Book Review – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions by G W Bernard
Posted By Claire on April 28, 2010
There has been lots of controversy over this new Anne Boleyn biography because, unlike other modern historians like Eric Ives, G W Bernard is of the opinion that Anne Boleyn may have been guilty. This theory has had Anne Boleyn fans around the world up in arms but I decided to read Bernard’s book with an open mind and refrain from judging a book by its cover, or rather all of the newspaper articles about it. I was pleasantly surprised and my blood actually did not boil once.
My history teacher used to say that you can argue any point of view in an essay as long as you back it up with evidence and Bernard has made a good use of primary sources in backing up his views.
Here is an overview, rather than a review, of Professor Bernard’s book:-
Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions
List of Illustrations
There are sixteen illustrations in the book, including a photo of Anne’s letter to her father c1513, portraits of Anne Boleyn, Holbein’s “Apollo and the Muses on Parnassus”, one of Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours and the portrait medal of Anne Boleyn.
Bernard explains how he was intrigued by Anne Boleyn and her story and that, as an historian, he wanted to test the things he had been taught and the “powerful images” of Anne that we see on the big screen and in novels. He explains that:-
“My approach is rather to ask questions at every turn, always to show where our information comes from… and to share with you my reasoning, and indeed my speculation, albeit I hope informed speculation, on matters on which the evidence alone is tantalisingly inconclusive or frustratingly absent.”
Chapter 1: “These bloody days have broken my heart” The Fall of Anne Boleyn
In this short introductory chapter, Bernard sets the scene for his book. He writes of the arrests of Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, George Boleyn, William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Richard Page and Anne Boleyn and asks what they did to deserve such treatment. He talks of the allegations against them and the amazement of contemporaries like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, how present day historians believe that the allegations against Anne and the men are “too preposterous for words” and how it is generally believed that Anne and her alleged lovers were framed, “but maybe that is too hasty a response. Was there rather more substance to the charges for which Anne and her friends paid with their lives” – that is what Bernard explores in the rest of the book.
Chapter 2: Who was Anne Boleyn?
Here, Bernard looks at Anne Boleyn’s background, the Boleyn family’s history, the possible dates of birth of the Boleyn children, Anne’s early life, her time at Margaret of Austria’s court, her time in France with Queen Claude, her links with Marguerite of Angoulême, her return to England, the proposed marriage between Anne and James Butler, Anne’s relationship with Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt’s love for her.
Chapter 3: “Whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss” Henry VIII’s Infatuation with Anne
Bernard starts this chapter by exploring what Anne was like – her appearance, her French manner etc – and then he moves on to look at how Henry and Anne became involved and what their relationship was like.
There is an excellent section in this chapter on Henry’s love letters to Anne and this is where Bernard poses an interesting question – was it Henry who held back from sexual relations? Bernard puts forward the idea that Henry did not want Anne to become pregnant while he was seeking an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon because it would then be “obvious that his reason for seeking annulment of his marriage was his passion for Anne, not scruples of conscience over the validity of his marriage to Catherine” and “his moral case for that annulment would be undermined.” Also, once Henry had chosen Anne to be his future queen, it was essential for any child resulting from their union to be legitimate.
Chapter 4: “The King’s Great Matter” Henry’s Divorce and Anne
In this chapter, Bernard argues that apart from being the other woman Anne Boleyn had no role in the divorce proceedings at all and that “Anne’s was the conventional role of the woman who waited, and received less attention and a shorter letter than usual, while her husband-to-be pressed on with the hard work that would make their marriage possible.”
Bernard believes that Henry’s reading of Simon Fish’s tract, “Supplication for the Beggars”, was “all rather accidental”, that Anne and her family were not “the driving force behind policy” and that Anne did not play “a leading part in bringing down Wolsey.” Many people view Anne and Henry as a partnership at this time, working on the divorce proceedings together and with Anne giving Henry the theological ideas he needed to seek the annulment and break with Rome, but Bernard does not agree with this image of Anne or Henry. His Anne is in the background and his Henry is the one taking control of things.
This chapter also covers Anne’s role in the treatment of Catherine and Mary, the start of Anne and Henry’s sexual relationship, their marriage and Anne’s coronation.
Chapter 5: “The most happy” King Henry and Queen Anne
This short chapter looks at Anne and Henry’s marriage, which Bernard describes as “sunshine and showers, showers and sunshine”. It also covers Elizabeth’s birth, Anne’s second pregnancy, the mystery mistress in 1534 and Anne’s precarious position. Bernard concludes by saying that “on the whole, then, Henry and Anne’s marriage was strong; but there were ups and downs, and all was against the backcloth of the annulment of Henry’s first marriage and the consequent break with Rome.”
Chapter 6 She “wore yellow for the mourning” Anne Against Catherine
Here, Bernard explores the reports of Eustace Chapuys regarding Anne’s feelings towards Catherine and Mary, her alleged plots to poison them and how it may actually have been a political move by Henry to blame Anne for Mary’s poor treatment so that he could remain at peace with Charles V and so Mary would not take against her father.
Chapter 7 “I have done so many good deeds in my life” Anne Boleyn’s Religion
If you have read my articles “Anne Boleyn’s Faith” and “Anne Boleyn and the Reformation”, you will already know Bernard’s thought on Anne’s religion. In this chapter, Bernard challenges those who see Anne as a Protestant heroine, an evangelical reformer, a Lutheran or heretic, and concludes that “there is nothing that clinches the case for Anne as evangelical or proto-protestant.”
