Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn

I posted on Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower when it first came out, before I was able to read it, HERE and HERE. Since then I have learned a great deal more about Henry VIII's tragic second wife, the mother of Elizabeth I. I now appreciate what Gareth Russell was trying to explain to me in the first post about the papal dispensation from the pope for Henry to remarry, which made the entire situation a good deal more muddled. I once likened the fall of Anne Boleyn to a Greek tragedy. After reading Weir's book on the subject, I see it as more than tragic; it is positively occult. It is as if a Pandora's box had been opened by Henry's lust for Anne; the evil released inundated the entire country, including Anne herself.

Weir's book gives an almost day by day account of Anne's fall, beginning with the loss of her baby boy, which set off the series of events. The accusations against Anne of adultery with five men, including her own brother, as well as plotting to kill the king, were invented by Cromwell, who knew his job was to get rid of Anne so Henry could marry his new love, Jane Seymour. The heinous charges, of which Anne was almost certainly innocent, not only destroyed her but the five men, innocent as well. The fact that Cromwell enabled so much blood shed makes any lionization of him in novels or films an obscenity.

The most moving part of the book was Anne's time in prison, in which she showed herself to be a Catholic, hearing Mass, confessing and receiving communion. She asked that the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in her rooms and she spent hours in prayer. She said before she died that while she was not guilty of the charges of which she was accused, she did believe that God was punishing her for her treatment of Princess Mary, whom some claim she planned to poison. She wanted to send word to the "Lady Mary" of her repentance. Ironically, Mary was one of those who had been waiting upon Anne's daughter Elizabeth, and Mary cared for the toddler with great love.

The book sifts through every breath of rumor, every possibility of guilt or innocence, and every nuance of the trials, so as to make it a monumental work and one which is a must-read for Tudor scholars. The heaviness of the horror which befell one raised so high is conveyed by quotations of contemporaries, a few friends but mostly enemies. Although Anne's arrogant and haughty ways had made enemies even of relatives and former friends, it is still impossible for me not to pity her, but mercifully she received the grace to die with courage and piety.



Marie Burton said...

I wholeheartedly agree. After reading this book I also had a newfound respect for Anne, despite all the novels that tried to portray her as grasping and self serving. And I definitely despised Cromwell even more just like your reaction, which meant I could only finish 100 pages or so of Wolf Hall.

elena maria vidal said...

Glad we feel the same way about it, Marie.

Helen Davis said...

How much choice did Anne truthfully have in the events surrounding her?

elena maria vidal said...

Not much, since Henry pursued her like a mad man. She could have been kinder to Mary, however, and she died knowing that her own daughter would be at the mercy of a stepmother just like Mary was to Anne.

Helen Davis said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Mary was ANNE'S opponent, not her victim, and did not Jane Seymour basically neglect Elizabeth?

I do not understand why those who dislike Anne admire Jane.

Helen Davis said...

And I'm not justifying Anne's poor treatment of Mary. Just confused at why Jane seems to get a free pass.

Perhaps it's because the ultimate writer of the history was Henry and since Jane gave him his son, nothing bad could be said about her.

Henry should have been the one to go to the Tower!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, definitely. The problem with Anne and Mary is that even though Mary was strong-willed and stalwart, she was still a young girl, separated from her mother, stripped of her rank, treated like a servant, and Anne should have shown her more kindness.

I know of historians who are taking a new look at Jane and just because Jane was not as flamboyant as Anne does not mean she was not sly. But since Jane died so soon we really do not how how her role would have played out.

Helen Davis said...

Yes, Jane, like most, was mainly out for herself.

If i recall, Mary was pretty nasty to Elizabeth and really hated her for being Anne Boleyns daughter.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, she was, as Elizabeth grew older. When Elizabeth was a small child, Mary was kind to her and very loving and nurturing.