'Great And Infamous' Mary: The Other 'Boleyn' Girl The story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, is well-known; but her sister, Mary, has largely been a footnote in history. Alison Weir tells the other Boleyn girl's story in Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings.
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'Great And Infamous' Mary: The Other 'Boleyn' Girl

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'Great And Infamous' Mary: The Other 'Boleyn' Girl

'Great And Infamous' Mary: The Other 'Boleyn' Girl

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Everybody knows the dramatic and tragic story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, beheaded on charges of treason and adultery, but who left a daughter who became Queen Elizabeth.

For the better part of 500 years, Anne's sister Mary was relegated to the footnotes. But recent books, TV shows and movies moved the other Boleyn girl into the limelight. No one knows more about this era than historian and bestselling author Alison Weir. She's now written the first full biography of Mary Boleyn, where she argues that a lot of historians have gotten her story wrong, including herself.

If you have questions about Mary Boleyn and the Tudor dynasty, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, why your BlackBerry is not a Strawberry, the art of choosing a brand name. But first, Alison Weir joins us from the BBC studios in central London. Her latest book is "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings." And it's nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

ALISON WEIR: Hello Neal, happy to be back.

CONAN: Thank you. if we know one thing about Mary Boleyn, it's that she slept with Henry VIII before her sister did, but mistress of kings, plural?

WEIR: Yes, there is evidence to show that, very briefly, she was the mistress of Henry's rival, Francis I of France, six or seven years beforehand.

CONAN: And this is pretty interesting.

WEIR: It is.

CONAN: It is the episode in her life that gets her the sobriquet of the great and infamous whore.

WEIR: Oh, well, that's a red herring because that was something that was said of her more than 20 years later, and it comes from the most unreliable source, who's been proved unreliable in other situations. And it's just not true because if Mary had had a reputation, if she'd been the great and infamous whore, the most infamous of them all, we would know about it. There would have been other reports of it. But there's nothing, nothing at all.

CONAN: And it is, as you point out, it would have been a tough bar to get over. There were a lot of infamous whores in the court of the king of France.

WEIR: There were indeed, and it's a story that's certainly been sexed up because Francis is supposed to have said that she was most infamous of them all. She's a young girl. What could she have done to shock such a promiscuous person as the king of France?

CONAN: It is interesting, and you say a lot of this is - well, obviously hearsay, a lot of this is accounts 20 years afterwards. There are so many words in your books, includes the words speculate, probably, you know, we can only surmise. After 500 years, the record's pretty thin.

WEIR: They are indeed. I mean, there are more for Mary Boleyn than there are for, say, medieval queens. But still there are huge gaps in her life that we cannot hope to fill. And many aspects of her life are very controversial, and they're endlessly debated in books and on the Internet. And so I felt I had to look at all these controversial issues and lay out the evidence and come to some conclusion. But sometimes, that's just not possible.

CONAN: Well, one conclusion you come to, and this is one of those long-running debates, that Mary was the older of the two.

WEIR: Yes, that's a debate that's been going on for centuries. But the weight of the evidence is in favor of her being the older sister. She was found a husband first. That more or less speaks for itself. But the evidence for her date of birth and seniority are pretty compelling.

CONAN: And then the time they spend in France, evidently lots of - your book, as you say, in the introduction, is as much historiography - in other words, how historians have gotten this right or wrong - as it is history.

WEIR: It has to be that way because I've never, ever written about a subject that's been so romanticized and mythologized as Mary Boleyn. And one has to look to see how these myths evolved and where they came from, and that it's very material how people have viewed Mary. And we've had - I mean, we've seen in the last decade or so the very latest misrepresentation of Mary through films such as "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Tudors."

CONAN: Those, however, are presented as historical fiction; they're not pretending to be history.

WEIR: A lot of people think they're fact, I assure you.


CONAN: Well, as the author of some historical fiction yourself, there is a fine line here.

WEIR: There is, yeah, a very fine line. Sometimes it's broader than one would think. I think that if - when I write historical novels, I keep to the facts where they exist. If I take a liberty, or I change the story or add things that aren't - are fictional, I say so in an author's note at the end of the book, because I know many people like their history through historical novels or films.

