“Anne Boleyn on Trial Again” – Eric Ives on G W Bernard’s “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions”

Eric Ives and our Anne Boleyn Experience Tour group

Professor Eric Ives has just published his review of G W Bernard’s “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” in the October edition of “The Journal of Ecclesiastical History” and it’s a wonderful read and well worth downloading from the Cambridge Journals website.

As you may know, Bernard and Ives have never seen eye to eye on Anne Boleyn, her religion and her fall, and spent the 1990s arguing, albeit quite politely, in historical journals, and Bernard seems to have resurrected this argument with “Fatal Attractions which Ives sees as “an attempt to demolish the picture of Anne which I and others drew”. Ives is quite scathing in his review, remarking that “Fatal Attractions” does not really offer anything new, that “it does show signs of age” and that it is “determinedly negative and hard for a reader unfamiliar with the views being attacked”, i.e. the views of Ives and David Starkey.

Ives goes on to argue against Bernard’s views on Anne Boleyn’s faith, explaining the meaning of the term “evangelical” when used to describe Anne and those with reformist views in the 1530s, saying that “historians use the term ‘evangelical’ simply to describe an individual who is sympathetic to an agenda of real spiritual experience, the priority of faith, access to the Bible, and reform of abuses and superstition”. Ives goes on to say that “this was the religious atmosphere in the court of Queen Claude of France” when Anne was serving her and that Anne Boleyn favoured French religious literature, such as the work of Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples. Ives believes that “Anne Boleyn’s religion belongs in the context of early French reform” and argues against Bernard’s theory that Anne had no influence in regards to religion and the Reformation, and that it was all down to Henry VIII, commenting that “it is hard to see how Anne Boleyn, or for that matter Cranmer and Cromwell could occupy the positions that they did without having some influence.”

Ives also discusses Bernard’s rejection of Cromwell’s role in Anne Boleyn’s downfall, stating that Cromwell himself admitted to engineering it when he spoke to Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador. Ives explains John Skips’s sermon and how Bernard has underestimated “the key passage in the sermon which attacked Cromwell personally” on behalf of Anne Boleyn. Ives writes that this attack on him and his disagreement with Anne “left the minister facing the possibility of Anne becoming ‘a contynuall serpentyn ennemeye about the kyng’.” Cromwell had, after all, seen what had happened to Cardinal Wolsey!

Finally, Ives handles Bernard’s argument that the allegations against Anne in May 1536 could actually be “close to the truth”. Ives writes that “Bernard’s method is to take evidence which he accepts appears to be in Anne’s favour, and construct alternative interpretations one after another”. Ives criticises Bernard’s frequent use of “let us imagine” (7 times in one paragraph) and “let us for the sake of argument, suppose…”, likening this to the words of Donald Rumsfeld, who once said “Reports that say something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because as we know, there are… known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”!

Regarding Bernard’s reliance on the poem of Lancelot de Carles as evidence that Anne committed adultery, Ives points out that de Carles’s account is bound to be “congruent with what Cromwell circulated on the diplomatic network, seeing as de Carles worked for the French ambassador. Ives also points out that it is hard to believe the allegations against Anne when we consider that no woman was accused of helping her with her affairs, even though a queen would have needed help to escape detection, and that de Carles’s material is not corroborated. Ives concludes his excellent review with the following words:-

“Science is said to proceed from obituary to obituary. So does history, but “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” will not, as George Bernard intends, bury the reformist and innocent Anne Boleyn.”



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25 thoughts on ““Anne Boleyn on Trial Again” – Eric Ives on G W Bernard’s “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions””
  1. Sounds like a wonderful rebuttal of Bernard. Yes! I never did agree with basing one’s biography on a poem!

  2. Go for it Eric!!!

    The job of “the ABfiles” in debunking the myths becomes more and more difficult with some recent books on Anne, from reviews I’ve read, this book seems to fall into this category. I can Definitely recommend Eric Ive’s book ‘The life and Death of Anne Boleyn” as the definitive starting point for anyone interested in Anne’s life. I think personally, it has a more factual account with more bones in there for the meat to hang on.

  3. There needs to be a newly discovered stash of naughty limericks, about each of Anne’s enemies at court, which could then serve as “proof” of their complicity in the judicial murder of an innocent woman and five innocent men. A slight slurring in the pronunciations of Norfolk and Suffolk alone would be quite naughty!

