Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Lady in the Tower

Alison Weir's new book on the fall of Anne Boleyn is definitely on my wish list. For one thing, I enjoy Alison Weir's perspectives on English history and, although Anne is not my favorite among Henry VIII's queens, her swift rise and catastrophic fall is more tragic than any classical Greek drama. Here is an excerpt from book blogger Marie Burton (whose review is worth reading in its entirety):
Some interesting facts that Weir touched upon were that Anne felt that Henry's dissolution of the monasteries had gone too far, and that Anne and Henry differed in their opinions about how far the reformation should go. Anne was not as zealous as Henry was, and did not condone the stripping of all of the funds that the Church had once relied on. I also found interesting that there were mentions of three ladies who were the ones to initially stir up the trouble with the accusations of adultery on Anne's part. There were many more courtiers who were involved in the setting of the snare, moreso than I had once believed. I was also intrigued as to the Catholic traditions that Anne observed before her death.


Stephanie A. Mann said...

This does sound like an interesting book--Anne Boleyn is so often cited as a true Reformation woman, an evangelical and protestant reformer. See Paul F. M. Zahl for instance or Joanna Denny, who is especially anti-Catholic!

Julygirl said...

The other side of the story, and there always is. She definitely has been demonized and placed as the centrifuge behind Henry's actions, but being calculating and manipulative falls short of murder.

May said...

I'd like to read this, too. Anne isn't my favorite historical character, but I do enjoy learning about her.

Dymphna said...

I never knew that her own ladies turned on her.

Young fogey emeritus said...

Much 'common knowledge' including about the English 'Reformation' is wrong so the idea that Anne Boleyn was less Protestant than people think is not surprising.

One fact that seems to back up the view I've had until now that she was rather Protestant and thus to blame for the Henrician schism (besides being the means for his dynastic ambition) is that the Boleyn family chaplain was Thomas Cranmer (but he wasn't openly a heretic until Edward VI).

My main source for the history of this period is now Christopher Haigh's English Reformations. Many already know Henry wasn't a heretic. A murderer of political opponents and a plunderer of church wealth but not a Protestant. Haigh explains though that church life was confusing in his day because he'd give the Protestants rather free rein in the churches, even though he hated them, when it was politically useful (when he needed one of the German princes as an ally for example) which may explain Cranmer staying on as Archbishop of Canterbury after he gave Henry an annulment from Catherine.

That and it was early in the 'Reformation' so Anne probably was still very culturally Catholic as many English people remained, even after Elizabeth I started Anglicanism as we know it in 1559, until the 1580s.

tubbs said...

The great archepiscopal trimmer, (TC), heard Anne's last confession. Is there any lore or legend of his reaction to that confession ? (keeping in mind that the seal of confession would still have been respected). I just don't understand how Cramner could ever justify abandonning his protege. Did he think he could further the cause of the reformation by laying low at this time?

Gareth Russell said...

There is an eyewitness account of Archbishop Cranmer's reaction to her confession, albeit a few days later. A Scottish evangelical by the name of Alexander Ales (or Aless), who had lived in Wittenberg after being condemned for heresy in absentia by the Scottish courts, was attending the court of Henry VIII and visiting London for most of 1536. Perhaps because of their shared religious sympathies, he and Cranmer were fairly close and Ales had access to the archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth. Ales had taken ill with a minor stomach infection for a few days in the middle of May - the crucial days during which Anne Boleyn was tried and executed. Finally recovering, he made his way to the Archbishop's palace on the morning that, as it transpired, the Queen was executed. According to his memoirs written a few years later, he found Cranmer in the palace gardens sitting and crying. When asked by Ales what was wrong, Cranmer allegedly replied: 'This day a woman who was a queen on Earth will become a queen in Heaven.'

Anne Boleyn is personally my favourite of Henry's wives and it's no surprise that Alison Weir has picked up on where the school of historiography is going about her religion. Whether one accepts a date of birth for 1501 for Anne, as Weir does, or 1507, as I do, either way she was born before the Reformation started in 1517 and in any case it was another generation before the words 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' could come to be used to describe actual separate religions. The first truly Protestant member of the English royal family was Katharine Parr. Professor Ives's 2004 biography of Anne Boleyn deals very well with the Queen's commitment to reform Catholicism, which can generally be distilled into the following principles: strongly anti-Papal (obviously), pro-Biblical translation, anti-Inquisition, strongly pro-Transubstantiation, anti-justification by faith alone, pro-Marian, indifferent on clerical celibacy, anti-Dissolution and pro-Purgatory.

I very much enjoyed Alison Weir's book, although I agreed very much with the review posted via link by Elena-Maria, which stated that it can be very confusing if you're not already acquainted with either the Tudor court or the story of Anne Boleyn's life. It certainly made me reassess a lot of what I thought about the chronology of Anne's death and the machinations which brought about her death. Although Weir scrupulously sets out the arguments of those who think she might have been guilty of at least some of the charges, in the end, like Miss Weir, I came away even more convinced of her innocence, if that's possible. Although I would concur with the linked review as well in saying that Miss Weir's attempts to humanise Henry VIII and Cromwell were a little difficult to swallow. Perhaps the sentence which raised my eyebrows fastest and highest can be found in chapter 16: "In weighing up the evidence for and against her, the historian cannot but conclude that Anne Boleyn was the victim of a dreadful miscarriage of justice: and not only Anne and the men accused with her, BUT ALSO THE KING HIMSELF, the Boleyn faction - and saddest of all - Elizabeth, who was to bear the scars of it all her life."

