Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review: The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, by Alison Weir (2009)

Paperback cover of The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, by Alison Weir, 2009. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)

One of the only authenticated paintings of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England from 1533-1536.

British author and historian Alison Weir.
British author and historian Alison Weir has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the Tudor period. Her 2009 non-fiction book, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn examines the rapid descent of Anne Boleyn in 1536 from Queen of England to convicted traitor.
In May of 1536, Anne was accused of adultery, incest, and plotting to kill Henry. She was found guilty of these charges and was beheaded on May 19, 1536. Five men accused of committing adultery with Anne, including her brother, Lord Rochford, were beheaded two days earlier. Was Anne Boleyn really guilty of these charges? Or was she framed as the victim of a palace coup?

The simple answer is that we will probably never know for certain, owing to many gaps in the historical record. It all depends on how you interpret the sketchy existing evidence. Weir advocates for Anne’s innocence, blaming the plotting for her downfall on Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s main advisor. I thought Weir makes a compelling argument. She makes the point that it seems rather unlikely that Anne would commit adultery with multiple men, which would have obviously jeopardized her future as Queen. She had a good thing going, why would she be so irrational and mess it all up? Of course, people do not always act rationally. Weir also pokes holes in the surviving documents that accused Anne, showing that the times and places she’s accused of committing adultery don’t correspond with the known historical record of where the royal court actually was.

Weir does a good job of describing the complicated politics of Henry VIII’s reign. I don’t know much about the Tudor period, and I’ll admit it was a challenge to keep track of all the different people. It was also hard to get a sense of the personalities of the main players, as we really don’t have very much direct evidence about what they were thinking or feeling. Perhaps that’s why they are so many fictional depictions of the Tudor period-in fiction you can delve into the possible motivations and psychology behind the actions of the main players. Weir does a good job of sticking to the known facts and tries to debunk historical theories about Anne that don’t have much evidence to back them up.

If you’re interested in this period of English history, you should pick up The Lady in the Tower, a book that details a fascinating and turbulent time.

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