I was so excited to begin reading this book. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl so much that I had to force myself to read other types of books before buying this one. The Boleyn Inheritance did not disappoint me. It is the continuation of the Boleyn family story after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and is told from the perspective of three different women who cannot avoid Henry the 8th’s dangerous court: Jane Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard. Jane Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister-in-law who sent the Queen and her own husband to their deaths, has been taken into the confidence of the Duke of Norfolk. He is the Howard family patriarch who bailed out on his niece and nephew to secure his place in King Henry’s court and to save his own life. He brought Jane back to court to be his loyal informant when Henry married Anne of Cleves.
We meet Anne of Cleves posing for a portrait to be sent to King Henry. He was to use the portraits to select his fourth wife. His third wife, Jane Seymour, had died from an infection brought about by the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward. Anne desperately wanted to Henry to select her so that she could flee the land of her birth and be rid of her family. Her brother was the Duke of Cleves. He locked his own father away because of the loss of his mental faculties. Anne feared for own sanity if fate kept her in her brother’s household under her mother’s suspicious eye.
Katherine Howard is a young, selfish girl. Although she was not raised in prosperity, she believed that she was meant only for luxury. While living in her grandmother’s house at the tender age of 14, she does not choose her friends carefully. She also didn’t guard her “maidenhood” or see any reason to refrain from anything that was fun or could advance herself financially. In her naiveté, she agrees to marry a young man and even exchanges vows with him in church in secret. In that day, doing such constituted marriage just as much as a ceremony with a priest. After her “groom” leaves to make their fortune in Ireland, she jumps at the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle’s offer to join the court as a maiden-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves. Little does she suspect that the Duke of Norfolk was only interested in her good looks as it might provide a way to get a Howard woman back into King Henry’s bed.
Much is known about the life and monarchy of Henry the 8th. In this book, the stories of his marriages of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard to Henry the 8th are told from the perspective of each of these women as well as Jane Boleyn. Although her books are works of fiction, Philippa Gregory brings the women in his life to life for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you know their fate before you read this book. The voices of these women are engaging. They become more than just Henry’s wives or members of court. The reader becomes interested in their lives and their dreams. Just because you know who will lose her head doesn’t mean you don’t want to yell out to her to stop as she makes the wrong turn that leads her to the scaffold.
Once again, upon finishing this book, I had to force myself to read something that had nothing to do with Henry the 8th, his wives, England, or anything old enough to be considered historical. It was difficult. I find that my interests are pointing me more and more to these books. It could be said that I’m giving in to “chick lit,” but I don’t believe that is true. This was a novel, but it was based upon facts that were researched by the author. I did not know what was to become of any of the three narrators when I started this book. I learned some history as a result. I may not have learned dates but I can now give an overview of five of Henry’s six marriages and explain how they took place and what brought them to an end. It’s not all about the women, either. I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I begin The Autobiography of Henry the 8th. He was a fascinating man. I’d like to learn more about him from his perspective, even if it is from another work of fiction.
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