  4. I would give Ives a standing ovation after reading your article Claire but it might look a bit odd at the present moment LOL. I read Bernard’s book in one sitting at a coffee shop in a book store….its a short book unlike Ives tome. I got so infuriated I put it back on the shelf and didn’t buy it. I totally agree with Ives about his constant speculation without any back up for it. That darn poem has been used by Weir as well as being “evidence” when it quite blatantly is propaganda written for a purpose like Nicholas Sander’s nonsense. Pop culture as history.

    As Ives wrote in his Biography of Anne regarding Chapuys writings but can be applied to any contemporary hearsay : “Hypothesis and speculation must not take the place of carefully evaluated evidence. The professionalism of the historian lies in reading such partisan material critically”

  5. Although I am a great admirer of Anne’s I think I am going to annoy a lot of my fellow fans here. Not intentionaly I must add. I am not familiar with Bernard’s work but he seems to agree with me on one issue: the involvement of Cromwell in Anne’s fall. Firstly the sermon that is said to attack Cromwell could equally apply, in fact more so, to every member of Henry’s council with the exception of Cranmer. Even it was soley directed at Cromwell (and Henry in the guise of Solomon is also heavily critized in it) neither Cromwell or anyone else at court considered that he was in any danger from the Queen. The comparsion with Wolsey is misleading as Wolsey’s fall occured when Henry would do anything to please Anne, now Henry was far more interested in doing anything to please Jane. Chapyus’ words about Cromwell’s part in Anne’s fall when put back into context and with the correct translation from the French don’t indicate that it was his plot to destroy the Queen. Only that he did his duty well. It is also possible that since a pro-catholic, pro-spanish Queen was about to take power that he may have exaggurated his role to impress the Emperor. Another telling fact is that Thomas Wyatt who had loved Anne remained close frineds with Cromwell until his death and afterwards added to his beautiful poem of Anne’s death an equally moving one for Cromwell. I believe that if you wish to look for the architecht of Anne’s destruction then it is to Henry and to Jane and her faction you should look.

    1. Hello Emma,

      You have managed to articulate my thoughts on Cromwell’s involvement perfectly. I have never bought Ives’ theory regarding Anne’s fall being solely a political coup. I totally agree with his review of Bernard so far as Anne’s guilt is concerned and her religious reformist views because the evidence does not support Bernard’s theories. However, there is as much evidence against the political coup theory as there is in favour so for Ives’ to criticise others for not agreeing with him is something I would expect from Weir rather than Ives.
      What he fails to mention is that although Cromwell took the credit for engineering Anne’s fall, he did so with the express authority of Henry.

    2. I agree Emma. Too many seem to be looking at Cromwell and totally
      Ignoring Henry, Jane and her faction. Even if Cromwell had a hand
      In it, he was just doing it for Henry. I notice very, very few ever
      blame Jane.

  6. I think that Cromwell knew something more about Annes fall. I hated Fatal Attractions!!!! Taking onepoem and saying she was guilty is ludicrous.

  7. I think Cromwell got his just deserts his head on Henrys plate, could’nt happen to a nicer fellow.Hope Anne was watching . Baroness Von Reis.

  8. I will have to read it – I love Eric Ives book on Anne Boleyn as much as I love David Starkey’s on Elizabeth. I get so angry when people say that Anne had to be guilty of the charges agaisnt her. Anne was a very intelligent woman who’d never have risked Elizabeth’s future by having an affair!

  9. Thank you, once again Claire such a wonderful and meticulously handled research. I have always said Cromwell was told by Henry to find some way to get rid of Anne, and he devised the whole plan. I’ve known this since college when I majored in European History with and emphasis on the Reformation. I had loved Anne before that, but spent a lot of papers and tests defending her. There was a statement about Henry made to Cromwell about letting Henry know what he really “could” do with the “Great Divorce,” saw Cromwell’s downfall, and then knew he had to do what he was told or…..Thank you, very much again.

  10. Claire, this isn’t related, but I really want to ask you on something.

    Having read both Ives, Bernard and Weir’s books on Anne and her fall, I am interested in the mystery surrounding Jane Rochford – in your review of Mary Boleyn by Weir, you said that Jane wasn’t accountable for George’s death; is it a misconception that she testified against her husband? Is the sole part she did play in his fall the fact that Anne confided in her about Henry’s impotency?

    I’m just fascinated – if she wasn’t this unnamed woman, who was?

