Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had a love affair that catalyzed a political and religious revolution in England. But years before they married, Henry had an affair--no one knows for how long, or how serious--with Anne's sister Mary. After writing numerous books about Henry VIII and his wives, Weir has set out to delve into the history of Mary Boleyn.
The problem is, there isn't much history to delve into. We have two letters by her, and some information about her travels during young adulthood. But we don't know what she looked like (no portrait has been authenticated, and the portraits associated with her have a very low probability of actually being her), or what color hair she had, or when she was born, or if she was older or younger than Anne, or when she left France, or what her feelings were about any of the men in her life, or who fathered some of her children, or how many children she had, or anything at all, really. And that's my issue with this book. Weir has clearly put in due diligence to discover everything she can find about Mary, but there just doesn't seem to be much known. And so instead the majority of this book is taken up with either mocking other scholars' theories about Mary (and rightfully so--the fanciful, downright prurient language they use to describe this woman they know nothing about, whose sex life is a near complete mystery to everyone, is shockingly unprofessional) or making up her own theories.
I've been impressed with Weir's scholarship and careful weighing of fact vs possibilities before, but I think she goes a bit overboard into fiction here. She theorizes all sorts of things, based on very little evidence indeed. One of Mary's children named one of her
children "William," and from this Weir concludes that William Stafford was a good step-father to the Mary's children and that they loved him. What the heck? William is a perfectly ordinary, very common name! Or Weir uses the royal imagery in a poem by Sir Philip Sidney (when he was courting Katherine Carey, Mary's eldest child) as proof that Katherine was secretly Henry VIII's bastard daughter. Again, that's very flimsy indeed! By the end of the "biography," I was very frustrated with Weir. I think she did her reputation more harm than good with this book.