This is the chapter that I struggled with. It was very well written and Bernard made a great case for his point of view but I didn’t agree with:-
- Bernard’s use of labels – I think it was far too early at this stage, in the 1530s, to label anyone in England as “Protestant”, “Lutheran” or “Evangelical”. Just because Anne doesn’t clearly fit into the label “Lutheran” it does not mean that she was not reformist in her views or that her faith was not a personal one.
- Bernard’s views on George Boleyn- Bernard uses evidence from the privy purse expenses to show that George was “so committed a gamer and sportsman” that he would not have had the time to translate the manuscripts he is said to have given Anne. Bernard writes that “Rochford’s interests were more those of a courtier-nobleman than of a scholar” but I cannot see why George cannot be both.
- Bernard’s views that John Skip’s sermon, Anne’s words in the Tower about “good deeds” and her desire to be shriven after her trial mean that she was not “evangelical” in her outlook.
- Bernard’s theory that Anne was simply following Henry’s lead as far as religion was concerned.
Chapter 8 Anne’s Miscarriage
Here, Bernard looks at Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage of January 1536, the deformed foetus myth and the idea that Anne was a witch, Henry’s relationship with Jane Seymour and the state of his marriage. He dismisses the deformed foetus theory and the witchcraft idea and ends the chapter by concluding that Anne was secure in Henry’s favour as late as the 25th April 1536 and “right up to the moment of Anne’s arrest, then, there is little to show that Henry was anything but fully committed to his marriage.”
Chapter 9 Conspiracy?
This chapter is a very interesting chapter because it considers the idea that Anne Boleyn was the “victim of factional conspiracy.” Bernard looks at the “factions” at court, he considers Sir Nicholas Carew and his alleged coaching of Jane Seymour and then presents his arguments against the factional conspiracy theory and the idea that Cromwell conspired to bring Anne down. I must say that I still agree with Ives’s arguments regarding faction battles and Cromwell’s role in Anne’s downfall but Bernard backs up his theory well and really makes you think about things.
Chapter 10 “A much higher fault” The Countess of Worcester’s Charge Against Anne
Bernard starts this chapter by making the point that until 1542 it was not considered treason for a queen to commit adultery but that “it was held against Anne that by committing adultery she had compromised the legitimacy of any children she had by the king” and that she and her alleged lovers were also said to have “sought the destruction of the king.” Bernard then goes on to look at the Countess of Worcester’s role in Anne’s downfall, the poem of Lancelot de Carles that tells of the Countess justifying her own behaviour by saying that the Queen had behaved worse and that she had committed adultery and that “her brother has carnal knowledge of her in bed.”
While many modern historians dismiss de Carles’s poem, Bernard writes of how de Carles was a contemporary, that he was serving the French Ambassador at the court of Henry VIII and that there is no reason to doubt his word. He also explains that the Countess was one of Anne’s ladies, that she would have been aware of it if Anne had slept around, that Anne’s ladies could have been complicit in Anne’s affairs and that John Hussee also identifies the Countess as Anne’s principal accuser, giving credence to de Carles’s account. Bernard concludes the chapter by saying that whatever teh truth of the Countess of Worcester’s allegation “it becomes easy to understand how and why Henry should have found the charges against Anne plausible and ordered her arrest.”
Chapter 11 “You would look to have me” Anne’s Lovers?
This is the chapter where you have to put your own strong feelings regarding Anne’s innocence aside and read it with an open mind. In this chapter, Bernard considers one of the sources we have for Anne’s alleged infidelities: Sir William Kingston’s letters. These letters record Anne’s words during her time in the Tower, what she said anout her behaviour and that of her alleged lovers. Bernard says:-
“All in all, what Kingston’s letters revealed about Anne was far from flattering. Such conversation [those with Norris and Weston] were sure to be regarded as inappropriate for any married woman, and a fortiori for a queen. Anne had been behaving like a young lady-in-waiting she had long been, not with the dignity and restraint befitting her new status. What she said does not offer definite or detailed support for the charges of adultery brought against her. But through her indiscretions she made herself look guilty in the eyes of the king.”
Bernard goes on to look at the indictments and dismisses the argument from some historians that the dates of Anne’s alleged adultery do not make sense, and are not even theoretically possible, by making the point that it would be impossible for any witnesses to remember the exact date and that because “lawyers had to set out the charges in due legal form” they had to attach dates to the alleged offences and so had to use “informed guesswork”. He argues that we cannot dismiss the charges against Anne simply because the dates may be wrong.
The rest of the chapter considers Henry VIII’s impotence, the jury and how they surely could not be “party to what, if Anne was innocent, would have been an unimaginably grotesque miscarriage of justice”, Cranmer’s reaction to the trial, Anne’s letter to Henry, her words on the scaffold, the release of Wyatt, Page and Bryan, Mark Smeaton’s confession, the allegation of incest and then he looks at each of Anne’s alleged lovers in turn. A very interesting chapter!
Chapter 12 “Incontinent living so rank and common” Was Anne Guilty?
Although it is very tempting to ignore the rest of the book and just jump to this chapter, please don’t. You really need to read the book in order. Here, Bernard writes of how “there simply is not sufficient evidence to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Anne, her brother, Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton were guilty” but that this “does not mean that they were all innocent.” Bernard considers Anne’s flirtatious behaviour, her widespread reputation as a “whore”, the climate of “dancing and pastime” in her household, her defiance at Henry’s infidelities and her “foolish and reckless behaviour”. He concludes that everything can be considered as a “series of misunderstandings” due to “unguarded speech and gossip” but that “it remains my own hunch that Anne had indeed committed adultery with Norris, probably with Smeaton, possibly with Weston, and was then the victim of the most appalling bad luck when the countess of Worcester, one of her trusted ladies, contrived in a moment of irritation with her brother to trigger the devastating chain of events that led inexorably to Anne’s downfall.”
