Anne Boleyn is arguably one of England’s best known historic figures. And also one of the most divisive. Originally published in 1972, Anne Boleyn by Marie Louise Bruce is an eminently readable account of Anne’s life, loves, and downfall. As many people may know, Anne Boleyn started her life as the youngest daughter of a minor diplomat. While she had ties to several great houses, she was considered of little consequence herself – until she caught the eye of Henry VIII and then refused to bed him unless they were wed first. From there her star rose… ultimately leading to Henry breaking from Rome and the creation of the Church of England. But when she couldn’t give Henry the son he wanted, he soured towards her which led to her downfall and execution.
This book takes you through it all. Utilizing primary resources where she can, Bruce illuminates just who Anne was. She wasn’t the harlot and harpy that her detractors paint her as, nor was she the victim to the whims of her father and eventual husband. She’s a complex woman who was often neglected and forgotten as child. Shuttled off to be raised in the French court, she learned early on how to make the most of what she had. And Bruce supplies several pieces of evidence that supports this. And what’s more, she provides context to the primary sources that she uses. This makes the book much easier to understand… while some people might think that by providing context she’s fictionalizing the accounts, that’s not what I’m seeing here. The words are right there on the page and are open to interpretation. What she provides is information about that source… who they are known to have supported… what motives they might have had based on the prior (and future) behavior. It’s not fiction, but a biography that goes beyond names, dates, and actions and into how those names, dates, and actions relate in the greater whole. There’s context. And for someone who loves this period and in particular this tiny but crucial portion of history, context is everything.
So this is where I need to admit my own bias, which Bruce also does in both her introduction and conclusion to this book, I like Anne Boleyn. I respect her. I feel sorry for her. I acknowledge that she was an emotional and stubborn woman who likely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So seeing a portrayal of her where she isn’t demonized or worse is heartening. I am also 90% certain that I read this book in college as part of researching a paper on Anne Boleyn. The book was my jumping off point to other sources, and it is a good resource for people who are interested in the politics of the time.
This is the kind of book that fans of the Tudor era will adore.
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Thank you to Sapere Books for providing me with an ARC of this book.