Bernard's revisionary view of Anne Boleyn revolves around three arguments:
a) that Anne wasn't particularly religious and had little to do with the Reformation;
b) that it was Henry who withheld from a full sexual relationship with Anne for five or so years until they could be decently married;
c) that Anne really did sleep with the five men with whom she was accused of committing adultery, including her brother.
It has to be said that the evidence to support these positions is a little fragile, to say the least, so this book is primarily based in interpretation.
I don't know enough about the religious context to accept or fully reject the first point. But that it was Henry who refused to sleep with Anne for about five years doesn't feel convincing. Bernard suggests that Henry was so concerned about only having sex within marriage so that any children would be free from the stain of illegitimacy - but that assumes that from the moment he saw Anne, Henry knew that he wanted to marry her. His letters to Anne (from the late 20s) as well as his previous and later behaviour with other women don't really support this. Henry, as king of England, doesn't appear to have been a man used to or even wanting to restrain any of his appetites, and on Anne's first arrival at the English court she was just another attractive girl for him to consume. Why would he then hold himself back?
The third proposition that Anne really was stupid enough to commit serial adultery in the face of the public court equally doesn't really stand up, in my view. Bernard's `evidence' here is a single poem written after the events. To believe this, we would also have to believe that Anne took her first lover, Mark Smeaton, just a month after having given birth to Elizabeth in 1533. Apart from the physical issues here, the argument relies on the idea that the marriage was already faulty: but Henry seems to have been delighted with baby Elizabeth, even though she wasn't the male heir he required. Anne was only about 26 or so at this point, and there was no indication that she wouldn't go on to have more children, including the desperately-wanted boy. So why would she, mere weeks after having given birth, sleep with Smeaton?
As for the idea that Anne committed incest with her brother and got pregnant - we're now in Philippa Gregory territory. Bernard suggests that she was so desperate for another child that she slept with her brother, and then the child was spontaneously aborted because of its `unnatural' provenance. No evidence to support this, other than the trial accusations.
So this is worth reading for its revisionary approach: Bernard is, of course, right to assert that we shouldn't take `history' as a given, that we should still interrogate the records. I simply don't find his arguments convincing, lacking, as they do, evidence for his suppositions.
This is a book with `talks back' to previous scholarship, particularly Ives (The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy
), and Warnicke (The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII
), so it's not really a book for anyone wanting to take their first steps into this period: it assumes we know the story and the literature to date.
It's also not a particularly well-written book in terms of prose style; it feels a bit jagged and rough to me, perhaps the result of lots of editing and cutting.
So this is definitely worth a read, but I'm afraid it didn't convince me at all.