Monday, 14 September 2015

Interview with Josephine Wilkinson on Mary Boleyn

This interview was conducted by SARAH BRYSON and published on her website Queen-to-History (

Sarah: What attracted you to write a book about Mary Boleyn?
Josephine: To be honest, I had no interest in writing about Mary Boleyn when the idea was first suggested to me and I resisted it for quite some time. This was primarily because I thought there was so little to say about her that such a project would be frustrating and, sadly, a waste of time when there were so many other books to write. At length I allowed myself to be persuaded and I’m glad I did. I found I liked Mary very much, and I loved researching her life and the people in it as well as the places she would have lived, her dresses, portraits and so on. In the end, I found much more than my allocated 50,000 words would allow, but I had to keep it short!

S: What are your thoughts on the whereabouts of Mary Boleyn between 1515 and 1520
J: It is impossible to tell without sound documentary evidence, but it does seem probable that Mary returned to England with the Duchess of Suffolk. It is interesting that the seventeenth-century French novelist, Madame de Lafayette, includes Anne in her novel La Princesse de Clèves (link below), but mentions Mary only in passing. This is because the characters are discussing Princess Elizabeth and this, in turn, leads them to talk about Anne Boleyn and her life in France. Mary is mentioned only once as the mistress of Henry VIII, and she is not associated with France. As to where she was when she returned home, I can only speculate that she remained with her family until her marriage was arranged, although it is not impossible that she served at court.

S: Do you think Mary had an affair with Francis I?
J: I think she was possibly seduced by François, which is not the same thing. Also, François was probably bragging a bit to annoy Henry!

S: Who do you think fathered Mary Boleyn’s children, Catherine and Henry Carey?
J: I think there’s a very good chance that Henry fathered Catherine Carey, but I’m really not so sure about Henry Carey. Because there is no concrete evidence either way, it is difficult to talk in absolutes; however, there is strong circumstantial evidence, particularly the information contained in Sir Francis Knollys’s Latin dictionary. If the king did father him, then the love in which Henry Carey was conceived had died before he was born.

S: What qualities do you most admire in Mary Boleyn?
J: I think I admire her strength of character most of all and the fact that she knew her own mind. She does not appear to have been the favourite child of the family, where she comes across almost as an outsider. Anne and George were close, but Mary did not fit into their world. This is a difficult situation to be in, but she managed it perfectly. I also admire her determination - she married a man out of love, which was unacceptable for a woman of her status, but she stuck to her guns and lived happily with him for the rest of her life.
S: If you could find out one more piece of previously unknown information about Mary Boleyn what would you wish that to be?
J: I would like to find something about her in a household book or some other document that would confirm her whereabouts before her marriage. Primarily, though, I regret that more of Mary’s letters no longer exist. The one she wrote to Cromwell does not show her in the best light, although her anger and bitterness are understandable. If we had more of her letters, we could better discern her character and gain greater access to her inner thoughts, this would allow us a more rounded picture of her.
S: When she was older Anne Boleyn appeared to be closer to her younger brother George, what are your thoughts regarding Mary and Anne Boleyn’s relationship?
J: See above!
S: Do you think Mary Boleyn was grieved at the loss of her sister and brother despite being banished from court and not being able to see them in their final years?
J: Yes, without doubt. Mary had her differences with her family and with Anne especially, and she had been banished from court. This saved her life, but it also deprived her of any chance of resolving those differences, so she would have had no real sense of closure. This could only have increased her grief.
Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn in the BBC production of Wolf Hall
S: What are your thoughts regarding the recent portrayal of Mary Boleyn in Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”?
J: Actually, I like Wolf Hall very much (although my favourite Mantel remains A Place of Greater Safety), and I really enjoyed the BBC adaptation. Mary is portrayed as an unhappy woman, although she tries to cover up her unhappiness by making caustic remarks about Anne and flirting with Cromwell - but how much of this is the real Mary, and how much of it is Cromwell’s perception of her? One thing I especially love about Mantel is her characterisation and the way she makes readers think, and just when you think you understand a character, she throws you off, genius writing!
It is one of my greatest regrets that people seem to be losing their ability to understand literature (and its filmed adaptations) for the art it is; instead, they try to treat it as they would history and get indignant about what they see as libellous interpretations and portrayals of historical characters.
S: What’s next for Josephine Wilkinson?
J: I have just completed a biography of my favourite of Henry’s wives, Katherine Howard. I revisited all the original documents in the National Archives and came up with some fascinating material. The book is due out in April of next year.

