The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

Lately, I like to insist that “I liked the Tudors before they were cool!” (yes, I am a history hipster.) This isn’t true, of course; people have been fascinated by the Tudors since the Victorian Age. But it is true that I was obsessed with this messed-up family long before Philippa Gregory jumped on the bandwagon. Karen Cushman was my gateway author into historic fiction in 4th grade, and it must have been soon after that that I first read about the Tudors – the first one I read was either about Mary Boleyn or Mary Tudor, but they both shared two things: Anne Boleyn was heavily featured, and Lord was she an evil conniving bitch. Naturally, I was intrigued. I found a historic fiction book from Anne’s perspective, devoured it, and then read three more. Then I read about Elizabeth. Then Mary Boleyn again. Then Anne. Then Elizabeth. Repeat ad nauseum until I discover legit nonfiction history books, and learn how much the fictional accounts of these women’s lives got wrong. Example: No one really knows for sure what order the Boleyn kids were born in (but the basic rule of historic fiction seems to be that if Anne is the narrator she’s younger than Mary, and if Mary is the narrator she’s the youngest child); Anne didn’t actually have a sixth finger on one hand; and while Anne was certainly a strong-willed and driven woman, she was probably not evil and was definitely not sleeping with her brother. (Nice try, though, Philippa)

Even with all the information I already know about the Tudors and Anne Boleyn in particular, I’m still learning. Anne has passed from a historical figure to a character of legend, and historians are still figuring out what’s real and what’s made up. And no one seems to be working harder at this than Alison Weir, who is doing her damndest to stay objective and not take anything for granted when it comes to Anne’s life. And for this, I salute her.

With The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir is doing something she maintains no other historian has ever done: focusing, not on Henry and Anne’s courtship or their marriage, but just on the few months leading to her arrest, her imprisonment and trial, and the aftermath of her execution. Weir examines, in minute and critical detail, all the evidence against Anne and whether any of it might have been true; as well as who was responsible for her being accused of treason. (I’ll give you a hint: his name rhymes with Schomas Schromwell) There’s a lot of information missing (for instance, all the details of Anne’s trial aren’t around because some of the documents got destroyed), so Weir has to rely on biased accounts of various abassadors (like Ambassador Chapuys, who was a gossipy bitch) and courtiers, who in turn got most of their information from rumors and opinions rather than facts. Since most historians sort of skim over Anne’s imprisonment, I enjoyed reading about it in detail and, as I said, learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. Such as:

-Anne most definitely didn’t have a sixth finger; at most she had an extra fingernail.
-Her last stillborn baby wasn’t born deformed (wrong again, Philippa), because the child was examined in detail to make sure it had been a boy, and no one mentions a deformity.
-Anne couldn’t have been having an affair with anyone, simply because she was the fucking queen and couldn’t sneak around without help, and since no women were arrested with her we can assume that no one was helping her.
-Henry sent for the French swordsman to execute Anne before her trial even began.
-When her head was cut off, there’s a good chance that Anne remained conscious for about ten to thirty seconds.
-Before Anne, a queen of England had never been executed.
-Elizabeth was probably not informed that her mother had been killed for a long time, and Weir believes that Henry’s shielding her from this knowledge proves that he must have loved his daughter, despite her mother’s crimes.

Alison Weir is my favorite historian, and Anne Boleyn is my favorite historical figure. Together, they make one hell of a book.

“In weighing the evidence for and against her, the historian cannot but conclude 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 the bear the scars of it all her life. In the absence of any real proof of Anne’s guilt, and with her conviction only on suspicious evidence, there must be a very strong presumption that she went to her death an innocent woman.”

Verdict: five out of five stars


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