CONAN: It tends to be more entertaining than when you have to read the footnotes.

WEIR: That's true indeed, and there's always a debate about footnotes. For years, I wasn't allowed to include them because it would spoil the narrative. But then I was criticized by reviewers for not including them. And you can't please all the people all of the time. And if you want to, you know, please an academic readership, as well as a popular one, you've got to have some kind of footnotes for credibility.

CONAN: As you go through the other histories, though, some of these sources were opposed to the Boleyns for religious and/or political reasons. So they were willing to indulge in exaggeration, if not outright slander.

WEIR: Absolutely yes, and it's knowing the sources, that's the key to understanding the history.

CONAN: For example, papists, those working for the pope, would not have been fond of the Boleyn family.

WEIR: Certainly not, especially in 1536, when this scurrilous remark was made about Mary, because that's just after Henry VIII's break with Rome and the elevation of Anne Boleyn to queenship. And Anne Boleyn is identified with the Lutheran faith, even though she was not a Lutheran.

CONAN: So all of this has to be weighed in with the politics of the time and the politics that involve her father, who was an important and influential man at court.

WEIR: Absolutely, and a very ambitious man. And it's said that he would only ever act out of self-interest, and nowhere was this more apparent than when he showed himself willing - listen to this - to participate in the destruction of two of his children to save his own neck and his career. And he did it.

CONAN: Because it was not only Anne Boleyn who was executed, it was her brother George, as well.

WEIR: Absolutely, yes. And Mary at that time, of course, had been banished from court for making a disadvantageous second marriage and was probably very glad to be well away from it.

CONAN: And probably, you say, well away from it in Calais, at that time an English possession, now, of course, French.

WEIR: That's correct because her husband was a soldier of the Calais garrison, and she almost certainly went to live with him there. We have evidence for him being in Calais for the next five years.

CONAN: You repeatedly say all the evidence we have suggests that George and Anne had little time for their sister Mary. They did not get along. Do we have any evidence that she - her reaction to the horrible fates that her siblings suffered?

WEIR: None at all, and that's tragic. This is the kind of gap that really, you know, it makes you eat your heart out for some better source material.


CONAN: It certainly is a story. Come on, give me a quote here.


WEIR: Well, she - I mean, we got a clue to the relationship of the sisters in a letter that Mary wrote after her banishment. It was Anne who had her banished from court. Anne was shocked and furious. And Mary wrote to Thomas Cromwell. It was a letter supposedly begging to be restored to favor.

But she said: I had rather bake my bread with my husband than be the greatest queen christened.

CONAN: That's interesting, and you mention Thomas Cromwell, portrayed usually as the villain in this whole affair.

WEIR: Well, one can only garner what the source material suggests. But Cromwell was a very affable, congenial man. His portraits might not suggest that, but he was, and he was the way through to the king's favor or disfavor. And he could exercise patronage.

He was very powerful and influential and Mary thought - must obviously have thought that by appealing to him, she had a chance of success. But actually, her letter rather sticks the knife into her sister.

CONAN: Thomas Cromwell, of course not to be confused with Oliver many years later.


CONAN: Very different and very...

WEIR: A descendent of his sister.

CONAN: Okay. But Thomas Cromwell is the man, you say, probably responsible for, well, the made-up charges that nailed Anne.

WEIR: Yes, I would - I think so.

CONAN: And what evidence do you present?

WEIR: A numerous amount. This is - we're talking about another book her, "The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn." And there are numerous sources. If you go - and I can just say that if you go through all the evidence that we have today that survives about Anne Boleyn's fate, and you make a list of compelling evidence for her guilt and compelling evidence for her innocence, you've got three flimsy pieces of evidence for her guilt and 15 very compelling ones for her innocence. And they're all listed in the book.

CONAN: We're talking with Alison Weir. Her new book is "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings." If you'd like to talk with her about it, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. This email from Rebecca in Bloomington, Indiana: I've always wondered why Mary's male child with Henry was not made a legitimate heir after Edward died. Wouldn't he have had the same rights of Mary, who would have been bastardized by the divorce?

