The Last Boleyn

The Last Boleyn

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by Karen Harper

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She Survived Her Own Innocence, and the Treachery of Europe’s Royal Courts

Greed, lust for power, sex, lies, secret marriages, religious posturing, adultery, beheadings, international intrigue, jealousy, treachery, love, loyalty, and betrayal. The Last Boleyn tells the story of the rise and fall of the Boleyns, one of England’s most powerful

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She Survived Her Own Innocence, and the Treachery of Europe’s Royal Courts

Greed, lust for power, sex, lies, secret marriages, religious posturing, adultery, beheadings, international intrigue, jealousy, treachery, love, loyalty, and betrayal. The Last Boleyn tells the story of the rise and fall of the Boleyns, one of England’s most powerful families, through the eyes of the eldest daughter, Mary.

Although her sister, Anne, the queen; her brother, George, executed alongside Anne; and her father, Thomas, are most remembered by history, Mary was the Boleyn who set into motion the chain of events that brought about the family’s meteoric rise to power, as well as the one who managed to escape their equally remarkable fall. Sent away to France at an extraordinarily young age, Mary is quickly plunged into the dangerous world of court politics, where everything is beautiful but deceptive, and everyone she meets is watching and quietly manipulating the events and people around them. As she grows into a woman, Mary must navigate both the dangerous waters ruled by two kings and the powerful will of her own family in order to find a place for herself and the love she so deeply desires.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Karen Harper’s Elizabeth I Mysteries

“Impressively researched . . . the author has her historical details down pat.” —Los Angeles Times

“Would make Shakespeare envious . . . This is great stuff.” —Toronto Globe and Mail

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Chapter One. July 16, 1512. Hever Castle, Kent

As she searched back over the span of years to where it all began, her mind always seized upon that golden day at Hever when she first knew there could be uncertainty, yes, and even fear and pain. They were all so young then—she but eight years, George a year older, so baby Anne was five years that summer. The July day spent itself in gold and green caresses for the tiny knot garden, and the yew-lined lanes, and grassy swards at Hever. But the reverie of that warmth and beauty always paled beneath the darker recesses of memory. Indeed, that was the first day she knew she was to be sent away and used, and that it would make her dear mother most unhappy.

The first thing she would recall were Anne's squeals of delight and George's high pitched tones of command mingled with the yelps of the reddish-coated spaniel pups which nearly drowned the drone of bees in the beds of roses and Sweet William. The pups were but a four month litter from their lady mother's favorite lap dog Glinda, but George was determined to control them and train them to be his obedient pets.

"Stop that! Stop that! You shall bend to my will, you little whelps!" he shouted with a grown-up edge of impatience to his boyish voice as he swung smartly at them with a willow switch. They yelped sharply when the stings struck, but continued to cavort and roll about on each other, all silken floppy ears and clumsy paws.

"Cease, George! They are too young to be whipped or trained," came Mary's clear voice from the vine-woven gallery where she sat slightly apart from the scene. She felt growing annoyance from the raucous laughter and pitiful cries of the pups. "They are not hunt hounds, only lap dogs for ladies, so leave them be. Gentleness and love will train them well enough. Leave off, or I shall tell mother or Semmonet!"

The boy turned to face her, a look of disdain clouding his fine features. He put his fists on his hips and stood straight, his eyes squinting in the sun toward her shady bower.

"You shall not order me about, Mary. I am the elder, and I am the son, and I already own three hounds and two falcons. And I shall see service in the king's court long before you. Father has promised!"

"Has he now?" Mary countered, for George did annoy her so of late when he acted as though he were a lord's man or knight already and not some country lad whose father was always gone to court. "I warrant we all may stay here with mother at Hever, or maybe Blickling or Rochford, and never see the court at all," she continued.

Usually that sort of taunt unsettled George enough to quiet him, but today she hit a different mark. He advanced several swift strides toward her and, as he came into the shade of the arbor, she was startled to see the flush of his cheek and the frown on his brow. Anne trailed in his angry wake, her face curious, her raven hair spilling from beneath her white-ribboned cap.

"The fair-haired Mistress Mary with Grandmother Howard's beauty! Do not think to set yourself above Anne and me that we show the Butler blood for our dark locks and plainer faces. We are every bit as much a Howard too, and I shall be lord here at Hever someday and then you shall do my bidding, or—or I shall wed you to a poor landed gentry knight!"

The vehemence surprised the girl, for though she sometimes goaded George for his imperious ways or silently smarted beneath his overbearing attitude, he seldom responded this way. It almost frightened her and, except for Anne's large, dark eyes peering earnestly at her, she would have responded haughtily.

