Study Guide

The Other Boleyn Girl Quotes

  • Family

    I was the baby at fourteen to Anne's fifteen and George's nineteen years. We were the closest of kin and yet almost strangers. (2.90)

    This line introduces us to the core of the Boleyn family, and to the time period when families didn't grow up together. They consider themselves close siblings even though some of them were raised on different continents. What accounts for their closeness?

    "Oh, don't think I'm doing it for you. I am doing this for the advancement of the family." (4.20)

    The Boleyns are expected to act not out of their own interests but in the interest of their family. Their family is more like a small political party than the Brady Bunch; they're the Boleyn super PAC. But how do politics and family relations really mesh? Is this a healthy thing?

    "But she was my little girl." (9.37)

    Throughout the book, we are told that girls are useless, especially when if they're in the royal family; Henry wants a male heir above anything else, after all. Mary, on the other hand, changes her mind when she has a daughter of her own. The bond between mother and daughter is unbreakable to her. Maybe it's partly because she understands from experience what her daughter will go through.

    "It's just a baby," [Anne] said flatly. "And chances are she'll die. You'll have dozens more. Are you going to be like this over all of them?" (9.111)

    If we can count on Anne for anything, it's to dump ice water all over a heartwarming moment. These lines show Anne's utilitarian attitude for everyone, including children, and they foreshadow how she'll treat her own child later.

    "Family comes first," my father said slowly. "It must do." (10.33)

    We understand Anne and Mary's father a little better when we see that he is in a situation similar to that his own daughters are in. He married into the family, so his position among the Boleyns is tenuous if he doesn't do what his brother-in-law wants him to do.

    "Because you miss your child?" My mother had to have confirmation, the thought was so strange to her. (14.23)

    Mary may be close to her daughter, but the older generation sure doesn't seem to care much for their kids. Mary's mother appears to have no bond at all with any of her children, for example. She treats them more like tools than her own flesh and blood.

    "Families should not quarrel. There has been an alliance between Spain and England for as long as I can remember. It's all wrong when we are divided." (16.16)

    Family issues aren't confined to trashy power-hungry families like the Boleyns and Howards. They apply to royal families, too. (How do you think most of them got to be royal families? It sure wasn't divine right.) In their world, the family is only as strong as its political alliances.

    "I think you will find that your boy is still your little boy whether he is in breeches or short clothes," he said gently. "I loved my mother till the day she died, God bless her, and I was always her little boy—however big and disagreeable I became." (27.45)

    Mary sees William Stafford as a sensitive man after he gives a speech like this. A man who loves his mother can't be bad, can he?

    She was risking everything to see her daughter. (30.54)

    Mary sympathizes with Katherine of Aragon most when she realizes that, like Mary herself, Katherine will do anything to see her children. Mary draws inspiration from Katherine later on.

    He smiled. "Our babies," he said. "I want a house filled with little Staffords. Don't you?" (37.104)

    William is willing to take care of children who aren't his. Henry won't even see children who are his. William is a good family man, which makes him the perfect match for Mary, who has more family feeling than all of the Boleyns put together.

  • Love

    "He loves her," I said. "It's a wonderful love story. Her married to his brother and his brother dying like that, so young, and then her not knowing what she should do or where she could go, and then him taking her and making her his wife and his queen. It's a wonderful story and he loves her still." (2.55)

    Mary is telling Henry and Katherine's story, but her own story will eerily mimic this one. Her husband will die, she will feel lost, and another man will make her his wife and treat her like a queen.

    "I promise you, it's no game to me, Your Majesty." (2.386)

    Henry wants Mary's love to be real, not because he loves her, but because of he has a fragile ego.

    "But I am a girl of fourteen in love for the first time!" I exclaimed.

    "Exactly," he said unforgivingly. "That's why we listen to Anne." (2.79-2.80)

    Mary's feelings are constantly dismissed by her family. They expect her to be cold and calculating at all times. In other words, they want her to be like Anne. When Anne later says she loves Henry Percy, the family stops listening to her temporarily.

