Alison Weir has an impressive body of work as a historical writer – both non-fiction and fiction – but I was amazed that she was willing to start a huge new series entitled ‘Six Tudor Queens’.
So far she has published Katharine of Aragon: The True Queen and has followed this up with the queen I am most fascinated by – Anne Boleyn. True, Alison has written extensively on the Tudor period and possibly having previously written The Six Wives of Henry VIII had all the groundwork and research under her belt for such a massive endeavour …
My fascination for the 2nd consort of Henry VIII began as a child when I used to visit Hever Castle, the family home of the Boleyn family. Privately owned, but open to the public, there were huge grounds for kids to run themselves into exhaustion, Italian gardens, and an impressive lake. More importantly there was a small-scale castle with drawbridge over the moat that housed giant koi carp. Inside the castle there was abundant family history with an Armoury and severe looking family portraits – an ideal way to absorb an episode of English Tudor history!
There has been much information amassed about Henry’s reign and numerous mentions of Hever, but I knew very little about the formative years of Anne which is where this book – although fictional – is truly amazing. The early relationship that Anne had with her brothers and sister; the education received at the Courts of Burgundy and France, including an early introduction to feminist writers, were the details required to make Anne a much more sympathetic character than previously portrayed.
Through the narrative we begin to understand Anne’s motivations for her behaviour at the English Court, especially concerning her indifference to the increasingly besotted Henry VIII. Political and religious alliances through marriage was something the Monarch had to consider in case it weakened present and future Tudor rule and Anne’s romantic union with Henry Percy was quickly thwarted. Anne’s outrage at this ‘slight’ made her behaviour especially cool when dealing with the King – he was not used to this in women and it had the effect of increasing his romantic ardour.
Anne was quick to realise the power this infatuation gave her. She walked the precarious path to marriage and a Crown, quickly followed by a rapid descent once Henry VIII grew bored with her. Anne, for all her feminist intellect and political astuteness did not make the connection that she was still only female in a male-dominated society — and therefore her only requirement as Queen was to provide England with a male heir. That, coupled with her misguided belief that she was ‘equal’ to Henry, proved to be her undoing.
The personal panic I felt whilst reading this – a young woman who had seriously miscalculated her ability to keep her husband enthralled, and the lengths that Henry was prepared to go to ensure a son would succeed to the English Throne again illustrates the power of the writing.
The fact that Alison Weir takes us ‘along for the ride’ is positive testament to her ability as a writer. The reader cannot know with certainty what went on, but there is enough fact in this fictional tale to make it totally believable.
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession
by Alison Weir
Published by Hachette New Zealand
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