DNF at pg. 155
I have no idea where I want to start this review. Generally, I love Alison Weir. If people want books, fiction or non-fiction, about Tudor history — which is the era I’m personally interested in — I will recommend her to them. I trust her history. Based on other books that I’ve read about this era, she does a good job and interprets facts generally fairly.
However, let her bias be known. Alison Weir has a strong dislike for Anne Boleyn. Which is why I have no clue why she wrote this book. I’m sure it’s a part of the book deal she has. She gets six books where she can write about the six wives. One book for each wife, so Anne is one of them. Here is proof of this whole thing. In her book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she calls Anne: “an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance” (pg.3 in my paperback edition). Alison seems to believe that Anne wanted to kill Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary. Those are two things that were explored in this book, yet have no historical veracity to them.
I highly suggest you read these reviews as well, of people who read the whole book or most of the book. Charlie’s review is detailed and she read the whole book for a book review. She has also written a fiction novel about Anne and cares about history. Adrienne, on the other hand, did not read the whole book and did not leave a review or rating, however, I suggest that you read the comments for it because she does go into depth in some comments. She has also done tons of research into this era because she’s written books about Catherine Carey (Mary Boleyn’s daughter) and Jane Boleyn (the wife of George Boleyn). These are two people I personally trust a lot and their opinions matter to me. So, when they say a book is bad, I believe it. They know more about these authors and history than me.
Now, onto the review. I read less than 200 pages of this book, but I was horrified. Weir makes so many claims in this book and it’s horribly done. First, she alleges that Henry VIII is a rapist. I’m not saying that he’s a good man. He wasn’t. At all. He was a murderer, megalomaniac, narcissist, and likely had a few other mental disorders in there from whatever cause. For all he was, he was not a rapist. There are no historical allegations of it, so, therefore, there’s no point in actually making that theory. Weir posits it her book about Mary Boleyn, then carries it into here.
George Boleyn is also framed as a rapist. (This is something that Charlie and Adrienne go into more detail in for their reviews. I didn’t get far enough to read that part, but it was hinted at.) Again, George has no historical claims to being a rapist. The only place he’s called that is in a poem by Cavendish. No historical writing. This link can give more information than I can. And it basically tells you why Weir is completely wrong.
Weir also talks about Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris. For those who don’t know, Henry Norris is a man who was executed for treason and adultery with Anne. This comes about because Henry Norris was going to try to marry someone in Anne’s train as a lady in waiting, but he hadn’t proposed yet. Anne told him that he was “looking for dead man’s shoes”. Aka, when Henry died, Norris would want to marry her instead. Anne also, in her last confession said that “she had never offended with her body” against the King (pg. 536 in this book).
Weir says that this means that she offended him (cheated on him) with her thoughts. Not her body, but in her mind she committed adultery. Apparently, this means that Norris is the one who she put her affections on. There is no veracity for this whatsoever. Again, this is a theory that Weir cooked up and put in here. And it seems as if Weir is basing it off of a retracted confession Norris made after his arrest and the fact that he hung around her rooms a lot to flirt with a woman he was interested in.
Weir falls into the trap of going with the unfavorable opinions of Anne. Not just trying to kill people, but her looks as well. Sallow skin and some tiny hint of a sixth finger, I believe because both Anne’s supporters and enemies wrote about that. But, Weir talked about her terrible moles and on and on. Both sides never talked about that. No paintings of her show it. She was a beautiful woman, albeit unconventionally so. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have caught Henry’s eye.
So, we already have terrible history on the part of a historian. This is also awfully written as if Weir just wanted to get this shit over with. It’s so mind-numbingly boring that I couldn’t concentrate on the words. And this is one of my favorite historical figures. Hell, I have Anne Boleyn’s signature — or one of her reported signatures since we don’t know for sure — tattooed on my arm.
I know that people will probably comment on this review if it gets enough attention and shout at me about how this is fiction. It’s historical fiction. Authors are allowed to make their own things. They’re allowed to take facts and wiggle them around. Change them. And I agree with you. Yes, authors can take liberties. They should! They should have some pet theory and toy with it.
However, these pet theories should be based on facts. If there is no historical grounding or evidence for them, the theories are unsupported and should be dropped. Alison Weir has made a living off being called a historian. This is not acceptable, even for fiction.
Skip this book. Just skip it. Read some actual historical books about Anne instead. And if you do decide to read it, actually keep in mind that Weir is incredibly biased and you shouldn’t take her work as fact. Research if you find the topic interesting rather than blindly believe her.