    "I want the man. Not because he's king." (3.32)

    It's difficult to tell if Mary really loves Henry, or if her love is the naïve crush of a young woman. Whatever it is, first loves and crushes like these are very powerful.

    "Whatever does it mean? We write poems about it all day and sing songs about it all night but if there is such a thing in real life I'm damned if I know." (3.77)

    The Boleyns don't know love, because love isn't allowed to be a factor in their decisions. All their relationships are calculated for business purposes. George especially is distant from love. As a gay man at a time when homosexuality is punishable by death, love—at least the outward, socially acceptable display of it—is foreign to him.

    "If you were a nobody and I were a nobody I would love you." (3.155)

    When Mary first falls for Henry, she believes this. But after returning from Hever, does she feel the same way? She might be saying this because it's what Henry wants to hear. Or maybe she wishes he were a nobody, so that they could both be nobodies together. Yeah, that will never happen.

    Her dark eyes held him, the boy was transfixed. "Anne," he whispered. "My love. Her lips curved into a kissable, irresistible smile. "Henry," she breathed. "My Henry." (5.260)

    Anne says she loves Henry Percy, but notice here that she doesn't say "love." She calls him "my Henry" as if she has him wrapped around her little finger, not like she actually loves him.

    "You're always in love," Anne said crossly. "You're like a big butter ball, always oozing love for someone or other. Once it was the king and we did very well out of that. Now it's his baby, which will do us no good at all. But you don't care. It's always seep seep seep with you: passion and feeling and desire. It makes me furious." (9.124)

    Anne sees love as a weakness, whether it's familial love between parent and child, or romantic love between two adults.

    "Didn't I give up my only love, didn't I break my heart? Didn't you tell me then that it was worth the price?" (20.46)

    Anne calls out George on his hypocritical attitude toward love. George thinks he should be allowed to pursue his love with Sir Francis Weston, even though he discouraged both sisters from pursuing the men they loved.

    "I love him, George," I said very quietly.


    "Doesn't make any difference to people like us. You know that." (35.84)

    Mary ends up defying George and the rest of her family in the name of love. It's like stop, in the name of love—except she's starting in the name of love: starting to have a life of her own.

  • Women and Femininity

    "Why do you always have to pretend to be different?"

    "Because everyone has to do something."

    "What d'you mean?"

    "Every woman has to have something which singles her out, which catches the eye, which makes her the center of attention." (2.41-2.44)

    This dialogue between Anne—the one who wants to be the center of attention—and Mary tells us a lot about how they view the roles of women in this day, and how each one wants to either conform to those standards or defy them. It also makes us wonder how much of Anne's personality is an act.

    "A girl can't rule a country like this, the great lords'd eat her alive." (1.115)

    Anne Boleyn on women, ladies and gentleman. Anne's like the type of woman who wouldn't vote for a woman president because she thinks women are hormonal. But Anne will later change her tune when she finds the country in her grasp.

    "I am sorry," I said awkwardly. "You know that I have to do what my uncle and my father tell me." (2.218)

    As a woman, Mary has no real agency or power: she must do what the men in her family tell her to do. To be fair (or unfair, in this case), George must do the family's bidding, too, but as a man, he has the advantageous position of also being able to tell Mary and Anne what to do if he feels like it.

    "She's my wife. She does as well as I do. But she doesn't own anything of her own."

    "It's the same for me," I said. "I do as my father does, as my husband does. I dress as is proper for their wife or their daughter. But I don't own anything on my account. In that sense I am as poor as your wife." (2.600)

    Mary longs for a country life, mainly because it would take her away from her family. She'd rather be away from the patriarchal Boleyn family and be poor than be close to wealth and be under the control of men.

    "There is no freedom for women in this world, fight or not as you like. See where Anne has brought herself." (6.113)

    Anne earns a bit of freedom, and she is instantly punished for it. The men in this society don't want to see a woman be too successful, so they do everything they can to keep the ladies down.

