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The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Rejecting as myth that Henry VIII, desirous of a son and a new queen, asked his principal adviser Thomas Cromwell to find criminal grounds for executing Anne Boleyn, the prolific British historian Weir (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) concludes that Cromwell himself, seeing Anne as a political rival, instigated one of the most astonishing and brutal coups in English history, skillfully framing her and destroying her faction. Ably weighing the reliability of contemporary sources and theories of other historians, Weir also claims that though perhaps sexually experienced, Anne was technically a virgin before sleeping with Henry. Anne was also, Weir posits, a passionate radical evangelical, with considerable influence over Henry regarding Church reform. Weir wonders if Anne's childbearing history points to her being Rh negative and thus incapable of bearing a second living child. Dissecting four of the most momentous months in world history and providing an eminently judicious, thorough and absorbing popular history, Weir nimbly sifts through a mountain of historical research, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions about Henry's doomed second queen. 15 pages of color photos. (Dec.)
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Acclaimed novelist and historian Weir continues to successfully mine the Tudor era, once again excavating literary gold. This time around, Anne Boleyn falls under her historical microscope. Though Boleyn’s life has already been dissected by a bevy of distinguished scholars, novelists, and filmmakers, Weir nevertheless manages to introduce a fresh slant on the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. Focusing almost exclusively on Anne’s final months, she paints a portrait of an impassioned religious reformer who aroused the suspicions and the animus of a number of court insiders, including the influential Thomas Cromwell. Although it cannot be disputed King Henry desperately desired a male heir, it appears there were more politically complex motives behind the plot to derail the unpopular queen. Caught in an inescapable web of royal intrigue and maneuvering, Anne steadfastly maintained her innocence against a host of trumped-up charges. Weir’s many fans and anyone with an interest in this time period will snap up this well-researched and compulsively readable biography. --Margaret Flanagan
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Weir presents a half dozen possibilities for every thing - theories, quotes that are barely understandable, psycological conclusions, and then turns around and says they may or may not be true. I kept wanting her to take a stand, when did she gets so tentative? We're all smart enough to handle the discomfort of disagreeing with her. Just tells us what YOU think, you always have before! I believe proveable history is scarce, especially that far back, so just go out on a limb and tell us your opinion, that's what you do best. I still look forward to your next book. You're still my favorite english history writer!
Beginning around the time of Anne's miscarriage of her hoped-for prince in January 1536, Ms. Weir brings to light the machinations of Thomas Cromwell, the King's powerful secretary, in trumping up charges of sexual scandal and treason against Anne. Ms. Weir makes her case very plainly, showing in well-documenteed detail how Cromwell was able to take a few random instances and make them seem much more sinister, thus dooming Anne, her brother George, and four more men to death. She lays a case for the reasons behind his motives, and even gives logical explanations for how Henry was brought to believe his wife, for whom he had given up his religious tradition, had had multiple lovers who had plotted his death. The characters surrounding the tragic events are well drawn out; the reader is able to grasp personalities and see just how Anne was trapped through those about her and her own foolish mouth.
The Lady in the Tower is very well written and very readable; it is advisable to have at least a small working knowledge of the era and the circumstances in order to help keep all the characters straight (and many of them have very similar names to make it doubly hard!). But the style of writing, while academic, is very accessible and easy to follow. A few times I almost felt there was too much information given, but Ms. Weir uses it all to build a very strong case for exactly how Anne's removal transpired. Very informative and interesting, this is a non-fiction book that reads more like fiction. Truly enjoyable.
Nonetheless, despite the absence of a real 'crime', this latest biographical offering from Weir really does read like a true crime novel -- it has the investigation, complete with secret backroom plea bargains and deals, and then some dramatic court testimony, followed by some (truly chilling) details of the punishment. Weir's real achievement, in my view, is her decision to compress Anne Boleyn's story into the final few months of her life: months that began with the death of her former rival, Katherine of Aragon, and culminated with Anne's own replacement as Queen in May of 1536, less than six months later. It's an approach that makes this book a fast-paced read, and a fascinating one, that gave me a better sense of the conspiratorial nature of Henry VIII's court. (Coming after the publication of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize), it's also a good 'companion read' to that fiction, even though Mantel's look at the Tudor court through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell ends before the events of 1536.) I was also interested in Weir's brief yet thorough looks at Jane Seymour's actions and possible attitudes in this biography. If it sometimes feels that there is little new to say about Anne and her rise and fall, I am struck at how much more there must be to say about Jane Seymour, who served both of her predecessors, whose brothers became powerful magnates and who was mother to Henry's only cherished male heir.
This isn't a flawless book, however. While Weir trumpets her reliance on primary sources in her introduction and says she didn't even read any secondary sources until she had formed her own opinions, those tend to parallel fairly closely those of noted Tudor scholar Eric Ives. (To be fair, she acknowledges his groundbreaking research.) While much of the argument may be new to the general reader, it's not 'new' in a scholarly sense, therefore, and anyone who has read Ives' writings and expects major fresh analysis likely will be somewhat disappointed. There are also some flaws in her conclusion, such as her willingness to identify Jane Rochford as the mysterious witness on whose evidence much of the case was constructed. But there's no evidence of that. Similarly, at least one of the sources she relies on has been discredited.
Beyond sourcing, the only major irritations here are small stylistic 'tics'. Weir repeatedly brings forward theories, only to tell us they don't hold up to scrutiny or have long since been discounted. In that case, why bring them forward? Just to show us how thorough she has been? Puhleez... A trademark of Weir's writing is her willingness to speculate, and that leads to a lot of 'hedging' about her conclusion: personally, I got very tired indeed of reading phrases like "it may be", "no doubt", "it seems like", and "it's possible that". Surely a talented and prolific writer can devise alternatives after more than ten biographies??
Still, this is a book that will make Tudor-junkies happy, and it's a lively and intriguing read that for most will shed new light on Anne's role as queen, Henry's role in her downfall, and Cromwell's role as eminence grise. Talk about a toxic menage-a-trois...
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