The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “The Boleyn family appeared from nowhere at the end of the fourteenth century, moving from peasant to princess in only a few generations. The women of the family brought about its advancement, beginning with the heiresses Alice Bracton Boleyn, Anne Hoo Boleyn and Margaret Butler Boleyn, who brought wealth and aristocratic connections. Then there was Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, who was rumoured to have been the mistress of Henry VIII, along with her daughter Mary and her niece Madge, who certainly were. Anne Boleyn became the King’s second wife and her aunts, Lady Boleyn and Lady Shelton, helped bring her to the block. The infamous Jane Boleyn, the last of her generation, betrayed her husband before dying on the scaffold with Queen Catherine Howard. The next generation was no less turbulent and Catherine Carey, the daughter of Mary Boleyn, fled from England to avoid persecution under Mary Tudor.Her daughter, Lettice, was locked in bitter rivalry with the greatest Boleyn lady of all, Elizabeth I, winning the battle for the affections of Robert Dudley but losing her position in society as a consequence. Finally, another Catherine Carey, the Countess of Nottingham, was so close to her cousin, the Queen, that Elizabeth died of grief following her death. The Boleyn family was the most ambitious dynasty of the sixteenth century, rising dramatically to prominence in the early years of a century that would end with a Boleyn on the throne.”

REVIEW: Elizabeth Norton has written many works on interesting Tudor women, including biographies of all of Henry VIII’s six wives and one of his early mistress Bessie Blount, all of which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. Her book ‘The Anne Boleyn Papers’ is also one of my favourites, as it works not only as a sourcebook vital to any Anne Boleyn research but also as a fascinating collection of documents for any reader. Therefore, my enjoyment of these previous books meant that I was very excited to receive this one for Christmas and read it at great speed. I thoroughly enjoyed this condensed biography of the amazing Boleyn women – particularly reading about women like Anne Hoo Boleyn, whom I had previously known nothing about. The tracing of the female Boleyn bloodline through over a century of history gives the reader a wide span of knowledge, not only about these women but also about the political and social contexts that shaped their lives individually. It is always enjoyable to read a work of non-fiction that is both easy to read and to understand, and doesn’t make the reader feel as though the work is purely directed towards scholars. I also enjoyed the heavy focus placed on many women that are often ignored by history – for example, Catherine Carey is one of my favourite historical figures but very little ever seems to be written about her. Although there were parts of the book that I sometimes wished had been expanded upon, I understand that this only took place because the author had so much to cover and had to condense this information to make the book more easily accessible; with this in mind, I think the chosen information was extremely well-selected and clearly thoroughly researched, as although the chapters were short readers gain a detailed portrait of each of the chosen women in these chapters. Overall I would highly recommend this book for fans of the Boleyns or those who wish to know more about the lives of Tudor women in general.

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