October’s Book of the Month, here at The Anne Boleyn Files, is the long awaited “The Lady in the Tower” by Tudor historian Alison Weir.
Weir’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, has been publicising this book as the first book to be entirely devoted to Anne Boleyn’s fall; a little misleading when books like Retha Warnicke’s “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” and Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” cover Anne Boleyn’s fall and the events leading up to it in detail, but it is technically true!
I blogged last week on The Anne Boleyn Files about my thoughts on the first few chapters of “The Lady in the Tower” and what had struck me so far:-
- Weir’s belief that Anne and Henry’s marriage was unhappy from the start
- Weir describes Anne as “haughty, overbearing, shrewish and volatile”, perhaps due to hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancies and miscarriages – Harsh words!
- Weir’s belief that Anne was not chaste and virtuous and that Henry became disenchanted or disillusioned when he realised this.
- Weir’s ideas about Anne’s appearance – Weir writes about Anne’s sixth fingernail and her moles which could have been seen as marks of the devil.
- The idea that Anne was Rhesus negative – not a new idea as it was put forward by Retha Warnicke, but it’s interesting that Weir is also discussing it.
- Anne’s malice towards Mary
- Chapuys – Weir does imply that although his letters are great primary sources Henry VIII’s secretary wrote of Chapuys’ “Tale-telling, lying and flattering”. Chapuys often relied rather too heavily on gossip.
- Jane Seymour – Hallelujah! Alison Weir also believes that Jane Seymour may not have been the meek, demure, “sugar and spice and all things nice” woman that she is often portrayed as.
- Henry’s accident – Did Henry’s accident make him think of his mortality and bring home to him the urgency of getting a male heir?
Those are just a few points or issues that struck me when I was reading the first few chapters and Alison Weir does not disappoint in the rest of the book. I was forever underlining bits, putting stars by paragraphs and making notes, and that is always a sign that I am finding new ideas and theories, or things that back up my own beliefs. Question marks or exclamation marks in margins mean I am not impressed and these were rare in Weir’s book.
I wouldn’t say that there was anything truly groundbreaking or revolutionary in Weir’s examination of Anne Boleyn’s fall, but there were times when I almost said “Ah” out loud when she explained something that I had never fully understood before or when she backed up a theory that others have put forward but never proven with evidence. My poor husband had to listen to me read bits out when I got overexcited!
What is a delight about this book is the detail that Weir gives about:-
- The events leading up to Anne’s fall
- The fall or “coup” itself
- The men involved
- The trials
- Anne’s imprisonment
- The executions of the men
- Anne’s execution
- The burials
- Public reaction to the news of Anne’s execution, both home and abroad
- The legacy of Anne’s execution
- The changing views surrounding Anne’s story
- Anne Boleyn legends
Everything was covered and every question or niggling doubt that I had seemed to be answered in this book and it will definitely be the book that I use alongside my beloved Eric Ives book, which is getting rather battered. I don’t want to spoil the book by giving a rundown of Alison Weir’s thoughts and theories, but highlights of the book for me were:-
- Weir’s examination of Henry’s role in Anne’s fall – Did he order the investigation? Was he determined to get rid of Anne at all costs or was he too an innocent victim who was made to believe the worse of Anne?
- Weir’s accounts of the trials – How they were organised, who was on the jury, what happened and what evidence there was against the men and Anne.
- The detail that Weir gives about the men – Too often we forget that Anne was not the only victim, five men were also executed and they were more than just names, they were real people with jobs and families. Weir explains who they were, how they got embroiled in the coup and examines whether they really were the “libertines” and homosexuals of Warnicke’s book.
- Weir’s description of Anne’s execution and her look at the various accounts of it and the speech that Anne made.
- Weir’s examination of the evidence that brought Anne down and how, if Anne was innocent, 95 jurors could find her guilty
I also love Weir’s words on page 322 and 323:-
“Notwithstanding all this [that some believed the evidence], it is almost certain that there was a grievous miscarriage of justice. The circumstances of Anne’s fall strongly suggest that she was framed; even her enemy Chapuys thought so.”
“In weighing up the evidence for and against her, the historian cannot but concluded that Anne Boleyn was the victim of a dreadful miscarriage of justice: and not only Anne and the men accused with her, but also the King himself, the Boleyn faction and -saddest of all – Elizabeth, who was to bear the scars of it all her life. In the absence of any real proof of Anne’s guilt, and with her having been convicted only on suspicious evidence, there must be a very strong presumption that she went to her death and innocent woman.”
Many people still believe that Anne Boleyn was a whore who deserved everything she got so I hope that this book will go some way to restoring Anne’s image, we can but hope.
All in all, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, and would say that it is a must-read for Anne Boleyn fans and students doing essays or projects on Anne. Read it!
“The Lady in the Tower” by Alison Weir is published by Jonathan Cape and is available now in the UK. Click here to purchase from Amazon UK who ship worldwide.