    "Wolsey, the Archbishop of York himself, says I am a virgin. You can't be more of a virgin than me." (8.41)

    This isn't just Anne's wicked dry humor shining through, this is a line showing us how a woman's virginity is a concept created and controlled by men.

    "A girl is no good for me, no good at all. But a girl who cannot even be married!" (14.382)

    The king, worried he can't marry off Mary, treats his own daughter like a diseased cow. Women are treated as property at this time, and Henry thinks Mary might be damaged goods.

    "If women could only have more," I said longingly. "If we could have more in our own right. Being a woman at court is like forever watching a pastrycook at work in the kitchen. All the good things, and you can have nothing." (21.79)

    Mary has many modern thoughts about women, and in the second half of the book, she pushes for her ideas to come true for herself.

    I was near to delighted laughter because Katherine of Aragon was speaking out for the women of the country, for the good wives who should not be put aside just because their husbands had taken a fancy to another. (23.13)

    As Mary becomes a stronger woman, she admires Katherine of Aragon more. Her admiration is a little ironic, though, considering Mary was once one of the "other women," and Henry might have once put Katherine aside for her.

    "A girl," Anne said in horror. "A girl. What good is a girl to us?" (38.22)

    This might be the most ironic line in the book. Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, whom she finds useless, will grow up to be none other than Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most important and influential royals in British history.

  • Ambition

    "They are planning a great future for you," Anne said solemnly. "Any girl in England would die for your chances." (2.236)

    We're going to say this a lot: be careful what you wish for. Anne wishes she had Mary's opportunity to wed the king of England—and Anne will totally end up dying for it in the end.

    I had gone far beyond Hever and I did not want to come back. (2.569)

    At the beginning of the book, Mary possesses much of Mary's ambition: she doesn't want to be a country girl anymore. Yet as the novel continues, Mary will relinquish that ambition and long for a quieter life.

    We never look back. We have no time for regrets or second thoughts. If a plan goes awry we make another, if one weapon breaks in our hands we find a second. (2.582)

    Don't cross a Boleyn, because a Boleyn can hold a grudge for years. Also, don't face off against the Boleyn family in a game of Fire Emblem.

    "I would not live my life as you live yours. You would always do as you were bid, marry where you were told, be where you were ordered. I am not like you. I make my own way." (5.16)

    Anne says she makes her own way, but is this true? How much does she achieve with only her own wits and resources? She is determined, but would she be successful without the resources of her family?

    "Where I aim, I will hit." (5.292)

    Anne knows what she wants, and she gets it. She's also good at archery, to illustrate this point on a more literal level. Ah, metaphors.

    It felt as if we were fighting something worse than Anne, some demon that possessed her, that possessed all of us Boleyns: ambition. (6.91)

    As the years go by, Mary realizes how dangerous Anne's ambition can be. Anne is willing to bring the only family she has down with her if she doesn't succeed.

    Her eyes gleamed. "Of course. What else is there?" (9.125-9.126)

    After a brief detour down the road of love, that path is closed permanently to Anne. She now turns to what she knows best: ambition and power games. What would have happened if Anne had been allowed to love and keep the man she wanted?

    I could happily watch her die of her ambition. (14.372)

    Once again, we must say, be careful what you wish for. Mary later watches Anne die partly as a result of her ambition, but she isn't happy about it.

    "I think they're very alike." My distaste for the two of them crept into my tone. "They both know exactly what they want and they both stop at nothing to get it. They both have the ability to be absolutely single-minded." (31.14)

    Mary and Katherine bond over their dislike for Henry and Anne. They also put their fingers on why Henry and Anne are attracted to one another: one's ambition is only rivaled the other's. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

    "Your trouble, William, is that you have no ambition. You don't see that there is in life only ever one goal."

    "And what is that?" William asked.

    "More," George said simply. "Just more of anything. More of everything." (47.106)

    Well, in the end, as we know, all George's ambition really gets him is more beheaded.

