A Golden Sorrow The Most Happy – Anne Boleyn By Dixie Atkins
When the subject of Henry VIII's many marital adventures is discussed, Henry's wives are spoken of as one entity, with no existence outside their lives with Henry. In Dixie Atkins' four volume novel, 'A Golden Sorrow', she sets out to give the reader a comprehensive account of each Queen, from birth to death, based on meticulous research. Each wife tells her own story: Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess; Anne Boleyn, brought up at the French court; Jane Seymour, living in the shadow of her ambitious brothers; Anne of Cleves, who became Henry's 'honorary sister'; Katherine Howard, the promiscuous teenager; Katherine Parr, who sacrificed happiness to care for an ailing king. All paid dearly for wearing 'A Golden Sorrow'. 'THE MOST HAPPY' Motto of Queen Anne Boleyn Refutation of Anne, Queen of England, Marquess of Pembroke, wife to the High and Mighty Lord Henry, Eighth of that name, King of this realm, Defender of the Faith, Supreme Head of the Church in England. The year 1536.
A dear friend of mine gave me this book as a gift as she knew I had a strong interest in Anne Boleyn. I have never read a fiction novel about Anne before and I have to admit that I was a little hesitant before reading. My interest has always been with nonfiction books related to Anne Boleyn and the reign of Henry VIII. I am the sort of person that likes facts and information, historical resources and documents. None the less I was excited and began to read Dixie Atkins book earnestly.
The story is based on Anne Boleyn's time in the Tower of London, from her arrest to her trial, to her tragic execution. The story itself is beautifully written and Atkins has a wonderful way with her writing to make it simple yet powerful enough to paint beautiful images in one’s mind. Unfortunately after I closed the final page of his book I have to admit that I was quite disappointed.
The details of Anne’s arrest and her time within the Tower are reasonably well documented. We know quite a bit of what happened to her thanks to letters communicated by Sir William Kingston who was the Constable of the Tower and received Anne Boleyn upon her arrival at the Tower. We also have other documents and letters which help to give an outline of the different events that happened to Anne during her final days. Sadly Atkins seems to stray at times so far from this information that her book appears to be about another Anne and not the famous Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII.
I understand that this is a fiction novel and not everything within its pages needs to be factually correct. But for someone who has read a great deal about Anne Boleyn I was disappointed that even the basic facts of Anne’s life and final weeks were changed so dramatically. For example Atkin’s writes that Elizabeth Boleyn was Anne’s stepmother and not her biological mother. She states that George Boleyn, Anne’s brother, was five years older than her, rather than her younger brother. She also writes that George Boleyn and his wife Jane had a son, but I have never read anything suggesting this. Atkin’s also changed the details about the death of Mark Smeaton, writing that he was hung at Tyburn rather than beheaded upon Tower Green. In regards to Anne’s execution Atkin’s wrote that Anne watched the executioner pull his sword out from underneath the straw before she lay her head upon the block. From all my reading I have never read anything about a block being used in Anne’s execution. It has always been my understanding that Anne knelt and the executioner distracted her by calling for his sword and hearing this Anne turned to look at the direction where the sword would be brought from. Using this opportunity the executioner pulled his sword from under the straw and swung it with one stroke to remove Anne’s head while she was still kneeling.
Again I understand that this is a fiction novel and not everything written has to be accurate, but I would have thought at least the main points of Anne’s life and imprisonment and finally her execution would have been somewhat accurate. History does give us some factual information about Anne’s life and her fall; why not use these facts to create a framework in which all the missing parts can be elaborated upon?
I also found the editing very poor and it could have used a proof reader to read through the pages before the book was published. Many dates are incorrectly given, for example Atkin’s writes how in 1830 Henry VIII confirmed Wolsey as Archbishop of York. How could this be? By this date Henry Tudor had been dead almost three hundred years! Atkin’s also writes that Anne sent Lady Lisle a kirtle of cloth of gold on May 18th 1536. Again how was this possible when on this day Anne thought that she would have already been dead and past her pain? It is small details like dates that should have been read and re read to make sure they were written correctly.
For my first introduction into Anne Boleyn related fiction novels this was quite a disappointment. I suppose the fact that I love to read nonfiction books about Anne’s life did not help! I am the type of person who loves facts and information. I love all the historical documents, the letters and pieces of information that have been passed down over time. Although this book was disappointing I will not let it put me off from reading fiction novels about Anne. If anyone could suggest a slightly more factual fiction novel about Anne’s life I would appreciate it greatly!