"I meant nothing by it, brother, and never vowed I had more of the Howard blood than you. Our lord has often told us we are all to be proud of our heritage of Irish Butler and powerful Norfolk, for was not our grandfather the High Treasurer for our king's father?"

George nodded curtly as though he had bested her and turned his attention back to the pups again. Now tired of their romp, they lay stretched into little splashes of shining bronze beside the marigold beds.

But Anne lingered, her pale yellow gown almost touching Mary's emerald skirts. The child often gazed at her older sister. She admired Mary's golden hair and clear blue eyes and lovely face, for their beauty was noticed by all, and the tiny girl sensed the import of this more than did Mary. It meant somehow that Mary was special, was different, and though George resented this, the child Anne was quite in awe.

"Why can we not go into the solar to see father, Mary? He comes not much to see us. What has he so secret to tell mother that Semmonet sent us away from the house? I wish he would come out and play with us and the pups, but I know he will not."

Anne sat beside Mary on the rough wood bench, her hands folded in her lap. She looked so dainty and demure that Mary wondered anew at the quicksilver changes of temperament the girl showed. She herself felt no such feverish blood stir her moods, nor did she ever throw the noisy tantrums of which this child was capable.

"Dear Annie, Semmonet said only that father had an important message for mother and that we shall learn of his tidings later. I am certain you can manage to wait until supper, for he will no doubt stay at least until the morrow, so you may ask him then, minx."

The pale child bit her lower lip, and Mary knew another question would follow. Did she never tire of her endless probings of everything? Her mind is quick and her French and Latin may soon overtake mine, she thought.

"Mary," Anne began in her childish voice, "do you believe the king looks in true life as he does in the portrait? He always seems to look sideways at me as I come down the stairs or go in the solar. His hands are so big and strong and he looks very frightening."

Her eyes looked like wet black brook pebbles, and Mary reached out to touch her white cheek. "Well, little one, I have not seen His Majesty either, but father is proud of that portrait copy by Master van Cleve, you know, so I would guess it catches the king in truth. And I agree, Annie, the eyes and the hands do look most frightening, especially at night when the hall lies in shadow with only candle gleams." She hesitated. "Is there anything else you would ask, Annie?"

Mary smiled at her little sister and the dazzling beauty that angered George, worried her mother, and pleased her father, simply amazed the younger child. Why could she not have golden hair and sky colored eyes and an angel's face like those in the stained glass windows at grandmother's chapel?

"I was only hoping, Mary, that he comes not back to take me to the king's court, for I should be afraid to go from mother and Semmonet and George and you. Even if father were there, I should be afraid, for father has eyes and hands like the king." Her lip quivered, and her fears, so plainly spoken, tugged on Mary's love though she herself felt no such childish worries.

"No, Annie. Do not be afraid. We are all too young to leave here now. George will surely go first and though you and I are not too young to be engaged, there has been no word of this. Maybe father comes to tell of a fine promotion above being Esquire of the King's Body. Father wishes to rise far, I know."

"Yes, Mary. And mother says he shall. Does she miss him as much as we, do you think?"

"Yes. No doubt even more. But she loves it here and has almost no desire to be at court, though I do not know why. But who would not love life at our Hever, Annie?" Mary's eyes skipped swiftly across the low boxwood hedges and the carefully tended beds of riotous marigolds, snapdragons and sweet heartsease.

"Father will soon ride back to the king's business, and we shall be safe with mother and Semmonet. You shall see," she comforted.

The child shot her a sunbeam smile and darted off, eager to follow George and the pups around the other side of the garden. Soon her lilting laugh and George's sharp tones floated through the air again punctuated by excited yelps from the litter of spaniels.

Mary grimaced as she rose, but walked away from their play. She did not want another rude encounter with George if she scolded him again. Then, too, Anne's innocent questions had unsettled her more than George's bloodless cruelty to the pups could.

Her father had ridden in hard from Greenwich and most unexpected. He did have special news for the family, that she knew. But what puzzled and bothered her the most was that he had sent the children out to play yet had summoned Semmonet. Why would his words be of import to their governess unless it concerned one of her three Bullen charges? Her heart beat slightly faster as she paced the squared outer edge of the heady-scented boxwood walk toward the house.

As she emerged from the gardens, the brightly painted ornamental facade of Hever rose up before her set like a gaudy jewel in the clear blue frame of cloudless sky. Its blond brick walls and decorative chimneys and water lily studded moat rested in the meadows at the fork of the gentle River Eden. Mary knew well the heritage of the house, for it was the same proud heritage of her family, and she and George and Annie had been taught to rehearse it well.

