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Doomed Queen Anne by Carolyn Meyer (2002)

May 26, 2012

This is a YA novel, part of a series of four interconnected books (the other three titles, which I haven’t read yet, are Mary, Bloody Mary, Beware, Princess Elizabeth, and Patience, Princess Catherine. The Catherine in question is Catherine of Aragon). It’s written in the first person and clearly intended for an audience which knows, at most, Anne Boleyn’s name, and because of these two factors it suffers from a tremendous amount of spoken exposition (Mary Boleyn is the principle exposition fairy here, though George and Thomas Boleyn do their bit as well). Despite this, the pacing is pretty good and the usual highlights (real and fictitious) are included. This is one of the comparatively few books which has the incident where Anne was supposedly pursued by a mob of men disguised as women, though it’s unlikely to have happened (and no, they’re not all shouting “Jehovah!”)

The main problem with this book is that, in deference to its intended audience, most of the characters in it sound … young. Not sixteenth-century young, either, but the sort of young that needs to have explanations for things like what an annulment is and why getting one would not be particularly simple, whether Catherine of Aragon was married before and to whom, and so forth – this leads to several scenes which seem to belong more to the era of Edward and Mrs. Simpson than Bluff King Hal, in which Anne keeps reiterating that Henry must be able to work out something – after all, “you’re the King!” Anne and Percy bond by having an impromptu snowball fight, Henry proposes to Anne about a month after meeting her; Anne herself, after dancing around tossing flower petals and shouting “I shall be Queen!” is unsure of her feelings until Henry sends her his own doctor when she has the sweating sickness (Anne has to reassure a stricken Mary Boleyn that she, Anne, does indeed love Henry and not just the prospect of being Queen). Anne herself tends to act fairly childishly when she’s not being flat-out vicious – among other things, this Anne seriously contemplates poisoning Mary Tudor but doesn’t quite work up the nerve to go through with it. The frame for the story is a common one – Anne’s last night alive – so the various accounts of her nastiness are punctuated with some sadder-but-wiser commentary about how she’d be kinder if she got the chance again.

SEX AND POLITICS: It’s a YA novel, there’s a bit but not too much of both. There’s not much in the way of politics – I mean, there’s no sense of how in that court, virtually everything anyone of importance did could affect policy, of how the personal really was political. Politics largely serve as a backdrop to the domestic drama of Henry, Anne, Mary Boleyn, and Mary Tudor the literal redheaded stepchild.

WHEN BORN? This Anne gets the 1507 birthdate, it’s made very clear. Mary is a few years older. About George I honestly couldn’t tell.

THE EARLY LOVE: James (or Jamie) Butler makes an appearance in his usual character of comically obnoxious contrast to Henry Percy; at their first meeting, he tells Anne that she needs “taming”, they argue, and he storms off and pretty much departs the story, except for a few mentions in which his manners haven’t improved. Percy is more appealing (snowball fights! Well, this Anne is only about sixteen or so) but it all ends depressingly and off-stage; the scene from Cavendish is all related to us second-hand via an account from one of Anne’s fellow maids of honor. After Anne returns to court, she meets Thomas Wyatt for the first time, and gives him a ring, which leads to an awkward moment later on when Henry notices.

THE QUEEN’S BEES Ladies Honor and Constance Finch; Honor shares a bed with Anne in the maids’ quarters and serves mostly to convey bitchy gossip and make fun of Anne’s deformities. Honor additionally falls in love with Percy and is devastated when it turns out Anne has caught him; later on, Honor takes a great deal of pride in being able to tell Anne the Cavendish account of Wolsey’s and Percy’s interview. Lady Honor is polished off during the sweating sickness, which is too bad, because it sounds like she would have made a great partner for Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR “Loyal Nell” is constantly at Anne’s elbow. After her coronation, she’s often the only person Anne can talk to, as her rank now means that she’s been distanced from the other women and she can’t go anywhere alone.

THE PROPHECY The usual round of soothsayers promising that Elizabeth would be a boy, but that’s about it.

IT’S A GIRL! Henry is first disappointed and then begins cursing the soothsayers and prophets – “They shall be hanged for their false words!” Anne apologizes abjectly, at which Henry tells her that she isn’t to blame, then departs. The relationship goes steadily downhill from that point.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Yes, and the wen as well – “that blemish upon her neck, the little bud of an extra finger.”