  • Betrayal

    The king gave his arm to the queen, she rose from her chair as gay as if she had been enjoying watching her husband flirt with me; but as he turned to lead her away she paused and her blue eyes looked long and hard at me, as if she were saying goodbye to a friend. (2.166)

    Mary and Queen Katherine have an unusual relationship. Mary is very young as one of the queen's ladies in waiting. Perhaps Katherine sees Mary as a daughter, and that's one reason why she feels so betrayed when Mary has an affair with her husband.

    "Sir, I am sorry, but I love the queen. She's a great lady and I can't betray her." (2.203)

    This is an interesting reason for not sleeping with someone else's husband. Would Mary have reservations about being the king's mistress if she didn't actually like the queen?

    At once [the queen] looked to me, her sharp gaze accusing me of betraying her most intimate secret. Minutely I shook my head. She looked for Anne in the dancers and saw her, with George's hand in hers. Blandly, Anne looked back. (5.72)

    Anne doesn't care about betraying the queen, so she never tries to deny it. Her non-denial is pretty much an affirmation.

    "I love the queen. She's a great lady and I can't betray her. I cannot take her place." (12.13)

    Whoa, déjà vu. It didn't work the first time for Mary, and it doesn't work this time, either. She is still ordered to sleep with the king.

    Something of the sense of betrayal must have shown in my face, because my uncle laughed shortly, kicked a log into a spurt of flame on the fire, and gestured to George to seat me on a stool at the fireside. (14.188)

    Sometimes Mary is an accidental betrayer, like here, when she accidentally lets slip that Henry thinks his marriage to Katherine is cursed. With the Boleyn family around, it's a guarantee people are plotting to betray each other.

    "I cannot be charged with treason, I am the Queen of England, I am England. I cannot be divorced, I am the wife of the king." (17.212)

    By cheating on Katherine, Henry doesn't only betray his wife; he also betrays his country. Just take a look at how quickly things begin to decline once Henry gets his divorce. When his marriage falls apart, the whole country suffers.

    "Not very loyal," he remarked.

    I picked it up. "Not very polite to stop my servants and read my letters." (18.65-18.66)

    Mary is a bit of a hypocrite here. Just about ten minutes ago she read the queen's mail and told her uncle all about its contents. Doesn't feel good to be on the other side, does it, Mary?

    "I knew you would tell your uncle or your father, or the king. […] I knew you would betray me." (22.30)

    The queen doesn't take it personally when Mary betrays her; she understands that Mary has to be loyal to her family first—even if her family is a nasty piece of work. That's why she can still treat Mary like a human, and almost like a friend.

    "She's my sister," I said passionately.

    "And I am your queen," she said, like ice. (29.26)

    When we said the queen doesn't take betrayal seriously, we meant it only regarding personal matters. When Mary spills the beans about the queen's marriage troubles, Katherine brushes it off. But when Mary exposes a secret code from Spain, that almost amounts to treason in Katherine's mind.

    There had been a trust that the king was wise and strong and that the queen was beautiful and good and that nothing could go wrong. But Anne and the Boleyn ambition had opened a great crack in that unity and now everyone could see into the void. (44.39)

    The biggest betrayal is Anne forcing the royal family to betray its people. From here on out, the people will have a tough time trusting their rulers, and the power of the monarchy will decay year by year.

  • Jealousy

    Katherine of Aragon took the measure of Anne with one of her clear blue-eyes sweeps and I felt a pang of fear that she would prefer my sister to me. (2.31)

    Mary is immediately jealous of Anne as soon as she sweeps into the royal court. Her jealousy will soon shift, though: she will worry about Anne attracting the attention of the king, not the queen.

    On George's other side was Jane Parker, watching me intently, as if she were trying to discover the trick of being a desirable girl. (2.172)

    Jane is a girl driven by jealousy and envy. The family often brushes her off, but she will end up being one of the family's biggest enemies.

