Book Review: “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn” by Natalie Grueninger

61817724The world of someone close to a king, especially someone close to King Henry VIII, was full of hazards and great triumphs. All the glist and glamor of the Tudor court could not save them from the rage of the King. This could apply to anyone who fell during the reign of this infamous King, but none more so than his second wife and queen, Anne Boleyn. Much has been written about Anne Boleyn and her dramatic fall from grace, specifically the final month of her life, but what was she doing in her last year alive? Natalie Grueninger hopes to answer this question in her latest book, “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always learning new facts about influential Tudors, like Anne Boleyn, so when I heard about this book, I knew it would be on my to-be-read pile.

We begin our journey to Anne’s demise with the court’s changes in 1535. There is still tons of support for Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and her daughter Mary, even with the new Act of Respecting the Oath to the Succession, which proclaimed Princess Elizabeth as King Henry VIII’s heir, not Mary. Anne interacts with ambassadors from foreign lands, like Charles de Solier from France and Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador.

My favorite part of this book is how much care Grueinger took in telling the story of Anne Boleyn’s final progress with Henry VIII. I have never read an account of this progress in the details Grueinger provided, including where she stayed and who served her at different royal houses. We also see how she dealt with the divide between Catholics and Protestants and how she relaxed in her downtime.

Grueninger examines Anne’s fall from grace and how it took place, starting with Henry’s dramatic fall from his horse and Anne’s tragic miscarriage of a son that would have secured her place on the throne. Here, we see the death of Katherine of Aragon and the rise of Jane Seymour. Emotions are running high, and rumors are flying all over Europe, so Grueninger takes the time to bust a few of these myths. Finally, we look at the show trials and the executions that sealed the fate of Anne Boleyn and the men associated with her.

Natalie Grueninger’s passion for telling the true story of Anne Boleyn is evident on every page of this book with the amount of research she poured into this subject. This book presents Anne Boleyn in a new sympathetic light, which any Tudor fan would appreciate. If you want a beautiful nonfiction book that examines the tragic fall of Anne Boleyn, I highly recommend you read “The Final Year of Anne Boleyn” by Natalie Grueninger.

Television Series Review: “Becoming Elizabeth”

MV5BZjYxNWQxMzctZjA2MC00ZTkxLTg4MTQtMDE3M2E3YTE5MzFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM1MTE1NDMx._V1_FMjpg_UX1000_The year is 1547, and the infamous King Henry VIII is dead. The throne is left to his young son Edward VI while his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth wait in the wing. Without their powerful father to look after their well-being, his children must navigate the tumultuous Tudor court with powerful men who desire to use them as mere pawns in their game to influence how England is ruled. Throw in some romantic drama and the ever-changing religious landscape with the clash between Protestants and Catholics. This is the premise of the latest Tudor drama on Starz, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which follows the titular Princess Elizabeth Tudor during the reign of the third Tudor king.

Before we begin, I want to provide a little context before I dive into this review. As many of you know, I am incredibly picky about Tudor dramas; shocker, I know. I will watch trailers for new dramas, but after Reign (which, after watching the show for five minutes, I had to turn it off because of the costume design), I have been highly wary about committing to sitting down each week to watch a new show about historical figures I know pretty well.

The story of Princess Elizabeth is what got me interested in studying history after reading The Royal Diaries book series, so when I heard about this series, I wanted to know more. When I first saw the trailer for “Becoming Elizabeth, ” I decided to take the plunge and watch the first episode, which turned into watching every episode every Sunday.

Now let’s get to my thoughts about the series “Becoming Elizabeth.” I will be discussing the plot points of this series, so if you have not watched this show before reading this review, I would highly recommend you do.

There are a few aspects that I want to touch on before we take a deeper dive into this series, which have to do with the settings, costumes, music, and other details that will delight Tudor nerds. The location of “Becoming Elizabeth” is spot on, immersing the audience in Tudor England, which includes using candles for lighting instead of torches (which was a thrilling addition). I congratulate the costume and make-up crew from this drama as they are the best replications of Tudor gowns and outfits I have ever seen in a Tudor drama. They used the Tudor portraits of the time to replicate specific dresses and jewelry used in the show (including the famous “B” necklace most associated with Anne Boleyn) was a lovely and thoughtful touch. The only exception was the lead women’s riding gowns in this series. I did not like that they rode astride and had pants under their skirts. Let them ride side saddle and wear the same dresses they do at court but in those brown and green tones.

The little touches like having servants sleeping in the rooms of the royalty/ nobility and the masques to show significant events were viewed at court were nice touches for Tudor nerds. I also appreciated the small nods in the dialogue to elements that those who know Tudor history would understand, like the Queen’s jewels and the foreshadowing of Edward VI’s dog. Finally, the music in this show was decent, but some soundtracks felt a tad too modern and took away from the whole escapism element you want in a historical drama.

Now, let’s get into the most critical points of this show: the acting, the actors, and the plot points.

becoming-elizabeth-tudors-1655065913770The cast of “Becoming Elizabeth” is a plethora of talented actors and actresses who remarkably bring the treacherous Tudor court to life. The titular role of Princess Elizabeth was played by Alicia von Rittberg, who portrays the young woman’s naivety and eventual strength in love and court politics. Oliver Zetterstrom is the young King Edward VI who struggles to find his identity as a reformer king while navigating the drama of his court and Lord Protectors. Finally, we have Romola Garai, who revolutionized how Princess Mary Tudor was portrayed on television. Garai gives the audience a more sympathetic and vibrant woman trying to hold her family together while defiantly standing up for her Catholic faith in a Protestant court.