Really? Henry as much of a victim as Anne? Good luck making that theory stick.

Another downside was the almost vindictively ugly portrait she chose to include as reflective of Anne, at least in the 1536 portrait, despite the fact that Ives and Ronald Hui have basically proved that it couldn't possibly have been painted from life and that it bears almost no resemblance to the real Anne.

But that's a minor thing and I am too much of an Anne geek to miss the book. To anyone intrigued by her demise, which, as Elena-Maria says, has all the qualities of a Greek tragedy, it's a fantastic book and I can't wait to read the review on this blog!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks to you all for your feedback. Yes, the Young Fogey is right in that Anne was culturally always a Catholic. So was Henry.

I have always understood that before she died Anne tried to prepare herself by going to confession and receiving Holy Communion. Too bad she and Henry were never validly married since his true wife was still living when they were "wed." (Even Henry had the marriage declared null and void before Anne died.)

The book is certainly on my Wish List. (Sadly, Gareth, most authors have very little say in what the covers of their books look like! ;-))

Gareth Russell said...

I know! I'm currently going through stuff for my own front cover. I meant the picture within the book, though; the one on the front cover of the British version is the fairly inoffensive NPG portrait. The American one seems to considerably more obscure.

Anne did indeed partake of Holy Communion regularly before her death and had asked for the Sacrament to be placed in her rooms following her arrest. During her happier days, she had consistently refused to finance the works of men who questioned Transubstantiation, so it was evidently a doctrine she believed in.

In terms of the legality of Henry and Anne's wedding - and I'm aware I'm dancing into a minefield on this one - I am afraid that I have to respectfully disagree that their union was illegal. By modern standards, almost certainly so, but under 16th century standards, the issue is not so clear. Earlier in the divorce proceedings, sometime around 1529, I believe, or possibly in 1528, the Pope had issued a dispensation for the King to marry Anne Boleyn, if the marriage to Katherine of Aragon was subsequently judged invalid by an ecclesiastical authority. The dispensation did not specify that it had to be by the Vatican itself, since it was usual in royal annulment suits for the case to be tried by local church authorities - as had been the case with the annulment of King John from Isobel of Gloucester or the most recent separation of King Louis XII and Queen Jeanne. With this mind, there were actually three judgements made on the marriage - the first was by the various puppet ecclesiastical courts in England, the second was by the archiepiscopal authority of the Papally-appointed Cranmer and only the third and final judgement, made almost a year after the marriage ceremony had actually taken place, came from Rome, which, of course, eventually ruled that Katherine was Henry's true wife, not Anne. Under 16th century canon law, Henry and Anne's position was thus almost unique due to the "good faith" clause which stipulated that if a couple entered into a union in the good faith that it was legal, then any children they conceived during that period were fully legitimate and the union itself had a quasi-legal status, if it was only judged uncanonical after the event. This is, of course, what happened with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and so whilst modern Catholics are, of course, right to state that by the tenets of their faith Henry and Anne were not legally wed between 1534 and her death in 1536 (when the marriage was annulled on the probable grounds that all papal dispensations were illegal, thus the one allowing Henry's marriage to Anne in the first place was null and void) - the issue was much more confused for their contemporary brothers and sisters in the Faith. There is even a letter from Sir Thomas More at the time of Anne's coronation, in which he wrote: "So am I he amongst his Grace's faithful subjects, his Highness being in possession of his marriage and this noble woman [Anne] really anointed queen, neither murmur at it nor dispute upon it, nor never did nor will". (Eric Ives, "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn," cit. p. 47.) In the period between St. Erkenweld's Day in 1532 and the Pope's final ruling on the matter, I would stick my historical neck out to say the issue is a good deal more complicated than it initially seems. That is not, of course, to detract from Katherine of Aragon's struggle to maintain her position and defend the legality of her marriage, at all.

elena maria vidal said...

Sorry to disagree, Gareth, but the marriage was both illicit and invalid. For one thing, Henry had slept with Anne's sister, which meant he needed a dispensation from Rome to marry Anne, just as he had needed a dispensation from the Pope to marry his brother's widow. In the latter case, the marriage had not even been consummated; in the former case, it was.

Henry could have Anne anointed at a coronation ceremony all he wanted but it did not make her his true wife. He did not have the authority make her so.

Gareth Russell said...

But the dispensation from 1528 was precisely to dispense with the issues of consanguinity raised by Henry's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn-Carey.

I'm not saying I NECESSARILY agree with the arguments favouring the validity of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, given the complexities of canon law at the time, I did thing the counter-argument raised an interesting point. :-)

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I think those arguments defending the validity of Henry's marriage to Anne are quite interesting and I am glad you brought them up, Gareth. :-) It remains, however, that since the decree of nullity of the King's prior marriage was never granted by the Pope then it did not matter what "dispensations" Cranmer gave him. Henry was not free to marry anyone. He was already married, to Katherine the Queen.

Luv said...

I love Alison Weir books. I am now reading the lady in the tower: The fall of Anne Boleyn. One thing I like about Weir writing style is that she look at four month leading up to Anne's trial and conviction from all points of views. Anne was more catholic than protestant,and Anne truly had more enemies than she did friends.