Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl Setting

By Philippa Gregory

Setting

The Court of Henry VIII, London and Surroundings 1521-1536

Royal Flush

The Tudor Court is different from the Tooter Court, infamous for the king's decree that everyone eat more beans. The Tudor Court is so named because England was ruled by the House of Tudor, which gave England six monarchs from 1485 to 1603: Henry VII; his son, Henry VIII; Edward VI, one of Henry's many children; Lady Jane Grey, the William Henry Harrison of England; Mary I, Henry VIII's first daughter; and, mostly famously, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. In fact, Elizabeth was so great, historians have given her reign its own name: the Elizabethan period.

Got all that? Great. There will be a quiz later.

Okay, although you will likely be quizzed about all this at some point in your British history class, we're focusing on just one-sixth of the Tudor pie: the one-sixth named Henry VIII. This dude reigned from 1509 to 1547, and while it wasn't exactly a reign of terror, Henry did set many precedents that gave royals extreme power over people for a while.

The issue that concerns us most in The Other Boleyn Girl is the Protestant Reformation. Henry VIII took away power from the pope and assigned it to himself. He believed he was the supreme ruler, and to go against him would be like going against God himself.

Let's be real: unlike the Lutheran part of the Reformation, for example, this wasn't about religion. It was about power.

It sounds redundant to say "royalty rules." Kings are called rulers because they rule, not because they measure things. But Henry was a volatile and dangerous monarch: to simply disagree with him or criticize him was tantamount to treason, and the punishment was execution.

Henry was hypersensitive about everything, especially his virility and masculinity, and he would put to death anyone who made fun of him. Before you could say, "Lighten up, Henry," he'd have you decapitated so that you wouldn't say anything at all.

In this world, anyone around Henry must remain on his or her best behavior at all times. One comment taken the wrong way could lead to death.

Country Mary and City Mary

Living in Windsor Castle, or any of Henry's sprawling estates, is like being a Real Housewife of the Tudor period. But as we do when we watch marathons of reality TV, we eventually get sick of it. As Mary gets tired of the shenanigans at court, the castle begins to represent everything she hates.

At the beginning of the book, Mary craves the hustle and bustle of the court. But after she insults Henry, her family basically grounds her as punishment. Instead of saying Go to your room, they send her to the family home in Hever. Mary isn't royalty, but she isn't exactly poor, either. Any family that can say to their daughter Go to our other home isn't strapped for cash.

At first, Mary hates the quiet of Hever and can't wait to return to court. She acts like the Hever home is a rickety old farmhouse, even though it's a frickin' castle. Seriously, look at this place. We'd want to live in the country if our looked like that. That country house is almost as big as a country. A small country like Monaco or Tuvalu, but still a country.

To be fair, Hever may be big, but it is isolated. "It was empty countryside that I rode through alone. Empty and flat and desolate" (37.27). And in an age without telephones, it's extra lonely being in those echoey hallways far from anyone else.

Once Mary has kids, Hever isn't so lonely anymore. Her kids are there, and they're the only people she wants to be around. The hullabaloo in court isn't appealing anymore. "There are other places to live than in palaces and castles. There are other tunes to dance to other than the court's music. We don't always have to wait on a king and queen" (42.84).

This is the 16th-century equivalent of cutting the cord, getting rid of cable, and completely living off the grid. (Ignore the fact that they didn't even have a grid back then). It isn't for everyone, but Mary realizes it's for her. She makes the daring decision to do it, and it brings her happiness.

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