With very little historical information available, this biography of Anne Boleyn’s sister is filled with plenty of theories but overall feels lacking in real substance – with other key family members still overshadowing her life.

While there have been countless books devoted to the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, I was curious to find out more about her sister Mary (who as Weir points out in this sometimes frustrating read) has been described as notorious for having affairs with kings and getting married without permission – but Weir attempts to change this perspective of her. Sadly with very little historical evidence, this biography feels more like a long line of theories than anything concrete.

By all means, it is a good premise for a book, shining a light on a woman who was eclipsed by her sister Anne, but at the same time the number of ‘what ifs’ can become a little too much after a while – particularly when the author in fairness) expertly discredits the words of those who were around in that era and would do anything to discredit the Boleyn family, while only vaguely offering her own ideas as to what Mary Boleyn was like and her story – which is difficult indeed when there are only two surviving letters that she wrote.

However, on the flip side of this what we do get is perhaps an idea of what the Tudor period was like from Mary’s perspective, what she must have seen at the court of King Francis and later at the English court of Henry VIII. the descriptions of particular events she may have attended are extremely vivid and it is possible that you are there alongside Mary watching events unfold. Equally, it is interesting to find out more about her husbands William Carey and William Stafford – two figures who I also didn’t know a lot about as well as the fortunes of her children Katherine and Henry – both having been rumoured to be King Henry VIII’s – despite unsubstantial evidence.

The book is perhaps at its strongest when it takes a wider perspective at the world of the Tudors in general, which as someone who has a strong interest in this period of history it is always welcome to see it in a different light.This is really strongly felt during the part in which Mary Boleyn not only attended the Princess Mary to King Louis XII of France but also in the way in which events such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold are extraordinarily written about with great detail and insight.

While it is understandable why Alison Weir wanted to write about Mary Boleyn and to try and dispel the myths surrounding her story – which she does do to an extent. But with so many discrepancies in much of what has already been written about her that the author makes clear couldn’t reasonably be true,it feels as though we don’t get any closer to understanding Mary’s story or character. Engaging in places, it is sadly however not overall completely satisfactory.

By Emma Clarendon

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