Is there a facet to Henry VIII and his wives that novelist and biographer Weir (Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, 2009, etc.) hasn’t yet brought to light?
It’s hard to believe, as the author maintains, that there has never been “a book devoted entirely to the fall of Anne Boleyn,” but here we have the sad tale of the isolated, doomed woman. Weir looks at Henry’s growing disenchantment with his second wife; his sense that she lied to him about being virginal at their marriage; his desperation to have an heir after her second miscarriage of a boy; and his susceptibility to the conniving of his ministers, especially Thomas Cromwell. With the death of Katherine of Aragon in 1536, a rapprochement with her nephew Emperor Charles V seemed possible, while other European powers had not considered his three-year marriage to Anne legitimate. She was not popular and had many enemies at court, including the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys. A passionate evangelical and reformer, she was held responsible for the “heretical” views of a violently anti-clerical nature and considered by Chapuys to be “more Lutheran than Luther himself.” By May Day, Henry VIII had stopped visiting her, having already taken up with Jane Seymour. Anne’s household was questioned and trumped-up charges of adultery were delivered. Conveyed to the Tower of London, she was charged with seducing five men, including her brother. The case against the queen had to be airtight; as Weir notes, “Henry VIII was to be portrayed as the grievously injured party.” The show trial was open to the public, all the while Anne protested her innocence; she became the first queen of England ever executed. An adept guide through the thickets of evidence, hearsay and apocrypha, Weir considers how later generations came to regard Anne, including her daughter Elizabeth, “the concubine’s little bastard.”
Weir knows her subject and lends her seemingly inexhaustible interest.