    "Why should Anne be the one who says how things are done?" I demanded. "Why d'you always listen to Anne?" (2.577)

    Mary sounds like a petulant child early on, whining about her family listening to Anne. Why does Anne get all the cute dresses? Why does Anne get all the boys? Mary is Jan Brady, and Anne is Marcia. Anne Anne Anne.

    "Yes, look at you!" She rounded on me with a sudden flare of her dark energy. "Married when you were still a child and now the king's mistress. Half as clever as me! Half as educated! But you are the center of the court and I am nothing. I have to be your lady in waiting. I cannot serve you, Mary. It's an insult to me." (5.180)

    The jealousy between sisters goes both ways, although Anne's is rooted in her superior attitude. She thinks she deserves more than Mary just because she's that much more fabulous, and she hates it when she doesn't get it.

    "He's courting me," she said. "Openly."

    "Anne, he is my lover." (14.322-14.323)

    We have to wonder why Anne seduces Henry. Does she like him? Doubtful. Does she do it for power? Likely. Or does she only do it to take what Mary has? What do you think?

    "She's just jealous. She'd give a king's ransom to be on the bed with me in the afternoon, and I'd as soon put my head into a mantrap as on her lap." (26.44)

    Jane becomes nosier and more and more gossipy as the novel progresses, but it's wrong to write off her behavior as mere jealousy. In fact, she is working on betraying the family and bringing about their downfall. That's taking things to a whole new level.

    "We both played a part to please the king. […] But I never forgot how he spoke to me about Henry Percy, and he never forgot that I was a Boleyn, an upstart like him. He was jealous of me, and I was jealous of him." (28.24)

    Anne may be giving herself too much credit here. We doubt her uncle is jealous of her at all. He doesn't want to be king; what he wants is to be the guy pulling the strings in the background—you know, the guy really in charge. Anne is more jealous of him than he is of her.

    I speak of you but there is nothing I can tell her which would reconcile her to your marriage. If you had married a prince and been unhappy she would have stood your dearest fun. (43.6)

    George does a good job of explaining Anne's behavior to Mary in this letter. Anne hates seeing her sister happy because she wishes she were happy herself. Since she can't have that, she'll just try to destroy Mary's happiness. If Anne can't have it, no one should. Right?

    "Well enough then," [Anne] said. "As long as neither of them are with him then I am content." (44.68)

    Anne had no problem betraying the queen and stealing the king, but she becomes intensely jealous of Jane Seymour and Madge Shelton when the tables are turned. Doesn't feel so good to be on the other side, does it?

  • Sex and Sexuality

    "Have you done it?"

    "Yes, ages ago."

    "Did it hurt?"

    "Very much."

    She pulled back to read my face.

    "Not too much," I said, qualifying. "He does try to be gentle. He always gives me wine. It's just all rather awful, really." (2.20-2.25)

    One of the first things Anne does is ask her sister about sex with her husband. Anne is curious about what it's like, and it's apparent that Mary's pleasure is never considered by her husband.

    "A man likes a glimpse of what he's buying." (3.113)

    You've heard the saying, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Loosening Mary's bodice is like giving Henry a free sample. It's also treating her like a cow. Mary's thought of herself as furniture before; now she can think of herself as livestock to be traded.

    "She's not there for her pleasure but for his." (3.129)

    Female pleasure is never a factor in the sexual experiences in this book. All the sex is about power. There may be some pleasure in it for the man, but how the woman feels about it is never really considered.

    "I'm making it fast," [Anne] said. "Not even the Percy family will be able to wriggle out of it when Henry and I tell them that we are wedded and bedded." (5.339)

    A woman's virtue is her most valuable asset in this society, and Anne uses it to consummate her relationship with Henry Percy. Sex is a major part of the equation, because the return on the investment of marriage is supposed to be a child.

    She protested her virginity and said that she would never forgive herself if she gave away her maidenhead before marriage, though God knew how much she desired him. (19.2)

    Anne flaunts her non-existent virginity to Henry as a way of wooing him. He desires her because she is a virgin, and he will get rid of her after he is with her sexually. Double standard, anyone?