"Built by great-grandsire Geoffrey Bullen, lord mayor of London, who married the proud daughter of Lord Hoo," she recited half aloud. "Once a mere hunt lodge, but now the family seat of his grandson Lord Thomas Bullen of King Henry's great court and his Lady Elizabeth Bullen."

She went in step to her chant toward the house from which she and the other Bullen children had been temporarily banished. She crossed the now-useless drawbridge and went beneath the rusty pointed teeth of the raised portcullis. As a younger child of Anne's age, she had pictured that entry as the mouth of a terrible dragon whose jaws might snap shut in an instant and devour a fair maiden beneath. Long ago she had darted through fearful that the iron jaws would trap or crush her, but she was much too old for such foolhardiness now.

The cobbled courtyard lay silent, and the shiny leaded windows of the hall and solar glinted in the afternoon sun and gave no hint of what dark secrets might be proudly announced within. She would await the parental summons in her bedchamber away from the howls of pups or George's taunts or even Annie's childish questions. Maybe Semmonet would be in the nursery now and could tell her of the special news, for did not Semmonet treasure the happiness of her three charges above all?

One oak door to the hall stood agape. The warm fresh air of the day was a blessing in the frequently shut-up house. A sunbeam-dusted shaft of light poured onto the worn oak floor inside the entry as the girl stepped inside and looked guardedly about. The low hum of her parents' voices drifted from the solar, still lifted in earnest conversation. She continued to the great banister and put one slippered foot on the first stair, but halted in the huge square of sunlight as her mother's raised voice pierced the silence.

"My dear Lord Thomas, I grant it is an honor, and I am proud of your appointment as ambassador to the Archduchess of Savoy, but the other matter is out of the question." Her clear voice stopped, and Mary sought to picture her lovely mother's angry face. She had always seen her in control of herself, always calm and gentle. Surely father would not insist he take George abroad with him on this new business.

"Settle your feathers, my beautiful little mother hen," came her father's voice with its familiar edge of authority. "I have already obtained the placement. I have great plans for all three and, believe me, the opportunity is fortuitous. We dare not pass up this chance for the advancement and polish needed. Where else could the golden egg fall right in our laps and without cost to us? I had thought, of course, when the king's sister should be sent abroad to marry, the time would come, but this is even sooner than I had hoped."

Mesmerized by the voices, Mary edged closer to the huge door of the solar, set slightly ajar to seize the fresh air. Guiltily, she stared back at the piercing eyes of her king whose portrait hung in the dimness of the hall not washed by the sunlight which slanted in on her trembling body. Yes, indeed little Anne was right. The king's eyes seemed to accuse and frighten.

Suddenly, her heart lurched and her mind grasped each single word of her mother's quaking voice: "I pray you, my lord, let this honor go until she is at least in her tenth year. She is but a mere eight years and not a child fully raised yet."

Mary's slender frame leaned for support against the carved linen fold paneling of the hall. She crumpled wadded balls of her green skirts in tight fists. They spoke of her . . . and to be sent to . . . to . . . where is Savoy?

"Margaret of Austria and Regent to the Netherlands, Elizabeth, imagine it. It is the highest rung of the ladder for now, and when she is educated there, it will be a finishing school second only to the French court itself. When she returns, where else is there for her but among Queen Catherine's ladies in His Grace's very eyes?"

"Yes. Where else," came Elizabeth Bullen's low voice, and Mary was hurt and shocked by the anger of it.

Mary could hear her father pacing now as he often did when he thought out a problem or gave orders. His footsteps approached the door and turned back. She wanted to flee but her knees shook and her feet were rooted to the floor.

"Not all women as beautiful as you, Elizabeth, choose to live their lives away from the power and heat of the sun, however lovely their country homes like Hever."

"There is sun here, my lord, and beauty—and peace of mind."

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Meet the Author

Karen Harper is the author of a bestselling series of Elizabeth I mysteries, which includes The Poyson Garden, The Tidal Poole, The Thorne Maze, and The Queene’s Christmas. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, and Naples, Florida.

