The Burton Review Rating:
“Nearly five hundred years after her violent death, Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII, remains one of the world’s most fascinating, controversial, and tragic heroines. Now acclaimed historian and bestselling author Alison Weir has drawn on myriad sources from the Tudor era to give us the first book that examines, in unprecedented depth, the gripping, dark, and chilling story of Anne Boleyn’s final days.
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.
Richly researched and utterly captivating, The Lady in the Tower presents the full array of evidence of Anne Boleyn’s guilt—or innocence. Only in Alison Weir’s capable hands can readers learn the truth about the fate of one of the most influential and important women in English history.”
Although perhaps anti-climatic with the multitude of biographies and Tudor histories, this newest work by historian Alison Weir provides Anne Boleyn enthusiasts with so many detailed accounts of the last four months of Anne’s life that there is little left wanting. It is extensive with the recounting of the events that led to Anne’s arrest, and Weir leaves no stone unturned in her endeavor to relay details from the myriad of sources. Weir uses many sources to quote from, examines, explains, and then succinctly affirms or refutes each fact, and leaves nothing left to our imaginations. I would see this book as a spider web that examines all the related threads formed from conjecture, from various opinions to recorded fact, and Weir weaves all this detail into a reliable work that skillfully observes all facets of the fall of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn herself has been a sort of enigma for some; there have been many unanswered questions due to the multiple contradicting storytellers of her day and later. Weir attempts to examine all angles and then gives her opinion and why she thinks the certain way about something.
In those tyrannical days of Henry VIII, advisers, friends and bishops would not make their opinions known on most topics until they knew “which way the wind blew”; they dared not risk Henry VIII’s displeasure. The same was true during the arresting process of the accused at this trial of Anne Boleyn. The book focuses on 1536, it encompasses the major events and common views that brought Anne and Henry to their current relationship, with the politics and religious views of the time being spelled out. It details the factions of the times, and who were Pro-Boleyn before Anne’s fall, and who were always anti-Boleyn and sought for the downfall of this upstart family.
Some interesting facts that Weir touched upon were that Anne felt that Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries had gone too far, and that Anne and Henry differed in their opinions about how far the reformation should go. Anne was not as zealous as Henry was, and did not condone the stripping of all of the funds that the Church had once relied on. I also found interesting that there were mentions of three ladies who were the ones to initially stir up the trouble with the accusations of adultery on Anne’s part. There were many more courtiers who were involved in the setting of the snare, moreso than I had once believed. I was also intrigued as to the Catholic traditions that Anne observed before her death.
The threat of regicide, and plotting to take Henry’s life, was actually the coup d’etat that sealed Anne’s fate. Once Cromwell had cast doubt on Anne’s character due to the infidelities he accused her of, and then the horrid accusation of incest, the figurative nail in Anne’s coffin was actually the idea that Anne had plotted with her lovers that she would marry one of them after Henry had died. This is what scared mad Henry the most, because perhaps he WAS bewitched when he fell in love with Anne and felt forced to break with the Roman Church.. perhaps she had sinister tendencies and wished to see Henry dead as well! And obviously, this was all too convenient for Henry to deny in the first place, as he had fallen in love with Jane Seymour months before the trial, and was eager for this way out.
With Anne gone, Henry was free to pursue marital bliss with Jane Seymour and beget the treasured son. I also found it interesting the way that Jane Seymour had conveniently made herself available when Henry tired of Anne, and makes me suspect the innocent Plain Jane characterization. It seems the affair was going on for quite awhile before Anne’s downfall. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened to Jane herself, if she had lived through the dangers of childbirth. Jane had already been chided by Henry to not be meddling in state affairs.. as Anne had also done..
How much of the infidelity accusations Henry truly believed, could not be known, but the fact that Thomas Cromwell had everything neatly tidied up to rid the court of Anne and some of his own meddlesome courtiers makes Cromwell seem like quite the evil person. Quite interesting is the fact that the poet Wyatt and another courtier were accused and arrested as well. Weir details out the methodical process of Cromwell and his friends to ensure the accused (the ones they wanted to be rid of) were found guilty, and each step made my blood boil as I learned how despicable Cromwell really was. I found morbid redemption in knowing that Cromwell would himself wind up with his boiled head on a pike in London at the bequest of Henry just a few years later. This is not to say that I formed this opinion via Weir’s words; she was actually not as judgemental towards Cromwell as I am. She states that he was merely trying to save his own neck, knowing that Henry wanted a way out of the failing marriage, and he is the one who orchestrated it “for the good of the realm” using as many puppets as he could possible find.
