There never seems to be a lack of interest in England's Tudor Kings and Queens. Every year there's fresh stack of books released about them in fact and fiction, and the recent years have proved to be no different. One such book was Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, about the second wife of the much-married Henry VIII.
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Instead of providing the detailed cradle-to-grave accounting that most historians use, Weir focused her attention on the last few weeks of Anne's life. More importantly, she carefully untangles the reasons why and how Anne fell, and reveals a plot certain to horrify anyone who has read their share of thrillers.
On 2 May 1536, Queen Anne was arrested, and brought to the Tower of London. For some time now she had been very well aware that her husband, King Henry VIII, had been rather distant, and after another miscarriage of a male heir, had stopped visiting her chamber. While in public, he was courteous, in private, it was a different matter altogether. And worst of all, he was paying particular attention to one of Anne's ladies, Jane Seymour.
It was a tactic that Anne knew all too well, for she had played the same game with the king when he was married to Katherine of Aragon, a queen who had failed to provide him with a male child. She had promised, flirted, delayed and teased her way to the queen consort's crown -- and had lasted seven long years at it -- and now it was being turned neatly on her. Worst still, the King's crony, a lawyer named Thomas Cromwell, had been picked to discover a way to remove Anne from Henry's life.
And it seems, that Cromwell had a few little matters of his own to take care of as well, involving some of Anne's own family and members of the King's inner circle.
Carefully, Cromwell set up the arrangements, found convenient witnesses, and manipulated the evidence so that it was not just Anne caught in a cast net of treason and adultery, but five other men -- all of whom would take that walk to the executioner's scaffold...
I have to say, Ms. Weir has taken an unusual and audacious angle to tell her story. By telling the story of not just Anne, but that of the men condemned with her, a new image is formed -- that of men and a woman framed for the gain of not just Henry VIII, but also Cromwell. It's a chilling commentary on realpolitik in the Tudor period, and damning revelation about Henry -- a man who chose to believe what others told him, and lacked the initiative to dig for the truth behind evidence.
But the person at the centre of this is Anne herself. We get to see her dealings with the men and women of the court, and especially her attendants, and her behaviour both while imprisoned and during her trial. Throughout it all, she maintained her dignity and her innocence, even though she must have realized close to the end that there was not going to be any sort of reprieve. Most of all, her worry for her daughter Elizabeth -- who would later become Elizabeth I -- is most evident, and her appeal to her chaplain, Matthew Parker, is heartbreaking to read. Later on in life, he would recount that scene to the young queen, and it must have made a lasting impression on her.
One interesting addition to the story is a chapter devoted to all of the various legends and ghost sightings about Anne Boleyn, some rather gruesome, others just plain silly. But it was something new about the queen that I had not read before, and so I found it rather amusing. In addition to that, there are extensive notes, a very well rounded bibliography, and index.
One problem that I had with this -- and it is only because I was reading on my Nook -- were the pictures. Many are repeats from other books about Anne, but there was also some art from later periods, mostly fanciful Victorian representations, along with a few interesting bits and pieces.
While this is not a book that I would suggest to those who have not read about Anne Boleyn before, I can recommend it to those who have a good grounding in English history of the Tudor period. There are some new facts and angles, as well as the personal stories of several of the unknowns in the story.
All in all, this gets a four star rating from me. It's not perfect, but it did provide several evenings worth of good reading, and some new ideas to ponder.
Other books by Alison Weir:
Henry VIII: The King & His Court
Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
2010; Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing Group
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