Now, I don’t agree with Bernard at all here. I believe Anne Boleyn was innocent but this chapter left me thinking that Anne’s flirtatious nature, her sometimes rather reckless behaviour, may well have led to Henry believing what he was told about her and abandoning her to her fate. It would also explain why the court found her and the five men guilty – gossip, rumour and a climate of fun and flirtation could have sealed their fates.
Bernard finishes his book by saying that the Anne Boleyn he has presented is not the Anne who held Henry off for years, who inspired the break with Rome, who had a leading role in the English Reformation and who was the innocent victim of conspiracy. Instead, he explains how he has tried to “recover the historical Anne Boleyn” by reviewing all of the evidence. Although I do not agree with many of his theories, I have to applaud Bernard for his endeavours and for putting together such a good book. I’m glad to say that I can enjoy a book and respect Bernard’s views without agreeing with him. My Anne is still an innocent Anne and a victim of an awful miscarriage of justice.
Bernard concludes by saying:-
“The Anne that this book seeks to present is not an insignificant and submissive mistress. If the Anne to be found in teh sources, scrutinised and questioned rigorously as they have been here, is neither the Anne of protestant legend, nor Anne as a modern heroine, she nonetheless remains one of the most important figures in Tudor history.”
Appendix: The Portraits of Anne Boleyn
Bernard examines the various representations of Anne – the 1534 medal, two miniatures, the NPG and Hever Castle portraits, Holbein’s sketches, the Chequers locket ring – and also asks whether Holbein may have used Anne in his “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba painting. As there are so many uncertainties, Bernard guesses “that the Hever and NPG portraits, if they are not original (and until dendrochronology offers a definite date it is not clear why they cannot be original), were based on an original painted from the life by Holbein” but that we have to be cautious because we do not know their date or the identity of the sitter.
Bernard gives full notes and citations for each chapter and is very precise – volumes, page numbers etc.
This is split into Primary Sources: Manuscript, Primary Sources: Printed and Secondary Sources – again, full information is given.
“Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” by G W Bernard is published by Yale University Press and has just been released in the UK. Click here to order it from Amazon UK or click here to pre-order it at Amazon.com (available 25th May 2010.
A Comment from Claire
I have been saddened recently by the behaviour of some history fans online. Fortunately, we have a wonderful community of Anne Boleyn fans here who have respect for people and their opinions, but there are some who seek to attack other historians, authors and history fans for their views – so sad. I thank you all for your support of this site, your wonderful comments which I never have to moderate or delete, and your enthusiasm for Anne Boleyn and her story – thank you!
50 thoughts on “Book Review – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions by G W Bernard”
A great overview, Claire! It does help me to understand why he would dismiss Anne’s and George’s religious sincerity. If he is persuaded by the gossip of inappropriate behavior around the queen, then that wouldn’t jibe with an Anne who made a point of having a bible in English available that she encouraged her ladies to read. If you believe her guilty, you would tend to believe her religious beliefs either insincere or hypocritical. If you believe her innocent, you have no problem in believing in her sincere faith.
I DO believe him when he says her image as Protestant heroine and martyr has been overblown. I believe she was sincerely attempting to reform the Church from within, not trying to ‘create’ a new sect or schism. Believing the Roman Catholic Church to be in need of reform does not, a priori, make you antithetical to the institution itself.
I had thought I would not read this book, but thanks to your balanced overview, I may, now.
My copy arrived yesterday, just have to finish off the book I’m reading at the moment and then get stuck in over the weekend! Thanks for the overview Claire – I’ve been trying very hard to take not to take peeks at it and its good to see that its not completely without merit – must be quite a good read if your blood didn’t boil even once!!!
I have already pre orded my copy, didnt realise he writes in the oppinion that she was guilty…not lookin forward to it now. However i’m lookin forward to seeing how he tries to prove her guilt….should be interesting
I simply cannot believe that Anne slept with Smeaton – he was so much her inferior, as things went at that time, and he may have loved and lusted after Anne, but it does not mean it was reciprocated. It is proven that a lot of the dates Anne was supposed to be having affairs, she’d just had a baby or a miscarriage or was not in the place where her “adultery” was supposed to have occurred.
Thanks for the overview Claire! I’ve been looking forward to it since you told us you were reading it! Wow. I’m surprised that your blood didn’t boil, because it’s obvious how much you love Anne! This does indeed sound like a very interesting book. Though I try to be openminded in all things, I’m afraid I’m guilty of being very reluctant to read Bernard’s book. However, now I think I’m too curious not to find out more about his unusual opinions.
Although Bernard does make some good arguements about Anne and her role in religion (I too believe that Anne did not want to create a new church, but reform it in the truest meaning of the word reform- to remove it from the tainted inluence of families like the Borgias) there are other things that I just don’t quite agree with.
1) It is very possible that George Boleyn was both a courtier/sportsman and a scholar. Bernard’s statement that he could only be one or the other makes one believe that people of that time period could only be one dimenisional. Wasn’t Henry a sportsman, scholar, musician, statesman, and a ladies man? I am sure that Henry’s expedetures far exceeds George’s.
2) Lancelot de Carles’s poem- sure he was a contemporary of Anne’s, but so are modern day tabloid writers. How much of what is written in tabloids can we trust today? Sure- where there is smoke, there is fire, but sometimes the fire is there because there is an arsonist setting it.