In my recent review of “Elizabeth’s Women” by Tracy Borman (which I also enjoyed), I mentioned how I was surprised at the mention of a son to George Boleyn, Anne’s brother. At The Maiden’s Court I mentioned this ‘fact’ as well and felt that it was not possible that George and Lady Jane Rochford had a son. Weir also mentions the son of George Boleyn here, also named George who later becomes the Dean of Lichfield in Elizabethan times, but explains that he is most likely an illegitimate son. I had researched online that this George was given the dean post in 1576, (40 years after the death of the elder George), offering perhaps that this George in question was offspring of a Boleyn relation, of which there were many. There were many more interesting tidbits in Weir’s work, especially pertaining the backgrounds of Smeaton, Norris, Rochford, and Brereton.
Another interesting fact was that Henry Percy, Anne’s very own former betrothed, had reported to Cromwell in April of 1536 that he didn’t like the fact that the ‘lowly’ musician Mark Smeaton was able to afford horses and costumes etc. He hinted to Cromwell that he must have received some sort of reward from the Queen, and even said that he saw Smeaton leaving the Queen’s apartment. Of course Cromwell’s eyes must have gleamed at this offering of information! Yet, had Percy done this out of jealousy? It seems that is the romantic view, where the probably most likely view is that Percy did not like the Queen very much at all, and Weir goes into this further.
I would hesitate to call this a biography of Anne Boleyn, as it is much more encompassing as to be a portrait of the tumultuous times that caused Anne’s disgrace. I enjoyed the surprising facts that I had not known before, and I think that anyone who is interested in the politics that brought Anne’s reign to an end should read this. I was also disheartened to learn that there are very few accurate likenesses of her due to the fact that her memory was effectively banished from England and destroyed pretty much immediately. But it made me happy to learn that for at least the last forty years, a group of trustees has ordered for a bunch of roses to be placed at her tomb on the anniversary of her death. (Online it states that this has been since the 1850’s).
This book is a treasure trove of encyclopedia-like facts regarding Anne and her contemporaries, but those who enjoy the drama of Anne’s demise may feel a bit over loaded with the many names, dates and facts, who said what and when. Yet, it is these minute details that Weir divulges which make this a wonderful read for the Tudor fanatic due to the unveiling of lesser-known ideas. Although in most passages it reads well and is not difficult to follow, there is so much information that it seems easier to digest in slow spurts. This is not a book to read at the doctor’s office or with toddlers demanding attention. Weir does not attempt to force her opinion on her readers, she lays it all out for us to digest and appreciate its worth; and then she simply states what she has come to believe to be the most logical explanation for the events in question. This is a vast work of intricacies of politics and factions and how they all came together to bring about the death of Henry VIII’s second wife.
Since this book is full of details… facts..(I need another word for details today), this is not Light Reading. Yes, despite my overall euphoria over this read, there were a couple of days there I could not get in ten pages at a time. It was loaded with itsy bitsy teeny facts that weren’t making their way into comprehension. (*True story- I momentarily closed my eyes and briefly fell asleep while on lunch, reading the book, and awoke with such a start that my freshly brewed cup of tea went flying through the air and made quite a clatter and a mess. That was within that couldn’t-get-in-ten-pages-period.) The multiple versions of each and every event started to grate on my nerves as well. We would sit through a page worth of a ‘chronicle’ and then Weir would smartly tell us.. haha.. the buffoon.. that could not be true (not exactly in those words, hence the adjective ‘smartly’). Obviously she was trying to prove the point how easily the facts got distorted, therefore people grew to believe wrong accounts and form misguided opinions; these same opinions that formed History. And every now and then I got perturbed at the redundancy of certain phrases, such as apocryphal. I had to look it up. Another word I had to look up was buggery. EWWWW. And I don’t like reading books that pose questions. “Just how honorable were Henry’s intentions?” etc. I would like to read the book, not have a back and forth conversation. But then I bucked up and read on, and the last chapters of the book had me riveted. I was then disappointed that I finished it. Vicious cycle of Reading a Good Book. And I wouldn’t mind having that conversation now.
My other gripe? Having merely the Advance Reading Copy, and not the final version. I am missing the photos and the all-important index. I would definitely love to have the final copy so that I could go back and forth with the index, which is a weird habit of mine when I just feel the need to absorb facts. But I did have the Select Bibliography, which is a book collector’s dream
my husband’s nightmare!! And I would love to add this latest wealth of Weir knowledge to my special favorite Tudor bookcase, which is where its rightful place would be.