Me, Edmond Bapst and George Boleyn – Am I mad?

Posted By on November 4, 2013

Two Gentleman Poets As many of you will know, I have just published an English translation I commissioned of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey: Deux Gentilhommes-Poètes de la Cour de Henry VIII. I want to take this opportunity to explain why I commissioned this project, particularly as one person has claimed that I have now lost all credibility because I have supported the publication of a work that is critical of some members of the Boleyn family.

How can I, as someone who fights against inaccuracies and who debunks myths regarding the Boleyns, commission the translation of a book by a man who thinks that Thomas Boleyn was “a vile and self-interested man” who threw his daughters at the King so that he would reap the benefits, and that Anne Boleyn “lost all her moral sense and developed the evil seeds that Nature doubtless placed in her, becoming not only as sensual as all the others of her race, but guileful and self-seeking”?

Have I changed my mind about the Boleyns? Have I gone mad? Am I a hypocrite? Have I sold out?

Well, no, no, no and no.

I don’t agree with some of Bapst’s views on Anne and her family, but they are his views and he can back them up. After all, those are the Boleyns of Nicholas Sander’s work, the letters of Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Chronicle etc. I happen to disagree with Bapst, and I too can cite sources to back my views up and challenge those of Bapst, but neither I nor Bapst can hand-on-heart say that we are 100% right. I am not going to let a difference in opinion stop me from using a book as a resource or from enabling others to use it for their research. Read, digest, investigate and accept or challenge, that’s how I work with sources.

Edmond Bapst’s Deux Gentilhommes-Poètes de la Cour de Henry VIII, published in 1891, is currently the only biography of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, in existence and it is in 19th century French. Obviously Clare Cherry and I will be rectifying this situation in 2014 by publishing our own biography of George, but for now Bapst’s is the only one. That alone makes his book a valuable, even invaluable, resource. It was only available in French, though, and this was obviously a barrier for many readers and researchers, it was inaccessible to them. So, I felt that the translation I had commissioned for my own research would be useful to others. Whatever Bapst’s views about the Boleyns, his use of a wide range of primary sources, and in particular the French ones, makes his biography a brilliant resource. In fact, his notes alone make this book valuable for those researching either the Boleyns or Howards.

Clare first came across Bapst’s book a few years ago when she was researching George Boleyn because Bapst was cited as a reference in a book on Anne Boleyn; however, she struggled using Bapst because she could not read French and translation programmes just could not cope with the age and style of the French. When I started using Bapst myself, even though I had a good grounding in French there were parts that I just could not get to grips with, particularly sections where he was quoting from 16th century French letters. I had to seek help from a professional translator and from someone who had experience with this style of French. That’s when the translation project was born.

Bapst’s book on Rochford and Surrey is excellent. It gives so much details on their lives – their family background, their upbringing, their life at court, Rochford’s embassies, Surrey’s time as a soldier, their poetry, their falls and their executions. It charts their careers, their rises and falls. It is also a snapshot in time, a snapshot of the 19th century view of these two men and the court of Henry VIII, and what is really interesting is that it is from a French perspective. It is also fully referenced, and properly too, i.e. specific documents and page numbers, so researchers will love it. This book has led me on quite a few research journeys!

In my research and writing, I use a variety of primary and secondary sources. I use Sander, Chapuys, de Carles, Foxe, Friedmann, Strickland, Weir, Bernard… They all have views I don’t agree with and some even contain things we would consider inaccuracies, but that does not mean that they should not be read and used. Every source and history book needs to be treated with caution. If I didn’t read Bapst because of his views on Anne then I’d be denying myself an incredibly useful book. If I didn’t share the translation of Bapst’s work I’d had done with those interested in George Boleyn and Henry Howard then what a waste it would be. His views reflect the time he was writing in and the sources he had access to – and they’re not all critical of the Boleyns by the way – plus, they are only a small part of this excellent history book.

I also made the decision not to add to Bapst’s notes, except where it was necessary to explain an issue with the translation. I could have gone through it saying “Well, I don’t agree with this bit because…” but then that wouldn’t be a translation of Bapst’s book, would it? My thoughts and opinions are shared in my work.

One person asked if the publication of Bapst’s biography of George affects mine and Clare’s project in any way. No, it does not. Bapst’s book is a resource we have both been using for several years and its publication was a completely separate project. Our own biography of George will be very different in that we will be focusing on George, rather than doing a dual biography, and we will be going into more detail on his life and including sections on his faith and his political career.

So, I’m not mad or hypocritical, I’m simply supporting a book that I have found incredibly useful in my own work and which I have cited in my books. I hope others will enjoy having access to it.

Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII is available as a paperback and kindle version in the USA, but only as a kindle version in the rest of the world at the moment. The paperback should be coming soon. Here are the links:

20 thoughts on “Me, Edmond Bapst and George Boleyn – Am I mad?”

  1. Deborah Braden says:

    Thank you Claire for publishing this book and making it available to the community of scholastic research. Your credibility is only heightened as you continue to share your hard work with others to make research less tedious and stressful. I. for one, am indebted to you.

    1. Claire says:

      Thank you, Deborah, I didn’t want to make too much of a negative review but I felt that I should explain why I published this book. Thank you for your kind comment.

  2. Mary Harris-Keeler says:

    I believe that Sir Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk did push both Mary and Anne Boleyn to the king to help the family. But, so many “stories” have been told, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Women had no choice in their destinies in those times. Mary Boleyn is my 10th Great Grandmother. I can only imagine how awful it must have been to have your father put you into a man’s bed, especially without the benefit of marriage. Then, you’re pushed aside for your sister to be promoted. The Boleyns were ambitious, nothing wrong with that, it’s just how you handle and who you affect with your ambition. In today’s world, these men would be imprisoned for child abuse.

