life of a normal person caught up in the doings and betrayals of the royal family. How historically accurate is Gregory? Does anyone know?

  6. I really love Gregory’s stuff, but I found that if I read too many of them too close together, I got kind of exhausted. Like, it was too many stories to keep track of and it ended up feeling like one giant, sad story.

    It definitely re-awakened my love of historical fiction. And if you haven’t read it, while it’s totally not historical, I really loved The Mists of Avalon. To me, giant epic stories from a woman’s POV just kind of go together.

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