3) Although the words of Countess of Worcester played a key role in the evidence against Anne, John Lascelle spoke similarly about Catherine Howard’s indescetions, yet it took 82 days to do the investigation/ execution of Catherine Howard (23 Nov 1541- 13 Feb 1542) and 17 days to investigate/ execute Anne (2 May 1536- 19 May 1536).
4) Henry was married to Jane Seymour 11 days after the execution, as opposed to the year and some change it took to marry Katherine Parr. It all seems a little too convienient to me.
In my opinion, the Tudor Court was like a giant gossiping high school cafeteria. Henry was so insecure about everything, that he could be swayed to popular opinion. Nothing at court can happen expediently unless the King has his hand in it somehow…and although I think that this book does present some interesting theories- it’s one dimensional characterizations ruin it for me.
I truly think that Anne really loved Henry- why else would she have kept his letters? They had sentimental value to her. As for her talking in a manner unbecomming of a queen- well, for all intensive purposes, she was not raised to be a queen, so that sort of etiquitte would be something unknown to her- she was a lady in waiting, and that is how she acted…it’s like the old saying goes (as bad as it is)- “You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but not the trailer park out of the girl.”
I really think that someone from the world of psychological profiling needs to partner up with a historian to write about Henry and his court, then perhaps we might have better insight into the true Anne and Henry.
BTW- as always Claire, you have written a very balanced and fair review! =)
My first concern about this book is that it does not seem to take into account the practice of courtly love and its influence on behavior. I also think that flirting and saying something with sexual undertones does not lead to anyone being promiscuous. Correlation does not lead to causation. A poem can often be interpreted in many ways and again, just because the author worked for a king does not mean he is an accurate source. As for the dates, are there any documents that state when Anne gave birth or had a miscarriage and where she was at the time? I think you can eliminate some dates if it can be proven that Anne was recovering from childbirth. I also have a problem with the author’s conclusions about Anne having affairs. If she was with her ladies and never really alone, than more than one lady would have been indicated as being involved in a cover-up. I can’t imagine always having people around me, but the more my movements were watched, the more I would be aware of what I was doing. I am glad that you took the time to review the book, Claire, but I want more from an author than just saying there is no conclusive evidence to prove guilt or innocence – isn’t that kind of stating the obvious? I wonder if this book was published to cash in on the popularity of “The Tudors.”
It’s a pity so much documentation from Anne’s time has been lost – her responses to Henry’s love letters must have been interesting, to say the least.
Thus, Anne Boleyn’s legacy will forever be shrouded in mystery – did she or didn’t she? Though I believe she was framed, it would be interesting to consider the other side of the story, the faction that DID believe in her guilt.
Princess Diana seemed to be kind of a modern tragedy, but then again, all we heard was told from her side of the story. I wonder what public opinion would have been like had they heard Prince Charles’s side of the story?
I have to admit, Claire, that I was rather reluctant when I first heard of this book, and Mr. Bernard’s slant on it, that perhaps she was guilty after all. But given your review, and time to think about it, this book might be as interesting as any of those siding wholly with Anne’s innocence. After all, there are two sides to every story. A pity there isn’t a clear line of what Henry’s side of the story was.
This book sounds interesting. I might have to read it, just to see another perspective on her. I may have a hard time reading it like you did in some parts Claire, but I think it will be worth it.
Great comments everyone!
What I enjoyed about this book was that it challenged my views on Anne and has actually made them stronger. I love nothing better than debating Anne and this book really does trigger debate and make you think.
Here is an interesting comment from my Facebook wall by Robert Mylne:-
“Interesting and insightful commentary, Claire.
More to say on this topic, but I would like to make the observation that perhaps Anne’s intimate relationship with her brother George was based on the role model that Marguerite de Navarre and her own sibling, Francis I, provided, and no one has ever suggested that that King of France had a roll in the royal hay with his intellectual sister.
Also considering Anne’s female contemporaries who held positions of power: Anne of Brittany, Margaret of Austria, Claude of France, Marguerite de Navarre, there really is not a pattern or report of licentious behavior amongst any of these women, so I really fail to see how a Queen of England would think it “OK” to commit adultery whether her husband did or not.”
Bernard handles the argument that Anne was never alone by saying that her ladies, like the Countess of Worcester, could have been complicit in her adulteries and that they saved themselves from punishment by giving evidence or by the fact that they knew about it but actually didn’t take an active role in it, unlike Jane Rochford with Catherine Howard.
As far as the poem is concerned, Bernard argues against those who say it was nothing but propoganda by pointing out that it gave a lengthy account of Rochford’s defence, comparing it to that of Thomas More, and that Henry was not portrayed in a very flattering light, so it was far from official propoganda and Henry actually tried to suppress it.
And no, he does not present definitive evidence that Anne was guilty, he is stating that he believes there is no evidence that she was innocent and that his reading of contemporary sources has made him believe that she may have been guilty of some of the charges.
I’ll take your points in the order that you made them and try and explain Bernard’s views from my reading of the book:-
1) Yes, that’s completely what I think too. I really don’t see why George could not have been both and the inscription in one of the manuscripts “most loving and friendly brother” in my opinion proves that it was prepared for Anne by George. I don’t think it means “brother” in a looser sense or brother in the Gospel.
2) Again, I agree with you, but Bernard argues that de Carles should be taken seriously because he was the secretary to the French ambassador who was “following events closely” and who also tried to save Sir Francis Weston, his account is supported by a letter written by John Hussee and his poem did not portray a very flattering picture of the King and Henry actually tried to suppress it. Bernard does concede though that the French ambassador may have been fed false information. Bernard also writes that if the Countess of Worcester did accuse Anne of adultery and incest that whatever the truth of her accusations they would have sparked off an inquiry.
