Most students have probably heard the story of England's King Henry VIII and his many wives. In particular, people have read about the wife that King Henry had beheaded—Anne Boleyn. But few have heard the story of Anne's sister. With only a few scattered historical details available to her, Philippa Gregory has created an intriguing historical fiction about Mary Boleyn, who is, as the title suggests, The Other Boleyn Girl.
The novel begins with the beheading of the Duke of Buckinghamshire, a close friend of King Henry's, whose crime was having publicly stated that the king would "likely die without a son to succeed him to the throne." Thus in the first three pages of this historical novel the tone is set for the rest of the story. It immediately becomes obvious that the young king is beginning to exercise his tyrannical powers; he will not allow anyone—friend or foe—to get in his way; and he is extremely serious about having a male heir. And as readers will discover, the king will do anything to get one.
Gregory takes her readers inside King Henry's court where ladies-in-waiting and male courtiers fawn over both the king and the queen. Their days are spent pleasing the royal couple, helping them dress as well as counseling them. Underneath their friendly façades, however, these courtiers and ladies-in-waiting are scheming. They are spies and manipulating pawns for their families, who are seeking power, money, and fame. In this novel, the two most famous families are the Howard-Boleyns and the Seymours. The main focus of both families is to be the first to give the king his most prized possession—a male heir. What the families do to accomplish this goal creates an intriguing and riveting story.