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Last Boleyn 4.2 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 56 reviews.
ZQuilts More than 1 year ago
I have been reading a lot of books by Karen Harper recently and I have to admit to thoroughly enjoying each and every one. What a gifted author she is! "The Last Boleyn" was originally titled "Passion's Reign" and I am not at all sure that I would have chosen to read it with that title. I have that ingrained aversion to lusty title's that shelving Harlequin novels in a book store left me with ! "The Last Boleyn" is the tale of Mary Tudor - five years a mistress to Henry VIII before Anne; faithful wife and mother after Henry. Although I had perhaps heard this before I had not registered the fact that the family name had, in fact, been 'Bullen' prior to Anne's Franophile-ization of her family name to the more readily familiar 'Boleyn'. Mary Bullen inherited her mother's more delicate blonde coloring - heritage of her lofty Howard lineage. I have always been of the impression that 'father' Boleyn was a power hungry, ladder climbing syncophant in the court of Henry VIII....a man who would pander his female children to his best advantage. Nothing I have read over the years has really change that opinion - even taking the vagaries of that time period into account. Mary was sent to the French court at an early age - as lady-in-waiting to Henry's sister Mary during her short lived marriage to the aging French King. Upon the King's death Mary remains at the French Court attendant upon Mary and beguiled by the new French King Francois I. Anne Boleyn joins Mary at the French court for a time until Mary returns to England as a teenager - and becomes an integral part of the Court of Henry VIII. The book chronicles Mary's marriage to the cold, calculating William Carey - a husband who accepts the King's advances towards Mary as a way to accrue fame and fortune for himself. During her marriage to William Carey Mary has son and, although she always claimed that he was William Carey's son - there has always been speculation that her son was, in fact, the progeny of Henry VIII .Mary is, ultimately, drawn to the jaded courtier William Stafford - a man whom she will ultimately marry in secret after the death of William Carey. The odd thing about Mary Boleyn's story is that she was always derided by her family for not asking Henry for more - for not expecting more from him as his mistress. Anne was the rapacious sister . Oddly enough though it is Mary, and not Anne, who ultimately lives to a goodly age and retires from Courtlife with both her head and her happiness intact - thank largely, I am led to believe thanks to the love of Will Staford. In contrast, this novel with that of Phillipa Gregory's book "The Other Boleyn Girl" - which is also narrated from Mary's point of view. I enjoyed both of these book tremendously, but I think that in some ways I prefer Karen Harper's work. I think that Ms. Harper follows the history very closely and she also managed to keep me turning the pages of this book late into the night. Best bet - read both books because I think that the story of Mary Boleyn is truly a very good one !
Guest More than 1 year ago
I adore the Tudors, and have read just about every biography and historical novel about them that I can get my hands on. I was really excited when I picked this novel up recently, but after the first 50 pages I did something that I almost NEVER do. I not only didn't finish this book, but I actually returned it. It was that wretched. The historical details were either lacking or incorrect. For example, Chantilly lace dates to the 17th century, not the early 16th century. The dialog was similarly aweful. In one scene Charles Bradon calls Mary by her full name four or five times, even though there are only three people in the room. The author can't even keep her own facts straight, referring to Mary as being only a skinny ten year old, and a few pages later talking about her newly developed female curves. My recommendation, avoid this book. There are better stories out there about the Tudors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am so sorry that this particular take on the Boleyns wasn't chosen to make a movie of instead of Philippa Gregory's atrocious 'The Other Boleyn Girl', the sorriest waste of historical fiction I've ever read. This is an amazing book. The history is pretty accurate and the courtiers' world is described in breathtaking detail without tailspinning into ridiculous gossip-slinging. Great writing, great story, great detail, great characters, great everything. the entire Tudor universe simply comes to life in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As usual from this author: An interesting story, but the silliest dialogue I've seen since I outgrew teenage romances 40 years ago. Learned my lesson from this and The First Princess of Wales (whiich I bought at the same time) and won't be buying anything from this author in future.
penname96 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It helps to know some history otherwise parts might be hard to follow (example the use of Boleyn/Bullen...Mary/Marie). From what I have read this book was more factual than Philippa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl" which is why I purchased it. From what I have studied, this seems to be true. If you are interested in The Boleyns, then you should enjoy this book. Karen's current release "The Queen's Governess" was excellent!
Kiamara More than 1 year ago
I had this book recommended to me by someone after they heard my fustrations on how historically accurate "The Other Bolyen Girl" is not. I picked up this book and could not put it down. Yes there is not a lot known about Mary Bolyen but the author used what is known to create a captivating book truely from Mary's point of view. I am happy that the author was more true to the history, which made the book that more enjoyable for me becuase I did not have to turn off my historical brain to read the book. I highly recommend this book.
AnonymousLR More than 1 year ago
