Review of Karen Harper’s ‘The Last Boleyn’


'The Last Boleyn' by Karen Harper (1983).
‘The Last Boleyn’ by Karen Harper (1983).

I recently finished reading Karen Harper’s The Last Boleyn, written in a similar vein to Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl.

Generally, I thought it was relatively engaging, although I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Other Boleyn Girl. Similar to Gregory’s novel, it wasn’t really very historically accurate. For example, Anne was arrested in February when it was actually May. I enjoyed the telling from Mary Boleyn’s point of view, and what made it better than The Other Boleyn Girl in my opinion was the way it explored Mary’s time in France, which Gregory didn’t do, although the accuracy is dubious.

Genre/s: Historical Fiction / Romance / Drama.

Setting: Paris (France), London, Hever (UK)

Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, William Carey, William Stafford, Henry VIII, Francis I, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wolsey, Jane Seymour, Queen Claude of France, Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor Duchess of Suffolk, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Henry Carey, Catherine Carey.

Storyline: The Last Boleyn explores the story of Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn and mistress to both Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England. It looks at her time in France as a child, her relationship with her sister Anne, her marriage to William Carey which Harper claims was arranged to cover up her affair with Henry VIII, and then her love for and eventual marriage to William Stafford, which gave her the enmity of her family. Finally, it discusses the events surrounding Anne’s fall, but from Mary’s point of view (an outside perspective).

Point of View: Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn.

Strengths: I loved the development of Mary Boleyn as a character throughout the novel – she begins as a naïve child, but is strengthened through her affair first with Francis I and then with Henry VIII. By the time it comes to her marriage to Stafford, she can stand up for herself and isn’t afraid to go for what she wants. Another strength in my opinion was the style of writing – the characters came across as very relatable and real, which not every author manages.

Weaknesses: The historical accuracy was definitely a downfall for me, not even getting right the month of Anne’s arrest (May, not February like Harper claims). The settings could have done with more description – at

Mary Boleyn
Mary Boleyn

times it was very difficult to imagine myself there, even though I have visited Hampton Court and the like. Harper needs more visual imagery. Harper also seems to jump several months or years at a time and we never really find out what happened in the middle, or if anything did at all. She seems to skip several key periods of time.

Overall Rating: 15.5 / 20.

Recommend? Yes. Particularly for anyone with an interest in Mary Boleyn. Not if you’re looking for a general novel on Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn.

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