Fiction is fiction, of course, even historical fiction, and can’t be held to the same standards as biography or history. But Phiippa Gregory has said that all her narrative “choices can be defended as a historical probability.” In fact, many of the details, and indeed the whole premise of the book, cannot be defended as anything other than pure imagination:
1. Concocted fictions:
Anne deliberately “steals” Henry from Mary (Henry’s affair with Mary was over before he began to pursue Anne.)
Mary Boleyn has two children by Henry, one of whom is a son (Elizabeth Blount, Henry’s former mistress, had Henry’s son).
Anne forces Mary to give up her son to be raised at court.
Anne says she wants Wolsey dead.
Anne behaves viciously to her sister on many occasions.
Anne induces a miscarriage (third pregnancy) when she thinks the fetus is dead.
Anne has sex with her brother in order to conceive a child.
2. No Evidence or Contrary Evidence:
Intense rivalry between Anne and Mary (no evidence).
Anne had sex with Henry Percy (sex–no evidence. Precontracted, perhaps—though Percy denies it.)
Brother George has an affair with Francis Weston. (Retha Warnicke’s theory of a “homosexual ring” at Henry’s court. Possible, of course, but no evidence.)
Mary was a virgin before her first marriage. (Many reports of her sexual activity in Francis’s court.)
Anne’s mother hides evidence of Anne’s miscarriage (second pregnancy) by burning the miscarried fetus. (It’s possible that Anne hid a miscarriage, but it’s speculation. No evidence at all that her mother burned a fetus.)
Anne gives birth to a “horridly malformed” baby (This is Retha Warnicke’s theory, but there is no evidence for it. In contemporary accounts, the fetus is referred to only as “a shapeless mass”)
3. Added in the Hollywood movie (screenplay by Peter Morgan):
Henry was attracted to Anne first, but got turned off when she humiliated him in riding. (In fact, Henry had a long affair with Mary before he became interested in Anne.)
Anne was exiled to France after marrying Henry Percy (Anne was sent to Austria, and then France, when she was 12, to be educated and “finished”)
Anne orders Henry never to talk to Mary again if he wants to have Anne.
Henry becomes hostile and indifferent to Anne sexually even before the marriage. (Henry pursued Anne for six years before they married—a prolonged courtship missing from the movie—and the evidence suggests that he was in love with Anne for at least a year after the marriage, perhaps longer.
Henry VIII rapes Anne Boleyn.
Mary intercedes on Anne’s behalf and tries to get her pardoned.
Mary Boleyn walks into court and takes Elizabeth at the end.