I was very excited when I heard about the release of this book just a few weeks after Alison Weir’s “The Lady in the Tower”, October was a really great month for Anne Boleyn fans! However, I must admit to being rather put off by the publisher’s blurb on Amazon, which said:
“The story of Anne Boleyn’s early life, told in detail for the first time. Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most engaging of Henry VIII’s Queens. For her he would divorce his wife of some twenty years standing, he would take on the might of the Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire; he would even alienate his own people in order to win her favour and, eventually, her hand. But before Henry came into her life Anne Boleyn had already wandered down love’s winding path. She had learned its twists and turns during her youth spent at the courts of the Low Countries and France, where she had been sent as a result of her scandalous behaviour with her father’s butler and chaplain. Here her education had been directed by two of the strongest women of the age – and one of the weakest. Returning to England she was courted by three different suitors in three very different circumstances. The first was James Butler, with whom an arranged marriage was designed to settle a family dispute over the earldom of Ormond. Anne then captured the heart of Henry Percy, whose genuine love for her was reciprocated and would have lead to Anne becoming countess of Northumberland had the couple not been cruelly torn apart in the interests of politics and worldly ambition. Lastly, Thomas Wyatt, the dreamy young poet and ambassador who was captivated by Anne but who stepped aside when he saw that he had a rival: none other than the great King Henry VIII himself.”
Anne Boleyn being sent away as a result of her scandalous behaviour with her father’s butler and chaplain?! I really did not want to read a book which took this myth as truth! But, good news, this is just publicity and Josephine Wilkinson does not believe this myth any more than I do and the book is not a collection of myths, scandals and hearsay, which it could so easily be, but is based on meticulous research and hard evidence – phew!
So, what does the book cover?
“The Early Loves of Anne Boleyn” is split into 15 chapters with an introduction, epilogue, references, bibliography and 32 pages of colour, glossy illustrations of portraits and places. Here is a rundown of the chapters and what they cover:-
- Growing up at Hever 1501-1513 – Like Ives, Wilkinson believes that Anne was born around 1500/1501 and this chapter covers her family’s background from her great grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, onwards, and also looks at who exactly Thomas Boleyn was.
- The Coming of Grace: Anne and Margaret, Archduchess of Austria, 1513-14 – We all know that Anne went abroad to become a fille d’honeur to Archduchess Margaret, the Regent of the Netherlands, but who exactly was Margaret? This chapter is wonderful in that it explains exactly who Margaret was, what her court would have been like and what Anne would have learned from her time there.
- The Rival of Venus: Anne in France 1514-1521 – Alison Weir pointed out in “The Lady in the Tower” that Anne Boleyn was corrupted by the French court so I was interested to read this chapter and find out Wilkinson’s viewpoint. Wilkinson writes of Queen Claude’s court being “run almost as a convent” and how she insisted on high morality, restraint, modesty and virtue. OK, so we don’t know whether Anne managed to escape this and have a good time in secret but I highly doubt it, and Wilkinson believes that the slander on Anne’s virtue and reputation is down to Nicholas Sander “who lost no opportunity to malign Anne”.
- An Irish Alliance: Anne and James Butler 1521-1522 – A chapter covering the proposed marriage between Anne and James Butler, son of Sir Piers Butler, a marriage which would have settled a dispute between Thomas Boleyn and Sir Piers Butler over the earldom of Ormond. If you’ve ever wondered who James was then this is a great chapter for you. This chapter also covers Anne’s appearance, drawing together contemporary descriptions of her.
- An Innocent Love Affair: Anne and Henry Percy 1522-1524 – How different Anne’s life would have been if she had been allowed to marry her sweetheart Henry Percy! In this chapter we find out all about Percy and his background and Wilkinson also examines exactly what his relationship with Anne was and how far it went.
