Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence

61lJBy4FGrL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, is one of the unique characters of the Tudor era. She was the sister of one of the king’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, which she could have been, but Henry wanted Anne as his queen. Unfortunately, he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is Henry’s divorce to Catherine and his relationship with Anne, the rise and fall, is what many people look at, but there is more to Anne’s story than just her life with Henry. What was Anne’s life really like and what really caused her fall? These are just a few questions that Amy Licence tackles in her latest biography, “Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire.”

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review. I haven’t read many biographies about Anne Boleyn so this was a unique experience.

In her introduction, Amy Licence explains her approach to Anne’s life and why she is such an interesting figure to study:

Anne’s is very much a Tudor story, a narrative that balances on the cusp of old and new, equally informed by both. It has been told many times before, but what this version aims to offer afresh is a sense of continuity with earlier Boleyn generations. She was born into an ambitious dynasty, with each generation taking a step forward in terms of career and martial advancements…. That she was the most successful Boleyn cannot be disentangled from her gender and class. By the definitions of her time, Anne was an overreacher in more than one sense. She was a woman, born to be a wife, but not that of the king. She was an aristocrat, descended from the influential Howards, observing but not trained in the demands of queenship. She transcended boundaries of expected behaviour on both counts, which was both her most remarkable achievement and created her two areas of greatest vulnerability. This account of Anne’s life prioritises her relationship with the defining issues of gender and class, tracing their role in her rise and fall. (Licence, 8).

Licence begins her biography by going back to the origins of the Boleyn family, with Anne’s ancestor, Geoffrey Boleyn. Geoffrey came from very humble beginnings, but he worked hard and rose to become the Lord Mayor of London, as well as a knight. His descendants continued this tradition of working hard, which Licence takes the time to explain thoroughly so that the reader can understand that they were not necessarily overreachers; they were hard workers. This background information is extremely helpful to understand the Boleyn family as a whole.

The main focus of Licence’s book is  Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, her husband. By including the letters between Anne and Henry, the reader can see how the relationship started and how their relationship ended in a dramatic fashion. Henry was the one who really took control of the relationship.  Anne may have learned how to be a strong woman from working in the French court, but she was no match for Henry VIII.

Although there have been many biographies about Anne Boleyn, this one stands out because Anne is seen in more of a sympathetic light. Licence combines a plethora of details with a writing style that is easy to understand to bring Anne out of the dark side of history. I learned so much about a queen I thought I knew.“Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire” by Amy Licence was an absolute delight to read. It is a real page-turner and is a must for anyone who loves to read about the Tudors, the wives of Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard

51a-rKfpABL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The rise and fall of the Boleyns have been something that has fascinated those who study the Tudor dynasty for centuries. We often view these series of events from the immediate Boleyn family, but what might it have been like for someone who was married to a Boleyn, like Jane Parker Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn? Jane is often portrayed in literature as a woman who had a tumultuous marriage who sold out her husband when she was interrogated, someone who helped Katherine Howard with her secret liaisons behind Henry VIII’s back, and a woman who suffered from mental illness while in prison. If you take a look at Jane Boleyn’s life from this lens, she sounds like a troubled woman, but what if there was a different side to her? What if she was a good person who loved her husband and his family? That is the Jane Boleyn that Adrienne Dillard wanted to portray in her latest book, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn”.

Adrienne Dillard explains how she views Jane Boleyn and why she chose to write this particular story:

When the traces of Jane’s humanity are washed away, it’s easy for later generations to demonize her actions. What could have been perfectly innocent behaviour is seen through the prism of her later behaviour and ultimate ending: death as a traitor to the crown. It is my goal in writing this novel to give Jane some of that humanity back. I want to put a face to a name that has been blackened by assumption for the last five centuries. I want to remind people that Jane wasn’t some spectre lurking in the corner, plotting the downfall of others. She was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a loyal servant. She had hopes and dreams. She had flaws and quirks. And to further muddy the waters, we have to consider her mental state. The choices she made may be hard to understand now, but at the moment that she made them, they made sense to her. (Dillard, 350).

Dillard structures her story as a parallel narrative, which is unique and effective when telling Jane’s story as it allows the reader to see the parallels between what happened to the Boleyns during their fall and Jane’s own fall. We are first introduced to Jane as she enters the Tower of London, awaiting her sentence after being involved with Katherine Howard. While Jane is in the Tower, she has flashbacks to her time with Anne and George Boleyn. Jane’s father wanted her to marry well and so he chose George Boleyn as her husband. To say that Jane was reluctant to marry such a man was an understatement, but as their story progressed, George and Jane grew to love each other, even through the countless miscarriages that Jane suffered.

Jane acts as a perfect “fly on the wall” character as she is a servant in the court of many of Henry VIII’s wives. She cares for not only her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, but for Katherine of Aragon and it is rather interesting to read how Jane viewed this complex time in English history known as “The Great Matter”. Another great matter discussed throughout this novel is how religion was changing with new, radical theological ideas. Though we are not sure where Jane exactly stood on these issues, it is interesting to see how she might have responded to them.

Adrienne Dillard brought Jane Boleyn’s story from the shadows and illuminates it. By showing Jane as a loving and caring wife, daughter, servant, and friend, Dillard gives her readers a different perspective towards this captivating woman who suffered from mental illness. I did not know much about Jane’s story before reading this novel, but now I want to know more about her. If you want an engaging and thought-provoking novel about Jane Boleyn and the Boleyns, I highly recommend, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard.

