Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

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A novel filled with new insights into the story of Henry VIII’s second—and most infamous—wife, Anne Boleyn. The second book in the epic Six Tudor Queens series, from the acclaimed historian and bestselling author of Katherine of Aragon.

It is the spring of 1527. Henry VIII has come to Hever Castle in Kent to pay court to Anne Boleyn. He is desperate to have her. For this mirror of female perfection he will set aside his Queen and all Cardinal Wolsey’s plans for a dynastic French marriage.

Anne Boleyn is not so sure. She loathes Wolsey for breaking her betrothal to the Earl of Northumberland’s son, Harry Percy, whom she had loved. She does not welcome the King’s advances; she knows that she can never give him her heart.

But hers is an opportunist family. And whether Anne is willing or not, they will risk it all to see their daughter on the throne…

Source: advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I adore Alison Weir immensely. I've always been a fan of history but while I was in college I lost the desire to read it much. A couple of years after I graduated, I happened upon her book Elizabeth I and instantly became a fan. She is singlehandedly responsible for my renewed love of history, particularly The Tudor era. I own many of her books. On the other hand, I tend to be a bit skeptical when it comes to historical fiction because I have a tendency to fact-check details which is rather annoying and takes away all enjoyment of the subject matter. But I'd read one of her historical fictions not too far back and liked her approach, and now that she's doing a series on the 6 Tudor wives of Henry VIII, I couldn't be happier!

I think most people who've heard of Anne Boleyn and are familiar with her fall into two camps: she was a power-hungry, manipulative woman or she was a pawn used by her father and maternal uncle for the sole purpose of raising the family's rank in the English aristocracy. Nowadays, some even view her as an early feminist. Any which way you look at it there's no denying that she's a controversial figure who was at the center of a major religious reform in England that had long-lasting reverberations around the European continent. 

In Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession, Weir explores Anne's life from a young girl who became lady-in-waiting at several royal courts, and how her experiences there helped shaped the woman who would become Henry VIII's future queen. Anne's family wasn't super rich but her father's growing stature as the King's foreign diplomat meant that Anne and her older sister were afforded certain privileges, the most important of them being an education. Anne took to her studies easily whereas her sister Mary is mostly remembered for her looks and eventually becoming the King's mistress. I feel that Weir chose to show how Anne's intelligence and critical thinking along with her proximity to some very important female figures she looked up to at the time helped her develop her feminist ideas. Well as feminist as you could be in the 1500's. I was surprised by how likeable and even admirable she was during the early years when it came to some of her beliefs including how she was determined to keep her good name. It's in the later years when she became the object of Henry VIII's affections and succumbed to him that her narrative changed. She became corrupted by the power she wielded over an infatuated King, taking advantage of him to suit her needs or those of her family. Her arrogance led to her thinking she was invincible but ultimately it's what led to her downfall. She garnered a lot of enemies along the way, any one of them happy to see her out of the picture. Weir lays it all out there - the intrigue and the plotting - showing how Anne went from King's darling to scorned wife. More impressively, Weir does a brilliant job of demonstrating the mental and emotional changes Anne went through over the years, the last few being filled with anguish and uncertainty. The final paragraph in this novel is a haunting image that stays with you. 

If you're a fan of historical fiction and this is an area you'd like to explore, you'd be in good hands with Alison Weir. Familiar as I am with this piece of history and its outcome, I was glued to this book because Weir offered a few different perspectives. When it comes to Anne Boleyn, I'm pretty open-minded. I do believe she's a complex woman, so divisive yet, I also think a woman who is not given her due. She did help encourage some necessary church reform though the greedy nobles took that in a different direction. I think Henry VIII was indeed in love with Anne, and she wanted to give him, even promised him a son but that never came to be. Who knows if her place at court might have been secured had she been able to bear a male heir. The irony is something she could not have known at the time: that her greatest legacy would be that of her only surviving child, a daughter and the future queen, Elizabeth I. 

~ Bel

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