Okay, I know it's hardly more than a jumped up bodice ripper, but I have a special affection for Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. She has single-handedly rescued Mary Boleyn from obscurity and made 16th century England accessible.
For those few who haven't already read it, The Other Boleyn Girl takes the (amazingly overlooked) fact that Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne Boleyn, was Henry VIII's mistress, and possibly had two children with him before her sister became his favorite. Its an obscure and nifty parallel to his own situation--Henry divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, claiming that their marriage was illegitimate from the start, because she had been married to his brother. (Which is true--at about age 15, she was married to Arthur Tudor for about 15 months.) Because he was able to scare up a Biblical injunction against marrying his brother's wife, he used it as an explanation for why he had no son as heir and as the basis for marrying Anne Boleyn. He did have to conveniently "forget" his previous relationship with Mary Boleyn--there is also a similar injunction against marrying sisters, or something.
Anyway, I have become semi-obsessed with Tudor history and the family lines particularly as a result of this book (and the sequel--The Boleyn Inheritance). It turns out that two of Queen Elizabeth's greatest favorites--Robert Dudley and Robert Devereaux--were more or less family members. Elizabeth and Dudley met in the Tower during Mary's reign, and many speculate were lovers up until the death of his first wife, Amy Robsart. When Elizabeth refused to marry him (truth? speculation? who knows?), he married Mary Boleyn's granddaughter--Lettice Knollys. Lettice's son--Dudley's stepson--was Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, who is also suspected of being Elizabeth's lover. He was certainly her cousin, a generation or two removed!
I won't even begin to go into the way all this history played out at Hampton Court Palace, which was one of my very very favorite sites we visited when we went to England. Suffice it to say that Philippa Gregory and her sexy view of history has ignited a real interest in the times.
That interest is bound to get greater with the release of The Other Boleyn Girl movie in February. Starring Scarlett Johannson as Mary Boleyn, and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, it will cause history buffs the world over to re-examine Tudor history in light of the important issue raised: how could Henry leave Scarlett Johannson for Natalie Portman? It brings the eternal "Ginger or Mary Ann?" question to a new generation.
And with no further ado, I bring you the trailer for The Other Boleyn Girl. It looks gorgeous. You know I'm totally going to see it the very first weekend it is out.