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A short rehash; deeply disappointing.
on 6 February 2012
I finished this book about three weeks ago but have taken my time to reflect before writing this review. This was the third book by Professor Loades that I have read in recent months and, without doubt, my least favourite.
The book was short and lacked detail. I estimated about 80,000 words compared, for example, to about 120,000 in Weir's biography of Mary Boleyn alone. It was made to look bigger by double spacing and larger fonts but the overarching impression I was left with was that this was Amberley simply looking to make a fast buck; continuing the trend of maintaining the Tudor band wagon with barely average, rushed publications. I was left feeling decidedly short changed. This is a shame because it is completely obvious that the author is infinitely more capable than this book implied. There was nothing much new here and I was left with the impression that it was largely a quick rehash of Loades's other books, reworked to show Tudor life through Boleyn eyes.
Like his other books, Loades assumes a good deal of knowledge; he introduces characters and key events, often with absolutely no preamble whatever, on the assumption the reader will know all about them and their place in history. Suddenly a name appears out of nowhere and many might think: who's he, where did he come from and what's his role in all this? Luckily, I know enough now to be rarely troubled by this - but only because I have been reading about Tudor history for twenty years; I claim no special skills.
I did not like the management of chronology; so that rather than deal with the whole family history on a time line, different family members were covered in parallel so that the reader was constantly moving backwards and forwards in time. I appreciate this is an option and that some, even many, might prefer it; but it is not my preference - it troubles my need for order and symmetry and can, and often does, lead to loose ends.
There is much factual content that could be argued about; Loades makes brief (very brief) reference to the possibility that Henry Carey could have been Henry VIII's illegitimate child, and, like most, more or less dismisses it; but he never even mentions the possibility in Catherine Carey's case. He also has Catherine being born after Henry, which would certainly make it more unlikely that she was the King's; however, whilst I accept there is some doubt about this, the consensus among authors that I have read is that Catherine came before Henry and certainly not as late as 1527 - which Loades gives as Catherine's birth date. Even Henry's birth date is open to question but Loades gave March 1526, without any question.
It does not matter that readers might agree or disagree with Loades assertions on these points. My point is that there is no discussion about them. Naïve readers may conclude that his claims are unarguable.
Towards the end of the book there were chapters on the last remnants of the Boleyn family. Henry Carey warranted a whole chapter and so did Elizabeth; the latter is unsurprising for Professor Loades whose attitude towards Elizabeth might be regarded as bordering on the obsequious (to the extent that it is possible to be such to someone long deceased). This chapter spent too long trying to draw parallels between the characters and behaviour of Elizabeth and Anne, none of which could be made with any conviction, through lack of evidence, and anyway I couldn't see the point. The main aim of this chapter seemed to be to reach the conclusion that family Boleyn had one significant place in history - that is, to produce the "Great" Queen. Just read the very last sentence of the book.
But more than this, if Henry Carey justified a whole chapter, why is there next to nothing on Catherine Carey. There is much of interest here and not least the fact that she was very close to the Queen and, even more significant, that her eldest daughter, Laetitia Carey, was the same Lettice Knollys who appears briefly in the book on her marriage to Robert Dudley. Lettice was also the mother, from her previous marriage, of Elizabeth's one time favourite the Earl of Essex. Incredibly these familial connections were never once mentioned. If I had been new to the subject I would have been pretty miffed that these historically important relationships were entirely ignored.
In short, I found this hugely disappointing.