What can I say about this book…
I hated it.
I fucking hated this book.
I mean, look at all of those sticky notes. Look at those annotations. Look at the pure rage that I have for it.
Let’s start with the thesis:
My aim in this book is to draw together a multitude of strands of research in order to develop a picture of the real Henry VIII, his personal life throughout his reign, the court he created, and the people who influenced and served him. (p. 2)
To do this, she uses anecdotal evidence. No joke. She uses anecdotal evidence to show how the life was and how things were in the court. That’s horrendous. For a woman who bills herself as a historian, she comes across like Philippa Gregory. None of them studied history, but they pretend to be them without the same academic rigor.
So, what’s wrong with using anecdotal evidence? From my line of research — aka psychology — anecdotal evidence is a no-no because it holds no scientific basis. It has no grounding in fact. It’s just a story that someone told, one that can’t be verified by other sources.
A brief example of one of these anecdotes: A rumor went around the court that Anne Boleyn was the product of an affair Henry had with Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn (nee Howard). This rumor could be used to show what was going on in court and what people were whispering in the conservative (i.e. Catholic) faction.
But, no. Weir goes ahead and literally hashes out the rumor. She says that Henry couldn’t have fathered Anne, but that it might be possible that he had sex with Lady Boleyn when he was a teenager. And that it can’t be ruled out. When there’s no evidence to support something of that nature.
Which brings me to my second issue: The lack of citations.
The above anecdote and her conclusion did not have a citation to show that others have thought about this or spoken about it or that there were any sort of primary sources that hinted to this same thing. It felt like every few pages I was writing down “source??? citation???” because there was none.
Weir makes claims without supporting them. That’s just what she does. Or she doesn’t use citations correctly. I was always taught to cite early in the paragraph, as early as possible, when the same source is used. She cites at the last second, making it confusing. Then, she just makes claims without citing anything.
Then, Weir’s biases come into play. Especially against anyone in the Boleyn family. I’ve already written extensively about this in my review of her fiction book Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. It was also discussed in the comments over on Goodreads, so I’ll also link that here.
This is best illustrated in Weir’s use of biased primary sources. I’m talking about Eustace Chapuys. While I will agree that Chapuys is a rich source to use to look at a very Spanish viewpoint of The Great Matter (aka the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne), he can’t be used as a verifiable source since he bought into any rumor or hint of slander against Anne Boleyn and her family. Yet, in one breathe, Weir said that historians have called him untrustworthy but she’s going to use him because he’s worth it.
So, you already know that with her use of a biased source, you’re not getting a real picture of what was going on and what the court was really like.
My last (I lie but the last gripe I feel like expanding on) is that Weir doesn’t focus on important power shifts. The rise of Cromwell was barely mentioned and he created the court. Wolsey’s fall was also barely talked about. Same with Anne Boleyn’s fall and the rise of the Seymours. Or the rise of the conservatives. Weir was far more interested in the properties that Henry owned, bought, and modified than actually telling me about the power factions in the court that he created.
So, what parting words do I have for all of you who stuck around to read this? Don’t read this. There are far better books on this topic than this. And if you do read it, constantly remember that Weir is literally banned from certain universities because of the issues that I’ve brought up and probably more since I’m not a historian. But I care about academic rigor like a historian.