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The Chained Book by Emma Leslie (1879)

This is one of the earliest books about Anne Boleyn aimed specifically at children, and given that it was published in 1879 by the Sunday School Union, it’s not surprising that this earnest little novella puts the cause of serving and promoting Protestant orthodoxy well ahead of such considerations as character development, internal consistency, or historical accuracy. The chief aim of the book is to give children a simple, interesting story about the beginnings of the Bible in English, and how wicked men sought to stop it and good men sought to promote it, at which the latter group finally succeeded with some help from Anne Boleyn, who is the only person in the book with even a tiny bit of nuance to her character.

“God Will Accept Maidens’ Work, If No Better Is To Be Had”

Queenbreaker: Perseverance by Catherine McCarran (2016)

The first of a planned trilogy, this incredibly dense, weird, dark, and enjoyable book covers a startlingly short period of time — the six months between Anne Boleyn’s first being officially recognized as Queen, and the birth of Elizabeth. If this doesn’t sound like the amount of time that could produce almost four hundred pages’ worth of incident, lay your fears to rest; our protagonist, Mary Shelton, and the enormous assembled cast (the author provides a short guide to all the names at the beginning which I appreciated) manage to get both themselves and other people tangled up in so many intrigues and dangling on the edges of so many precipices that by the end the story felt downright rushed. They manage to accomplish all of this by being stone-cold sociopaths who will happily destroy a fellow maid of honor’s life if that means they’ll be able to walk one place further ahead in a processional line. And Mary Shelton, newly arrived from rural Norfolk, finds this state of affairs disconcerting — not so much because she disapproves of the cutthroat tactics of the others, but because she isn’t even close to their skill level. At least, not yet.

The Snake Pit

Historic Tales: A Novel by Anonymous (1790)

This odd romance is the earliest instance I’ve found so far of Anne’s life being told from the perspective of a more fortunate, imaginary friend, and although it’s an eighteenth-century production, the author seems to have already drunk deeply of the early Romantic movement (who the author was remains a mystery — he or she dedicated the book to Lord Carbery, as “one who, though unknown, has the honor of being allied to you.”) Any reader who gets even a twentieth of their way into the book will learn, very quickly, that true happiness is impossible to find at court or even anywhere moderately well-populated with ambitious (and possibly even foreign) people — the only hope for anyone is to live, like Anne’s friend, in healthy, uneventful rural surroundings.

“Did I not tell thee I was an Italian? Should not that have taught thee to expect revenge?”

Mayflowers For November by Malyn Bromfield (2016)

If you looked at the synopsis, you might think you’ve already seen this book dozens of times. A lowborn girl possessed of a special talent is, through a series of unlikely occurrences, raised up to become a personal maid to Anne Boleyn, receiving confidences, witnessing intrigues, and of course experiencing youthful romance even while Anne’s own love story is collapsing into ruins. Unable to prevent Anne’s arrest and death, the maid, having become disgusted with the treacheries of court life, flees with her lover to a humbler existence. Sound familiar? If you read this book, it will — and it won’t, because this is an absolutely masterful take on that story; one that goes head to head and may even be better than Norah Lofts’ servant story in The Concubine (1963), especially as it does not permit its young couple to take refuge in a bucolic paradise together, but rather shows us how they continue to mature and what new troubles replace their old ones — because in the religious turmoil of the mid-sixteenth century, there is no safe haven for anyone, no matter how elastic their religious and political convictions may be.

“Oh Avis, What An Innocent You Are”

Boleyn: Tudor Vampire by Cinsearae Santiago (2010)

Sometimes when I get a new book, it’s obvious when I open it that I’m only visiting a small patch of a much larger unknown territory. This was the case with Boleyn: Tudor Vampire, which is filled in the back with ads for other vampire novels, many by the same author, in which the true theme is vampires, resurrection, and bloodletting; the characters and historical setting are set dressing and ultimately of secondary interest. This isn’t a new phenomenon; there is a long and often entertaining tradition of historical figures being drafted into service to tell a story of the supernatural or an unlikely serial-style adventure — William Harrison Ainsworth’s Windsor Castle (1843) and Francis Lathom’s Mystic Events (1830) are early examples of authors setting Anne Boleyn free from the chains of history to have impossible adventures, and Olivia Longueville’s Between Two Kings (2015), does something similar in having Anne secretly escape her execution and start wreaking “supernatural” revenge from her hideout overseas. Tudor Vampire takes the next step up in drama; the supernatural revenge being wrought by Anne is, in fact, genuine, because she really is dead. Due to combination of the King’s mistake (having Anne hanged instead of beheaded) and Anne’s mistake (cursing God the moment before her death) Anne has awoken and clawed her way out of her grave as a red-eyed, hungry vampire, ready to take down her enemies. What’s a little surprising, and ultimately disappointing, is just how bad Vampire Anne is at doing this.

