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Philippa Gregory

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Fact v. Fiction in The Other Boleyn Girl film
Tuesday, March 18, 2008  5:19:00 AM

by Philippa Gregory

An essay on the historica facts and fiction interweaved through The Other Boleyn Girl film

The Other Boleyn Girl – History and Fiction

by Philippa Gregory



I am often asked about the relationship between my historical research and the fiction of my novels, and with the continuing success of my novel The Other Boleyn Girl and the film which is based on the novel, more and more people are curious as to where fact ends and fiction and film-making begins.

My Tudor novels are always driven by the history and the research determines the story. I do not invent events to change the story. I think anyone who knows the history of the period would see that the bare history alone gives an amazing and exciting story. The fiction serves to fill in the gaps in the historical record – for instance Mary’s courtship with Stafford where we know the result: the secret marriage based on a passionate love described by Mary herself in a letter) – but we don’t know the circumstances. And of course, since I am writing in first person, I cannot offer an account which allows for contradictory records. If I were writing a history book, I would have the luxury of saying: on the one hand… on the other hand…but perhaps…. As a writer of fiction I have to take the most likely version and incorporate it into the body of the narrative with an air of conviction.  

In order to help readers who want to know more about the research, or read the history for them, I provide an author’s note in the book and also a recommended reading list. This is not to destroy the illusion of the novel, nor to claim that the book is a scholarly history, it is to give the readers assistance with their own reading, and I know that many readers appreciate this. In addition, I often write about my historical research and writing process and this is published in newspaper articles and posted on my website

With the Tudor novels, I am experimenting with a new way of approaching historical fiction which has become identified as my style. It is based on rigorous historical research which forms the basis of the story, and then written in the first person, often in present tense, in an attempt to take the reader into the real world of the Tudor court in an immediate and engaging way. Readers understand that the books are fiction: we cannot know what someone, dead five centuries ago, was thinking and feeling. But this style is a doorway to the imagined consciousness of the period and has been a joy for me, and for many millions of readers.

Here are some of the more controversial issues in the history itself and in the novel that people are buzzing about. You can view the full essay with details about these issues on my website,

  1. Dates of birth: Was Anne Boleyn older or younger than Mary? How old was Anne when she married King Henry VIII? How old was Mary when she was his lover?
  2. Boleyn Whores: Were the Boleyn sisters really unchaste while at the French court, whores before returning to England? Or were the rumors the result of male “locker room” boasting and biased historical chroniclers?
  3. Charges Against Anne Boleyn: Was Anne really guilty of treason and incest (to name only a few)?
  4. Mary Boleyn’s Children: Were Mary’s children actually King Henry VIII’s offspring? Did he acknowledge them and claim them as his heirs?


 More News about Philippa Gregory
Out in stores September 16th! - 8/19/2008 2:42:00 PM

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