Elevate Difference

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Having been drawn to the history of midwifery and peasants/working classes, I’ve always shied away from studying aristocrats. When I first picked up The Lady in the Tower, I was a bit apprehensive. Over 350 pages in length (not including the bibliography, source notes, or illustrations), it appeared to be a daunting reading task. Despite my worries, the work turned out to be thoroughly engaging and interesting.

From Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, Alison Weir examines the medieval context that they existed in, handing over no prejudices, just facts (as well as omitted evidence). Whether Anne slept with five men behind Henry’s back, well, that is for the reader to interpret. Contrary to popular knowledge, Weir states that Henry was not behind Anne’s fall, since he clearly could have done away with her as he did his previous queen, Katherine.

On top of all the primary source investigation, Weir utilizes a historical methodology which covers interpretations in different eras down through the ages. She explains that yes, the masses saw Anne in a better light during her daughter Elizabeth I’s reign. Later in the Victorian era Anne’s image was romanticized, so Weir effectively notes the easy sway of public opinion.

Today, however, Weir observes past records and argues that it was near impossible for a queen in Anne’s time to find the privacy to take up with five different lovers (including her own brother). The role of modern science explains issues like miscarriages and Katherine’s death (cancer), which the superstitious and god-fearing people of sixteenth century England were not privy to. Weir’s work incorporates archaeological examination of the burial area where Anne’s beheaded body was approximately laid to rest.

Weir does a great job of keeping the context in focus, while keeping the narrative compelling. The only disappointment of the book, as an advance copy, was that the illustrations were not included. The only historical figure that I could not muster sympathy for was Thomas Cromwell (the man who spearheaded the king's disposal of Anne, and who also later faced his own execution), but don’t let me be the judge or hand-picked jury on the final verdict of Cromwell’s character.

This account of the Tudors has really piqued my curiosity to go beyond the surface of the occasional pedigree chart or Hollywood movie for Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII came alive in the pages.

Written by: Nicolette Westfall, January 16th 2010

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