Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl What's Up With the Ending?

By Philippa Gregory

What's Up With the Ending?

The End of an Era

Almost every TV show finale features a birth or a wedding. The Other Boleyn Girl takes a cue from the boob tube and gives us both. Plus, it throws in an execution for some extra excitement.

If you know your history, you know that none of this is going to end well for Anne Boleyn. The birth in question is the birth of a baby that is so hideously deformed, many accuse Anne of being a witch. The wedding is the wedding of Henry to Jane Seymour, which occurs shortly after Anne is beheaded in the book's final chapter.

The end of the novel mirrors the beginning, which also features an execution. Through this parallelism, we see Mary's growth as a character. At the beginning, Mary naively believes the king will spare her uncle, who is beheaded. At the end, she believes Henry will pardon Anne, but it comes across more like a desperate hope than naivety. Hope is all Mary has left when the Boleyns are up against the wall.

In spite of all this tragedy, Mary, our protagonist, has the happiest ending she could hope for after all the trouble her family has caused and is punished for. She loses a sister and a brother, who is also executed, but she gets to keep her own head, her two children, and her new husband. She leaves court, and we're left to assume that she leads a happy life away from the volatile whims of Henry VIII.

It's Alive! It's Alive!

Mary Shelley wouldn't write Frankenstein until 1816, but Henry VIII is a not-so-modern Prometheus. What we mean by this is that all the terrible things that happen to the Boleyn family are the result of Henry, the monster they themselves created.

The monster imagery comes out in full force when Anne has her deformed child. "This is not a child from a man, this is a child from a devil" (47.400). It's suggested that the baby is deformed because it was formed by an incestual act with Anne's brother, George. Anne was pushed to such a desperate act by Henry's single-minded determination for a male heir.

But a bigger issue is that the entire structure of this court society—full of intrigue, affairs, political maneuvering, and betrayal—produces monsters. Usually metaphorically, but apparently also literally at times.

Also, it's never a good idea to start a relationship with someone who is having an affair. That person is cheating on his or her spouse or main squeeze to be with you, so what makes you think that person won't turn around and cheat on you later? Henry literally invents divorce to kick Katherine of Aragon to the curb, so it's no surprise he abuses his power to get rid of Anne, too. Mary's husband, William, realizes this: "We gave him that power when we denied the Pope the right to rule the church. We gave Henry the right to rule everything" (49.117).

Henry VIII is a man in a mid-life crisis. Most men buy a sports car, but Henry beheads his wife and upgrades to a newer model. Henry has tons of power, and no maturity, which is another reason Mary flees. "Everyone felt that the world had grown a little more dangerous" (45.39). Like a science experiment gone wrong, the only solution is to run away and hope it just blows off.

The Golden Age

This being historical fiction, the story doesn't end with the last page. You can pick up where Gregory leaves off by reading up on your history. One thing Gregory heavily foreshadows is the coming success and legacy of Anne's daughter: 

Her skin is perfect, she has not a blemish on her body, not a mark anywhere! No one can tell me this is not a child blessed by God. No one can tell me that she is not going to be the greatest princess this country has ever had! (48.107)

First of all, we have to point out that Anne only claims Elizabeth when she thinks it will benefit Anne herself. Anne's selfishness aside, she is actually selling Elizabeth short in her bragging. Elizabeth doesn't become the greatest princess; she becomes but one of the greatest queens of England. Yes, we're talking about Elizabeth I here.

That's a legacy you can't beat.

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