This is what I love about historical fiction. You, both authors and readers, can explore the most wonderful “what ifs”. It has been speculated that Anne Boleyn probably met Leonardo da Vinci whilst residing with the French Court, but, what if they actually became friends? Or, did she meet the future Charles V during her sojourn with Archduchess Margaret in Burgundy? What kind of relationship, if any, did they have? In Mademoiselle Boleyn, Robin Maxwell explores all of these and more. I was delighted by the presence of three of Henry VIII’s future conquests in the train of his sister, Mary: Elizabeth Blount, Mary Boleyn, and, of course, Anne. Although, no one in the novel seemed to connect the lady-in-waiting Elizabeth Blount, with the King’s mistress, Bessie Blount, which was odd.
However, Maxwell doesn’t just delight the reader with fascinating flights of fancy, she also unflinchingly portrays the appalling treatment of women in the sixteenth century. The callous disregard for their well-being and the thoughtless humiliations and degradations forced upon them for the pleasure and advancement of men. In so doing, Maxwell shows us the awesome courage it must have taken for Anne, or any woman, to defy the plans and schemes of the fathers, husbands, and kings who governed their lives. The plight of Mary Boleyn is especially vivid and heart-breaking.
There is one thing, though, that I don’t understand. Why does Maxwell say that the Butler inheritance comes from Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Howard? It makes no sense. The truth is that Boleyn’s claim to Ormond came from his mother, Lady Margaret Butler. I know that, in part, it is used to emphasize the grasping desperation of Thomas Boleyn’s coldly ruthless rise to power. In the novel, he is extremely angry that the high connections of the Boleyn’s are due to his wife. But, if that was the case, wouldn’t it have gone to Elizabeth’s brother, the Duke of Norfolk, if it went to anybody in England? And, before you ask, yes, Elizabeth and Norfolk had the same mother, Elizabeth Tilney. Like I said, it makes no sense, even the context of the novel.
Other than that, I loved this book. It is every bit as good as her first, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. I would love to see her write a novel portraying Mary Boleyn through the rest of her life, including her affair with Henry and the children she bore him, and her marriage to William Stafford.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars