Now, you all know of my love for Anne Boleyn. I mean, you can’t have two tattoos dedicated to someone and not love them. Amberley Publishing recently sent me this new book on Anne Boleyn by Lacey Baldwin Smith. I had never heard of the author (bad me!) but a bit of googling told me he was also the author of several other Tudor books.
- Tudor Prelates and Politics, 1536-1558 (Princeton Studies in History. vol. 8.) (1953)
- Catherine Howard: A Tudor Tragedy
- The Elizabethan Epic (1966)
- The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World (1966; Reprinted as The Elizabethan World, 1973)
- Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty (1973)
- Elizabeth Tudor: Portrait of a Queen (1976)
- Dimensions of the Holocaust – A series of lectures presented at Northwestern University and coordinated by the Department of History by Elie Wiesel and Lacey Baldwin Smith (1983)
- Treason in Tudor England: Politics & Paranoia (1986)
- Fools, Martyrs. Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World (1997)
- English History Made Brief, Irreverent and Pleasurable (2007)
- This Realm of England 1399-1688
- Anne Boleyn: The Queen of Controversy (2013)
Very impressive! I also learned that the author unfortunately died last year.
Now, to the book!
The story of Anne Boleyn goes to the root of all history; what makes an individual or event memorable to later generations? Anne is an exceptional case for her life was a double helix intertwining extraordinary human drama with profound historical crisis. A young lady of no particular importance or talents – she was neither a great beauty nor a captivating charmer – married a man who turned out to be England’s most notorious monarch, and then three years later she was publicly executed for treason, accused of quadruple adultery and incest.
Mistress Boleyn was the crucial catalyst for three of the most important events in modern history: the break with Rome and the English Reformation, the advent of the nation state, and the birth of a daughter whose forty-three years on the throne stand as England’s most spectacular literary and political success story. Remove Anne and the Reformation as we know it today would not have taken place; remove Anne and Elizabeth I would not have existed at all. Anne Boleyn stands as a monument to the truth that there is nothing consistent in history except the unexpected.
The author begins by explaining this is not a biography bur rather a biographical essay, which basically means that he doesn’t intend to achieve total coverage on all fronts. We begin at the beginning and he sets Anne’s education against the standard for the time and we continue on to find ourselves at Henry’s VIII’s court and the subsequent ‘Great Matter’. The most time is spent on the reason for her execution and on whether on not Anne was guilty. For this, Lacy Baldwin Smith compares the theories of Eric Ives, Alison Weir, G.W. Bernard and Retha M Warnicke, before coming to his own conclusion.
I always enjoy reading about Anne Boleyn, but the tone of the book annoys me a bit. Especially the Miscarriage to Execution: Four Versions chapter had a bit of a pretentious overtone. I’m not sure what it is about Eric Ives, Alison Weir, G.W. Bernard and Retha M Warnicke that Lacey Baldwin Smith doesn’t like (other than their research and interpretation!) but it shows in this chapter. Luckily the main purpose of this book is one of my favourite characters in history, and I’m open to a different opinion of course. It is an excellently written book, though and I would have expected nothing less from someone with such an impressive CV.