    It may be hard to answer, but what part did Jane Boleyn actually play in the Boleyns’ fall? If she played no part, why has history held her as a scapegoat ever since?


    1. Hi Conor,
      I criticise Alison Weir for stating that Jane Boleyn was accountable for the deaths of Anne and George as fact when there is no concrete evidence to back this up. Weir doesn’t even attempt to back it up in “Mary Boleyn” but in “The Lady in the Tower” she writes of how Jane Boleyn was Thomas Cromwell’s best informant and that “the evidence against Lord Rochford was said to have been laid soley by his wife of twelve years, Jane Parker.” Weir backs this up with five main sources:-

      Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who, in his biography of Henry VIII in the seventeenth century, wrote of Jane being the “particular instrument” in the falls of both Anne and George Boleyn.
      The dispatches of Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador.
      An anonymous Portuguese account from the 10th June 1536 which refers to “that person who, more out of envy and jealousy than out of love towards the King, did betray this accursed secret, and together with it the names of those who had joined in the evil doings of the unchaste Queen”.
      Lancelot de Carles – De Carles reported that “a single woman” gave the most damaging evidence against Anne and George, but de Carles hinted that this woman was Lady Worcester, not Jane Boleyn. Weir and some other historians think that he was confused, as Jane was interrogated at the time.
      Jane’s confession at the block on the 13th February 1542 that she had falsely accused her husband of committing adultery with his sister Anne Boleyn.

      In his review of “The Lady in the Tower”, historian John Guy points out the following problems with the sources Alison Weir uses to build her case against Jane. He states:-

      That Chapuys never named Jane as the witness against George and Anne
      That the Portuguese source also did not name Jane, it simply said “that person”
      That Lord Herbert of Cherbury was not quoting from the lost chronicle of Anthony Anthony, as Weir states, but actually quoting from his very own book.
      That Jane’s execution confession did not exist, it was a forgery and the work of Gregorio Leti, a man known for making up stories and inventing sources
      And as far as Lancelot de Carles was concerned, he was talking about Lady Worcester, not Jane Boleyn

      We don’t know for sure what Jane told Cromwell but we should not heap the blame on her when evidence does not support this. There does not seem to have been any scandal surrounding Jane’s name until she was executed for assisting Catherine Howard with her relationship with Thomas Culpeper. The couple heaped the blame on Jane then and history seems to have used her as a scapegoat ever since.

  11. Annefan. If someone came onto this site and gloated that Anne got her ‘just deserts’ because of what happened to Catherine and Mary they would quite rightly be taken to task. Nobody deserves to be executed in such a horrid way.
    It is also usually overlooked that when the ‘gentlemen’ who accused Anne went to Henry with their rumours both Cranmer and Cromwell were away from court. Cranmer on church buisness and Cromwell in discussions with a expert in cannon law. The sort of Lawyer you consulted when you were looking to dissolve a marriage not accuse someone of treason. Cromwell may have been ruthless but he was not emontional, he didn’t take revenge. (All his papers on the subject talk of Anne’s ‘removal’ not destruction or execution but removal). Since an annulment was entirely possible and did indeed happen Cromwell had no motive. Jane Seymour and the catholic faction on the other hand DID want revenge for Catherine of Aragon and Mary. It was Jane after all who was whispering posion into Henry’s ear about Anne. Jane who was being coached to put all Anne’s actions in the worst possible light, emphasise her unpopularity with the English public and hint at even worse behaviour. All whilst soothing the royal ego and telling Henry that he was the victim in all this. Just because Henry believed Jane was a perfect angel dosen’t mean we should ignore some glaring evidence to the contrary.

  12. I didn’t like the book by Bernard for other reasons. I found the notion of a book seriously suggesting her guilt interesting and refreshing. But two things made this book a huge dissapointment for me. Firstly, he states Anne must have been unremarkable since there is no written otherwise, and there is no evidence she worked behind the scenes for the great matter- I admire him for sticking to source material but anyone with an ounce of Tudor know-how realises how remarkable she must have been, and I doubt she or her family sat idly by while Henry sought his divorce. I don’t think it even counts as speculative “must have, would have” etc since we all KNOW she and her family would have been doing everything they could to enable her to become Queen. Also he totally and utterly dismissed the notion that a son for Henry was in any way important! When there had never been a Queen of England ruling in her own right!

