21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2003
There is no denying that Professor Warnicke's book has an almost revolutionary outlook on both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. The key areas in which Warnicke's thesis challenges conventional historical opinion on Anne Boleyn's life are on the subjects of her date of birth, physical appearance and fall from power.
It has to be said that for the first part of the book, Warnicke is remarkably successful. She convincingly demonstrates that the current historical belief that Anne Boleyn was born sometime around 1501 is incorrect, and that the more likely date is 1507. Similarly, few can dispute her arguments that refute the age-old rumours of certain deformities (namely the infamous sixth finger/extra nail and warts.) However, it is in her assessment of Anne Boleyn's demise that Professor Warnicke disappoints.
Her entire thesis is based on the assumption that Anne Boleyn gave birth to a deformed foetus in early 1536, something that led to her arrest on charges of witchcraft, incest and adultery in May of that year. She also alleges that the men arrested with her were known homosexuals, something that allowed their 16th-century contemporaries to accuse them of gross sexual indecency. However, there is almost no evidence at all that Anne Boleyn's "lovers" were homosexuals, indeed some of them were active womanisers. The evidence for the deformed foetus idea is also disappointingly scarce, and Warnicke bases much of her idea on 'ifs' and a kind of 'if A happened, then B,C,D and E must also have happened' mentality, often disregarding evidence that she finds inconvienient. She latches onto a comment made in the virulently anti-Boleyn work of Nicolas Sander, who Warnicke spent the rest of her book discrediting (and very convincingly, it has to be said.) Therefore, it seems utterly ludicrous that she should suddenly place such emphasis on his comments that alleged Anne Boleyn gave birth to a "shapeless mass" in January 1536.
Other areas of the book are disappointing. It is at times dry and ponderously academic. Warnicke also fails to place enough emphasis on Anne Boleyn's role in religion and instead focuses on "harem politics" at the king's court, whilst ignoring the wider socio-economic impact of the king's marriage.
Nonetheless, despite these draw-backs, Warnicke's work on the rise of Anne Boleyn should be commended - even if her work on the fall remains seriously questionable.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2001
Warnicke presents some interesting alternative theses, although adhering to the generally accepted view that Anne Boleyn was not guilty of the adultery charges. It is a well-written and readable account, however a number of her hypotheses - particularly in relation to Viscount Rochford, and one of Queen Anne's micarriages - are based on scant (perhaps even non-existent) evidence, and have since been discredited by other scholars. Furthermore, at times it reads very much like an American 20th century reconstruction, without examining events in their contemporary context. It is certainly worth a look for those with a good knowledge of the area, and who are interested in comparing the various historians' interpretations of the events of 1536. However for those relatively new to this period, it is not a good starting point - I would recommend Antonia Fraser's "Six Wives of Henry VIII" as a better introduction
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2012
Since its publication in 1989, "The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn" has often been dismissed as a joke by Tudor history enthusiasts. Like 2010's "Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions," "Rise and Fall" has been criticised for relying far too much on unreliable anecdotal evidence from the 1530s to substantiate its claims. However, "Rise and Fall" did rely on a wider range of sources, which suggests that, at the very least, it should be treated with the same seriousness as Professor Bernard's work. Thorough reviews deconstructing its arguments would be a good thing, rather than simply rushing to dismiss the entirety of the book as nonsense, because of the contents of its eighth chapter.
Whilst it is true that Warnicke's famous "deformed foetus" theory is largely unconvincing, it does not necessarily follow that all of her work is subsequently invalid. Certainly, some of her findings can be queried, but "The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn" remains an interesting and thought-provoking academic account of Boleyn's life and career. Refreshingly, Warnicke places far more emphasis on gender and aristocratic culture than other academics and anyone interested in studying Henry VIII's second wife should not rush to discount this book too quickly. With its dense, academic tone this is certainly not a book for beginners, but by focusing on the entirety of Anne's life from her early-century birth to her execution in 1536, Warnicke does enough to unsettle the firmly-entrenched narrative of Anne's life that was seemingly established by academics writing in the early 1980s. She suggests that, at the very least, there is still room for debate and that further research is required on some key areas of the period. It is not necessary to accept some of the more controversial elements of Professor Warnicke's theories in order to appreciate this book. Fascinating and thorough, even when unconvincing, it is an essential part of the modern debate over the sixteenth-century monarchy and upper-classes.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2012
Perhaps quite rightly seen as the most controversial and provocative take on Anne Boleyn's life and career, Retha Warnicke's 'The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn' can also perhaps be seen as the most interesting and original account of this most tragic queen's life. While aspects of it are highly convincing and revealing, other theories damage the credibility and accuracy of the book.
Warnicke begins by asserting that modern historians have failed to analyse Anne's life in a valid social and cultural framework which takes into account the political and social norms and values of early modern England. She also attacks these historians' theories, namely those of Professor Ives. Warnicke believes that modern scholars give too much weight to statements put forward by the Spanish ambassador Chapuys, who loathed Queen Anne. She is correct to point this out, yet as Jenny Wormald correctly reminds us, one cannot completely discount his views since they provide a detailed account of the Tudor court, and Warnicke is not the first to analyse Anne within this framework - Ives does too.
