Posted By Claire on November 4, 2013
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: