Charlie Wilson's War
Elizabeth: the Golden Age
Flags of our Fathers
The Great Raid
Kingdom of Heaven
Master and Commander
Memoirs of a Geisha
National Treasure 2
The Other Boleyn Girl
Passion of the Christ
Pride and Prejudice
Pirates of the Caribbean 2
Walk the Line
We are Marshall
World Trade Center
The Other Boleyn Girl (2/29/08)
By Cathy Schultz, Ph.D.
Henry VIIIs insatiable love life is as fascinating today
as it was for his sixteenth-century subjects. In part, its
the sheer number of his wives: he married three Catherines, two
Annes, and one Jane, for those keeping score at home. But maybe
our fascination has a slightly morbid tinge. Henry, you may recall,
had a penchant for beheading the wives he tired of.
To be fair, only two of Henrys six wives lost their heads.
But the gory image persists, perhaps because beheading was the fate
of Anne Boleyn -arguable the most famous of his wives. Henrys
infatuation with Anne was truly earthshaking, leading him to divorce
his first wife -- the devoutly Catholic Catherine of Aragon -- break
with Rome, and begin the English Reformation. Annes subsequent
fall from grace was as swift and dramatic as her rise.
Annes place in the history books is secure. But few of us
know of the other Boleyn girl - Mary, Annes younger sister.
The complicated tale of these two sisters, and their shared passion
for Henry VIII is the tale told in this new film, a sumptuous costume
drama based on the bestselling novel by Philippa Gregory. Heres
a look at the facts to be found in this story of love, sex, and
power in the age of Tudor.
Q. The film portrays Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) as quite
the minx. Does it exaggerate that?
A. Hard to say. Anne was flirtatious certainly, and loved to be
around men. She also earned too many enemies by reveling in the
influence she had over the King. Those enemies would get the final
say. After Annes death, her detractors shaped the popular
image, portraying Anne as an evil seductress, who had forced Henry
into betraying both his first wife and the Catholic Church. Some
claimed she was a witch, and whispered (falsely) of strange birthmarks,
and an extra finger on her right hand, deformities that would mark
her as a devil. All those prejudices color the contemporary sources
about Anne, making it difficult to tease out who she really was.
Q. Annes father coolly encourages his daughters to bed
the king, if they could. Was he really so gross?
A. Alas, tis true. Thomas Boleyn was an ambitious man who
saw his pretty daughters as the quickest way to garner honors and
wealth from the king. But Boleyn was hardly unique. Well-to-do daughters
of the era were often used as pawns in their fathers social
climbing schemes. Boleyn was simply more brazen -- and successful
-- than most. When his daughters relationships with the King
flowered, Thomas Boleyn reaped the benefits, as the Crown bestowed
titles, honors, and wealth upon him.
Q. The movie seems to imply that King Henry (Eric Bana) hadnt
had a mistress before he encountered the Boleyn girls. True?
A. Not at all. King Henry had married Catharine of Aragon quite
young, before he turned eighteen. Within just a few years, though,
the first rumors of his extramarital dalliances had begun. The number
of women passing in and out of the kings bedchamber increased
over time, as the King and Queen grew apart amid tension over the
lack of a male heir.
Q. Did Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) really have an affair
with Henry VIII before Anne did?
A. The evidence is circumstantial but fairly strong that they did,
and the affair may have lasted from 1522 until 1526. The King himself
inadvertently admitted it years later, when he wished to marry Anne.
Some in the court objected to Anne since the King had slept with
both Annes sister and her mother. Never with the mother!
Henry protested revealingly.
Q. But Mary was actually married when she caught the Kings
eye. So whatever happened to her poor husband?
A. William Carey, Marys husband, disappears from the film
after a painfully awkward family meeting, where Mary is pressed
for specific details about her night with the King. But whatever
the feelings of the real Carey, he certainly wasnt poor.
While Henry VIII carried on his affair with Mary, he apparently
paid off her husband handsomely, gifting him with wealthy estates.
Mary had a son in 1526 -- probably Henrys -- and that marked
the end of her fling with the King. Carey died in 1528, at which
time rumors abounded that his widow, Mary, was a woman of easy
virtue. That reputation was also probably thanks to Henry.
Q. Did Anne Boleyn really commit incest with her brother?
A. Almost certainly not, though the film gives a plausible explanation
for why the accusation was made. The reality was that in 1536, as
Henry himself was tiring of Anne, frustrated that she failed to
bear him a son, (always seen as the womans fault, in those
days) her enemies at court seized the opportunity to frame her.
They convinced Henry that Anne was guilty of all sorts of gross
sexual escapades, including incest. Henry believed the lies, and
within weeks, Anne had been tried, found guilty, and executed.
Henry wasted little time grieving. Just a few days after Annes
beheading, he married Jane Seymour, a quiet, demure girl, far different
from the flirty, flamboyant Anne. It was Jane who would finally
bear him a son, Edward.
But despite their disgrace, the influence of the Boleyns would
live on. For Annes daughter became the mighty ruler Henry
VIII had dreamed of in an heir. That Boleyn girl was Queen Elizabeth
Q. Where can I find more about the Boleyns?
A. Gregorys novel is fun, but for an historians take,
try Anne Boleyn, a biography by Eric Ives.
Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University
of St. Francis in Illinois and writes a syndicated column on historical
films. You can reach her at email@example.com
King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) likes
both this Boleyn girl... (Natalie Portman)
...And the other (Scarlett Johannson).
Those Tudors really could make a