The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir
|The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: The usual quality output from Alison Weir - lively, accessible, intelligent and interesting. Note this book covers only a very short period, covering Anne Boleyn's arrest, trial and execution.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: October 2009|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
Wot? More Tudors? Sorry, yes. Come on, be honest: you love 'em, I love 'em, we all love 'em.
My favourite writer of popular history is adding to the market writing for a third time about possibly history's most dramatic rise and fall - that of Anne Boleyn, second of Henry VIII's six wives. The book covers only a very short period, covering her arrest, trial and execution. She had been the scandal of Europe, this woman; had captured a king, unseated a queen, and promoted a new religion. Her fall couldn't have been swifter, harder or more ruthless and her little neck was severed on a scaffold at the Tower of London.
Anne Boleyn was the catalyst for the English Reformation. She was the mother of England's greatest queen. Her trial was a sensation. And yet, primary sources are sparse - too many people had an interest in burying the dramatic events and moving on - Henry's quest for an heir, the reformers' quest for a new church, the Catholics' need for scapegoat. Weir sifts thought what there is, and through the views of historians through the ages, and constructs a remarkably robust assessment of these momentous events.
Somewhere towards the end of the book, she says Such was [Anne Boleyn's] infamy that her name had all but been erased from history, and it might have languished in obscurity had it not been for the fact that her daughter Elizabeth I became Queen of England in 1558. And I think she's hit the nail on the head. English royal history is full of all sorts of controversy, violence and outrage, but few stories are as clear in the national imagination as Anne Boleyn's. Her contemporaries were keen to expunge as much detail as possible for all sorts of reasons, but posterity doesn't give a fig for extant primary sources. The mother of our greatest queen died bloodily for a crime she almost certainly did not commit. And that was enough to seal her place in history.
As ever, Weir is lively, accessible, intelligent and interesting. She's confident of her own interpretations and her tone is always clear and incisive. She's clearly enthusiastic about this book - my press sheet has a list of quite bullish claims about Cromwell's motives, Anne's accommodation in the Tower, her innocence, the summoning of the executioner - and as far as I can tell, she makes good on every single one of them.
I am, I admit, an Alison Weir fangirl. I love her books - and Tudor history - and so am perhaps not the most objective of reviewers here, but this is a truly fascinating book that never sacrifices scholarship for interest. Highly recommended.
My thanks to the good people at Jonathan Cape for sending the book.
The bookshelves are filled with interesting Tudor stories. We've recently enjoyed Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman, about Anne Boleyn's fiery daughter. Another of Henry VIII's three children to ascend the throne is the subject of the lively Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore. If you like reading about infamous women from history, you'll like another book by Weir about Katherine Swynford. We can also recommend The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn by Josephine Wilkinson. Those who'd rather read fiction shouldn't miss the sublime Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
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