The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn By Retha M. Warnicke
The events which led to the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second queen, in 1536 have traditionally been explained by historians in terms of a factional conspiracy masterminded by Henry's minister Thomas Cromwell. Retha Warnicke's fascinating and controversial reinterpretation focuses instead on the sexual intrigues and family politics pervading the court, offering a new explanation of Anne's fall. The picture which emerges - placing Anne's life in the context of social and religious values, and superstitions about witches and the birth of deformed children - changes our perception of her role within the court, and suggests that her execution (occurring only four months after a miscarriage) was the tragic consequence of Henry's profound concern about the continuation of the Tudor dynasty.
I have heard many litigious comments regarding Retha Warnicke’s book but I really wanted to give it a chance and see what all the talk was about. I went into this book with an open mind, willing to read and contemplate anything that Warnicke presented. Unfortunately, despite trying to take her writing in an open frame of mind I still came away disagreeing with much of what she had stated as fact. The main issues that I disagreed with were as follows:
Anne Boleyn’s Age: I am in the camp that Anne Boleyn was born in 1501 and not in 1507 as Warnicke suggests. I personally believe that there is far too much evidence for the claim that Anne was born in 1501. I do not think that just because she wrote a letter while in Europe with supposedly poor handwriting that is enough to claim that she was born in 1507. I am open to the fact that people (although it seems to be very few) believe Anne was born in 1507. Due to fact that Anne’s date of birth was either never recorded or has been lost to history we may never know exactly when she was born, it is just up to us to interpret the evidence given to us from history.
Anne’s siblings: Warnicke claims while Anne was the middle child born to Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn, it was George who was the oldest and Mary the youngest. I have never in all my readings about Mary and Anne Boleyn heard of this theory. In fact evidence would seem to suggest that it was Mary who was the oldest child, while George was the youngest. During Queen Elizabeth’s rein, Mary Boleyn’s son Henry Carey petitioned his cousin the Queen for the title of Earl of Ormond (a title once held by his grandfather). Henry would have only been able to make this claim because his mother was the oldest child born to Thomas Boleyn. There is no evidence to suggest that it was George who was the oldest child.
The soul reason for Anne’s fall was Henry’s dissatisfaction that Anne miscarried a son: This idea just flabbergasted me! Of course Henry was probably upset that Anne had miscarried a son, the son who was to be Henry’s longed for heir – but to claim this was the only reason for Anne’s fall… I think that is a HUGE assumption. Once again there is evidence to show that Henry was growing dissatisfied and even frustrated by Anne’s vivacious personality and her abrupt and possessive attitude. There is also evidence to suggest that there were members at court, influential members including Thomas Cromwell who were perhaps threatened or distrustful of Anne. There are lots of reasons for why Anne fell from favour, to many to list here for it is such a complicated and detailed issue. But to suggest that the soul reason she fell was because of her miscarriage, for me that really shows a lack of understanding about Anne Boleyn and political and social life during the 1530’s.
Anne miscarried a deformed foetus in early 1536: I actually read this theory several times before I could even get my head around what Warnicke was writing. There is NO firm evidence to suggest that the son Anne miscarried was deformed. In fact the child, who was about three months, three and a half months, must have been well formed enough because the doctors were able to determine that it was a male. It could be that Henry VIII believed Anne had bewitched him – suggesting that she may have been a witch or involved in witchcraft. During the Tudor times it was believed that witches gave birth to deformed or mutated children. From this it has been suggested that those who did not like Anne spread the rumour that her miscarried child was deformed to strengthen the idea that she was a witch and thus insight people to dislike her. Again I do not believe there is any evidence to suggest that the child Anne miscarried in 1536 was deformed in anyway.
Henry had completely fallen out with Anne during the first few months of 1536: Again the evidence we have actually suggests the opposite of this. Even though Henry was probably bitterly disappointed from the loss of his longed for heir, he was still pushing Rome and European powers to recognise Anne as his true and lawful wife. Why would he do this if he had completely fallen out with Anne?
Henry Publically Humiliated Anne: Warnicke writes that Henry publically humiliated Anne by having Chapyus formally recognise her as Queen. Chapuys was invited to Mass and when Anne turned and stepped out from the pew Chapuys was standing so close to her that he had to publically recognise her and her status. It was a set up designed by Henry for Chapuys who had long claimed Anne as nothing more than a concubine, to formally recognise Anne as Queen. I do not see how in any way this could be skewed as Henry wanting to snub and insult Anne, rather I believe that it was a clear indicator that Henry still viewed Anne as his lawful Queen and wanted her recognised as such.
George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton were homosexuals: Again this is a theory that really shocked me. Just because George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton both owned the same book at one time does NOT mean that they were homosexual’s engaging in intimate liaisons! (My husband has given his best friend books for his birthday, does that make him a homosexual?!) Nor does the claim that because at his execution George Boleyn claimed he had committed many sinful acts he was therefore a homosexual. There is no evidence to suggest George Boleyn or Mark Smeaton were homosexuals and how Warnicke could make this claim really astounds me!
Unfounded statements: I felt that Warnicke made to many grand assumptions and made too many claims of what Anne Boleyn did or felt when there was no proof to back any of her statements up. One of my greatest pet peeves is when historians make a claim about the life of Anne Boleyn without providing enough evidence to back up this claim. There is so much we do not know about Anne, so much that we will probably never know. She lived her life almost five hundred years ago and there is no way that we in modern times can claim with any fact what she truly felt or thought. We can make assumptions, proposals, suggestions, but we were not there and no definitive records survive of her true thoughts or feelings. It frustrated me when Warnicke made such statements on how Anne felt or what she must have thought or did when she simply did not have the evidence to support these claims.
On one hand I was glad that I read this book because finally I got to understood what all the controversy was about; yet on the other hand I was extremely disappointed. I came away from the book feeling that Retha Warnicke had made such ludicrous claims that were based on little or no evidence. She seemed to have interpreted events in such a strange and distorted light that I was left quite flabbergasted. Her ideas and theories are so far away from what most other historians have written that at times they seem quite preposterous. I was really dissatisfied with this book and unfortunately this is not one book about Anne Boleyn that I would recommend reading.