I have to admit I have long wondered about the mother of my dearest Queen Anne Boleyn, the marvelously elusive, Elizabeth Boleyn, sister of The Duke of Norfolk, wife of Thomas Boleyn, mother to Mary, Anne and George and grandmother of Elizabeth I. I was beyond thrilled to see that Brandy Purdy had taken on the exploration of this pivotal and often overlooked Tudor woman. I am amazed how many novels have written Elizabeth Boleyn off completely, replacing her with a step mother, fondly referred to by one as Lady Bo, rather than dive into the deep end, as Purdy has done, and truly explored the maternal nature and character of the mother of one of England's most famous, and sadly most notorious, queens.
Brandy Purdy presents the character of Elizabeth Boleyn in her latest novel, The Boleyn Bride, as a complex woman. A volatile mix of pride and beauty living a life of negligent self-indulgence, disappointment and ultimately bitter loss and self-blame. We meet Elizabeth at the end of her life, full of bitter remorse for her own lost life, once so full of pride and promise, as she mourns the loss of two children and the hope of ever being a mother to the third. She is a woman full of loathing and regret for what might have been and embitterment for not only herself but even more so for the father of her children, Thomas Boleyn, the man she was forced to marry and never liked, much less loved.
As an avid reader of historical fiction and during my graduate studies in history I have always been confounded by the marriage of Elizabeth, beloved daughter of The Duke of Norfolk, to Thomas Boleyn. One would expect the daughter of one of England's foremost peers to marry well, perhaps royally well, and yet here we have Elizabeth, a beautiful and vivacious young woman, living at the Tudor court as maid of honor to the Queen, wedded to Thomas Boleyn. At first glance one assumes it must have been one of the rare love matches of the time, but something about that just never sat well with me. That being said, I can neither comprehend why Norfolk was persuaded, indebted to or coerced into the arrangement of the marriage. Perhaps the reason is lost to time, but it certainly provides fodder for the novelist!
Brandy Purdy gives us Elizabeth forced to marry Thomas Bullen, her spite filled name nickname for her unwanted, unloved and ultimately despised spouse. Thomas goes so far as to encourage his wife to become mistress to King Henry, but Elizabeth denies him, out of devotion for Queen Catherine and a touch of spite. Rather, Purdy gives us the character of Remi Jouet, as the man who becomes the true lifelong love for Elizabeth. Remi Jouet is a man of whom I have never heard mentioned nor of whom I could find any evidence, but Purdy does note in Postscript, that Remi Jouet, was indeed a doll maker, a skilled artisan, whose few remaining creations can be found today in museums and private collections. I was completely perplexed by the relationship of Elizabeth and Remi and as I read truly thought he was a fictional insertion by Purdy until reading the postscript. Amazing, truly and to Purdy I raise a toast for her amazingly complex and skillfully crafted novel giving historical fiction readers a glimpse into the life of Elizabeth, mother and grandmother of Queens.