Barnes & Noble
Published by: Penguin Group
Release Date: June 3, 2008
Insatiable kings. Lecherous queens. Kissing Cousins. Wanton consorts.
Welcome to nearly 1,000 years of Naughty Behavior.
Sex and power have always gone hand in glove, and monarchs have been merry throughout history. Nothing can bring down a government-not even high treason-like a good sex scandal. Nowadays people yawn through newspaper accounts of civil warfare, economic downturns, even reports of appalling corporate greed. But give them a juicy sex scandal peppered with high and mighty protagonists, and it’s the first story readers turn to. We can never seem to get enough of them.
Throughout the centuries, royal affairs have engendered substantially more than salacious gossip. Often they have caused bloodshed. For example, Edward II’s homosexual affairs infuriated his barons and alienated his wife, Queen Isabella, who decided to have an extramarital affair of her own. The vicious cycle of adultery, murder, and betrayal resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy, the king’s imprisonment, and quite possibly, his assassination.
The unholy trinity of sex and politics is incomplete without religion. And a study of the extramarital affairs of Great Britain’s royals also ends up chronicling the journey of the realm’s religious history. Henry VIII’s passion for Anne Boleyn culminated not only in their marriage but in a brand-new faith that created a lasting schism with the Church of Rome, and led to hundreds of years of strife and violence among Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans that would have a lasting impact on millions of lives.
And what of the mistresses? During the earlier, and more brutal, eras of British history, a woman didn’t have much (if any) choice if the king exercised his droit de seigneur and decided to take her to bed. Often, girls were little more than adolescents when their ambitious parents shoved them under the monarch’s nose. However, most of the mistresses in Royal Affairs were not innocent victims of a parent’s political agenda or a monarch’s rampaging lust. They were clever, accomplished, often ambitious women, not always in the first bloom of youth and not always baseborn, who cannily parlayed the only thing they had-their bodies-into extravagant wealth and notoriety, if not outright fame. In many cases, their royal bastards were ennobled by the king, making excellent marriages and living far better than their mothers could have otherwise provided. Eventually taking their place in the House of Lords, the mistresses’ illegitimate sons went on to become the decision makers who shaped an empire and spawned the richest and most powerful families in Britain.
Incongruous as it may sound, England’s trajectory from absolute to constitutional monarchy can be traced through the history of its sovereigns’ sex scandals. Rough justice and kangaroo courts once dispatched any dissenters from the royal agenda; when an absolute monarch who ruled by divine right shouted “Off with her head!” it tended to take care of matters.
As time went on, the power of the public, from Parliament to the press, steadily eroded the sovereign’s supremacy, until, by the mid-1930s, King Edward VIII, a constitutional monarch with limited input in the workings of the government, felt compelled to abdicate, believing that the tide of public opinion was against his love match. In fact, suppressed by the media, the very opposite attitude was true.
From Henry II’s blatant disregard of international treaties and alliances in favor of his young French mistress to Edward VIII’s abdication for the woman he loved; from Henry VIII beheading his adulterous wives on Tower Green to Charles and Diana discussing their extramarital infidelities on national television, the world has in fact come a long way. Or has it? In the history of royal scandals is writ the ever-evolving story of our own society.
In this delightful addition to the countless other books written about the British Royal Family, Carroll deftly constructs information chronologically by ruling dynasty, from the Angevins to the Windsors. As her previous experience writing historical fiction under the pseudonym Amanda Elyot attests, Carroll can ably research and distill facts and has a true talent for weaving fascinating narratives. Her entertaining writing style makes this one book you do not want to put down. Entertaining, impeccably researched, and extremely well written, it will appeal to all readers with an interest in British history as well as to those with a more specialized interest in the personal lives of the British royal family. Highly recommended.
In May of 2007, a couple of weeks before I got married, I received a call from my agent: would I be interested in writing nonfiction for NAL-the house that had been publishing my historical fiction? They had come up with a premise and a title; all they needed to do was “cast” the author and my editor thought I was the right woman for the job.
But they needed to be absolutely certain, so I had to “audition” nonetheless. As I juggled seating arrangements and final fittings, researched affordable (hah!) New York hotel rooms for out-of-town relatives and wrangled with the caterer, I wrote up a proposed table of contents, and a forward and sample entry for Royal Affairs. The initial selection of scandalous royal affairs spotlighted something like 135 couples, so my editor wisely suggested that we narrow the field to Great Britain. And even so, in many cases there was such a wealth of juicy information that it was difficult to decide what to leave on the cutting room floor. In the end I chose to highlight the royal affairs that had a lasting impact on British history, or on the monarchy itself.
Once the table of contents was approved and the tone of the writing adjusted to the voice my editor was seeking, I was given just five months to research and write the manuscript because NAL had timed its release to coincide with Showtime’s second season of The Tudors. To date, it was the most challenging task of my life, but also one of the most rewarding because I discovered things about myself as well as about the subjects I profiled, some of whom I thought I knew pretty well until I really began to delve into their lives, and some of whom I got to know well for the first time.