3) I think things moved faster with Anne because there was already the oyer and terminer set up and Mark Smeaton’s confession backed up the Countess of Worcester’s accusations. Obviously we do not know whether Mark confessed willingly or whether he lied to get back at Anne for rejecting him or to save himself, or because he was living in some kind of fantasty world, but it was confirmation of the Countess of Worcester’s accusations.
4) Agree with you! I guess others would argue that Jane was there waiting in the wings, that it was just coincidence that Henry had a mistress at this time, whereas he didn’t when Catherine H betrayed him. A rather big coincidence though and his desire for a son and his lust for Jane may well have either made it easier for Henry to believe the allegations against Anne and to simply abandon her to her fate or have made him be a party to the conspiracy.
As I read this book I really felt for Anne. She may have been guilty of having a bit of fun, a bit of flirtation, but couldn’t that be seen as her playing the Queen of Courtly Love, the damsel that every man wants rather than a cheap whore who didn’t know how to behave like a Queen. Anne had been a lady to Queen Claude of France, she had had a good role model and knew how to be Queen.
By the way, I’m not defending Bernard here in these comments, I’m just explaining the reasoning behind his theories, I do not subscribe to them at all.
Bernard made quite a big deal over the dates given in the indictment and said that they were just guesswork. He made the point that the Countess of Worcester would not have been able to give specific dates of the alleged infidelities and that also she may have got mixed up with places. Bernard states that the legal process required dates to be given, it would not allow Anne to be accused of committing adultery in general, offences had to be specified, so the lawyers did the best they could and also added the clause “diversis aliis diebus et vicibus antea et postea” meaning “in and on various other dates and places before and after.”
I can understand Bernard’s reasoning as there is no way that I can remember the date of something a year or two on BUT even if you dismiss this argument for Anne’s innocence it still doesn’t mean that she was therefore guilty.
It’s interesting that you mention Princess Diana because Bernard also mentions her:-
“Some scholars have claimed that the very idea that a queen could have committed adultery is preposterous – though those of us living in the shadow of the late Princess Diana might find this less implausible.”
I agree with Bernard in that I don’t think it was impossible for a queen to commit adultery if her ladies were complicit, as they were in the case of Catherine Howard, but I just don’t think that Anne was stupid enough to do it. Even if she was defiant about Henry having affairs I don’t think she would have risked her position and life to get back at him, prove a point, make herself feel better or even have a bit of fun.
Anyway, this book is an interesting read because it is different to the others on the market at the moment and it’s always good to see both sides of an argument.
The cynic in me thinks that the “Ann may have been guilty” line is little more than a clever marketing ploy. After all, there are several biographies of Ann already on the market, so the author has to justifiy why we should shell out our hard earned cash for yet another. So the ‘guilty’ line is a good angle, and of course it’s also suitably controversial and willl get the headlines in ways which, say, his opinions on her religosity would not.
Speaking of which, I find all the ‘Ann wasn’t a Protestant’ arguments a bit anachronistic. Nobody in England was a “Protestant” as the term did not then exist. However, Ann’s beliefs would very much put her at the ‘reformist’ end of the spectrum, and if she were alive today, she’d very likely be an Anglican – doctrinily not so different at all from Catholicism, but without some of the perceived excesses of 15thcentury Catholicism.
BTW in light of previous discussions here, I’m wondering if Bermard has any firm opinions on Ann’s date of birth?
The thing about the Princess Di example is, she wasn’t a Tudor queen- she was a modern one, and thus wasn’t surrounded by ladies-in-waiting day and night. And even WITHOUT the constant attendants, she still got caught. It’s possible that Anne could’ve had friends who were willing to assist her (obviously this is all hypothetical) but considering the risks, who would want to risk it? Jane Rochford did, but she was clearly not right in the head- she ended up having a mental breakdown. The bottom line for me is, there’s so much overwhelming evidence that Anne’s fall was due to politics and Henry’s desire for a son, I have a hard time buying the idea that she was really guilty.
What a wonderful over veiw ms Claire I enjoyed a sneak peek of this book and will def be reading this one…even though my Anne is innocent etc. Dif veiw points are always interesting to check out!
What does your last comment mean? Who has saddened u and why?
Hi Autumn Star,
An American author has decided to research the life of Anne Boleyn and as part of her publicity she has chosen to attack Tudor websites and their owner and also historians and authors. She keeps talking about how historians and website owners are still presenting Anne as a whore and only she can present the real truth that Anne was a brilliant and virtuous woman – I don’t know a single historian who believes that Anne was a whore. I myself have received threatening emails from the person concerned and she has been very offensive on various Tudor facebook pages. I am saddened that Anne’s name is being used in such a way. The author in question has attacked Eric Ives, Alison Weir and G W Bernard so far.
Fantastic post; I’ve attached a link from my blog “Confessions of a Ci-Devant,” if you don’t mind?
Thank you, Gareth, I don’t mind and that’s really good of you.
Can’t wait to read the book! I ordered it but has not arrived yet.
I would just like to make a quick comment on Bernard’s ascertion that specific dates had to be set out by the prosecution in order to ‘set out the charges in due legal form’.
In fact, even with the introduction of the Human Right’s Act, specific dates in an indictment are not required in the twenty-first century, let alone the sixteenth century. It is sufficient to put in an indictment ‘on or about’. Obviously, if a specific date is not entered, it makes it more difficult for the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but that is besides the point which I’m making. Specific dates were not a necessity, yet in Anne’s case they were added anyway, even though most of them were found to be impossible.
