Thursday, July 29, 2010

REVIEW: The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

From Amazon: "The tempestuous love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn scandalized Christendom and altered forever the religious landscape of England. Anne's ascent from private gentlewoman to queen was astonishing, but equally compelling was her shockingly swift downfall. Charged with high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London in May 1536, Anne met her terrible end all the while protesting her innocence. There remains, however, much mystery surrounding the queen's arrest and the events leading up to it: Were charges against her fabricated because she stood in the way of Henry VIII making a third marriage and siring an heir, or was she the victim of a more complex plot fueled by court politics and deadly rivalry?

The Lady in the Tower examines in engrossing detail the motives and intrigues of those who helped to seal the queen's fate. Weir unravels the tragic tale of Anne's fall, from her miscarriage of the son who would have saved her to the horrors of her incarceration and that final, dramatic scene on the scaffold. What emerges is an extraordinary portrayal of a woman of great courage whose enemies were bent on utterly destroying her, and who was tested to the extreme by the terrible plight in which she found herself."

Much has been written on the tumultuous history of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Weir's novel covers just the last four months of Anne Boleyn's life and seeks to explain the contributing factors to her speedy downfall. You can tell from the first chapter that a lot of research went into this book and you would think that with a women who has been written about so much there would be nothing left to say. Even with the many novels I've read about her, I was still surprised by a few things: that Anne may have been Rh negative which would have caused her not to be able to carry a second pregnancy to term and also the explanation of who is buried at St. Peter ad Vincula along with Anne and how when it was excavated some of the bodies where not where they were originally thought to be. For example, some believe that the body found where Anne is supposed to be buried is Kathryn Howard.

I thought the book was very evenhanded when presenting the evidence. Weir uses letters and accounts from Anne's supporters and detractors although Eustace Chapuys and the Spanish Chronicle were cited more often than others. Some of the more interesting points of the book for me:

  • That Anne was very influential politically and one of the reformation's strongest supporters
  • That Thomas Cromwell was the architect of Anne's downfall because she was his political rival and Henry just went along with it all because he wanted her gone
  • That Jane Seymour felt nothing about the predicament of her former mistress and just patiently bided her time until things were concluded and she could become Queen
  • That given the time frame of the trial and execution, the swordsman from Calais would have to have been summoned before Anne's trial which would mean there is little doubt that the outcome of the trial was decided before it ever began
I had not previously thought of Anne as the political player we see here. Also while I do think Cromwell was instrumental in Anne's demise, I really don't think that Henry was led along like a hapless sheep. I'm more inclined to believe that Henry was directing some of the actions behind the scenes and Cromwell didn't engineer her downfall all on his own. I've never seen Jane Seymour portrayed as being so heartless either.

I'll admit even though history has often portrayed her as a scheming witch I have always had a soft spot for Anne Boleyn. While I don't believe she was completely without fault (her treatment of Princess Mary was deplorable) she certainly didn't deserve her fate.

One thing that irked me about this book though: Weir would mention another author's work as a source but then say that source as not very creditable. Why even mention it at all if she thought the author's work was so far off the mark? Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox comes to mind. Other than that this was a very detailed and compelling look at one of the most fascinating ladies in England's history.

I borrowed this book from the Norton Shores Library

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