FAMILY AFFAIRS: Thomas Boleyn is described as having originally planned to send her to a convent when she was a child (on account of her plainness) and as constantly putting her down during her career at court, even, in what must be the ultimate case of a hard-to-please parent, on the day she’s being crowned queen. Elizabeth Boleyn suggests to Anne that perhaps settling for being the King’s mistress would be a safer bet than risking it all on the Pope coming through with the annulment, and Mary Boleyn is jealous of Anne’s glory. George comes through as the supportive brother, at least. He’s an enterprising sort who in addition to being the wenching, ballad-writing life of the party at court (this seems to have been true enough) also undertakes to get spies planted in Catherine of Aragon’s household so they can get private intelligence of what the opposition is up to. Later, Anne turns to George for help in possibly poisoning Mary Tudor, and he tells her not to even think about it, as the risk would be enormous and the payoff not worth it.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: The writing style is clear and straightforward, and it does sound like a young, chatty woman talking, though inevitably she sounds closer to our century than to Anne’s. This becomes a problem when the dialogue runs slap up against a genuine quotation from the time, as in the scene where Anne discovers Mary Boleyn’s pregnancy and secret second marriage. Since Mary’s dialogue comes straight from her letter to Cromwell justifying what she did, the women are essentially speaking two different languages:

‘”Not only have you married far beneath you, but you have married without royal permission! Your life is ruined, as you must surely realize.”

“Love overcame reason,” Mary sobbed. “I loved him as well as he did me. Knowing how little the world thinks of me, I decided to forsake all other ways to live a poor and honest life with him.”

“How could you embarrass the king and me and the entire Boleyn family in this way?” I demanded.’

ERRATA: Well, the episode where she’s chased by two thousand men in drag almost certainly didn’t happen, but it makes a nice piece of drama which isn’t relayed second-hand by a supporting character. One central episode which couldn’t possibly have happened surrounds the birth of Elizabeth; the erstwhile Princess Mary has to attend the birth because “tradition requires it” and also because Anne wants to inflict maximum humiliation on her. To the best of my knowledge, tradition never required any such thing, and Mary was certainly not anywhere nearby when Elizabeth was born – Henry was following the “out of sight, out of mind” policy for politically inconvenient members of court. Having Mary right in the middle of the action, even in an inferior position, was not the way to make the court forget about her and transfer their collective allegiance to Anne and her children. Additionally, Anne decides to humiliate Mary by making her help Anne with her chamber pot. In a society in which the Groom of the Stool was one of the most privileged positions someone could have, it’s extremely difficult to imagine this happening. I think what happened here was that Meyer wanted a dramatic illustration of Anne’s cruelty to Mary and went overboard – the documented instances are bad enough without gilding the lily by inventing an incident which couldn’t possibly have happened in the society these people were living in.

Mary and Elizabeth are both referred to at various points as being Princesses of Wales, which they were not. Additionally, during Anne’s trial, Lady Wingfield’s testimony is referred to, with Anne describing how Lady Wingfield had always hated her. The Lady Wingfield in question was actually dead by the time the trial took place; she may have disliked Anne but the evidence in question actually consisted of a fairly bland letter which Anne had written to her, and upon which the court put sinister interpretations – in this instance, it was very convenient that Lady Wingfield was no longer in a position to refute any of them.

RECOMMENDED? I think that a very young reader could enjoy it – younger even than the recommended twelve. It’s an easily digestible introduction to the basic story and facts (as well as some of the more famous non-facts – sixth finger, pursuing mob etc). They won’t learn much about the manners and mores of the sixteenth century but they’ll get a nice dramatic read out of it, which with luck will lead them to the adult histories in time.

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From → Book Overviews

  1. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve read some of Meyer’s other Young Royal books. Most annoying was the one on Catherine de Medici– talk about politics that needed explaining. I would have welcomed a little more info-dumping. But, YES on the voice– so modern (and even though the book started when she was 5 and ended long after her marriage, it never got any older.) But I think her work is really for the younger YAs, even a high middle grade, for all the reasons you mention. It’s fairly “clean.”

    If you want some Tudor YA with LOTS of sex and politics, check out Gilt, which just came out last week. It’s Catherine Howard, so you know… lots of sex and politics. AND bitchy bitchy bitchy ladies in waiting. And a good dose of Lady Rochford. (Caveat: I’m only 1/2 through it right now, but am LOVING it.)

  2. sonetka permalink

    Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely check that one out — oddly, I’ve read very few books about Catherine Howard though I know there are enough of them out there (certainly enough to keep this blog going for a while after the Anne books run out, and I wouldn’t even have to change the name :)). But yes, I think this book definitely showed some of the perils of writing about these people in the first person, especially in this genre — they end up turning into images of their intended audience than of the person who’s supposed to be writing. There’s another bit I didn’t mention in the review, where Henry is boasting to Anne about Princess Mary’s accomplishments; about how she’s musically talented, fluent in Latin and Greek, reading theological treatises in the original languages etc and Anne thinks “How dull!” It’s hard to imagine the real Anne — no slouch linguistically or literarily and very hot on education — being in the same galaxy as this character.

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