In works of historical fiction fallacies regarding the truth of what actually happened are always plausible. Authors can make their stories more exciting and adventurous by adding events created by their own imagination and are at liberty to do so. Nevertheless, writers should be aware of the possibility that ignorant readers could be misinformed by the faulty information. Philippa Gregory, an English historical novelist, has encountered criticism about the accuracy of her Tudor court novels, especially The Other Boleyn Girl. In response to the criticism, Gregory posted an article on her website relating to facts and fiction and the research she has done regarding the story of the novel and she states that “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” (2). The remaining problem is that Gregory claims to have done the necessary research; however, she still makes mistakes in her novel regarding historical accuracy which were proven erroneous by historians which makes her responsible for giving an inaccurate version of history to her readers.
Gregory states that she has done the necessary research, although she gives support to the charges against Anne Boleyn which were discarded by historians.
Gregory states that “[m]y Tudor novels are always driven by the history and the research determines the story. I do not invent events to change the story” (2) and declares that the story was written on basis of the research she has done in books written by David Starkey, Sally Varlow, Retha M. Warnicke, and Alison Weir. On the other hand, in her novel it is implied that one of the reasons why Anne Boleyn was executed, committing incest with her brother George, was allegedly true, while none of the writers mentioned above supports that accusation. In history, Anne Boleyn was charged for high treason: adultery, incest and plotting to murder the king. Tudor historians David Starkey, writer of Six Wives, the Queens of Henry VIII, and Eric Ives, writer of The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: the Most Happy, believed that the accusations against the queen were false and engineered by Thomas Cromwell. According to Ives “Anne Boleyn had become a major threat to Thomas Cromwell” (page 315) and Cromwell therefore had plotted against her together with the king. According to Alison Weir, Cromwell had fabricated the allegations and got the king’s consent “his desire for vengeance upon Anne, who had promised so much and failed to deliver, accepted the allegations at face value, merely asking Cromwell to find evidence to support them” (309). Observably, Gregory fails to give support to the statements by her consulted writers that the charges against Anne Boleyn were presumably false which presents a distorted account of history to her readers.
In her novel, Gregory makes a needless error about the ages of the Boleyn siblings. Mary Boleyn is the female protagonist of Gregory’s instalment, which is a good choice for Mary Boleyn is relatively unknown in history which means that there is not a lot of information to be found to oppose Gregory’s invention. Naturally, this means that she is at liberty to be creative and romantic; however, she should take into account that while Mary is fairly unknown her sister Anne, queen of England, is not. In Gregory’s novel, Mary Boleyn is portrayed as the younger sister of Anne and George Boleyn and while there is not an abundance of evidence to be found to contradict this, British historian Eric Ives found confirmation. According to Ives, Mary Boleyn was the oldest since “in 1597, her grandson, Lord Hunsdon, petitioned for the Boleyn earldom of Ormonde on the ground that she had been the elder sister” (16). This petition was granted by Elizabeth I and would not have been if Anne had been the oldest for the earldom would have been granted to one of Anne’s grandchildren. Additionally, when both sisters were trained in “France in 1514-15, it was Anne who remained for further training and Mary who was brought back and launched at the English court, a most curious choice if Anne were not the junior” (17). Another confirmation for Mary’s older age is that when following custom it is the eldest who gets married first and in both history and fiction Mary is the first to wed. It is not necessary for Gregory to make Mary the youngest and she would have done a better job at historical accuracy if Mary Boleyn would have been the eldest.
When writing a novel about historical events, even in fiction, the writer should keep in mind that what he or she writes could be regarded by ignorant readers as genuine. Generally, readers are prone to believe what they read instead of questioning the accuracy of the events illustrated in what they read and therefore the readers gain a misshapen image of times past. Walter Kintsch, writer of a research article on what readers accept as true and the consequence “[w]hat this means psychologically is that a reader believes so strongly in a text interpretation â€¦ [and] if they are held to strongly, counterevidence will be disregarded” (229). In Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, readers are persuaded to accept the charges of Anne Boleyn as true: “she is certainly guilty of seducing the king with bawdy behaviour. She is certainly guilty of threatening the Queen [Katherine of Aragon], the bishop and the cardinal. You cannot defend her, Mary. She is guilty of at least half the charge” (519).
To conclude, in fiction everything is possible and when well-written it is also powerful. It has the power to be persuasive; readers are prone to believe what is written and it is a great achievement for the author. Additionally, when fiction is merely used to fill the gaps it is not a difficulty to maintain what is proven by experts. Gregory turns facts around in order to create a thrilling book though it is not truly necessary for her novel would have been equally entertaining if she would have stayed with the facts. It would not have been a problem for the book if Mary is the oldest instead of the youngest and Gregory could have been more explicit about the authenticity of the allegations against Anne Boleyn. To be fair, fiction is an imaginative creation and it certainly does not have to be based on facts. However, when the author declares to have done historical research it would be favourable if the novelist would maintain the details proven by historians, in order to not only entertain readers with history but to also teach them history.
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