WEIR: Certainly not. Henry was - first of all, he was never married to Mary Boleyn. But secondly, I have uncovered almost compelling evidence that Henry Carey was the son of Mary Boleyn by William Carey because the grants made to his father were granted in tail male, meaning that those lands could only be inherited by the lawfully begotten son of his body.

CONAN: And that was her husband, so this is - you're suggesting that in fact the story that she had a son by Henry VIII is incorrect.

WEIR: I am. I'm almost certain it is. But I do believe that Mary's daughter, the first child she bore during her marriage to William Carey, was probably fathered by Henry.

CONAN: And oddly enough, well, given the - in other words the same - a cousin to Queen Elizabeth.

WEIR: Yes absolutely, and they were cousins. Both of them were cousins to Queen Elizabeth. But it's possible that Catherine Carey was Elizabeth's half-sister.

CONAN: Half-sister.

WEIR: I came to this project thinking that if Henry had had other illegitimate children, he would have acknowledged them, but there were very good reasons for him not to do so, the first being there was a legal presumption that any children borne by a married were her husband's. It was very convenient for Henry - avoided scandal.

CONAN: There's a remark, I forget who says it, you quote in the book that Henry remembered some things when they were convenient and forgot them when they were inconvenient.

WEIR: Oh yes of course. Henry was very good at things like that.

CONAN: He was also - well, kept himself busy. He was perhaps not as flamboyant as the king of France, his rival, but, well, busy.

WEIR: Yes, he did. Yes, he had a lot of extramarital affairs and flings, but he was a very discreet man, a very prudish man, and it's been because of that we've only got fragmentary evidence about his affairs and a lot of later claims about supposed illegitimate children. And a lot of these have no roots in fact.

CONAN: So it is hard to parse out what's going on because, well, given the times, you had to be discreet.

WEIR: You did, but there's enough evidence to show that Henry certainly was playing around outside of marriage on quite a few occasions.

CONAN: I think we can all accept that. I think there's too much...

WEIR: No, but we've got evidence for it.

CONAN: But how is it that he went from the older sister to the younger?

WEIR: Well, his affair with Mary probably ended in 1523, when she became pregnant with his child, when intercourse would have become taboo. And then there's a gap. There's a gap of a couple of years. His affair with Henry - with Anne began around, probably around 1525 because in one of his first love letters, dated in 1527, he'd said he'd been above a year struck by the dart of love.

CONAN: Above a year struck by the - well, he could write a little bit. He had some other skills, too, yes. We're talking with Alison Weir about the other Boleyn girl. Her book is titled "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings." It's the first full biography of Anne Boleyn's sister. If you have questions about her and the Tudor dynasty, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Interest in King Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty made a comeback in recent years. Showtime aired the popular series "The Tudors." "The Other Boleyn Girl" became a bestselling novel and a movie. Now historian Alison Weir focuses attention on the real Mary Boleyn in her new book "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings."

You can read more about Blickling Hall, where Mary Boleyn probably spent her early childhood, and see the 10 ways Boleyn has been spelled in an excerpt from Alison Weir's book at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you'd like to join the conversation about Mary Boleyn and the Tudor dynasty, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on that aforementioned website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Let's start first with Charlie(ph), and Charlie's with us from San Francisco.

CHARLIE: Yes, good afternoon. I'm in San Francisco. It's now afternoon here. But I'm calling - actually, these individuals, Mary and her daughter Catherine Carey, were my ancestors.

WEIR: That's exciting.

CHARLIE: Fourteen generations back. But I was going to ask a question. I understand that Catherine Carey, when she was five, was left with Anne in the Tower overnight to comfort Anne and distract her from the morning to come. And I also wondered whether it was common for the king to essentially have sex with every woman in the court.

WEIR: Shall I start with the first point?

CONAN: Please.

WEIR: The story about Catherine Carey serving - attending on her aunt, Anne Boleyn, in the Tower, is actually Victorian in origin, and there is no contemporary evidence for it. I myself (unintelligible) in my "Six Wives of Henry VIII," which will be revised in a little while. And there is absolutely no evidence for that.

As far as the king having sex with every woman at the court, no way, very, very unlikely. It's just not the way the Tudor court operated.

CHARLIE: Very good to know.

WEIR: Yes, it's reassuring.