A story like this would not be complete without a group of star-studded actors and actresses to help the trio of Tudor heirs shine. We have the vivacious Catherine Parr, played by Jessica Rayne, and her fourth husband, the sly Thomas Seymour, played by Tom Cullen, Thomas’ brother, and Edward VI’s first Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is played by John Heffernan. We also have the Grey family, led by Henry Grey, played by Leo Bill, and the shy and studious Lady Jane Grey, played by Bella Ramsey. Finally, we have the Dudley family with the ambitious John Dudley, played by Jamie Parker, and the youthful Robert Dudley, played by Jamie Blackley. Along with the prominent families, we have Kat Ashley, the loyal servant to Princess Elizabeth, played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and the Spanish soldier Pedro who helps guide Princess Mary, played by Ekow Quartey. The interactions between this cast are so believable and passionately performed that it feels like you have been transported into the 16th century in the reign of King Edward VI.

We begin this series with the death of King Henry VIII. Prince Edward is now King Edward VI, and he and his sisters must learn to live without their infamous father. Mary goes to her own home while Elizabeth joins the household of Catherine Parr and her new husband (the man she truly loves), Thomas Seymour. While Mary and Edward VI argue vehemently over the matters of religion, Catholics vs. Protestants, Elizabeth navigates the unusual attention that Thomas Seymour is giving the young princess as she wonders if this is true love or something more sinister.

In addition to Princess Elizabeth, Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour welcome the daughter of Henry Grey, Lady Jane Grey, to their household. Elizabeth and Jane do not seem to get along very well, and it feels like the only ones that Elizabeth can turn to when times get rough are Kat Ashley and the caring Robert Dudley. Mary may seem alone, but Pedro, a man who was supposed to spy on the Catholic princess, becomes her friend and ally. Unfortunately for Edward, he is stuck between factions of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley as they fight to influence the young king and the direction he wants to take his kingdom. It was a time of rebellions, betrayals, executions, and moments behind closed doors that would forever shape these three Tudor heirs, especially Elizabeth Tudor.

ELI1_060521_0739_a_1900x1500While most of the storylines are engaging, and I found them rather enjoyable, one got under my skin: the intimate relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Now I know it was the central storyline for the first half of this show, but it made my skin crawl. I know that Tom Cullen has discussed this issue with fans, and I think his portrayal of Thomas is spectacular. My problem is with Princess Elizabeth and how she goes along with the relationship to the point of no return. I feel like Princess Elizabeth was much stronger than how she was portrayed during those moments in the show, and she would have turned Thomas down, knowing the false allegations against her mother, Anne Boleyn. I do not think she slept with Thomas Seymour, but I do believe there were elements of flirting between the two, which could have been seen as them having an intimate relationship.

The creator of “Becoming Elizabeth,” Anya Reiss, has done a magnificent job telling the Tudor dynasty’s tale after Henry VIII’s death. The cast and crew are spectacular, the gowns and costumes are gorgeous, and there are so many Easter eggs that Tudor nerds will geek over. There will be moments that will make you laugh, cry, want to throw a book at your TV or laptop, and breathe a sigh of relief. I may not have seen many Tudor dramas in the past, but this is far and away one of my favorite shows about the 16th century. I hope we will get a second season of “Becoming Elizabeth,”, especially with how they closed the finale.

What are your opinions about “Becoming Elizabeth,” and who is your favorite character from this Tudor drama?

Sources for Images and Cast Information:

https://www.glamour.com/story/becoming-elizabeth-on-starz-everything-we-know-about-the-british-period-drama

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11444366/

Book Review: “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Boleyn Soberton coverThe story of Anne Boleyn and her rise and fall has been told throughout the centuries in numerous ways. With tales of this memorable monarch came rumors of what happened inside her court and the women who served her during her reign. We tend to look at her life through the lens of the men who interacted with Anne Boleyn at court, but what about the women who knew her? Stories of ladies-in-waiting selling the queen out and secret romances ran rampant throughout the centuries, but how much truth is in these tales? Sylvia Barbara Soberton explores these questions in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I have found Soberton’s previous books fascinating, and when I heard about this book focusing on the women who served Anne Boleyn, it was compelling.

Soberton begins her book by exploring Anne Boleyn’s origins and services as a lady in waiting and a maid of honor for several prominent women across Europe like Mary Tudor and Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. We also look at the relationships between Anne and her female family members, including her sister Mary Boleyn and her Howard relatives.

The bulk of this book focused on Anne Boleyn when she caught the attention of King Henry VIII when she was a lady-in-waiting for Katherine of Aragon. It was fascinating to see how Anne Boleyn interacted with her female friends during this transition time and how they became ladies-in-waiting when she became queen. These friends and ladies-in-waiting included Elizabeth Holland, Bridget Wiltshire, Margery Horsman, Jane Ashley, Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, and Jane Seymour. We all know this worked out as it resulted in the Great Matter, the ultimate divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.

These ladies-in-waiting were separated by rank and would help Anne navigate the tumultuous court of Henry VIII until the bitter end. The women around Anne saw her become queen, how she dealt with Henry’s other mistresses, including Bessie Blount and Jane Seymour, the birth of Princess Elizabeth, and how Anne tried to build a relationship with Princess Mary. They also witnessed the queen interacting with influential men in court, including the king and Thomas Cromwell. These men used some of Anne’s closest confidants to bring her ultimate demise through a sham trial and multiple executions.

Soberton does an excellent job telling the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of those who knew her the best, the women who served the queen. Many of these tales were unfamiliar to me, and I think the Tudor community will find them rather illuminating. If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn and her inner circle during her reign, I highly recommend you read “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton.