British author Dunn, author of seven previous novels, debuts in the US with a lively and contemporary-flavored take on a royal wife who, like Princess Diana, made enemies in high places.
The story of Anne Boleyn, the woman whose love for a King changed the way England worshipped—at a price.—is told in alternate chapters by Anne and Lucy Cornwallis, the King’s confectioner. Anne, a prisoner in the Tower and about to be executed on trumped-up charges of adultery—Henry wants to marry Jane Seymour, hoping she will bear him a son—is writing her memoirs for her daughter, the young Princess Elizabeth. While Anne’s account is somewhat self-serving and defensive, Lucy’s is merely that of an eyewitness to the unfolding events that she sees as she creates elaborate sugar confections for the court’s banquets and festivals. Anne blames Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Spain, for much of her trouble. A devout Catholic, Catherine refused to divorce Henry when he wanted to marry Anne and sire an heir. Initially reluctant to divorce a popular queen and offend Spain, Henry dragged his feet. But using guile and argument, and spending seven years in a legal limbo—she didn’t marry until she was 32—Anne successfully persuaded Henry to act. Defying the pope, he made himself head of the Church and beheaded all those clergy and statesmen, including the famous Thomas More, who opposed him. Anne was triumphant, but not for long. Now, showing little introspection, she has no sorrow for Catherine or for her daughter Princess Mary, but merely recalls her brief happiness and then her downfall. Lucy notes that the people disliked Anne, disapproved of the marriage, and were angry with Henry’s treatment of Catherine. Lucy also recalls, sadly, how she herself fell in love with Mark Smeaton, a court musician, who, in love with Anne, paid dearly for his declaration of affection to her.
A lively reminder of the perils of marrying kings and princes, however glam the bride.