CONAN: And how are you related, Charlie?


CONAN: How are you?

CHARLIE: Through the Delaware line. They were the governors of Delaware and Maryland - I'm sorry, Virginia.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

CHARLIE: Very much...

CONAN: Let's see if we go next to - this is Shanna(ph), Shanna with us from Norman in Oklahoma.

SHANNA: Hello, thank you so much for taking my call. I've been such a fan of Alison's for so long. I just wanted to tell you that my sister gave me a copy of "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" many years ago, and it just opened up a whole new world of history to me.

WEIR: That's lovely.

SHANNA: I've read all of your books. I cannot wait to read the one about Mary, and I - this summer I went to England and specifically visited Hampton Court and just kept saying to my husband: I remember reading this in this book, and I remember reading about this in the book about Elizabeth. And look at all the paintings. I've seen those in all of Alison Weir's books. And he just kept looking at me like I was crazy.

But I just, just am such a - so thankful the way that you write these books. They're so interesting to read, and I've gotten other people that I know who aren't even real history buffs to read them because they're written so well, and they're so informative without just kind of getting bogged down in, you know, in too much information.

But I have to say, when I was at Hampton Court, and I looked up at the Great Hall and saw Anne Boleyn's initials up in the corner, that hadn't been able to be able to be, you know, taken away after she died, I just looked at my husband, I was like I have waited so long to see these initials since I read about them in the book about Henry's wives. And it just was amazing. So I just wanted to say I so appreciate your work.

WEIR: Thank you so much.

SHANNA: And I can't wait to read the new book.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call.

WEIR: I'm blushing here.


SHANNA: Thanks so much. Have a wonderful afternoon.

CONAN: And if she'd had a more efficient penknife, maybe we would actually know how she spelled her last name.


WEIR: Yes, we know how Anne spelled it but not Mary.

CONAN: But not Mary, and the only letters that survive of hers she signed but with her married name, yes, Carey, and we know how that's spelled, badly as it turns out.

WEIR: Yes.

CONAN: Any case, see if we go next - I wanted to ask you, you mentioned mistakes made by other historians. Which did you commit?

WEIR: I committed the kind of - I just mentioned one of them, that Catherine Carey attended on Anne in the Tower. I also went along with the story about the great and infamous whore. It wasn't until I actually came to look at all that evidence in depth for this biography that I realized I was barking up the wrong tree.

CONAN: And it is simply a matter of going back to the sources and investigating them?

WEIR: Yes, it is, and of course when you're writing a book on the six wives of Henry VIII, and you've done some peripheral research on Mary Boleyn, you don't have the time to delve really deeply into the history of all the characters who people the book.

So when you come to focus on one exclusively, and you really do deep research, then different things begin to emerge, and it throws a whole new complexion on it.

CONAN: Here's an email from Laura(ph) in Wisconsin, in Platteville, who also likes your books: Most people think of Anne Boleyn as the stronger and more successful of the two Boleyn sisters because she became queen, gained power and prestige.

But Mary, on the other hand, was strong and successful because she defied her family to marry William Stafford, a mere knight. She followed her own mind and heart, which was against the grain of women's roles back then. In your opinion, who was the stronger and more successful?

WEIR: I do think that Anne was the stronger, but even her strength in the end couldn't save her, once the plot to ruin her was launched. Mary certainly had a certain strength, probably - certain determination in marrying for love. She'd seen an example of that earlier in her life when Henry VIII's own sister had married for love and defied him.

And she probably saw that, you know, a woman could do that and weather the storm. But it was - her husband wasn't even a knight. He was plain mister, and it was foolish in the extreme. It doesn't show a lot of - well, it doesn't show a lot of good sense. But actually, it was - she died happily married and probably much more successful.

CONAN: And he did become a knight after some exploits.

WEIR: Oh, he did after her death, yes.

CONAN: Let's go next to Holly(ph), and Holly's with us from Stockton, California.

HOLLY: Hi, thank you for taking my call. Alison, as I've heard many people say, I am a huge fan of all of your books.

WEIR: Thank you.

HOLLY: And I picked up one of your books actually not knowing anything about you, and I have become completely enthralled, and there isn't a book or a comment or an article that you put out that I don't read. So my question is: You have made me desire a Ph.D. in English history around that time.

