The infamous whore forgotten: Remembering Mary Boleyn in history and fiction

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Characterisations of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne, have long been defined by her position as a royal mistress to both Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England. Hence she has predominately been represented in terms of deviant sexual behaviours, with many historians concluding that she is of limited historical importance. The publication of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001 instigated renewed interest in Boleyn and questioned such representations of her character. By presenting Mary as a legitimate subject of historical inquiry and asserting that her novel was an accurate representation, Gregory became the focus of debate concerning accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction. This paper offers a postmodern comparative study of representations of Boleyn's sexuality in The Other Boleyn Girl, David Loades' The Boleyns, Alison Weir's Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore' and Josephine Wilkinson's Mary Boleyn: The True Story of Henry VIII's Favourite Mistress. Limited evidence concerning Boleyn means that, in spite of individual assurances of authenticity, each of these authors relies on speculation, inference and imagination to construct their narratives, and thus blurs distinctions between history and fiction.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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ERA Access