    "I was his whore," I said. […] "When he lay on his back I would lie on him and kiss him down from his mouth to his parts and then lick his parts like a cat lapping at milk." (25.38)

    Mary and Anne go through a role reversal during the book. Anne, raised in France, teaches Mary the ways of flirtation. But Mary, who has had sex more times than Anne has, later turns around and teaches Anne a few different tricks to use on the king in his bedroom.

    "Good God, what do they do?"

    "Everything, but the deed. She daren't allow it." (32.75-32.76)

    Sexuality in 16th-century England isn't much different from sexuality now, where penetrative sex is given priority as the ultimate sex act, and everything else doesn't count the same way.

    "Wouldn't you rather take me to your chamber?"

    "If I wanted to be beheaded for incest, yes." (35.32-35.33)

    There are many hints that George and Anne commit incest so that Anne can become pregnant with a male heir. Anne never confirms it outright, but the sexual tension between them is often brought to our attention. And it's not even clear if this possible sexual relationship is only about producing an heir; they may actually kind of have the hots for each other.

    Then he lifted me up into his arms and carried me across the threshold of the house, and up the stairs into the bedroom, into the clean linen sheets of his duckdown bed, and into joy. (37.64)

    This is the first time Mary has used a different three-letter word to refer to sex: joy. Being with William is pleasurable for her, which his unlike her experience with either of the previous two men she had been with.

    We had taken Anne and trained her to do the things that Henry liked, the things all men like, things expressly forbidden by the church. We had given [Anne] the skills of a whore and now she was being reproached for it. (47.342)

    Henry is the type of man who wants a woman to be erotic and alluring and virginal and pure at the same time. That's an impossible order for anyone; for Henry, as soon as a woman is sexual with him, she stops being virginal and pure, so he goes out and tries to find someone else. It's a cycle that never ends.

  • Competition

    There could hardly be a world for me without Anne, there was hardly world enough for us both. (2.9)

    Mary and Anne have a symbiotic relationship. Their drive to compete with one another is what keeps them going.

    "You can simper at your husband all you like, Mary. When I marry I shall do better than you by far." (4.107)

    Anne sees everything as a competition. She even turns getting married into a race of who can marry better than the other. Of course, no one behaves like this anymore, because we know marriage isn't a competition…Oh, wait.

    "I was born to be your rival," she said simply. "And you mine. We're sisters, aren't we?" (13.67)

    Some sisters steal clothes or toys. Anne Boleyn steals husbands. Because Anne and Mary are members of a scheming, power-hungry political family, their normal sibling rivalry is upped a thousand times; the stakes are really high.

    "You're accursed, Anne, you lost your one love and now you want anything that's not yours. You want anything that's mine. You've always wanted anything that was mine." (14.348)

    Anne always wants what she can't have. As a woman, that means she wants power and independence more than anything else, and she'll take down her own sister in order to get what she wants. On the other hand, her extreme behavior is part of her downfall. Sure one of the things we see is that women are punished for things men take for granted—like having power—but it's also true that Anne is as nasty and scheming as the worst of the men, so what comes to her isn't totally a surprise.

    I curtsied with a sweet smile to Anne. "I am the favorite," I repeated. "And she is to disappear." (15.35)

    As much as Mary hates Anne's competitive nature, Mary isn't above gloating when she triumphs over her sister.

    I gave a little triumphant laugh. "Because you're older every day," I said spitefully. "And so is the king. Who knows that you can make a child at all? […] You'll never have a boy like my Henry, Anne. You know in your very bones that you'll never have a boy to match him. All you can do is steal my son because you know you'll never have your own." (22.86)

    Mary can seem mean at times, but she's never as mean as Anne is. These two come from the same family, so it's maybe not such a surprise that each of them has a mean streak. After reading everything Anne does to Mary, we feel that she deserves to be told off—and that she's getting off easy here.