- “Where Force and Beauty Met”: Anne and Thomas Wyatt 1524-1526 – In “The Tudors”, it implies that Anne and Thomas Wyatt, the poet, did have a relationship, but what is the real truth? Wyatt’s poems show that he obviously had some deep feelings for Anne but were they returned or were they sadly unrequited? Did Wyatt have to move over for Henry VIII and what of the story about Wyatt turning up at Hever and finding that Anne had hidden another lover upstairs?! This chapter looks at the evidence for and the rumours surrounding some type of relationship between them.
- Anne’s Revenge 1527-1530 – Many people believe that Anne Boleyn was directly responsible for the fall of Cardinal Wolsey and that she acted out of revenge for him preventing the marriage between her and Henry Percy, but what is the truth of the matter? Wilkinson examines the relationship between Wolsey and Anne.
- Henry Percy and the Arrest of Cardinal Wolsey 1530 – Was the sending of Henry Percy to arrest Wolsey Anne’s final act of revenge?
- The Pre-Contract 1532 – In this chapter, Wilkinson examines the Countess of Northumberland’s (Percy’s wife, Mary Talbot)) accusation that her husband had told her that their marriage was illegal because he had already been pre-contracted to Anne Boleyn. What was the truth behind this allegation and did Mary Talbot ever actually accuse her husband of this? Wilkinson looks at this issue and how it was handled as Henry VIII strove to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.
- “Some Tyme I Fled” 1532-1533 – A brief chapter examining the reasons for Wyatt’s fall from grace and the Duke of Suffolk’s exile from court. Were the two things linked?
- Al the Queen’s Men: The Perils of Courtly Love, May 1536 – A look at the fall of Anne Boleyn and the men that were accused of committing adultery with her, including those who escaped the axe man: Thomas Wyatt, Sir Richard Page and Sir Francis Bryan.
- “Myn Extreme Enemye”: Thomas Wyatt, May 1536 – It is strange that a man who had been linked with Anne in the past managed to escape execution, when other members of Anne’s circle were so brutally framed and executed. Wouldn’t it have been easier to link Wyatt to Anne? This chapter looks at Wyatt, his career at court, his arrest and imprisonment.
- Circs Regna Tonat, 12 May 1536 – A chapter looking at the accusations made against Smeaton, Weston, Norris, Brereton and Rochford.
- Persecuted Innocence, 13-16 May 1536 – In this chapter Wilkinson looks at the rumours that circulated about the King seeking a divorce from Anne on the grounds of her pre-contract to Henry Percy, Henry Percy’s health at this time, and the trials of Anne and George.
- “The Bell Towre Showed me Such a Syght”, 17 May 1536 – A brief chapter about Wyatt, the horrors he saw from his Bell Tower window and his eventual release from his prison.
- Epilogue: After Anne – Tis is an interesting look at what happened to the Tudor characters who had links with Anne after her death on the 19th May 1536. Wilkinson looks at the lives of James Butler, Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt. An interesting chapter.
This book is not as long or as detailed as Alison Weir’s “The Lady in the Tower” or the biographies by Warnicke or Ives, but it is an interesting look at the men in Anne Boleyn’s life and the many scandals that surrounded this much maligned Queen. I really enjoyed Wilkinson’s insights into Anne’s life at the Hapsburg and French courts, her relationships with Percy and Wyatt, and who these men actually were. We will never know the exact truth behind the rumours and scandals that surrounded Anne, but I enjoyed Wilkinson’s examination of these rumours and her look at actual evidence.
I would highly recommend this book to any fan of Anne Boleyn and Tudor history and those researching the life of Anne Boleyn, and it makes a great companion book to Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”.
Josephine Wilkinson is an author and historian with a PhD in history from the University of Newcastle. She has received British Academy research funding and has been scholar in residence at St Deiniol’s Library. She has also written “Mary Boleyn” and “Richard III: The Young King to Be” which were both published by Amberley. You can read An Interview with Dr Josephine Wilinson at The Anne Boleyn Files and you can hear her speak about Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle on The Anne Boleyn Experience 2010.