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Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Alison Weir is an acknowledged expert on the life of King Henry VIII and the lives of his many wives. Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir is the second in a new series of novels each featuring the six unfortunate Tudor Queens.

My father has a liking for songs such as Sheb Wooley’s Purple People Eater, and With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, originally recorded by Stanley Holloway, and later by the Kingston Trio. Songs we listened to over an over again when I was a child, the image of a headless woman wandering forever from room to room in the Tower of London part of my childhood memories.  Poor, poor Anne Boleyn who did indeed have her head chopped off after she failed to produce a male heir for her beloved Henry. When she was no longer able to become pregnant that was the end of her, and Henry sought another.

The series begins with Katherine of Aragon – The True Queen.  Katherine was the wife who lasted the longest, an astonishing 24 years compared to those who followed, most of whom lasted a year or less. Anne Boleyn had 3 years as a wife after many years as mistress, many of them chaste.

When Henry realized that Katherine of Aragon would not be able to bear any more children he looked for another in his desperate attempt to secure a male heir. Anne was young and Henry lusted after her for many years, though she kept herself at a distance while he attempted to have his first marriage annulled. All the while, of course, Anne was getting older and older.

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Most readers will know before beginning to read this novel that Anne Boleyn is eventually beheaded, so the outcome is not a surprise. There is though a lot to learn about the lives of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, and the intrigues of the court provide enough suspense to move the story along. It was during the Reformation, with Henry VIII setting aside the Catholic Church and the Pope and declaring himself the head of the Church of England. A fascinating time!

I’d read a number of other novels about Anne Boleyn and found this one much more sympathetic to the plight of this poor Queen than most. Alison Weir examines the way in which women lived at this time. Most women in the early 1500s had little choice in their lives. Daughters could be bartered in useful marriages after gaining an education and poise with the nuns or in a royal household, as did Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary. But, these girls were still at risk of being used by powerful men and any damage to their reputation would render them unacceptable for a good marriage. Their lives were very precarious, and they seldom had the freedom of choice to make a marriage for love or personal fulfilment.

Anne’s father was especially ambitious, and had already managed to place some of his relatives in service to the King, aligning themselves with those in favour. Anne’s sister Mary, after an unfortunate episode in France that was quickly covered up by her family, became a favourite at court. She and Anne had a loving but jealous relationship, both with little control over their destiny.

The third in the series will be about Jane Seymour – already waiting in the wings as Anne Boleyn was done away with.

 

 

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