Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl

By Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl Introduction

We all remember the royal wedding. Kate looked fantastic in her wedding gown. William looked handsome in his tux. And Kate's sister Pippa was stunning in that white dress, until the guy with the axe chopped her head off. Doesn't he know how hard it is to get bloodstains out of white fabric?

Wait a second. We're getting our royal families confused.

Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother to Princes William and Harry, is from the House of Windsor. We were thinking about the House of Tudor, whose most (in)famous son Henry VIII executed his second wife, Anne Boleyn, in May 1536 and practically married his next wife, Jane Seymour, the following day. Okay, he waited about five months, but five months is a short time when you've literally killed your previous woman.

(Ladies: don't marry a man who had his previous wife's head chopped off.)

Five-hundred-year-old spoiler alert, folks: this is how The Other Boleyn Girl ends, with the death of Anne Boleyn. But wait, before you delete the book from your Kindle and write us an angry e-mail, didn't you see this title? This book is about the other Boleyn girl: Anne's sister Mary. Philippa Gregory's 2001 novel transports us back in time to the Tudor court for a historical bodice ripper with all of the steaminess and romance, and none of the danger of dying from plague or simply getting on the king's bad side.

The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Anne Boleyn through her sister's eyes…because they're still attached to the rest of her. Mary begins life in the Tudor court as Henry's mistress, meaning that in an alternate universe, for a brief period of time, Anne is the other Boleyn girl. But the world we live in sees Anne take control of Henry, and eventually the throne, before things go terribly wrong for her.

Philippa Gregory has written novels about all six of Henry's wives, from Katherine of Aragon in The Constant Princess (2005) to Kateryn Parr in The Taming of the Queen (2015).

The Other Boleyn Girl was adapted into a BBC film in 2003 and into a Hollywood film starring Scarlett Johansson as Mary and Natalie Portman as Anne in 2008. Eric Bana played Henry VIII, making Big H about eight times hotter than he was in real life. The book, of course, has been criticized for its criticized for its historical inaccuracy by people who seem to have missed the "fiction" part in "historical fiction."

This book is fiction, so consider The Other Boleyn Girl as pure entertainment with a few big crunchy nuggets of history swirled in. It might inspire you to do more research into the real-life folks who populate its pages. Even if you don't switch your major to British history, it's fun to image the royal court as a real-life soap opera. For all we know, the royal family might still be like this behind the scenes.

If with fewer executions.

What is The Other Boleyn Girl About and Why Should I Care?

Everyone loves a scandal. Everyone loves a royal scandal even more. In fact, it's baffling that the royal family is almost respectable these days. William and Kate are always jetting around doing things for charity. When did that happen? Why can't someone yell, "Off with her head"?

If you miss the days of Charles cheating on Di with Camilla, or Fergie (not the one from the Black-Eyed Peas) cheating on Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, then you need to dive into The Other Boleyn Girl face first.

Once you're done wiping your nose grease off your e-reader (we didn't mean dive into it literally, people), you'll see that royal drama wasn't unique to the 1990s. Royalty has been bonkers since the 1890s, the 1490s, and probably even the 190s.

It's comforting to see that peeps have always been cray. But despite the fact that humans are nuts, we have made progress. Good historical fiction always makes us glad to see how far we've come, and happy to live in the age we live in now. The Other Boleyn Girl shows us a time when selfish kings declared war because they were bored, everyone wore uncomfortable clothing, and women completely lacked any sort of rights.

Royalty is different today, mostly in good ways. We're glad that princesses are no longer living dolls used as bargaining chips with other countries. But can't we bring back just a little bit of scandal? Not necessarily a beheading, but at least a vicious slap-fight between William and Harry? Anyone?

The Other Boleyn Girl Resources

Websites

Court Is in Session
Philippa Gregory has more books in her Tudor series than Henry had wives.

The Rest Is History
If the books aren't enough for you, there's plenty of true history that proves truth is stranger than fiction.

Movie or TV Productions

Boleyn Girls and Guys
The film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl features Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and a whole host of British hunks who are much more popular today than they were when the movie first came out in 2008.

The Small Screen
Before Scarlett and Natalie jumped on the wagon, the BBC adapted The Other Boleyn Girl for TV.

Articles and Interviews

The Punishment Doesn't Fit the Crime
If you read one line in one interview all year make it this one: "No woman deserves to be beheaded for upsetting her husband."

The Future Past
In this interview, Gregory reveals what happens to Mary and Catherine as the Tudor throne changes hands more times than the outfit on a department store mannequin.

Video

The Hottest Boleyn Girls
Everyone is Hollywood-sexy in the studio adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. Who wouldn't want to be Henry's mistress if the king looked like that?

Dance 'Til You're Dead
Dance is dramatic, even more so when you can see it. The Tudors recreated Anne and Henry dancing the Volte, which is alluded to in the novel.

Audio

Audible Anne
We'll never know what Anne Boleyn really sounded like, so we'll assume this audiobook captures her voice perfectly.

La Entrevista
Henry's court with Katherine was a collaboration between England and Spain. England and Spain collaborate again in this interview with Philippa Gregory to promote the Spanish editions of her novels.

Images

The Windsor of Winter
If you're wondering why Mary thinks Hever, which is HUGE, is like a tiny farmhouse, compare it to Windsor castle, which would take a few months to explore on foot.

Profile Picture
This is the portrait Henry would likely use on Tinder. Do you want that beard rubbing on your face in a steamy makeout sesh?

Abercrombie and Itch
Katherine of Aragon was such a devout Catholic, she wore a hair shirt to remind her of her faith. It may have looked like this. It's so natural, we're surprised it hasn't come back in style. Maybe you can find it in Portland?