    "She takes everything," I said. "She has always taken everything. But I will never forgive her this." (22.92)

    Anne crosses the line when she takes Mary's son as a pawn in her game for the throne. To Mary, that's not playing fair. We mean, to anyone, that's not playing fair. But Anne uses whatever weapons are available to her.

    "She is Mary, the other Boleyn girl. And I am Anne, Queen Anne to be. There is a world of difference between us two. We don't share a name. She is next to nobody and I will be queen." (32.67)

    Anne gloats, too. She's probably been waiting for this moment since Chapter 22, when Mary bragged about her own triumph over Anne. On the other hand, the very things that make Anne succeed where Mary failed (in becoming queen) are the things that will take Anne down in the end, whereas Mary gets to lived happily ever after, at least in comparison.

    "If I have to become Jane Seymour myself, I might as well be set aside." (47.624)

    Anne knows she would lose in a game of "Who is more virtuous?". She would be about as bad at that as Kim Kardashian would be at winning a modesty and humility pageant.

    There was too much to send in one message. There were long years of rivalry and then a forced unity and always and ever, underpinning our love for each other, our sense that the other must be bested. (49.131)

    Mary acknowledges that she and Anne were rivals first and sisters second. But to her, the complexity of their relationship strengthened their bond with each other. Do you think she's right? How does this play out throughout the novel?

  • Marriage

    We had sworn that we would stay together, that marriage was for the making of children, that God had put us together and no man could put us apart. (2.196)

    Marriage in this society is less about romantic attachment and more about business alliances and the birthing of heirs. Perhaps that's one reason why people aren't so shocked about the fact that everyone is having affairs. If marriage isn't about love, people are probably going to try to find love elsewhere.

    "Maybe we'll all end up with our wives in the end," William said quietly. (4.95)

    This is an ironic line because basically no one ends up with his or her spouse in the end. Anne is executed. So is George. Mary does end up with a husband, but it's a different one from the one she was with at the beginning of the book. For a variety of reasons, marriages do not work out well in this novel.

    "I have told him this day that such freakish sports are not fitting in one who will inherit the countries of the North and whose marriage is a matter for his father, for the king, and for me." (6.43)

    The older men of the family dictate whom their daughters should marry. But so do the older men of families with sons. Henry Percy's father has the ultimate say in who his son marries. That's one way in which the (young) men and women in this novel share a similar lack of freedom and independence.

    "Your marriage is the business of the family and you will leave that to us." (6.81)

    The families approach marriage more like two CEOs merging a business than people who want to plan a fun wedding party. It's all about money and power, not about love.

    "I am your wedded wife," I said gently. "And I never forgot it, though our lives took us far apart. If we ever have to be married in very truth, William, you will find me a good wife to you." (18.105)

    Being a wife is a role that many if not most women have to play at this time, whether they want to or not. Mary slips into the role when William returns. She does it so well that she convinces herself that she wants to be his wife. It's not until her second marriage that she realizes what a happy marriage might actually look like.

    "Whatever you wish, William." (18.111)

    To be William's wife, Mary must be subservient to him. This is especially insulting because it comes at a time when Mary is learning to relish her independence. Being a wife takes this independence away from her.

    We met almost as strangers and he courted me. It was the oddest, simplest, and sweetest thing that an estranged husband has ever done for an errant wife. (20.4)

    Mary actually learns to enjoy being a wife with William. It's good training for her marriage to the second William, William Stafford, who is romantic with her and allows her to have her independence.

    "He is a married man. He cannot promise anything to another woman. His word is my word. He is married to me." (24.34)

    The queen believes in the sanctity of marriage. It's not a stretch, really, given the fact that divorce as a concept doesn't exist…until Henry invents it.

    "Clearly love does not go with marriage, marriage is quite another thing."

    "My marriage has music," Anne said. (42.22)

    One of the men of the court says what we've realized all along. Anne wants to be contrary and act like she's in a loving relationship. Fake it 'til you make it, we guess. But if Anne's marriage has music, it's probably a funeral dirge.