I think dates were added purely in an attempt to give the charges more credance. The prosecution knew the convictions were a forgone conclusion and that the jury was not going to weigh the evidence. Therefore, they made no attempt to make the charges realistic. It was a lazy indictment because it didn’t have to be anything else.
If Anne were guilty of multiple adultery and/or incest, wouldn’t it be odd for her to say she would be in heaven because she had done “many good deeds” in her life? Someone might say this was just part of an effort to pretend she was innocent, but it sounds as though Bernard takes the statement seriously, if he uses it as part of his argument regarding the nature of her religious faith. But, if the remark is to be taken seriously, it seems to cast doubt on Bernard’s idea that she was guilty. And what about her swearing her innocence on the Host? That would seem to be going a bit far, if she were guilty, as she would then die with perjury and sacrilege on her soul.
Claire- sorry that your site is being attacked. This person is alienating themself in a rather large community of historians and fans.
Claire, I was sorry to hear that anyone would send you a threatening email. In the long run, I believe that the bad karma she is creating will eventually catch up with her. People who are really interested in Tudor history will gravitate towards websites like yours because you encourage people to respectfully express their opinions and views. You can present controversial material in a way that makes me think that I need to consider other points of view and keep and open mind, even when it makes me go out of my comfort zone. Your review of Bernard’s book is fab, if I can borrow an English expression. What this author is doing will not count as contributing to our knowledge of Tudor history.
(Hi! Am a bit nervous, as this is my first post)
Anne Boleyn (along with Thomas More) are the reasons I fell in love with history and when I first heard about Bernard’s book, (and also Schofield’s one about Cromwell that suggests Anne may have been guilty), I was really upset. But your review has put my mind not only at rest but also got me thinking. At my last work place, my boss’ girlfriend became convinced something was going on between him and me, (nothing was-I couldn’t stand the man by the end of the job!). She based belief on innocent things, like us being alone in the office together or him giving me a lift home when I was ill. Sorry, for mentioning this but my reason is this, is that innocent things can easily be mistaken or twisted into something there not. To me nothing of what Anne did, show that she was actually guilty-in fact they seem more likely to be innocent things, twisted by those who needed her gone.
Also with the dates, true I can’t always remember where I was on certain dates and with whom, but I pretty sure, I would remember when someone who I lived closely with was pregnant or recovering from it. Surely, ‘eyewitnesses’ would have come up with dates when Anne would have been capable of committing such deeds, if she was guilty.
(Hope of this makes sense-am trying to fight sleep. Great website, by the way)
I’ve always admired historians who go against the conventional thought and offer new insights and new perspectives. When the subject of Anne Boleyn’s fall is brought up, I’ve noticed that everyone gets the blame (Henry, Jane, Cromwell, etc) except Anne. I do believe that in some ways, Anne was culpable for her downfall as well. Bernard’s point about her behavior, which was far from how a Queen was expected to behave, helped Henry think she was guilty. Anne threw tantrums, danced, flirted and allowed men into her bedchamber. While she was innocent of actual adultery, she put herself in a scandelous position.
I look forward to reading this book!
Really enjoyed this post, Claire – I also think I will now purchase the book (you should get a piece of the royalties!)
One doubts Anne would have cheated on the king: She was smart, and the king at the time of her marriage was still an attractive man.
But as a doc, could I put my two cents in?
Anne had lived in a licentious court, and learned quite a bit, and so maybe Henry could claim “I have not had sex…with that woman” (so no pregnancy) yet this sexual sophistication could have opened her to his believing the worst of her.
As for the deformed fetus: Would someone please do a DNA check or autopsy and see if this was from congenital Syphillis? That would explain why Katherine lost so many babies, and why Elizabeth was okay but not later babies by Anne..
Thanks for your comment. THere is actually no contemporary evidence that Anne miscarried a deformed foetus, the only mention of that is in the work of Nicholas Sander who was in exile during Elizabeth I’s reign and who also described Anne as having six fingers and other deformities. He was only around the age of 6 when Anne was executed. Also most historians now don’t subscribe to the theory that Henry VIII had syphilis – mercury was the standard treatment of the times and this was not recorded in any of Henry’s medical expenses and Henry was paranoid about illness so he definitely would have had treatment, also none of Henry’s surviving children (Mary, Duke of Richmond, Elizabeth or Edward) showed any signs of congenital syphilis (such as retardation), plus it would have been hard for Henry to have hidden the fact that he had syphilis. His leg problems were due to an injury from jousting and from wearing tight leg garters, and the lack of healing was probably due to diabetes. A report – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-jousting-accident-that-turned-henry-viii-into-a-tyrant-1670421.html by Robert Hutchinson, a biographer of Henry; Catherine Hood, a doctor; and the historian Lucy Worsley puts forward the theory that Herny’s jousting accident, where he was unconscious for 2 hours, may have been responsible for slight brain damage that caused his mood swings etc. Interesting theory.
I agree, Nancy, I think that Anne was far too intelligent to cheat on Henry, particularly as she knew that he would have sought revenge in some way.
Rachel, while I concede that that attitude may have been common in Anne’s time, I would hope that we’ve progressed beyond blaming a woman expressing any aspect of her sexuality for ‘permission’ to rape, murder, slander or otherwise assault her. She wasn’t to blame for what happened to her. How DARE she have a temper, or dance, or flirt? [/sarcasm]
Interesting points regarding dates and the legal system. You’d think that they would have been more careful in choosing the dates but perhaps they were rushing or perhaps they knew that Anne and the men had no hope anyway.