Warnicke's theories throughout the book build on the ones put forward in her five essays previously published. They are all highly original and very controversial. Beginning with Anne's children, Warnicke asserts that Anne was the elder Boleyn girl, agreeing with the traditional birth date of 1507, and suggests that Mary was the younger and born in 1508. George was the eldest, born in c.1503. I do not agree with this theory at all. Ives and Paget have convincingly demonstrated that Anne was born between 1500 and 1501. It makes no sense why a six year old girl, who was not even highborn or aristocratic, would have been appointed a maid of honour to the new French queen, a sister of the king of England. Warnicke's insistence that Anne grew up in the nursery makes little sense. Even more so does her claim that Mary was born in 1508 and therefore only 11 when she married. This argument is weakened when Warnicke herself states that most Tudor women aged married 20 or elder. Contemporary evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Mary was older than Anne and born around 1499-1500.
However, the best aspect of this study is probably the importance attached to what Warnicke terms "family politics". As she quite credibly states, it is anachroninistic to claim that Anne was a "self-made woman" (Ives). The goals and aspirations of the Boleyn family, and the assistance provided by Anne's relatives, the Howards, are discussed in the context of marriages and court protocol. Leading on from this, Warnicke questions the nature of faction in Tudor England. This is also a plausible point for discussion.
Warnicke analyses in detail the nature of Henry VIII's relationship with Anne and the road to their marriage. I disagree with Warnicke's argument that Thomas Wyatt's poetry does not refer to Anne - 'Brunet', anyone? It seems likely that Wyatt did have strong feelings for Anne, which contemporaries attested, and reflected these emotions in his works. I also find some of her views confusing - she suggests that Anne only became a maid of honour to Queen Katherine of Aragon in 1527 - the evidence suggests that this favourable appointment actually occurred on her return from France in 1522.
Warnicke suggests that Anne returned Henry's love; Henry was attracted to a woman who was charming, cultured, sophisticated, witty and intelligent, even if not a beauty in the traditional sense prevalent in English early modern society. Warnicke discounts many of the beliefs that Anne was aggressive, assertive or had a bad temper - as Wormald incredulously states, she 'denies' Anne a temper. This is another weakness of the study. Like Joanna Denny, in attempting to emphasise Anne's good qualities, Warnicke fails to appreciate that she was a complex woman who did, to put it bluntly, have a nasty side. Just because Chapuys ONLY attested to that nasty side in his despatches does not mean that we need to completely discount them. She was virtuous and pleasing, but she does appear to have been volatile and, at times, cruel and highly strung.
The nature of Anne's queenship is then discussed in some detail. This is another strength of the book. Like Ives, Warnicke shows that Anne was a highly cultured queen, conventional in the context of the Renaissance, and suggests that she may have modelled herself on the nature of other queens such as Claude of France, Margaret the king Francis' sister, and perhaps Katherine of Aragon. Linked to this is a discussion of Anne's religious beliefs. Warnicke does not seem to believe that Anne was radical in her beliefs, but was conventional, although she was interested in reform.
However, the most controversial and publicised section in this study is the nature of Anne's incredible downfall in 1536. Warnicke convincingly argues that Anne was in no sense of danger in late 1535 and early 1536 and it is therefore implausible to suggest that she was already living on borrowed time when she fell pregnant in autumn 1535. Yet Warnicke's sensational claim that Anne died for 'the sole reason' that she gave birth to a defective foetus does not make any sense. There is no contemporary evidence, whatsoever, to support this argument. Chapuys, who loathed Anne and would surely have exploited such a detail had it been true, makes no mention of any deformity. De Carles, who wrote a poem detailing Anne's downfall in 1536, instead referred to her dead son as being 'beautiful'.
Warnicke's argument relies largely on the comment made by Nicolas Sander, a Catholic Reformation historian during the reign of Anne's daughter Elizabeth I, that the baby was 'a shapeless mass of flesh'. Yet throughout this study Warnicke demonstrates that Sander loathed Anne and saw her as the epitome of evil, giving her the features of a witch and portraying her as a veritable monster. Why, then, does she then give any credence to his comment?
There is also little reason to believe her view that George Boleyn and the other four men executed with the queen were homosexuals or deviant in their sexual practices. As many historians have suggested, George was a womaniser, not a homosexual, and simply because he bequeathed the present of a book to Anne's musician Mark Smeaton does not mean that the two were enjoying sexual relations with one another. This, in the words of Ives, is invention, not historical fact.
The inaccuracies and sensational, if incredulous and tenuous, arguments put forward here mean that this book has been largely criticised by other academics. In a way, this is a shame. Warnicke's views surrounding the nature of family politics and relations at the Tudor court in terms of protocol, culture, and patronage, are highly original and very convincing; these viewpoints should not therefore be dismissed. Paradoxically, her views surrounding Anne's childhood and in her particular her downfall in 1536 cannot be supported, largely, by contemporary evidence.
In a sense, this is a tale of two works. These controversial theories should be taken with a pinch of salt and, eventually, dismissed (instead the theories of Eric Ives are more convincing), but Warnicke's sections on "Family Alliances" and "Queen's Patronage" should be seen as essentially original and convincing viewpoints.