This book is well written, but somtimes gets bogged down with minute details that I am not interested in. I loved the story of Mary Bolyn, first mistress to the king and the wife of a man of her own choosing. She escaped the fate of her sister Anne because she listened well to her father. In the book, the king feels loving toward Mary and tells her to leave court for her own good. I found this quite touching. I agree this is a good read.
Sapphire_Kelly More than 1 year ago
This book was better than I expected. It caught my attention from page one and kept it till the very end. I love anything dealing with the Boleyn's. They are a very interesting family. I like how this was centered around Mary Boleyn. She was someone I did not know about until I read this. It caused me to want to know more and more about her. I really recommend this book to anyone who really loves this subject. It will open your eyes into her world. You get to see something from another point of view. It is really a great book.
Tudormommy More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this tale of Henry's mistress. The story read smoothly and kept me captivated. It was interesting to read about Mary's life before, during, and after Henry. I especially enjoyed her vision of her sister, Anne. I enjoyed this story much more than Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl." That book I did not even finish!
Izzie_reads_books More than 1 year ago
To me, this was the cutest story ever about Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary. It was cute because of the little love story involving Stafford. I LOVED this novel so much, I read it three times (yes, I read too much)...The "ups" about the book was almost everything, but I have to admit that there were some "downs" as well. Mary seemed too submissive and reserved which is the reason why the family thought the ambition-thirsty Anne was more clever even though Mary was since Anne's ambition led to her demise. But finally,very far into the book, she begins to emerge from that submissiveness. The other "down" was how the author portrayed Mary's first husband. But then again, authors portray the Boleyn characters differently in each novel. I think Karen Harper portrayed Mary the best when comparing other novels that wrote about the Boleyns (The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory...I love her books, but The Other Boleyn Girl wasn't, in my opinion, her best. She portrayed Mary--also in my opinion--as a girl who is pretty much lovesick or should I say, has Romeo and Juliet syndrome and I certainly do not like that play from Shakespeare--his other ones were way better). Well, anyhow, It's a very good book and I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book for all Tudor fans.
L2TA More than 1 year ago
I read one of the reviews about this book that said that everything in this book was fiction. That is completely untrue: Mary Boleyn was the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn and his wife. She was married to William Carey, and later to William Stafford. She had both a son and a daughter, named Henry and Catherine. It is possible that both were the children of Mary and the King, but he never acknowledged either of them. She later had a child with William Stafford, though if it was a boy or girl, is unknown. Will Carey was an Esquire to the King, as was William Stafford later. Little has been recorded about Mary's life, seeing as how she was simply a mistress, not queen like her sister Anne, but what is in this book is based off of what little fact is known about her. While the conversations and outfits and minor details like those are more than likely fictional, the underlying historical story is true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Someone here was stating about how this story is purely fictional, which is not true. There is truth behind much of it. Yes, very little is known about poor Mary, but there is actual evidence about her. There's also evidence that she is actually said to be the oldest of the three Boleyn children. So please, if you're going to criticize something, know your facts before you do so.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Educational and thoroughly entertaining!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will go back to scanning a few pages of a hard copy before i make any more fooiish decisions of time and resources on raunchy fantasys.
alice0309 More than 1 year ago
I have read many fictional novels concerning the English Monarch and this is by far one of my favorites. She is a very good author and I will read more of her books. If you're undecided, read a preview, you'll buy it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I so want my money back on this one! Worst piece of dribble I have read in a long time. To me it was written as a chilish Harlequin Romance and only about 95% factual and based loosely, very loosely on Mary Boleyn's life. 1. Mary was married by the age of 14 to William Carey-FACT 2. Mary was at Tudor Court by the same age (14)-FACT 3. Mary was not saved by Da Vinci from an almost rape out in the open, in broad daylight during a joust as this would have been next to impossible. This was the actual part I stopped reading and actually flipped ahead hoping it got better and that I did not waste my no avail. It got worse. 4. There was no love triangle with Mary, William Carey and William Stafford as Carey died from sweating sickness BEFORE Stafford ever worked in the Tudor Court. So the whole bit about Stafford being in France with Mary's father is a fabrication as Stafford was in the livery and would not have even been allowed to help her father conduct business. On that same note, her father felt that Stafford was beneath him so he would not have sought Stafford's advice on anything. This is just a few of my misgivings regarding this book. Sad that I only read 57 pages before giving up and flipping ahead only to be more disappointed. I implore ANYONE looking at this book to read - PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Please read the reviews BEFORE you buy it. Please do not make the same mistake I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not a historian or someone who did a lot of research on the Boleyns so I dont know how historically accurate this is. However I absolutely loved this story and I hope many parts are true. I couldnt put the book down, loved it!
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