Curse God, And Die

Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford: So Sweet A Maiden?

I wrote my first post on Jane Boleyn’s afterlife in fiction five years ago — a blink of an eye, really, when you consider that she had spent multiple centuries being pilloried both in fictional and non-fictional works. At that point, Julia Fox’s biography Jane Boleyn: The True Story Of The Infamous Lady Rochford, which revealed the series of small mistakes and scholarly errors which had confounded Jane’s biography for so long, had already been in print for five years, but had had little apparent effect on novelists. At the time, I wrote that “with the newly-uncovered blanks in her life, you would think that novelists would leap at the chance to remake her in a way — not heroic, as nothing of what survives of her suggests heroism, but at least not overtly treacherous — that could make the Boleyn story quite different, but so far most of them have managed to restrain themselves.”

That the book had no obvious immediate effect on novels isn’t surprising — after all, it takes time to plan and write one, and furthermore, this one book, however conscientiously researched, was up against hundreds asserting the exact opposite of what it said; even the most dedicated writer isn’t going to be able to read literally everything, and a writer who is centering her story around Anne Boleyn will naturally reach for the excellent work of Eric Ives and his many predecessors. Also, as has been apparent with many other books which upended, or attempted to upend, received wisdom about Anne Boleyn’s story, it takes time both for new messages to seep in and old ones to fade away. People read older books, and the newer books which repeat what the older ones said — this is why characters like Anne’s stepmother, who was mistakenly invented by Agnes Strickland in the mid-nineteenth century and whose existence was conclusively disproven by Philip Sergeant in 1923, continued to appear both in nonfiction biographies and novels throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first (I’ve seen her appear as late as 2008, in Luther’s Ambassadors). Retha Warnicke’s hypotheses about Anne’s fellow victims being secretly homosexual/bisexual and her last baby being deformed took a good ten or fifteen years to find their way into her fictional existence, but they got there. Eric Ives’ hypothesis about Cromwell engineering Anne’s fall to prevent her thwarting him in his plans for monastic funds, while it didn’t make much of a ripple when the book was first printed in 1986, has been appearing steadily since the book’s revision and reissue in 2004. I’m pleased to see that Fox’s book finally appears to be making an impression.

I Am Not Who I Am

Anne Boleyn by W.S. Pakenham-Walsh (1921)

If you’ve read a book about Anne Boleyn by W.S. Pakenham-Walsh, it probably wasn’t this one — he’s much better known for his later book, A Tudor Story (1963) in which he described his attempts, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, to meet Anne and her circle with the assistance of mediums. How convincing the resulting transcribed seances are must be left to the individual reader, but I was intrigued by his mention of a play he had written earlier and his wish to write a sequel containing the new information he had learned from the spirits. He never said whether the play had been printed and for a long time I thought it had not been, until I was fortunate enough to discover that it had been published in 1921 under the obnoxiously unsearchable title of Anne Boleyn. (A word to anyone interested in writing about her — I own fourteen books with this title and there are more out there. If you don’t want your book to get buried under all of these in search results, don’t choose this title.)

The proposed second play was never written — he said that he “did not feel equal to it”, which is unfortunate, since that play would undoubtedly have included the mystery of “Send”, Danahan the maid, Lady Rochford’s anger at George stemming from false allegations of infidelity, and numerous other unique elements. Still, this early play gives us valuable insight into Pakenham-Walsh’s conception of what Anne Boleyn and her circle were like, and what information he brought with him initially to his seances. It’s a relatively old-fashioned story — his Anne is definitely a throwback to the coerced, high-minded Annes of the nineteenth century, and has little in common with the Anne of The Favor Of Kings (1912), to say nothing of the many hyper-intelligent, scheming, adventurous Annes who would begin coming down the pike after The King Waits (1918). This is an Anne who flees from power to the extent of literally leaving her fate up to a game of “He loves me, he loves me not.”

The Decision Of The Flower