My latest book review is on Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Marriage That Shook Europe by historians John Guy and Julia Fox.
A big thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a review copy and for doing this giveaway. Bloomsbury are giving away 5 copies of Hunting the Falcon! The giveaway is open internationally. All you have to do is leave a comment below this post saying why you’re looking forward to reading this book.* Comment before the end of Friday 22nd September 2023. I’ll pick 5 comments at random, using Random.org, and I’ll contact the winners for their details.
Here’s my review:
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My review in text form:
Today, I’m reviewing “Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Marriage That Shook Europe” by John Guy and Julia Fox. It’s release date in hardback in Europe is today, 14th September, and it’s due for release over the pond on 24th October, so not too long to wait if you’re there.
One of my favourite Tudor history books is John Guy’s biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, which, of course, served as inspiration for the recent movie, and I loved both of Julia Fox’s books, the first on Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, and the second on Catherine of Aragon and her sister, Juana. All of these books were a perfect blend of meticulous research and a readable writing style, so I was very much looking forward to the couple’s book on Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, particularly as it was a joint project – so much experience and expertise combined there!
In its blurb, Hunting the Falcon is described as “A groundbreaking examination of how the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn sent shockwaves across a continent and changed England forever” and this is a very accurate description. What I enjoyed about the book was it wasn’t just a biography of Anne Boleyn, it looked at how and why Anne rose to become queen, what her and Henry’s relationship was like, what kind of queen she was, and then what happened, all the while placing this relationship in a much wider context as something that was impacted by and had an impact on Europe.
I very much feel that Anne Boleyn stood out from other women at court when she came back from France, that she was a Renaissance woman and that was a lot of the attraction for Henry, so I was pleased that Guy and Fox gave a lot of consideration to her time in Europe. What she saw there, the role models she had there and the way that things worked there had a huge bearing on the queen she became. For example, as Guy and Fox note, when Anne was queen, she didn’t just have ladies socialising in her chambers, men came too, and Guy and Fox described her style of court as a French style court of pleasure and courtly love, and this was something that could usefully be used against her later.
My absolute favourite thing about this book, though, was its examination of Anne Boleyn as queen-to-be and as queen. Anne was very much a political animal. When she finally said “yes” to Henry, she didn’t let him and his advisors sort things out, she didn’t take a back seat, she was actually a huge driving force in the Great Matter. Not only did men she acted as patron to act as experts in canon law etc., Anne had her own theological arguments, she came up with ideas herself and was listened to. Anne was an intelligent woman, she’d read theological books, she knew what she was talking about. And Guy and Fox see Anne’s time in the early 1530s, before she became queen, as Anne at her zenith, as far as her influence on the king was concerned. She was very much his partner, his equal at this time. But she was also willing and able to speak out when she didn’t agree with the king and/or his advisors, and Guy and Fox look in detail at examples of that, for example, Anne’s views on the dissolution of the monasteries, which weren’t at all in synch with Henry’s or Cromwell’s.
Guy and Fox see Anne Boleyn as the love of Henry VIII’s life, a passion he had never experienced before and a passion he never experienced again. I completely agree with this assessment. I enjoyed their section on his love letters to her and their courtship, and the points they make about Henry’s relationship with his mother, Elizabeth of York, and how this affected his views on women.
And Henry, well, they see him as a narcissist, and they conclude that his marriage to Anne left an indelible mark on him, and although their marriage changed England for ever, it did not change him, he changed himself. An interesting assessment, which is well argued.
There are, of course, things I don’t agree with, for example, Guy and Fox’s views on Anne when Henry first noticed her. They see her as modelling herself on Elizabeth Woodville and being ambitious, wanting the king to propose to her and holding out on him for that reason. They also really don’t like Thomas Boleyn. They see him as mean, greedy and grasping, and willing to do anything to rise at court and to save his own neck. I definitely don’t agree with either of those views.
Is the book ground-breaking?
Yes, its examination of Henry and Anne’s relationship is fresh, and I particularly enjoyed the details about the French court and Anne’s time in France, which often gets passed over, and the details on Anne’s involvement in the Great Matter.
Guy and Fox have also found new documentary evidence, for example, a manuscript which backs up the argument that Anne was the younger of the two sisters, and they also go into a lot of details regarding Anne and George’s trials.
I won’t go into any more details as I don’t want to spoil the book, although I think this review would have to be a few feature length movies to do that! It’s so detailed.
The book also contains family trees, and, helpfully a section listing those mentioned, for example, members of Anne Boleyn’s household, with a sentence explaining who they were. And, what I really love about the book, is it has a huge notes section, so Guy and Foxe properly cite their sources – hurrah. You can see how big the appendices, notes and bibliography are if I hold up the book. My bookmark is where the main text of the book ends. It’s always good to know what source a historian is using to back up their views.
As you can see, I’ve turned down lots of corners. I do that when there’s something interesting, something that made me go hmmm…, something that I didn’t agree with or want to check out, or just something I want to go back to and re-read. Lots of hmmm… moments! That’s good. I want to read a history book that makes me pause for thought, that challenges me and my views, successfully or unsuccessfully, and this book certainly did that.
I’d definitely recommend Hunting the Falcon for anyone interested in knowing more about Anne Boleyn and wanting a fresh perspective on her relationship with Henry VIII.
A groundbreaking, freshly-researched examination of one of the most dramatic and consequential marriages in history: Henry VIII’s long courtship, short union, and brutal execution of Anne Boleyn.
Hunting the Falcon is the story of how Henry VIII’s obsessive desire for Anne Boleyn changed him and his country forever. John Guy and Julia Fox, two of the most acclaimed and distinguished historians of this period, have joined forces to present Anne and Henry in startlingly new ways. By closely examining the most recent archival discoveries, and peeling back layers of historical myth and misinterpretation and distortion, Guy and Fox are able to set Anne and Henry’s tragic relationship against the major international events of the time, and integrate and reinterpret sources hidden in plain sight or simply misunderstood. Among other things, they dispel lingering and latently misogynistic assumptions about Anne which anachronistically presumed that a sixteenth-century woman, even a queen, could exert little to no influence on the politics and beliefs of a patriarchal society. They reveal how, in fact, Anne was a shrewd, if ruthless, politician in her own right, a woman who steered Henry and his policies, often against the advice he received from his male advisers—and whom Henry seriously contemplated making joint sovereign.
Hunting the Falcon sets the facts–and some completely new finds–into a far wider frame, providing an appreciation of this misunderstood and underestimated woman. It explores how Anne organized her “side” of the royal court on novel and (in male eyes) subversive lines compared to her queenly predecessors, adopting instead French protocol by which the sexes mingled freely in her private chambers. Men could share in the women’s often sexually charged courtly “pastimes” and had liberal access to Anne, and she to them—encounters from which she gained much of her political intelligence and extended her authority, and which also sowed the seeds of her own downfall.
An exhilarating feat of historical research and analysis, Hunting the Falcon is also a thrilling and tragic story of a marriage that has proved of enduring fascination over the centuries. But in the hands of John Guy and Julia Fox, even the most knowledgeable reader will encounter this story as if for the first time.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing in the UK (14 September 2023), Harper in the US (24 October 2023)
Hardback: 624 pages
ISBN-10: 1526631520 UK, 0063073447 US
ISBN-13: 978-1526631527 UK, 978-0063073449 US
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