Here’s where the challenge came in. I’m neither an historian nor an academic, and had to rely on secondary sources to write Royal Affairs. When even renowned scholars widely disagreed on their analysis of a given situation, or even on a point of fact, I had to make a decision as to who (if either) source was correct. Occasionally, in order to arrive at my conclusions, I utilized my background as an actress, psychoanalyzing the players to some extent, given what I had learned of their personal histories.
I dedicated the book to my oh-so-patient husband Scott, for putting up with my spending the first half-year of our marriage writing a book on adultery. It was the least I could do!
Ruled England: 1509-1547
and Mary Boleyn 1499-154
The French monarch François I called her his “hackney,” explaining that he loved to ride her. An Italian visitor to François’s court thought her “una grandissima ribald et infame sopre tutte” (a great prostitute and more infamous than all of them). She is probably best remembered as the older sister of Anne Boleyn. What seems clear is that this daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard knew how to have fun in bed.
Mary Boleyn possessed the blond, blue-eyed, curvy beauty that was the era’s belle idéale. In 1514, she was a member of the French court in the household of the queen, Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor. But after Mary’s husband, King Louis XII, died on New Year’s Day in 1515, Mary Boleyn remained at the French court, where she became a lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Claude, the wife of Louis’s son François.
Evidently, Mary Boleyn also became the paramour of the new king, François I. But after François tired of Mary, she consoled herself in the arms of enough of his courtiers to create a scandal. In 1519, at the age of twenty, Mary was ignominiously dismissed from Queen Claude’s service and packed back to England, much to the embarrassment and disgrace of her family.
But the Boleyns were a powerful family, so Mary quickly secured a place as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine, the unofficial but de facto usual incubator for a royal mistress. Sure enough, soon after Bessie Blount delivered Henry’s son in 1519, the regal eye began to rove, alighting before long on the new flavor in his wife’s retinue.
His affair with Mary Boleyn was reputedly short but intense. And in a situation similar to Bessie Blount’s, Henry saw to it that Mary made a financially brilliant marriage. So, on February 4, 1520, at the Chapel Royal in Greenwich, Mary Boleyn wed William Carey, one of Henry’s favorite Gentlemen of the Bedchamber. His Majesty himself attended the wedding, bestowing an offering of six shillings, eightpence in the chapel. However, some believe that Mary was still Henry’s mistress at the time she was wed to William Carey.
In any case, Henry was so immensely grateful for the gift of Mary’s favors, he enriched her father as well as her new husband. Sir Thomas Boleyn was made Viscount Rochford, and William Carey’s coffers were vastly enlarged.
In 1525, Mary gave birth to a son, who she named Henry. The king never claimed paternity, and Mary never pressed the point, so the boy was likely her husband’s. But Mary’s motherhood had the effect of dampening Henry’s lust, just as it had more or less killed his ardor for Bessie Blount soon after she gave birth.
Yet there was another reason Mary was supplanted: Henry had fallen madly in lust with her younger sister, Anne.
Mary wasn’t too upset about it. She devoted herself to her husband and their two children. But in 1528, after the thirty-two-year-old William Carey died during the outbreak of the sweating sickness, Mary found herself buried under a mound of debts. Petitions to her family were fruitless. Requests to Henry fell on deaf ears as well. Only Anne, who at the time of William’s death was the king’s inamorata, managed to procure something for her sister-an annual pension of £100 (nearly $72,000 today), and an elaborately wrought golden cup.
In 1534, Mary secretly married William Stafford, a commoner without rank of any kind. She bore him two children. For wedding a man so far beneath her station, the Boleyns disowned her for good, but Mary emphatically averred, “For well I might a’ had a greater man of birth, but I assure you I could never a’ had one that loved me so well. I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen in Christendom,” a rather pointed swipe at her sister, as well as a triumphant declaration of True Love. But the jibe struck too close to Anne’s bones, and Anne, now queen, declared that Mary and her husband would never again be received at court.
Her ostracism was probably a blessing; Mary was well rid of the vipers’ nest of the Tudor court. She rusticated with her small family at Rochford in Essex while Anne and their brother George tasted the full measure of Henry’s rough justice. Mary did not visit her siblings as they waited in the Tower for the executioner’s blade to end their lives. Perhaps she was cannier than she’d been credited; she deliberately remained as far from the madness as possible, the better to avoid getting swept into the bloody dustbin of her family’s history.
Mary died at home on July 19, 1543.
Her son, Henry Carey, was eventually made a Knight of the Garter by Elizabeth I. Mary’s daughter Catherine became a maid of honor to both Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard. One of Catherine Carey’s daughters, Lettice Knollys, was Queen Elizabeth’s bosom companion, lady-in-waiting-and later, her rival and enemy, after she married Robert Dudley, the great love of Elizabeth’s life.
Mary Boleyn’s twentieth-century descendants include Winston Churchill; Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the mother of Elizabeth II); Diana, Princess of Wales; and Sarah Ferguson.