  13. One thing we have to remember from all accounts Cromwell gained his power with the help he gave Henry to make Anne is wife. He was associated with the Boleyn factiion.When Henry tired of Anne and found “Jane” in order for Cromwell to keep power he had to do Henry’s bidding, and Henry wanted to be rid of Anne. In turn Cromwell had to do all he could to help him. I certainly believe Cromwell instrumental in Anne’s downfall but he did not start it.
    I love this website, I do not comment often but love Clare’s studied defense of a very much maligned woman, one I have loved for years…Anne Boleyn!

  14. I’ve just read the book by Bernard and E.Ives. Although it’s difficult to translate all the time, it’s just a passion to me to discover more and more about Anne. I am a huge fan for about nearly 40 years…. I’m collecting more and more books on the subject,by ex. of Starkey and Loades etc.

    I’m also very glad to join the Anne Boleynfiles – club because they send me every now and then their newsletters.

    In Belgiun there’s almost nothing interesting to find about her. So I have to order my books in english instaed of dutch.

  15. “Hello Emma,

    I reply to your comment nearly a year after you wrote it but I just now came across this article in the Anne Boleyn Files! I must say I wholeheartedly agree with you and others who are keen to question Jane Seymour’s “perfect angel” image and her involvement in Queen Anne Boleyn’s downfall. I haven’t done extensive research on Jane or the Seymour faction but from what I do know I attest that they were every bit the ambitious upstarts the Boleyns were — only that the Seymours were less transparent about it. After the Boleyns secured favor with Henry, they became more proud (arrogant even) and less concerned with what the rest of the royal court and foreign legions thought of them. Most viewed the Boleyns as social climbers and people said so quite brazenly. Now, that’s where the Seymours come in. They were Pro-Catholic (anti-Reformist), Pro-Katherine of Aragon ( anti-Anne Boleyn) and… had an agenda. I initially bought the well accepted theory that Cromwell was behind Anne’s downfall but the more I think about it the more I question it. Realistically, Cromwell had little motive to bring down Anne. After all, it was the Boleyns who promoted Cromwell’s career (he was a very capable and intelligent man but without the patronage of someone who had precedence at court it was difficult if not impossible to climb the social ladder). He was a great friend of the family and moreover, a friend of Anne’s. I don’t entirely buy the idea that Cromwell devised a plot to have Anne unjustly murdered as well as five other innocent men just because she and him had a disagreement over the abbeys. Cromwell knew that if Anne went down, the rest of the Boleyns would go with her. I always ask myself ; who would have the most to gain from the Boleyn’s removal? My eyes can’t help but shift over to the Seymours although they probably weren’t the only ones. I think Jane was far more cunning and manipulative than history is willing to recognize… does no one else think it odd that she and the rest of the Seymours came out of the bloody downfall of Anne smelling like roses? Not saying of course that Cromwell was entirely innocent but I strongly believe there is more to the story…”

    I also came across an interesting piece of information — that the five men that Anne Boleyn was accused of committing adultery with were men that had enthusiastically participated and performed in parody plays during Wolsey’s downfall.

    1. Great post Nicole. I also always wondered how
      people could hate Anne Boleyn so much for what
      they saw as her displacing C.O.A. Yet they had no
      Problem with Jane Seymour doing it to Anne Boleyn.
      At least COA wasn’t murdered to make way for Anne
      Boleyn, the way Anne was for Jane.

  16. Hello

    I have read all these comments with interest. It seems to me that Henry VIII himself was the instigator of the attack on Anne. He left the details to Cromwell. Naturally the Seymores joined in the bonanza. This was standard practice in Tudor politics. Henry VIII was a Malignant Narcissist. His personality set the standard for Court behaviour. Factions, rivalries and jealousies were encouraged. His paranoia and insecurities became law. Cromwell would not have disobeyed his Master. Henry knew that the evidence against Anne was trumped up, hence comments on how well he wore his cuckold’s horns.
    Being Narcissistic he had no empathy for his victims. Proof positive is his ability to walk away so easily. Wolsey, Cromwell, Katherine and Anne were just a few that he shut out completely. His Narcissism drove him to ever increasing extremes, depleting the Treasury twice. His enormous vanity has been well documented. Anne became a threat to his self-image. This could not be tolerated. Reports of his lack of sexual prowess would have incurred Narcissistic Rage. Nothing less than total destruction would satisfy.
    I believe that Anne noticed a shift in the balance of power after the birth of Elizabeth. She was a remarkably astute and educated woman.

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