three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
By: 
Alison Weir
user_rating: 
0

The Fall of Anne Boleyn

A-LadyintheTowerEnglish historian Alison Weir has written twelve works of nonfiction and two novels on the British monarchy, including The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991) and Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001).

The Topic: In 1534, Henry VIII electrified Renaissance Europe when he repudiated the papacy and installed himself as the head of the English church in order to divorce his aging first wife, the dowdy Catherine of Aragon, and marry his vivacious mistress, Anne Boleyn. Only three years later, Anne was arrested on charges of adultery, incest, and treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Lady in the Tower closely considers the last four months of Anne’s life, including her conviction—based on flimsy, contradictory evidence and uncorroborated testimony—and her death on May 19, 1536. Was Anne guilty, or was she crushed by her enemies? "Anne was probably framed," concludes Weir, most likely by Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. "She went to her death an innocent woman."
Ballantine Books. 464 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780345453212

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Virtually no historian would disagree, but it is testament to Weir’s artfulness and elegance as a writer that The Lady in the Tower remains fresh and suspenseful, even though the reader knows what’s coming. … One of the pleasures of The Lady in the Tower is that it invites the reader into the historiographical process as Weir’s emphasis on primary sources allows us to evaluate them alongside her." Lisa Hilton

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"To Ms. Weir’s credit she is well equipped to parse the evidence, ferret out the misconceptions and arrive at sturdy hypotheses about what actually befell Anne. … To Ms. Weir’s disadvantage, this subject has been so frequently dramatized that her sometimes-inconclusive scholarship can seem ponderous and dry." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Doubts have already been cast on Weir’s assumptions; the historian John Guy has recently suggested that two sources she took to be mutually corroborating are in fact one and the same person. This doesn’t invalidate her brave effort to lay bare, for the Tudor fan, the bones of the controversy and evaluate the range of opinion about Anne’s fall." Hilary Mantel

Sunday Times (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"She’s in a dialogue with the evidence—it’s something done all too infrequently—beckoning us to join her behind the scenes of a historian’s world. … Looking at the bigger picture, one … has to question why Weir devotes so much space to a blow-by-blow account of the events of a few months, but rarely pauses to reflect on the values and expectations of the society that allowed it all to happen." John Guy

Providence Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"It is clear that Alison Weir is a terrific historian and a dogged researcher, who is enthralled with this part of European history. Unfortunately, she lets the academic nature of her work get in the way, somewhat, of a story that has obvious appeal." Kristin Dumont

Critical Summary

Weir certainly had her work cut out for her, given that the bulk of the court’s evidence and accounts of Anne’s last days emerged many years after her death. However, she adeptly sifts through contemporary sources, reveals inaccuracies, and paints as reliable a picture as possible of the queen’s fall from grace. She treads a well-worn path, but most critics praised her meticulous period detail—particularly her ghoulishly fascinating description of Anne’s beheading—and her ability to draw the reader into the academic process. Only the Providence Journal grew weary of the minutiae, and the Times cast doubts on some of her conclusions. Nevertheless, this scholarly and carefully crafted tale "is no romantic portrait of Henry’s great love, but a forensically detailed account of Anne’s systematic destruction (Independent)."