Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Boleyn Inheritance

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The Boleyn Inheritance

by Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2006, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2007, 544 pages

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Philippa Gregory was born in Kenya in 1954, and educated in England gaining a BA degree in history from the University of Sussex and a PhD in 18th century literature from Edinburgh University. For a time she worked as a journalist but took to full time writing after the success of her first novel Wideacre, which was written as she completed her PhD. It was the first of a trilogy (1987-1990) including The Favored Child and Meridon. This trilogy was followed by Earthly Joys (1998) and Virgin Earth (1990) set in the English civil war. After this she wrote a number of stand-alone novels dipping into a variety of genres leaning to romance before truly hitting her stride in 2001 with the publication of The Other Boleyn Girl, since then she has focused exclusively on the Tudor period.

She lives in the North of England with her family and, in her spare time, runs a charity that digs wells for schools in The Gambia, enabling the children to grow food to eat while at school, with any surplus sold by the schools to buy supplies. Full biography at BookBrowse.

A Pictorial Tour of The Boleyn Inheritance:
By the time The Boleyn Inheritance opens Henry VIII is about 50 years old, in poor health, probably suffering from gout, possibly syphilis, and has an open festering wound in his leg that won't heal (he hadn't always been old, fat and smelly - in his youth he'd been considered quite dashing and a lot slimmer, as can be seen by the armor he wore in his early twenties). He was already down three wives (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour) and eager to marry again in order to fulfill his desperate desire for male heirs - his only son was a sickly boy born to Jane Seymour, who died shortly after giving birth to him.

In an effort to find a new royal bride, Hans Holbein was sent to mainland Europe to paint portraits of various women of good breeding stock, from which Henry selected Anne (sister to the Duke of Cleves, a small Duchy in the North-West of modern day Germany, close to the border with Holland). Anne was unused to the glamour and wealth of the English court and was probably quite overwhelmed with the grandeur of the royal residences such as Whitehall Palace (later destroyed by fire), Greenwich Palace and Hampton Court Palace.

One of Anne's maids-in-waiting was Katherine Howard (cousin of Anne Boleyn and niece of the influential and manipulative Duke of Norfolk). Katherine quickly caught Henry's eye, and in a matter of months Anne had been cast off in favor of young Katherine. Anne kept her head in more ways than one and retired to Richmond Palace; poor old Katherine didn't do so well and ended up in the Tower of London.


"Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived".
No doubt we're all familiar with that old mnemonic for remembering Henry VIII's wives but, like so much history that we learned when young, the facts are a little more complicated and depend on your point of view. For example, if you asked Henry, he would probably admit to having two, perhaps three, wives; certainly not six!

  • Catherine of Aragon: Henry annulled the marriage but the Pope disagreed, giving Henry the final incentive to break away from the Church of Rome to form the Church of England, with him as head (the reigning monarch is still the titular head of the Church of England to this day).
  • Anne Boleyn. Henry declared his marriage invalid before executing her but, like Catherine, at least she had a coronation.
  • Jane Seymour: Married but never crowned, but did produce a son so definitely considered a wife by Henry!
  • Anne of Cleves: Marriage annulled; never crowned.
  • Kathryn Howard: Married and executed soon after; never crowned.
  • Katherine Parr: Married, and outlived Henry, had a total of four husbands (two before, one after), not clear whether she had a coronation, probably not.

Coming Soon: The BBC made a TV adaptation of Gregory's first Tudor novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, in 2003. A movie version was filmed in 2006 and is scheduled for release in February 2008.

This article was originally published in January 2007, and has been updated for the August 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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