The imprisonment and execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, in May 1536 was unprecedented in the annals of English history. It was sensational in its day, and has exerted endless fascination over the minds of historians, novelists, dramatists, poets, artists and film-makers ever since. Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 2 May 1536, and tried and found guilty of high treason on 15 May. Her supposed crimes included adultery with five men, one her own brother, and plotting the King’s death. She was executed on 19 May 1536. Mystery surrounds the circumstances leading up to her arrest. Was it Henry VIII who, estranged from Anne, instructed Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to fabricate evidence to get rid of her so that he could marry Jane Seymour? Or did Cromwell, for reasons of his own, construct a case against Anne and her faction, and then present compelling evidence before the King? Following the coronation of her daughter Elizabeth I as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation. Over the centuries, Anne has inspired many artistic and cultural works and, as a result, has remained ever-present in England’s popular memory. In her impressive new book, Alison Weir has woven a detailed and intricate portrait of the last days of one of the most influential and important figures in English history.
This book has a VERY special meaning to me as I bought this book from the gift shop at Hampton Court. Anne Boleyn, the amazing, incredible, life changing Anne Boleyn spent some of her royal life at Hampton Court. She graced those long decorative hallways with her spirit and elegance, holding her head up high and proud as Queen of England. It was also within these walls that she allegedly held some of her affairs (I say allegedly because most of the dates are so inaccurate and have been disproven!)
The Lady in the Tower focuses on the fall of Anne Boleyn. This is an area in which I am extremely passionate and have read a great deal about. Not that I’m not passionate about all of Anne’s life, but the final six months would have to be my area of special interest. So to buy this incredible book from Hampton Court just added that special meaning for me. To hold the book as I strolled through the halls of the Palace, perhaps even where Anne walked, sat, witnessing the views (similar) to what she saw. Absolutely awe inspiring.
As always Weir commands the use of English literate to not just give the facts, but to weave and portray an emotional, gut wrenching story of the tragic downfall of Anne. There are a lot of reasons as to why Anne fell; many simply related to the woman that she was. And what I love about Weir is that she does not try and portray Anne as a holy, saintly, completely innocent woman. Anne was a proud, vivacious, spirited woman with a temper, there is certainly no denying that! She was cruel and she was kind. She was who she was and for seven years that captivated Henry VIII… until they got married. Upon marriage Anne was expected to fall into the submissive role that Katherine of Aragon played – unfortunately that is just not who Anne Boleyn was and ultimately she payed the price for that. Her refusal to submit to Henry, her outspokenness, her temper, her ultimate inability to provide England with a male heir all worked together to bring about her downfall.
But there were others involved; Cromwell for a start was a huge player in Anne’s ultimate fall and execution. She argued and fought with Cromwell over a huge range of issues, especially the distribution of the wealth from the fall of the monasteries. Anne wanted it to go to the poor, to the furtherment of the reformation, to the universities and charities – Cromwell wanted it to go to the King and his treasuries. There were those about court, The Duke of Suffolk, the Duke of Norfolk and many others who all saw Anne as a threat to themselves, as to loud, to overreaching of the role of a woman and Queen and they quickly joined the Anti Boleyn faction. Anne was a woman of spirit, she liked to laugh, to flirt, to play and those against her used all of this in evidence to bring her down.
What I love about this book is the emotion weaved into every page. I read this book on the flight home from London. Once I picked it up I simply could not stop, there is no way you can put this book down so I suggest you read it when you have a long stretch of time free! I cried throughout this book, but I especially wept at the last moments of Anne’s life. These intricately researched, beautifully written details were written with such weight full emotion that I felt as though my heart was being squeezed. I sat in my seat on the plane crying, weeping, tissues crushed in one hand as I tried not to let my tears hit the pages. I failed and my tears stain the many pages of this wonderful book.
There was one paragraph in the book that really stood out to me; made me shutter and gasp in shock….
In 1905, a French doctor observed that a decapitated criminal’s eyelids and lips worked for five seconds before the face relaxed and the eyes rolled back, at which point he called out the man’s name, only to see the eyes fixing themselves on him and the pupils focusing before the lids fell and the pupils glazed over. The whole process had taken twenty-five to thirty seconds. In 1989, the face of a man decapitated in a car accident registered shock, then terror, then grief, as the living eyes looked directly at the witness before dimming. In 1956, two French doctors concluded: ‘Death is not instantaneous: every element survives decapitation. It is a savage vivisection.’ In 1983, another medical study found that ‘no matter how efficient the method of execution, at least two to three seconds of intense pain cannot be avoided’. However, once the spine is severed, the perception of pain recedes. Some victims have not responded at all to stimuli, so it must therefore be concluded that they were knocked unconscious by the impact of the blow, or fainted due to the dramatic loss in blood pressure, and felt virtually nothing, while others – including perhaps Anne Boleyn – did experience a few dreadful moments of awareness of what was happening.
When reading this I had to stop. It was the middle of the night, sitting in a plane and I cried, I wept and wept and wept. I pray to God above upon everything that is good in this world that Anne did not feel any pain. That her final moments were quick and painless and she knew nothing but happy memories.
This book inspired me to write my own piece about Anne Boleyn and her final days. It was such a huge source of inspiration and I have credited it heavily in my own writing. This book gave me the strength and the courage and the pure desire to write about Anne’s final nineteen days about this earth. And thanks to this book I have my own piece of writing (all 45 pages and 22 000 words!!) to treasure as my own.
I still use this book as my constant resource. I purposely bought the hardcover version as I knew I would be referring back to it many, many times and I was right. Everything I read about Anne now I refer back to this book. Every tiny detail, to the clothing she was wearing on certain dates, to the path she walked from the Queen’s lodgings to the scaffold, to her final prayer. This book is one of the best, well in my opinion, the BEST resource for Anne Boleyn’s downfall. I re read small sections of it regularly and find myself staring at the images contained within the pages often.
The Lady in the Tower is my absolute favourite book in the entire world. It takes pride and joy on my Tudor bookshelf (which is now getting so crowded that I’m going to have to make another one!) I love it to pieces and I would recommend that anyone who can get a copy of it give it a read. It is beautifully written, just as all of Alison Weir’s books are. It is captivating and within the pages are woven such extreme emotions that I would challenge anyone not to feel heartache and pain for Anne Boleyn as they read. I would boldly say this is the most comprehensive, detailed and emotionally written book detailing the fall and execution of Anne Boleyn.