120 of 128 people found the following review helpful
A Riveting Read
, 5 Mar. 2010
This review is from: The Lady In The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Queen of England Series) (Hardcover)
Before this book I had never read any of Alison Weir's previous work, though Anne Boleyn's story has captivated me since studying the Tudor period in school, so when I saw a write-up of this book in a national newspaper I knew I had to read it. I wasn't at all disappointed.
I thought I knew quite a bit about Anne Boleyn. The story of her refusal to sleep with Henry VIII until they were married (or until they knew they could marry), to their marriage and then the birth of arguably Britain's greatest Queen, are all well documented via TV documentaries and the like, so I wasn't sure what I would learn from this book, but in focusing on Anne's fall, Weir has cast new light on what has to be one of the darkest periods of English history. Instead of the run-of-the mill 'she was set up' scenario we so often see, Weir examines all the evidence available and delves far below the surface.
There were times when I felt that Weir was implying that Anne was guilty, her refusal to commit to the idea that the charges against Anne were trumped up caused some frustration. On the other hand I found myself asking the very question Weir herself deals with late in the book, i.e. what could Anne have gained from hooking up with any of her co-accused, she was already married to the most powerful man in the country, who, even if his passion had faded, could still protect her from her enemies? That is what I think Weir does so well with this book, she makes the reader think and question everything for themselves rather than blindly following her lead.
The details of the sort men Rochford, Brereton, Weston, Norris and Smeaton were was almost completely new to me, and fascinating. Having now seen the details of the men and understood that they were all considered to be less than whiter-than-white, it is clear how charges of the nature they faced stuck, and seemed (at least at the time) credible. However, it is also quite easy to see how the men could have been targeted to blacken Anne's name beyond redemption.
I do feel that Weir is at times a bit too kind to Henry VIII. Sure, he demanded a thorough investigation into the allegations against Anne, and the trial followed the legal procedures of the day, but whilst the indictment against her was amended, why did Henry allow an indictment to go through that including charges that could not possibly be true because Anne was in other places at the time? Then there is the detail that Anne's executioner was called from France before Anne was condemned. These details, and others, add weight to the idea that rather than almost blindly following Cromwell's lead, Henry was probably a key player in the downfall of Anne Boleyn, or at the very least had convinced himself of her guilt, a notion that Weir plays down.
The part of the book that covers the executions of Anne and her co-accused is harrowing. Weir's writing is so vivid that it becomes almost possible for the reader to become part of events. I have to say that I have never been moved to tears by a history book until now. Then we see the likely effect that Anne's death had on her daughter, who wasn't even three when these events took place. However, again I wondered why Henry's reluctance to have what happened mentioned in front of Elizabeth was purely the act of a loving and protective father (as Weir implies) or the act of a man who had something to feel guilty about. Perhaps we will never really know.
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