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Siobhan  Sullivan

Philippa Gregory: Societal Influence on Character Development
The Wives of Henry VIII

Philippa Gregory creates female characters who overcome the difficulty of court life and calculating families to achieve greatness in life and love. The characters in both The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen’s Fool develop into mature independent women through their experiences, both good and bad and also by learning from the mistakes of those close to them. Mary Boleyn, from The Other Boleyn Girl and Hannah Green, from The Queen’s Fool, choose not to submit to societal expectations. Both young women end up doing so, however, at different times in their lives. Mary sees what it is like to please those around her however she does not find happiness until she learns to please herself. Conversely, Hannah rebels against the expectations of society and her father as a young girl. Over time she learns to accept her family’s wishes only after living a life that is dangerous and not fit for a young woman. Gregory’s protagonists learn to live for themselves, for their own happiness.

Henry VIII ruled at a time when sons meant everything and the birth of a daughter meant failure. His attempts to secure an heir changed many lives, the fortunes of families, and the fate of the kingdom. He took several women as his wives, the most famous being Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, during his quest for an heir to the English throne. It was the pressure of needing an heir, Henry’s drive for control in his kingdom and beyond, and his desire for women that filled his court with deceit, love, and death. His wives began their married life with Henry VIII with the understanding that the marriage would be one of love and respect; however they eventually saw Henry as a man who cared only about his happiness. It was Henry’s personal and political goals that prompted him to end his marriages between Anne and Catherine, through defamation of Catherine’s character and the beheading of Anne, so that he could marry again.

Major Works Consulted:

Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Random, 1992.
Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
---. The Queen’s Fool. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII The King and His Court. New York: Ballantine, 2001.
Photo Credit: McIntosh, Fiona. “Philippa Gregory” Email from the publisher. 2 Feb 2005.


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