    "You have married a poor man for love, you can eat love, you can drink it. You can live off it. Go to his little farm in Rochford and rot there." (42.60)

    Anne is so nasty to Mary because she is jealous that her sister has found love. Anne wants love, too, but after having been denied it many years ago, she has resigned herself to a loveless life. And if she can't have love, she sure will have her some power. It's hard not to sympathize with her in this respect, at least.

  • Religion

    The Mass went on interminably. (3.196)

    This line is a subtle way to show us that Mary is not particularly devout. She doesn't disrespect religion, but she doesn't adhere to it herself. Or at least she's not particularly passionate about it.

    "God wanted our little prince in heaven; that was no fault of mine." (17.194)

    Queen Katherine is a very religious woman, and she believes that everything that happens to her is a result of God's plan. This helps her get through hard times, and it does seem to be one reason why Henry respects her.

    "I do not prepare for defeat," she said simply. "It would be to betray myself. I know that God will turn Henry's mind back to me and we will be happy together again." (26.71)

    We have to wonder if Katherine had a crisis of faith after Henry divorced her. She really believes that God will guide her and save her marriage, but her marriage fails. Does that mean God has failed her? On the other hand, given what eventually happens to Anne, perhaps having Henry VIII divorce you—rather than, you know, lop your head off—is maybe a stroke a good fortune.

    "God bless you," the queen said. "You can tell the others to go to bed now. I shall expect them all to come with me to Mass in the morning. And you too, Mary. I like my ladies to come to Mass." (26.73)

    Queen Katherine is one of the more forgiving characters in the book, and we attribute that quality partly to her religion. Religion can get pretty nasty in this world, but it also has several good qualities, like encouragement toward charity and forgiveness.

    Only Bishop Fisher, the queen's old stubborn faithful confessor made any protest when Henry named himself the supreme head of the Church of England. (30.3)

    Henry doesn't appear to be a religious man. He makes himself head of the Church of England just to get his own way. He's like the world's first televangelist. Maybe he does have some religious feeling—maybe—but organized religion itself is mostly a political obstacle—or political tool—for him.

    "She is your mistress," the queen observed quietly. "And that is a scandal to a God-fearing household."

    "Never!" Henry's shout became a roar. I flinched, he was as terrifying as a baited bear. "Never! She is a woman of absolute virtue."

    "No," the queen said calmly. "In thought and in word, if not in deed, she is shameless and brazen, and no company for a good woman or a Christian prince." (30.56-30.58)

    The queen shames Henry, who wants to appear as a good, devout man but definitely doesn't want to act like one. For Katherine, you can't just talk the talk; you also have to walk the walk. Katherine is consistent, and that's one of her good qualities.

    "But I thought he wanted the church reformed?" I asked.

    […] "Reformed, not taken to pieces and headed by the king," my brother said quickly. (35.51-35.52)

    No one expected Henry to take so much power for himself. Although he never says it out loud in the book, he clearly fancies himself to be a kind of god. Or at least he certainly doesn't seem to be too concerned about anything like divine punishment, or anything like that.

    God had cursed him for marrying his brother's wife and now God was lifting the curse by making his wife-to-be (his first wife, in Henry's adaptable conscience) so fertile that she conceived within months of lying with him. (36.17)

    "Adaptable conscience" might be the best phrase to describe Henry VIII. He acts like he's a religious man when it suits him, and he blames others for bringing curses from God upon him when he doesn't get his way. But does he really care one way or another? It mostly seems like everything is about Henry's own comfort.

    "You're not without sin, you're just lucky." (37.319)

    What is considered "right" and "wrong" in this time is almost entirely decided by religion. Adultery is supposed to be wrong, yet it is overlooked when the king is involved. George calls out this double standard. Why is being gay a sin punishable by death, when having an affair is not? Who decides?

    "Half of this church's teaching is to lead you on, half to frighten you into your place." (47.581)

    This is one of the only explicit critiques of religion in the book, and it comes courtesy of Anne. She is right, especially in this context. Henry becomes the Church, and his main method of getting his way is to frighten people.