I agree, I’m not sure that Anne could have talked of good deeds if she was guilty. Bernard discusses the theory that Anne must have been innocent or she would not have sworn her innocence on the sacrament and challenges it by saying “Unfortunately these are just the circumstances in which a man or woman might lie. If Anne had committed adultery, then what she faced in the world to come was already dire: she might thus risk another untruth. Why should she do that? If she asserted her innocence, on the sacraments, in the presence of her gaoler, there was still the chance, however small, that the king would respond by deciding to believe her, and would spare her life.”
I still believe she was innocent though!
I think Anne was guilty of being hot-tempered and rather reckless with her words but we have to look at her behaviour in the context of courtly love. Men were supposed to fancy her and behave as suitors, it was when she turned aggressor by saying what she did to Norris, and also mentioning the King’s death, that she defied conventional courtly love rules and put herself in danger. Flirtation was part of court life.
Also, regarding letting men into her bedchamber, she let her brother in and there was no way that either of them could have foreseen that they’d be accused of incest, that was an atrocious allegation.
I’m not sure that Rachel meant that Anne was asking for it, I think she was just saying that Anne was guilty of not behaving like the Queen she was. I think Anne often spoke without thinking and she really should have controlled her mouth a bit more – her threats of what she’d do to the Princess Mary, her words to Norris etc. – but she certainly did not deserve to be framed and executed, and neither did the five men.
Thanks, Claire. I read Rachel’s remarks right after Elisabeth Hasselbeck (on a TV morning talk show) mocked sports commentator Erin Andrews’ experience with a stalker who filmed her undressing in her hotel room (through a peephole) and then put it on the internet. Erin is now on Dancing With The Stars (notorious for its sexy costumes) and Hasselbeck sniped that Andrews’ costumes were so skimpy that her stalker could have just waited a few months and seen the same thing without having to go to jail. Never mind the stalking, apparently.
It infuriates me that another woman would be so insensitive to another woman’s ordeal at the hands of a stalker or sexual abuser and make jokes about it. Abusers and stalkers aren’t ‘incited’ by their victim’s actions. It’s a sadistic, control issue in the perpetrator. Why can’t we get beyond automatically blaming the victim?
Also yesterday, a 4 year-old in my city was snatched from her bed, raped, beaten, choked and left for dead. She’s hospitalized, but expected to survive. So Rachel’s post really hit a raw spot.
Rachel, if you weren’t saying Anne ‘had it coming’, I sincerely apologize. If you did mean that, I vehemently disagree.
I know, Carolyn, things like that always make me think of that Jodie Foster film “The Accused” where she is gang raped but then they say she was asking for it because she was flirting and because of the way she was dressed. How awful that someone on TV can joke about a case of stalking like that and that story about that 4 year old is so shocking – what kind of person can do that?!
I have eventually read this book and find myself in the rather strange position of not really having much to say about it. After all the hype about the controversy surrounding the book, I actually found it quite bland.
Yes he says the Anne probably committed adultery with Norris and Smeaton and possibly Weston, but admits there is no evidence to prove this. He doesn’t actually suggest she and George committed incest, unlike what was reported in various newspapers.
The only part I got grumpy about was the section about religion, but more about what he left out than what he put in.
No, I didn’t agree with any of his theories, but I understand what you meant, Claire, when you said it didn’t make your blood boil, because it didn’t make mine boil either. I think the reason for that is that if I had to sum this book up in one word, that word would be grey. I certainly don’t think it delivers the impact it was aiming for, which from the point of view of the readers of this site, isn’t such a bad thing!
I think that hype regarding books can be very misleading. I nearly didn’t buy “The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn” because the publisher’s blurb said about Anne being banished abroad because of an affairs with the family servant and chaplain (or something similar), yet Josephine Wilkinson gives no credence to this myth. I think Bernard’s book was blown up out of all proportion in the newspapers. I’m glad that your blood didn’t boil but, yes, I got grumpy in that section too!
Carolyn, I think you miss my point. I am not saying that Anne deserved of her death in any way. She was a victim as were the other men that were executed. However, Anne was not prepared for the role of a Queen and opened the door for some very scandelous comments. Her conversation with Norris about “filling dead men’s shoes” is something a queen should NEVER do, even an experienced courtier should know better. While Anne was a charming and well educated woman, I believe she should have modeled herself after Henry’s mother in terms of decorum and public display.
This was a very different time when a woman was expected to be above reproach. Ann did not follow conventional thoughts and so put herself in a dangerous position.
Do I blame her for her downfall? No! Do I think she is responsible? No! I believe, however, that Anne’s behavior did not exactly help matters.
Let’s compare her behavior to that of Katherine Parr. Katherine was a woman before her time as well. She was fun and flirty as well. However, the moment she became Queen, she became circumspect in her behavior. When she went over the line and incited Henry’s anger, she quickly submitted herself before him and said exactly what he wanted to hear.
Anne was much too proud for this. But when she noticed the writing on the wall (how could she not,) I believe that she could have amended her behavior and perhaps saved her skin in some capacity.
This is a difficult issue to discuss with proponents of Anne. It is difficult for strong feelings to be set aside, but you cannot put our societal standards on Tudor women. There were rigid rules that were put in place and women knew that they were expected to conform to. Anne broke many of those rules and that can only be viewed as exotic for so long. It is certainly not the behavior that a Queen was expected to have.
Anne makes a wonderful feminist icon now, but back in Tudor England, she was viewed as something much different.
