The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn by Josephine Wilkinson

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The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn by Josephine Wilkinson

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: This is in effect a biography of Anne Boleyn, but with primary emphasis on her suitors prior to becoming Queen, and a look at what became of them after her execution.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1848684300

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Before her marriage to King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn had already been courted by three suitors, any of whom might have become her husband - and possibly saved her from her eventual end on the scaffold. The first was her Irish cousin James Butler, later Earl of Ormond, whom she was at one time intended to marry in order to settle a family dispute over the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond. After their marriage negotiations came to an end in the face of legal obstacles, she became betrothed to Henry Percy, heir to the Duke of Northumberland. With a little help from the scheming Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke, who had little time for his son, insisted that any idea of marriage between them should be dismissed forthwith. Soon after this the poet Thomas Wyatt became enamoured of her, but by this time there was fierce competition from his sovereign, and her destiny was sealed.

As we know, her tenure as Queen was destined to be brief. By the beginning of 1533 she was expecting the King's child, the future Queen Elizabeth. Her marriage to him and the birth of the infant followed in quick succession. With three years, to quote a sorrowful Archbishop Cranmer, the woman who had been a Queen of England on earth had become a Queen in heaven.

Ironically the Earl of Northumberland, who might have become her father-in-law, was one of those who was obliged to take part in the show trial staged to find her guilty, although the verdict had already been decided in advance. Despite the antipathy between him and his heir, the elder man was so distressed at being made to sit in judgment that 'his strength finally failed him' and he had to be taken from court.

The final chapters examine the men who had been accused of committing adultery with her, and what eventually happened to each of the men who might have become her husband.

Wilkinson has looked at the second of Henry's Queens in an interesting way, and thrown light on some of the personalities who were very much part of her early life. She does however, perhaps inadvertently, highlight one of the grave problems in writing biography about people from such an early part of history. There are inevitably large gaps in our knowledge, and sometimes the narrative has to rest on supposition. In discussing Anne's sojourn in France and the Low Countries, where she was allegedly sent to remove her from the home environment for a while because she had reputedly 'sinned with her father's butler and then with his chaplain' at the age of fifteen (a rumour hotly denied as empty tittle-tattle by most historians and biographers), Wilkinson admits that 'so much of her life at this stage is undocumented'. This is not the only place where hard fact is lacking and there is a certain amount of qualifying descriptions with 'probably' and 'maybe'.

I found the rather speedy jump from the reference to the birth of Elizabeth and Anne's arrival in the Tower of London a little abrupt. Nevertheless I found this an interesting account which shed a slightly different light on Tudor royal history. It is a relatively slim volume, but the author has done the right thing in giving us a relatively concise account of her subject, rather than pad the story out with pages and pages on life at court and social history - a temptation which I suspect many another author might have yielded to in the interests of ending up with a more solid-looking tome. Reference must also be made to an enterprising 32-plate selection, most of which are in colour.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like to read a biography of King Henry's last wife, Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter, or of Anne's daughter, Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman.

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