Blog Home Reviews

“The Boleyn Inheritance,” by Philippa Gregory

Publisher: HarperCollins Publisher
Publication Date: 01 May, 2007
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audible

Royal Redhead rating: 3.5/5

⋅ ⋅ ⋅ Plot Summary ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ 

(as offered by the book cover)

“The king will decide who will live and who will die;
he has the power of God

1539, Henry VIII must take his fourth wife and the dangerous prize is won by Anne of Cleves. A German princess by birth, Anne is to be Henry’s pawn in the Protestant alliance against Rome, but the marriage falters from the start. Henry finds nothing to admire in his new queen, setting himself against his advisors and nobles to pay court to young Katherine Howard.

The new queen begins to sense a trap closing around her. And Jane Boleyn, summoned to the inner circle once more by her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, finds a fractious court haunted by the Boleyn legacy of death and deceit.

Nothing is certain in a kingdom ruled by an increasingly tyrranical king.

⋅ ⋅ ⋅ Review ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ 

I have read this book two times. The first time I listened to it on Audible and the second time I read it on my Kindle.

I will begin by saying that I enjoyed the Audible version of this book. The story was brought to life by the performances of Davina Porter, Bianca Amato, and Charlotte Parry. The novel is written from three perspectives and each woman gave her character its own interesting personality. The three voices differ a lot from each other and therefore I was never confused which perspective was being read from.

“Truly, when a king is a god to himself and follows his own desires, the suffering falls on others.”

The Boleyn Inheritance is the fourth novel in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court series and a direct sequel to the famous The Other Boleyn Girl novel. The story is narrated with first-person perspectives of Jane Boleyn (Lady Jane Rochford, widow to George Boleyn) and Henry VIII’s fourth and fifth wives Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

The story begins in 1539, the same year Jane Seymour dies of childbirth and three years after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Through the narration, we get a glimpse of the mental aftermath of Jane Boleyn, whose testimony sent her husband and his sister to the scaffold. Through Anne of Cleve’s perspective we discover a woman with a strong character despite abuse suffered by her brother and father and her short marriage with Heny VIII. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that this is historical fiction, and therefore the events of this novel cannot all be taken as historical fact. Many fans of Tudor history agree that Jane is too often made into a villain both in fiction and even in biographies. However, from a fictional perspective, I actually found Gregory’s decision to portray Jane Boleyn as a villain interesting in her novel. Instead of creating a Jane Boleyn who does what she does out of evil spite, she communicates that Jane’s unfortunate actions are a result of a woman’s complicated past and grief and struggle with the reigning patriarchy of her time. Those who can view this narrative from a fictional standpoint and set historical facts aside, may enjoy this portrayal, but people tired of a villanous Jane Boleyn may find this representation of her frustrating.

It is obvious that Anne of Cleves is Gregory’s feminist heroine of the story. I fear that if I name the reasons why I will spoil the plot for those who are not familiar with the history of Anne of Cleves. I like Anne’s character in this novel. Gregory is able to create her into a three dimensional woman who can equally display fear, strength, wisdom, sympathy and even poor judgement.

However, those who are familiar with my Instagram page, know that Katherine Howard’s portrayal is the one I am most interested in. She is my favorite Tudor figure. I spend lots of time reading different portrayals of her and comparing her afterlives in popular culture.
There are pros and cons to Gregory’s version of Katherine.

Gregory strongly reinforces Katherine’s negative labels as a frivolous, materialistic, silly, stupid teenage girl. Consequently, her character fails to be as lovable and three-dimensional as Anne of Cleve’s character. I am honestly quite tired of portrayals where Katherine is either a silly wanton girl or a complete abuse victim, so a little bit more creativity would be appreciated. However, Gregory does deserve credit for demonstrating Katherine’s behavior as a result of abuse and patriarchy as she similarly does with Jane Boleyn. Keeping the psychology of characters within the narrative always earns points with me.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel and found it an entertaining read. I enjoyed it more the first time when I was less informed about the historical aspect of the three protagonists’ lives. Also, I found the novel more engaging when listening to it on Audible than when reading it. The second read bothered me more since I was much better informed on the womens’ histories at that point.
Of the novels I have read on Philippa Gregory, this is one of my favorites. However, it is not my favorite portrayal of Katherine Howard. I recommend it to those who would like a simple entertaining read or those who are just beginning to learn about the Tudors or the lives of these three particular women.

“It is no small thing, this, for a woman: freedom.”

If you have read this novel, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments!

// Royal Redhead

Leave a Comment

Comments (1)