I really want to make it clear that I do not believe Anne was “asking for it.” Those sort of comments really hit a sore spot for me as well. I’ve heard people state that to friends of mine who have been raped. I would NEVER accuse anyone of deserving something like that ever!
I think you’re right, Rachel, that Anne was not prepared for the role of Queen. She was not brought up to marry into royalty, unlike Catherine of Aragon for example, but I’m not sure that we can compare her or contrast her with Catherine Parr as Catherine knew what Henry was capable of as by that time he had divorced two wives and executed another two, Anne did not have that knowledge, all she knew was that Henry had been attracted to her feisty personality before they were married. She did not behave like a Queen should, in some respects, but she would not have wanted to change too much from what Henry fell in love with as she may have risked losing him. He fell in love with her because she was different, so it was hard for her to strike a balance. With hindsight we can say that she should have controlled herself better and been more queenly, but it must have been so hard for Anne to know how to behave. Henry turned a mistress into a queen and seemed to want to have his cake and eat it, he wanted the impossible, a woman that did not exist.
Great review Claire. I’m still not sure I will read this book, but now I’m not as opposed to it as I was in the beginning. And WOW, that author has a lot of nerve sending you threatening e-mails.
Carolyn, When a woman says something stupid about another woman’s pain, we must consider the source. After all, we are talking about Elizabeth Hasselbeck for heaven’s sake. What did you expect from her? I expected nothing better out of her.
Women can do so much more today than was ever dreamed of by Anne. Wouldn’t she love being alive today? However, even today some people think that if a woman is flirtacious, loves having fun, or dresses in a different way than they would, she must be a bad person and “she deserves what she gets.” God I hate those words. Rachel’s story of people’s attitudes towards her friends’ rapes is a fine example of how far we have to go. It’s ridiculous.
Claire, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Henry fell in love with who Anne was, right? I mean, why would Anne ever consider that she should change. Henry fell in love with her the way she was…warts and all. He had years to get to know her and Anne probably felt that what he knew of her, he loved. What a predicament.
SOUNDS VERY INTERESTING. TO GET THE VIEW OF THE GUILTY SIDE IS NEW AND ALLOWS TO THINK IN ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE.
I WILL TRY THIS BOOK AND KEEP AN OPEN MIND, EVEN THOUGH I DO THINK SHE WAS INNOCENT. MY GUT INSTINCT.
The problem with his argument is that Anne Boleyn was not particularly close to her household staff and, given that they would have to be complicit, it’s unlikely that she could have pulled it off.
I hated this book for so many reasons. I don’t think he got Anne’s character at all, and I find his “proof” of Anne’s adultery unconvincing. Next!
I hope this does not offend if I don’t explain myself well, it seems rude to write too much on Claire’s blog first time!
Reading all the commentary and thoughts about the standards for Tudor women, and how different they are now, I started to consider whether our strong reactions to the idea of her guilt or innocence might be part of our own lingering double-standards? I suppose that for me, to consider whether Anne or her cousin were technically ‘guilty’ or not is only a question of discovering the truth of what happened. Books like this one do not bother me because I don’t feel Anne’s (or K Howard’s) reputation or worth would suffer, in my eyes anyway, even if it were shown that they did not remain faithful to a husband who was never true to his wives himself, and to whom neither could have been entirely free to choose or reject as husband. So by Tudor standards, it may have been condemnable behaviour, but I could never feel justified in calling these women ‘guilty’ in the full sense of the word today, even if a 1,000 new proofs were discovered.
Does anyone else feel the same way? Or would it really change your estimation of her (or any other historical figure) and why?
It’s taken me ages to get round to reading this book and I’m in agreement with a lot of what has been said here. The book doesn’t really raise irritation levels because it doesn’t have a personal bias against Anne, it only seeks to redress what the author sees are inbalances eg Anne as the Protestant heroine which came about due to Elizabeth’s success.
It did make me re-look at what she was charged with and I came to the conclusion that her comment to Henry Norris – ‘if aught but good happened to the king you would look to have me’ was the true reason for her downfall. In Henry’s eyes it was treason to imagine his death and it’s possible to argue that one throwaway comment did just that. I’m not sure in which years statutes were passed that forbade talking about the king’s death but I think the law got tighter in this area during Henry’s reign. Anne herself knew she had gone too far – getting Norris to swear she was a ‘good woman’, etc. I think the rest was made up to make her appear a monster to sixteenth century eyes rather than making Henry appear to be the monster. It’s a lot of surmisation but I think it’s a plausible argument.
Where I fundamentally disagreed with Bernard was his belief that she would have lied when taking the sacrament. This shows that he did not understand the importance of faith and salvation to the sixteenth century mind. Had Anne been guilty she would have confessed – but her confession would have been in private whereas she went to some lengths to ensure it was public and would be reported back.
All in all an interesting read which prompted some serious thinking but I don’t think he quite grasped the period in the way Ives or Starkey does.
I am trying to catch up with all your books, I know I’m a little late her but I couldn’t agree with you more! I did love this book and enjoyed another perspective. I love Anne and believe she is unnocent and I doubt it will ever change. This is a great read though!! Thank you for reccomending it.
I am finishing this book today. I’m glad that the author doesn’t try to impose one particular viewpoint with so many facts but just gives them all. I agree that Anne can be guilty in a sense, but she was tried not for that. I wonder why the author doesn’t look at the possibility of a conspiracy not against Anne herself but agaisnt the fraction which was at power at that time. As I see from the book even if Anne was that guilty she had to be dealt with more mildly…