Princesse de Clèves link:

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Josephine on Anne Boleyn by Paul Friedmann

This interview was originally published in March 2013 on the blog

Q1: Paul Friedmann wrote his two-volume biography of Anne Boleyn in the 1884 and the book is still used as a standard of reference by historians today. After over 100 years, why do you think this book remains relevant?
I think any work that is well researched and written in such an accessible and commanding way will always be an important reference for researchers, whatever era they live in and whether or not they agree with the author’s conclusions. Paul Friedmann, of course, worked extensively with original documents - not as they are printed in Letters and Papers, but the actual documents themselves, which are held in various archives and libraries across Europe, so his work will always stand as a valuable source.

Q2: You are credited as an editor of the new edition of Friedmann’s book. What kinds of edits or revisions did you contribute to the latest edition of the book?
My work as an editor of this work was purely technical - I transcribed the document from PDF into Word and ensured that everything came out correctly. This meant removing the marginal notes, checking that the text had come out correctly in each language and ironing out the funny characters that can crop up when software misreads certain letters and numbers. I also redid the index to match the new pagination. I did not revise Friedmann’s work in any way, but that was not the object.

Q3: You’ve published several books about the Tudors and also specifically about Anne Boleyn. How did it come about that you were asked to be an editor of Friedmann’s book? Why was this project of interest to you?
My commissioning editor had looked through the annotated bibliography that I included with my Anne Boleyn book and found the Friedmann title listed. He asked me if I thought it was worth publishing it in a new volume. I agreed that it was a very good idea, especially since no new addition had been done at the time and the original work was difficult to get hold of. I have always admired Friedmann’s work and thought it deserved a wider readership.

Q4: One of the reasons Henry VIII remains so famous is his six wives, of whom Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most well-known. Why do you think Anne Boleyn endures as a historical figure? What is it about her that contemporary people find so interesting?
Anne’s primary interest is that she is the only anointed and crowned queen of England to be executed (so far!). The story of how that happened is still, to some extent, shrouded in mystery. Although scholars are now more aware of the machinations of the Tudor court, there remain several theories about why Anne fell.
Then there is Anne herself. She was clearly a woman of great character, self-aware, self-assured and determined to live according to her personal codes of honour and right. She was a very intelligent woman, intellectual and artistically talented. She appeals to people today for all these reasons, but also because she held her own against a predatory and difficult authority figure, she won her man on her own terms and she exemplifies the female struggle against the ’glass ceiling’. It was only in the last few weeks that it all became unstuck; until then, she almost had it all.

Q5: Friedmann’s book is filled with rich details about the people and society in which Henry VIII and
Anne Boleyn lived. How do these descriptions of the Tudor world make Freidmann’s book unique? Do you feel this detail helps the reader to better understand the world in which Anne Boleyn lived?
I’m not sure Friedmann’s book is unique in that respect - Elizabeth Benger wrote a lovely biography of Anne which went into detail about the Tudor world, and Agnes Strickland included a biography of Anne in her Queens of England series. Friedmann’s particular strength lies in his extensive use of original sources and his careful analysis of them. He also delved more deeply into the politics of the period, showing the importance of Anne’s story in Europe as a whole. Certainly such details help readers understand Anne’s world, and this is essential for assessing Anne, her actions and her ultimate fate.

Q6: Does Friedmann’s book contain any ideas or theories that have been proven outdated by contemporary scholars? If so, did your edits revise these ideas or theories?
As I mentioned above, I made no revisions, but simply produced a Word copy of the biography. My publisher then decided what he would do with it. Friedmann work is a classic and his theories stand alongside those of modern historians, especially as there is still disagreement regarding the causes of Anne’s fall.

Q7: Is there anything about this Friedmann’s book that you’d like to bring to the reader’s attention?
If readers can get hold of the original two-volume work, they might find Friedmann’s own introduction very interesting. Unfortunately me editor did not think it necessary to print it. Volume one also contains a full and very useful chronology of events. It always makes me smile when I read Friedmann’s words (pp.250-1): ‘After a time their [the people’s] interest in Anne’s fate died out’ - if only he could have seen into the future! I also admire his modesty when he states (p.255): ‘My object has been to show that very little is known of the events of those times, and that the history of Henry’s first divorce and of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn has still to be written.’ Certainly, historians have had new things to contribute, but Friedmann produced a wonderful piece of scholarship, a classic study.

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