There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must decide, themselves, whether they are the hero or the villain.
Anne Boleyn most likely thought of herself as the hero of a story, a martyr even. Manipulated by her family and forced into a situation she never desired, she chased the King of England, Henry VIII. First her sister, Mary, was offered up to him. Their family gained favor and money through her dalliance with the King, the fact that she bore him a child was just considered shameful. When he became interested in Anne, her family wanted to play for the longer game. The one that would bring their family to the top and gain them the positions they felt they had deserved from the beginning. Their plan worked, for a time.
The story of the six wives of Henry VIII is nothing new to me. One of my favorite historical fiction subjects, I have read as many of the books as I can get my hands on. In the past, I had read one of Alison Weir’s books and did not find I liked it as much as other authors. However, I have always found Anne Boleyn the most interesting of all of his wives and could not resist giving this title a chance. How happy I am that I have.
The book opens with Anne as a young girl and takes you through her life, one year (or group of years in the beginning) to give you an idea of how she was raised. Bounced from court to court, as it pleased her family and gained them a better reputation; Anne was exposed to a number of revolutionary ideas. Mostly about the status of women and religion. These early influences shaped her into the tenacious woman she became later in life, they also aided her downfall. You start the book in love with Anne, all of her youthful exuberance and love for knowledge. She was someone any girl could see themselves in. Someone who wanted to marry for love, not for political alliance. All she wanted was to learn more and be respected as a person, not just a lowly woman who meant nothing without her father or a husband. Constantly, she is reminded of her age and that she is getting past the point of marrying.
Even when Anne meets Henry, she wants nothing to do with him. Especially after his affair with her sister. She hates him. But he is interested in her. Henry sends her gifts and raises her family up. This her father cannot ignore. He implores Anne to play the game with Henry, to act interested without compromising herself. They seek more money and a higher position at court. This game goes on for years as Anne slowly coaxes him away from his lawful wife, Katherine. All this time, you remain on Anne’s side because she is doing what she has been told to do. In truth, she has little other choice. She can play the game with Henry or she can sleep with him for a short time, either way she ends up in ruin if he ever tires of her. Then Henry begins speaking of divorcing Katherine and marrying Anne, this is where everything changes.
In the beginning of the King’s Great Matter, Anne remains much the same person we have loved from the start. She still does not really want this marriage, she’s had her eye on someone else all along. However, she knows this is what is best for her, her family, and her future children. She seeks a better life for all involved. But she has grown bitter against Katherine which changes her. I cannot pinpoint the moment I started to hate Anne, to think she was a wicked person for the things she was doing. But it happened so seamlessly along the way.
That has been one of my favorite things about this book. It takes you along the same journey her family and Anne most likely walked. Starting (mostly) innocent and turning into people who wished – and plotted – for the deaths of their enemies. They became like the people they hated, all to gain more power. And what did it bring them in the end? When the King was finally done with them all, he had them killed. Do not get me wrong, King Henry VIII is just as much to blame in this, he is the man with six wives who could never have enough power. He destroyed so many people – women especially – in his quest for power and a son.
My favorite quote from the book was: “There was a certain irony in the fact that it had taken minutes to dissolve the marriage that Henry had striven and schemed for six years to make.”
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir comes out May 18th, I urge you to pick this one up if you have an interest in history or scandalous tales.
After reading this book, I just want to binge watch the Tudors and pick up some more historical fiction. Any suggestions to fill this Tudor void?