    As far as Lord Rochford, who knows if he were truly gay. I don’t believe there were incest. But, whose to say T. Boleyn wouldn’t have ordered that too, to keep them in power. Nevertheless, his children paid the price for his ambition. I would very much like to read this new book. It sounds like it may answer many questions.

    Rest in peace Grandmother Mary Boleyn, Aunt Ann and Uncle George!

  3. History is a constant debate of various and frequently oposing opinions which is why it is such a fascinating subject. This is why in a sense no-one can be sure they are correct or wrong in their opinions. The truth is none of us know. Our sources are dependant upon the writings of whatever opinions the chronicler of the time may have felt towards whoever they were writing about. Everyone is likely to be biased in some way.
    Therefore the translation from the French language of George Boelyn can only be of help. if one only read opinions one agreed with our views would become very narrow.

    1. Lisa H says:

      Exactly. Very well expressed.

  4. Who on earth said you had lost all credibility? what a weird thing to say! Are translators of Mein Kampf Nazis, or of Thomas a Kempis, saints?

    1. Claire says:

      It was a one star Amazon review, which was all about me and not at all about Bapst, so rather odd. I don’t usually respond to reviews but I felt it was important to make this point.

      Exactly, you’ve hit the nail on the head!

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    I think what you did having this book translated was a very generous and academic thing to do, plus leaving it in its ‘pure’ state and not adding any comments lets the reader to come to their own conclusions about it.
    It shows that you are a serious researcher into the Boleyns, will leave no stone unturned and refer to ALL sources available, even if they disagree with your own views.
    I think this applies to anyone really, that if books are ignored because they opposed your own thoughts, you would develop a narrow view and limit your knowledge on any subject matter. To get a full picture you need to enter into the world of different opinions. Like we do on here.
    And as you say, it does have great value, because of it’s age, it’s country of origin, and being the only book about George…so far… 🙂
    Good on yer gal!!

  6. The Rose Crowned says:

    The one and only book on “George Boleyn” that is surprising is it not? But lest not forget it is also about “Henry Howard” too! But it would be good to make a translation of the book a translated copy for all as well as each to read! I think it a good idea! 🙂

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, the section on Henry Howard is excellent too.

      1. The Rose Crowned says:

        🙂

  7. Terri says:

    I just bought it. I trust you and agree with every word you said. Thank you for translating as my French is real rusty : )

  8. Edie says:

    I believe your willingness to commission the translation of that book heightens your credibility as opposed to diminishing it. One needs to be familiar with all works on the historical person being researched in order to have a firm and well rounded understanding. While I disagree with a number of writers out there, I will still read anything I can get my hands on when it comes to a figure that I’m interested in.

    I look forward to reading the translation AND your book when it comes out and keep upi the excellent work!

  9. Lisa H says:

    Translating and publishing a work is not the same thing as agreeing and endorsing its opinions. It does provide a way for others interested in the subject to examine another opinion and directs us to the sources that author used that we may not have been aware of before.

    Would we wish that no one had translated Chapuy’s opinions (and many of his papers are just that – opinions) because we disagree with them? Or Sanders? How would we know what we disagreed with until we have read them?

    If non-English speakers wish to examine all points of view and come to their own conclusions, how would they do so if someone did not translate the English sources?

    How can we refute what we feel are inaccuracies (or agree with what we feel are truths) if we can’t read them?

    And if we only translate the sources and opinions we agree with, are we not skewing the ability of others to form their own opinions?

    How then do we find truth? Or our opinion of the truth?

    I for one appreciate the opportunity to read this book, whether I agree with the author’s opinion or not. And I won’t know that until I read the book, which I could not do without this translation.

  10. Sonetka says:

    Good God, of course you’re not. The more information is available the better, no matter what its slant might be — if nothing else, the slant gives us valuable information about what information writers at that time had access to, how it may have shaped their opinions, or what facts loomed large to them which we may have overlooked or not considered important. Especially when it’s a biography of George Boleyn, who has not exactly been overwhelmed by biographers, ANYTHING is valuable.

  11. Dee says:

    I bought it and will be using it as a resource for my own project, so my thanks to you for having it done! I agree completely with Dawn1st’s comment–she said it very well.

    That said, I must add I wish I was in college now. This post would be an invaluable discussion point in my historiography class (study of the study of history–or rather the historians who wrote it) and I could have written my final paper on this. Not that I regret the one I wrote, but this would have had such “oomph!” behind it! Complete with some controversy, no less.

  12. Anyanka says:

    Gosh..I hadn’t realised I was only allowed one view of a historical figure. I have always been aware that people had differing views of an event or a person based on who the reporting person was and not the reported person/event.

    I’m aware that George Anne et al were not 1 diamentional Barbie dolls but complex figures onto whom we can project our own emotions and issues. Chapyus shouldn’t be ignored as a source even though he was anti-Anne and neither should Strickland due to her biases.

    Ignoring the biases and getting to the bare bones of the story even if we don’t like the way it’s written is part of doing research regardless of your descipline. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff is the mark of true scholarship.

  13. Susan Higginbotham says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this. Thanks for making it available in translation!

  14. Judith says:

    Are you able to make this book available through The Book Depository, along with the Anne Boleyn Collection II? They don’t charge for postage.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Judith,
      The Anne Boleyn Collection II is available for the Book Depository to stock so I’m not sure why they haven’t listed it – sorry. Two Gentleman Poets is not available in Europe in paperback yet but I will post about it on here when it is. Thanks!

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