Recreating history in fictional form presents certain challenges, particularly accuracy in depicting people and events, the characters evolving naturally yet constrained by documented conditions. As an historian and historical fiction author, Weir joins fact and fiction to breathe life into some of the most colorful characters in English history: Anne Boleyn, one of her Six Tudor Queens series. While a surfeit of documentation is available for this fertile era, there is little material available on Boleyn, either letters or diaries. The lack is unfortunate but perhaps appropriate for such a controversial figure both revered and reviled for her marriage to Henry VIII and the consequences of their union.
Drawn from the records of those around Boleyn, this memorable second wife of Henry VIII is infused with self-confidence and intellectual curiosity, stepping comfortably into the royal court of Burgundy. Welcomed by Archduchess Margaret of Austria, she is exposed to learning and culture, mastering the intricacies of court etiquette and the instincts to survive royal intrigues. By the time she receives a request at Hever Castle to join the English court as handmaiden to Queen Katherine, Anne welcomes this new phase in her life. A young woman of an age to marry, Anne pursues a union with a suitable man, her plans thwarted by the unmovable force of Cardinal Woolsey. This defeat enrages the young woman, earning the cardinal Anne’s enmity and a promise of revenge.
King Henry is no stranger to Boleyn, a subject of some curiosity. But Anne is rigorously careful, determined to protect her reputation--flirtatious, but only in the tradition of courtly love. Anne has witnessed her beautiful sister, Mary, succumb to the King’s attentions. When Mary bears him a son, Henry arranges a marriage, casting her sister aside. Though not physically attracted to Henry, Boleyn is fascinated with his charisma, awed by the power he exudes. Once he develops an infatuation with her, Anne is overcome by the passion with which he pursues her: the lavish tokens of affection, the importuning for a return of his affection. Immovable, Anne defends her virtue, falling only when Henry proposes marriage--and the crown of queen.
Anne’s life evolves on this royal stage, her ambition increased by Henry’s devotion, albeit tied to his obsession with providing England an heir. Pulled into the vortex of this heady existence, Boleyn adapts, adding another person to her list of those who shall feel her wrath--Thomas Cromwell, the king’s closest confidant. Blinded by the height to which she has ascended, Boleyn fails to see the warning signs at every turn. She has come so close in spite of those who would see her fail, convinced of Henry’s absolute devotion and her own fidelity. Cutting a swath through the Tudor Court, Boleyn captures the passion of a Tudor king but fails to provide a male heir and pays the price of that failure. Weir’s prose perfectly renders this flesh-and-blood woman, iconic in English history, from the early days when a youthful Anne is welcomed into a royal court to her shocking marriage to a king who rejects his wife and crowns his love as queen.
In Henry’s court, Anne embraces a promising future, confident she can avoid any situations that might compromise her rise in court. She makes few missteps, though she earns the enmity of many when she covets Katherine’s crown as her own. When she is unable to bear a male child, Anne’s perfidious king turns away, the object of his grand passion praying for a reprieve that will never come. In those final, agonizing days of betrayal and false testimony, Boleyn accepts her fate, past hubris and petty cruelties forgotten as she awaits the executioner’s blow. This scene leaves me in tears, Boleyn a frightened woman delivered of her flaws, bereft of the king’s favor or forgiveness, her story finished. Anne Boleyn has lived again in the pages of Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession brought fully to life by an author whose rendering of historical fiction enriches my perspective and love of the past.