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Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Did He Really Believe?

I just finished reading Suzannah Libscomb's book "1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII."  This was a great non-fiction read and I finished it in one day.  The book discusses how the year 1536 changed Henry VIII forever.  It was in this year that he lost his first wife, Catharine of Aragon in January.  A few days later Anne Boleyn miscarried another baby boy.  Anne was accused of adultery in May of 1536 and executed in the same month, along with five men, all reputed to be good friend's of Henry's with the exeption of the musician Mark Smeaton.  In July of that year Henry's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy died. Lipscomb argues that the horrible events of this year changed Henry's view of himself and the world forever.  He suffered so much loss during this one horrible year that I imagine he did have a hard time recovering.  He was reportedly close with his son Fitzroy and exhibited erratic behavior at the boy's death, ordering the Duke of Norfolk to bury him in secret and then reprimanding him for following these orders several days later.  Are these the strange actions of a grieving father and a husband who's wife died, a wife he went to the ends of the earth to marry?  Or, are they the early acts of a man who was going insane?

Lipscomb argues that Henry believed Anne Boleyn to be guilty of adultery, that this was the only way, as a sane human being, that he could have turned on her so viciously.  The king and Anne were reportedly "making merry together" in late April of 1536.  What happened in those few days that ended with the death of the love of Henry's life?  I certainly have never met a man who would fight for and wait 10 years on a woman he did not love.  Lipscomb reports that the rumors of the queen's infidelity came from the Countess of Worchester, one of Anne's ladies in waiting.  She was chastised for her own loose behavior by her brother and apparently accused Anne of questionable behavior as well.  These accusations were brought to the attention of Cromwell who brought them to Henry.  An investigation ensued and Anne and several others were arrested.  We all know how the story ends, but is it possible that Henry believed his wife betrayed him?  Did this betrayal put him on the road to madness?  I have discussed Henry's madness in earlier posts, but Lipscomb is right, until 1536, he was not nearly as crazy as he was after that year, at least he did not appear to be.  I think betrayal and divorce is like a death, the death of a relationship and the death in one's heart of the one they loved.  In this case it ended in the very real death of six people, which in reality probably compounded Henry's grief.  If he in fact believed that Anne was guilty then he was most likely already mourning her and the person he thought she was.  His grief most likely turned to fierce anger and ended up with him ordering her execution after her sham of a trial.  Libscomb writes that Henry took a morbid interest in the practical arrangements of Anne's execution such as the building of the scaffold and the hiring of an extrememly expensive executioner from Calais.  I would almost call this his final act of love as this French executioner cost more than most men made in a year and was reputed to be very skillful, killing his victims in one stroke of the sword.  This would have been a wonderful alternative to the axe, a form of execution that was often botched and saw the executed literally hacked to death.

Lipscomb's book provided a unique and often untapped perspective on the change in Henry VIII after 1536.  I also enjoy her theory that Henry believed Anne to be guilty, othwerwise how could so great a love turn so quickly to so much hatred and malice?  I would fear to think that Anne was not savy enough to see all of this coming if in fact Henry was vindictive and nutty to begin with.  I don't think she would have gone for that after loving a man so gentle as Henry Percy.  She does not strike me as the type of girl who is so blinded by love that she sees no faults in a man.  I think she saw plenty of them, and told him about them all.  From all written accounts it does not appear that she held her tongue often.  Maybe she would have, the truth is, we really don't know.  All that does appear obvious is that something went horribly wrong and Henry turned on his wife like a mad dog turns on it's master.  From 1536 on he appears to sink deeper into madness and tyranny. 

The video below shows Anne and Henry considering the downfall of their marriage.  Pure sadness.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Anne Boleyn in Fiction: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This summer I decided to go back and re-read The Other Boleyn Girl, the book that drew me into historical fiction as a genre, well, really the only genre that I want to read.  I think that this book in particular drew many people into reading about the past, whether in novels or non-fiction books, this book, and the horrible movie made from it is what I feel started a passion for Tudor fiction in readers everywhere.  The book was excellent, a page turner until the end, just as I remembered.  What I also found to be true in this book is the fact that I despised Gregory's portrayal of Anne Boleyn.  The Anne in this book had almost no humanity, no softness, no weakness which could be related to.  She was all nerves and steel with a fake til you make it attitude and she did not mind stepping on anyone to make it.  This Anne was conniving, self-centered, mean spirited and driven with some sort of inner tornado.  This Anne was a horrible, spiteful person who loved no one, except her brother George.  He a little too much it is suggested as he and Anne reference going to "the gates of hell itself" to get an heir for England.  This Anne is a hard, dark person to me.
So, I started thinking about Anne in other books that I have read over the years.  I liked Anne Boleyn in "Secrets of the Tudor Court" which is told from the perspective of Mary Howard, Anne's cousin.  This Anne is sharp, nervous, quick to sting, but also quick with kindness.  Mostly she just seems a nervous wreck, a dignified one, but a nervous wreck.  Who could blame her?  Her husband was cheating on her, she was losing babies, rumors were flying, and her own family was spying on her to make sure she behaved in a way that would benefit them.  She knew she would be betrayed and she was.  This Anne I liked.  This Anne was human.

I liked Anne in Dear Heart, How Like You This told from the point of view of Thomas Wyatt.  She was lively and full of life, but was broken when she lost Henry Percy.  She became vengeful and angry and won Henry as a means of revenge.  This Anne just makes me sad.  An Anne that I loved was the Anne in Brandy Purdy's "The Boleyn Wife."  This Anne mocked Jane Rochford from the grave, something which I thought was appropriate to do to the woman who helped bring about her death and the death of George.  I loved her black humor in this book and how she taunted Jane by removing her head and putting it back on in one of Jane's hallucinations.

My favorite Anne of all time is Natalie Dormer on "The Tudors" but a close second is the Anne in Nell Gavin's "Threads."  This Anne is introspective, sad, alternately sympathetic and angry, and had a fully developed, well rounded character.  At times I thought she was more of a girl than a woman, but I loved her insight and how much she grew and changed during her many lives.  The insight she gained was invaluable and she learned how she became Anne Boleyn, and how this affected all of her lives afterwards.  This Anne, she was amazing and how I like to think Anne Boleyn would have been.  The story is complicated, allowing Anne to view many of her lives after her life as Anne Boleyn has ended and she comes to understand the complicated relationship she has with Henry.  She learns to appreciate the simple, worship-like love that Henry Percy has had for her through several lifetimes.  She finally understands that she and Henry are soul mates, and destined to be together over and over and over, forever, until they make it to heaven.  It is a beautiful story with an amazing Anne Boleyn as the main character.  This is an Anne that I can love.  I can't wait to read more, no matter how many times you meet a character in a story, they are always different, never the same person.  It's one of the best pieces of magic that books have to offer!