However, I know that I can't. So do you have a recommendation for one or two primary sources where I could look further into any of the topics that you've covered? I've gone back as far as the cousins' wars, to the Boleyn family, to the Howard family. I'd just like to get to more primary sources. And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: Holly, thanks. Go ahead.

WEIR: You can go online to the Institute of Historical Research, britishhistory.ac.uk. And you can look at the letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII and all the diplomatic calendars, numerous sources there.

CONAN: Let me ask you a question that some might pose. These are affairs of King Henry VIII, and as you say, the king of France as well. This was a time in English history when, well, King Henry was building the navy that would establish British dominance for the next several hundred years. This was a time when a merchant class was arising that would make England so prosperous and again be able to withstand the challenges from Spain that would come later in that same century.

This was a place of cultural ferment that would give rise soon to Shakespeare and others like him. Why is this story, after 500 years, important?

WEIR: I think it's because it's connected with Anne Boleyn. I would say Anne Boleyn is probably one of the sexiest subjects in English history, I mean in commercial terms and in terms of public interest. It's a very dramatic tale. Henry's is a very dramatic tale. Here is a king with six wives, two of them he beheads. You couldn't make it up.

This is a magnificent age. It's an age in which the private lives of monarchs are well-documented for the first time. And you've got one of the king's mistresses, and the story of an eternal triangle is always interesting.

CONAN: Let's go next to Courtney(ph), Courtney with us from Mayfield in Kentucky.

COURTNEY: Hi, how are you all?

CONAN: Good, thanks.


COURTNEY: I have a real quick question, and I'll take my answer off the air. I love your work. I just want to say that. You bring history to life, and it's wonderful. But my question is: What I've read is that Anne Boleyn actually had a pre-contract with Henry Percy and that it was, you know, forbidden. She wasn't allowed to marry him. And it made her very bitter and hateful and one of the things that spurred her on to her quest for power. Is this true?

WEIR: He denied it. And it probably wasn't the grounds on which Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled. It was probably because of the consanguinity created by his relationship with Mary that was the grounds for the annulment. So no, I don't think a pre-contract existed.


CONAN: Oh, thanks very much, but just to clarify, it would have been incest for Henry to marry Anne, the sister of his mistress, under the rules of the time. All right, so that's why the marriage was annulled and after so little time. In any case, let's go next to Roger(ph), Roger with us from Cast Town in Ohio.

ROGER: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Roger, you're on the air.

ROGER: Hello, my masters, good evening.


ROGER: Mrs. Weir, was Anne Boleyn a popular queen?

WEIR: No, very unpopular, mostly hated.

ROGER: My history teacher has been vindicated, because Anne - I'm back in my 15th year right now. Boy, did we like to say the Boleyn whore. Oh, it felt so good to say the Boleyn whore.

CONAN: In high school, yes.

ROGER: Yes. My teacher used that to show how Henry turned the public against Anne Boleyn. And he...

WEIR: The...

ROGER: ...said to us that she was portrayed and what have you, broadsided, as the Boleyn whore.

CONAN: Roger, let's let the historian answer.

WEIR: I don't think Henry did it to start with, the public had already turned against her. Most of them hated her. The state papers, the (unintelligible) papers are littered with cases of people saying seditious words about her and calling her the Boleyn whore amongst other things. And when she was - when she fell after her execution, most people had little trouble in believing the charges. It wasn't until Queen Elizabeth's reign that anybody began to speak up for Anne Boleyn.

ROGER: Wow. Boy, oh, boy, what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice...

CONAN: Yes, indeed, Roger.

WEIR: Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Which raises a question: How much contact after the death of her mother did young Elizabeth have with her aunt?

WEIR: Well, as far as the sources are concerned, as far as we know, nothing at all. But Elizabeth did say in adult life that she remembered, you know, liking William Stafford when she was a child at the court. And - well, that was probably in the 1540s, when he was serving her father as a gentleman-pensioner. And it's likely that - I think, given her closeness to her Carey cousins that she might have had some relationship with her Aunt Mary as well during these years.

