Study Guide

The Boleyn Family in The Other Boleyn Girl

By Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Family

Play to Win

The Boleyn family will stop at nothing to get power and wealth. They're even willing to send the country to war if it puts them in an advantageous social position. Someone get these people a reality show so they're not so bored anymore.

In fact, the mastermind behind the Boleyn family actually isn't a Boleyn at all. Anne's uncle, who is unnamed during the book, is Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Now, the Howard/Boleyn tree is pretty tangled: Anne's mother is Lady Elizabeth Howard, Thomas's sister. Lady Elizabeth married Thomas Boleyn—because everyone has the same name—and then took his last name.

No one can scheme like the Howards and the Boleyns. "I could be uncle to the King of England" (5.286), muses Uncle Thomas. He walks a delicate balance of keeping in the favor of the king while simultaneously trying to get his family on the throne.

There doesn't seem to be any real love in this family: it's all about power. Even Lady Elizabeth is stone cold, annulling Anne's first marriage with no guilt or concern for her daughter's feelings. After the dissolution of her marriage, which her uncle disapproved of, Anne grows to hate the guy. She tries to turn against him, but that backfires: Uncle Thomas presides over the trial that sees Anne and her brother George executed. If Anne's mother is stone cold, her uncle is chiseled right out of an Antarctic glacier.

Being a Boleyn or Howard means you are ruthless, persistent, and able to hold a grudge for a lifetime. But these same qualities also give these people an incredible resilience—they're able to bounce back from anything, and maybe even succeed against all odds. "We're Boleyns. […] When you spend your life in the shadow of the throne, you're always afraid of blades" (45.101).

That kind of fear keeps a person motivated, and it's that motivation that prompts Mary to flee the shadow of the throne and live a life full of happiness out of the spotlight instead.

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