Because I am a giant geek (and I cannot stress that enough) and because I’ve had a giant lady crush on Anne Boleyn ever since I was a little girl, I want to take the opportunity today to point out that, on this date in 1536, the indomitable Queen Anne was executed on Tower Green on charges of adultery, treason, and even incest with her own brother. Of course (don’t believe what George Bernard tells you), the charges were fabricated and serve as a black stain on the already pretty shabby reputation of her husband Henry VIII. In honor of Anne’s memory, I will be looking at a few of my favorite books and fictionalized representations of her today. I recommend Eric Ives’s sterling biography and, for a chuckle, Retha Warnicke’s odd book which argues that Anne’s fate was sealed when she gave birth to a deformed fetus in the months before her arrest (the appearance of the deformed fetus – and there’s absolutely zero evidence that it was deformed, thank you Dr Warnicke – supposedly sparked the rumors of witchcraft and incest on Anne’s part that led to her death). If you’re not up to a fully “scholarly” book but just want a riveting account of Anne’s life and death that captures the tragedy and pathos of it all, check out Antonia Fraser’s The Wives of Henry VIII. Still the best “popular” book on the topic for my money (I’ll also just urge people to stay the hell away from Alison Weir and her garbled clap-trap because that lady pretends to be a historian only she has minimal training, no methodology, and churns out some ridiculous drivel).
As everyone knows from the emergence of movies like The Other Boleyn Girl (which I thought was awful) and television shows like The Tudors (which I admit is pretty entertaining and actually did a great job chronicling Anne’s downfall in the sense that, while it was historically inaccurate, was dramatically pitch perfect), Henry VIII and his wives are entertaining. I recommend the BBC’s amazing Six Wives of Henry VIII series (six movies of an hour and half length each) – I will be watching the Anne Boleyn episode later today. An oldie but a goodie is the film Anne of the Thousand Days, which has great costumes and does a decent job capturing Anne’s intelligent, bitchy, and daring personality. And of course there are reams of historical fiction out there – some good and some bad. I’ve always been partial to Jean Plaidy’s The Lady in the Tower, which I read as a child and which got me interested in early modern England, which I have now spent the last ten years studying as an academic discipline.
If you don’t know much about Anne Boleyn, I strongly suggest that her google her – her life was fascinating and she’s an incredibly interesting historical character.
Here’s few of my favorite Anne images and quotes:
"The King’s Grace is ruled by one common stewed whore, Anne Boleyn, who makes all the spirituality to be beggared, and the temporality also”— Abbot of Whitby
"She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in Heaven”— Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, on hearing of Anne Boleyn’s execution.
“And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me” – Anne Boleyn on the scaffold