CONAN: And you say that she enjoyed a happy marriage, her second marriage. What kind of life did she lead?

WEIR: Well, they weren't very rich until - she was a soldier's wife, basically, for the first few years, five years. And William still rose through the ranks, and he was in Anne - he attended on Anne of Cleves when she came to (unintelligible) on route to England. They came back to England in her train. And that time, Mary father's and grandmother died, leaving her with half the Boleyn wealth. But it took her three years to actually secure possession of it. She had to fight the crown for it. And the grant came too late for her. She died four days later.

CONAN: Four days after acquiring great wealth through inheritance and has not enjoyed it.

WEIR: Yes, and Rochford Hall, a famous house in Essex, yes.

CONAN: We're talking with Alison Weir, the best-selling author and historian. Her latest book is the first full biography called "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Kate's(ph) on the line. Kate with us from Portola Valley in California. Kate, are you there?

KATE: Yes I am.

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead please.

KATE: Oh, I'd like to know if there has been any research of a biological sort, so looking at the genetics at the descendants of Anne and Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII to see who may have been doing what with whom...

WEIR: No, there hasn't.

KATE: ...or any of the other players in there.

WEIR: We'd need DNA, wouldn't we, from the principal players here and we don't have it.

CONAN: Do we know where they are buried in case...

WEIR: Oh, yes we do. But the queen, of course, has to give permission for exhumation, and the queen is very against this.

KATE: Interesting.

WEIR: It is. And it's the same arguments have been bounced about the Princes in the Tower.

KATE: (Unintelligible) have enough documented descendants, you might be able to find some biological peculiarities or genetic peculiarities that then by inference you could work back toward what the source might have been.

WEIR: You could, absolutely, but of course, Henry VIII left no legitimate children, I mean, no legitimate descendants. And you'd have to open royal tombs to get the DNA.

CONAN: And just again to clarify for those who might be confused, his daughter, Elizabeth, by the then-queen was bastardized in the divorce, so she was not a legitimate heir. Kate, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we go next to - this is Connor, Connor with us from Appleton in Wisconsin.

CONNOR: Hi, thanks for taking my call. I'll start by admitting almost complete naivete on this - on these subjects. But I wanted to build off of the host's comment earlier on the - sort of the greater historical significance in relation to, I guess, England or Henry specifically. Were those deaths really political maneuvering on his part throughout all of these romantic scandals? Was there an end for him in any way? Or was this just him sort of not being able to control himself and getting into a bunch of trouble and trying to (unintelligible) his way out of it?

WEIR: I think it's Henry getting into a bunch of trouble - almost getting into a bunch of trouble, or laying up trouble in store for the future. The only mistress - and I'm using the word in its broadest sense - that Henry became a political animal was Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn was a little fling on the side.

CONNOR: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Connor, thanks very much for the call. But it does raise the question: He was interested in perpetuating the dynasty. He needed a male heir.

WEIR: He did. Yes, that's right. And that - hence the marriages, the annulments, divorces, beheadings. He desperately did need a male heir, and it was a very sincere concern of his.

CONAN: And also the maneuverings - we keep seeing the king of France, his rival, for among other things, the attentions of Mary Boleyn. But there are alliances made, alliances broken, the various powers of Europe jockeying at this time to see who would achieve dominance. And again, England had a very powerful position on the continent in Europe and would soon thereafter have a bigger one.

WEIR: It would, indeed. And, of course, Henry - so don't forget you got France and Spain, and Spain is part of The Holy Roman Empire at that time, they're great political giants in Christendom in Western Europe. And England, small, little England, is keeping a balance of power between them.

CONAN: And so this is all of enormous importance because - well, again, the daughter of Anne Boleyn goes on to become the greatest queen in English history.

WEIR: Absolutely, and repels the mighty Spanish Armada, which is the greatest threat, I mean, one of the greatest threats England has ever faced, along with Napoleon and the Second World War.

CONAN: Alison Weir, thank you very much for your time. And we wish you the best of luck with your new book.

WEIR: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Alison Weir, her new book is "Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings." She joined from BBC studios in London. Coming up, the art and science of naming products. If you've ever dubbed a product or a service or a store, call us and tell us how you came up with the name. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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