Book Review: “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn” by Lauren Mackay

71viExOsCxLThe age of the Tudors has fascinated historians for centuries. As of recently, there has been a shift in how we view historical figures. Historians have been stripping away the more controversial elements that have been ingrained in how we view historical figures to look for the truth. Historical figures like Anne and Mary Boleyn have been placed under the microscope and have been given a closer look in recent years. But what about the men of Boleyn family, Thomas, and George? What were their lives really like? Did they truly desire power and titles so much that they were willing to do anything to get it? Those are the questions that Lauren Mackay decided to explore in her latest book, “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn.”

Mackay explains her goal for writing this book about Thomas and George Boleyn:

This book attempts to dispel the traditional stereotypes, relying on the textual traces of both Boleyn men, which are dispersed in a wide variety of sources across English and European archives and libraries. I want to present a more complete account of these men- their political and personal trajectories, the evolution of their careers, and what mattered to them. Where judgment can be made it has been done so cautiously. In the absence of any extensive scholarly consideration, they have remained captive to a dated historiography which is a reflection of the frame within which the world continues to view them, and from which this book seeks to unburden them. While this is a biography of two generations of Boleyns, I should note that there is far more evidence on Thomas than George, whose career had barely taken off before he was executed, therefore a great deal of the book naturally follows Thomas’ lengthy career with George brought in as the evidence allows. (Mackay, 5).

In order to understand the Boleyns, Mackay begins her book with a brief history of the Boleyn family and how they were able to come into the service of the English monarchy. It is interesting to read how the Boleyns came from such humble beginnings and their loyalty to the Tudors and the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses. While brief, this part of this book is imperative to understand how loyal and hardworking the Boleyn men were, especially the father Thomas Boleyn.

Both Thomas and George were diplomats and were part of embassies and special envoys in order to establish good relationships with other countries through discussions and treaties. Mackay takes time to explain these political terms for those readers who do not understand how 16th-century politics work. As someone who wanted to know more about the political system of the 16th century, this helped me quite a bit. Thomas earned respect and many of his titles through his own merits, although there are some who believe that he gained some of his titles through his daughters’ affairs with King Henry VIII. We see the rise of the Boleyns as well as the inevitable fall of Anne and George that lead to their executions.

Lauren Mackay gives us a more realistic perspective of Thomas and George Boleyn. They were not men who would do anything for power. Thomas was a man loyal to the crown and his family while George was a young and naive man who was trying to follow in the footsteps of his father. Thomas and George had their names dragged through the mud by people who did not like them. Mackay’s book breathes new life to the legacy of the Boleyns. “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn” by Lauren Mackay is a perfect introduction for anyone who is interested in the inner workings of the English court during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign and a fascinating look into the Boleyns and their legacy.

Book Review: “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir

6282683Anne Boleyn, the  second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. Most of us know her story of how she fell in love with Henry VIII and how their relationship changed England forever as Henry broke off with Rome in order to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Unfortunately, when Anne couldn’t give Henry the son he so desired, their love began to fade. Anne Boleyn’s story ends in tragedy as she was accused of having multiple affairs, plotting the death of Henry VIII, and witchcraft, Anne was found guilty and was killed. Her fall happened in May 1536, a month that changed everything, but how much of these charges are true? Did she indeed have these affairs? Did she plot to kill her husband? What is the truth behind her fall? These are the questions that Alison Weir try to answer in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.”

Alison Weir states that:

In assessing Anne’s character and impact on history, we should ask ourselves how she would be viewed today if she had not perished on the scaffold. Her end was one of the most dramatic and shocking episodes in English history, her last days the best documented period of her life, vividly described in the sources, while the powerful image of her on the scaffold, courageously facing a horrible death, has overlaid all previous conceptions of her. (Weir, 337-338).

Weir begins her book with the May Day joust of 1536, when Henry VIII abruptly left Anne all alone. A few months before, Anne had her last miscarriage, unable to provide Henry the son that he so desired. Henry’s attention began to wander towards Jane Seymour, even though, at this time, he still had feelings for Anne. After Katherine of Aragon’s death, a few weeks before the miscarriage,  Anne’s enemies began to make their moves. Anne had many enemies in court and the entire country was against her in her role in the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon, who was extremely popular.Cromwell, who despised Anne, planned a way to get Anne off the throne with the help of Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England for Charles V.

Cromwell had enlisted the help of Anne’s servants, including her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, to make a tale of scandal. The story goes that Anne had affairs with five men: Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and her brother George Boleyn. Alison Weir explores the validity of the claims of the affairs as well as the details of the trials. Of course, the trials did not go in a way that was what we would now today consider “fair” and the sentence of death was passed on all of the accused. Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her are executed. The only legacy Anne left behind was her daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

I have been a fan of Alison Weir’s for years. I love the amount of details that she puts into her books and how both her fiction and non-fiction books are so easy to read. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” follows this trend. For me, Anne Boleyn has been one of those people in the Tudor time  that really has not interested me. That was until I read this book. The story of her fall is so dramatic and quick that it leaves a lot of intriguing questions about if Anne and the men who fell with her were indeed innocent. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir is such a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn and her fall from grace.