Let me begin by acknowledging that I have read MANY historical novels over the decades and, like many others, one era I return to again and again is England’s King Henry VIII and his six wives. I am particularly partial to Anne Boleyn – who may be the smartest of Henry’s pack. Certainly she is the most elusive. Awarded four stars in Goodreads.
Known primarily as a prolific Tudor historian, Author Alison Weir is now using her broad research background as a foundation for a series of novels about each of Henry VIII’s wives. I read the first about Katherine of Aragon. This is number two. I will no doubt read them all.
It’s apparent as you read that Weir’s historical knowledge makes this, in some ways, a richer experience that traditional historical fiction. Because there is SO much detail. So much, however, that there were a few times I felt it got a bit dry for fiction. But overall, I appreciated what the detail added to the reality of the story.
This is not an Anne Boleyn as depicted in most other novels I’ve read. She is not the calculating siren who sets her cap for the monarch from day one. Neither is she the mastermind behind the break between Henry and the Catholic Church. Nor is this an Anne that ever truly falls in love with the King. (Weir, believe it or not, gives Ann a secret hankering, for Henry Norris.)
After years serving royalty in foreign courts (in sequence: Margaret of Austria, Queen Mary (Tudor) of France, Queen Claude of France, and Marguerite de Valois), Weir’s Anne develops a love of power. When she returns to serve as lady in waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon, it’s clear King Henry is the best way to acquire it. As Anne rises, however, circumstances (and lots of time waiting for his divorce) transform her from the confident, stylish, sophisticated woman-of-the-world that captivated Henry — into an insecure and fearful shrew – unable to keep her powerful emotions in check.
I’m not sure how much I buy Weir’s interpretation, aspects of which she discusses in the Afterword. In particular, Anne’s decidedly feminist streak seems to me to be inappropriate to this time period. Though, it did keep me reading. Mostly I think because I found myself invested in this different take on Anne’s thoughts and motivations. And Weir DOES succeed in crafting a deep psychological core for Anne.
In the end, it all adds to the mystery of who Anne Boleyn really was. Which, of course, none of us will never know. If you, like me, are a die-hard Tudor buff – this one is a must.
More about Alison Weir.
You may be interested in my reviews of other books in Weir’s series of novels about the wives of King Henry VIII: