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Anne Boleyn by Reginald Drew (1912)

December 15, 2012

Anne Boleyn has always attracted white knights anxious to vindicate her life in fiction, and this novel is a prime example. In his foreword, the author informs us straight-out that:

Historians generally have slurred the character of Anne Boleyn …. The report that Anne was an artful, scheming beauty angling for a crown, and one who helped compass the death of the noble Katherine of Aragon to obtain the same, has been believed by the public, but it is untrue. It is generally forgotten that for seven years she kept King Henry from her, until he sued, persecuted and hedged up her life so completely that at last he forcefully compelled her to become his wife.

The resulting novel is a curious mixture – Anne is supposed to be lively, cheerful and appealing, a very different creature from the depressed and downcast Anne of its forerunner My Friend Anne (1900), but this one is even more of a victim. She has absolutely no interest in Henry, but he nags at and isolates and pursues her until finally he forces her into a wedding and (one would assume from some artful hints) marital rape. In a peculiar way it anticipates the arguments of writers like Josephine Wilkinson and Joanna Denny that Anne was essentially the victim of an extended stalking by Henry, though since this novel is written in a very pulpy, serial-adventure style, not to mention that it predates Wilkinson and Denny by a good ninety years, its take on the situation is a bit different.

We begin by watching a dashing young courtier, who’s singing a love sonnet as he carries a message from King Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court. By the fact that he’s singing a sonnet you’ll have guessed that he is both adept at setting awkward forms to music and also that he’s Thomas Wyatt. Along the way, he bumps into “his best friend in all the world, Percy, the young lord of Northumberland.” They reel off some exposition about how much they both love Cardinal Wolsey and dislike the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, both of whom dislike the Cardinal and are whispering sly words into the King’s ear about how maybe he should try governing for himself and knock the Cardinal down a few pegs. Hampton Court is well populated with nobles, both friendly and hostile, by the time they arrive, but there’s another set of latecomers – Sir Thomas Boleyn, along with his son George and his daughter Anne, newly returned from France. Anne is

A vision of loveliness. She was radiant and dimpled, and her beautiful face, pink-hued and lily-white, rippled with laughter and bubbled with vivacity. She had sparkling eyes, wavy, golden-brown hair which framed her face like a picture … her carriage was that of a queen, and her musical laughter sounded like rippling water to the thirsting.

When a dazzled Wyatt asks if this can be the little girl he knew so long ago, Anne’s reply is “La, la! You have not changed a particle, but just grown into a big boy!” Percy is introduced to Anne and assures her that many ladies are present, including Lady Mary Talbot, so she’s sure to have a good time. Once Anne’s party is sent off to their lodgings, Percy and Wyatt contemplate first Anne’s departing form and then each other. Their friendship, they’re obviously thinking, might not be quite the blood-brotherhood affair they once thought.

That evening Wolsey holds a feast, at which Wyatt delivers the message he was carrying earlier – it turns out that Wolsey had invited the King and Queen to stay at Hampton Court, and they’ve accepted and are on their way. Unusually, we get a firsthand look at Lady Mary Talbot, “a beautiful lady with dark curling hair and dreamy soft eyes” who adores Percy unreservedly – a feeling he does not share, which becomes clear as he’s increasingly fascinated by Anne throughout the evening, when he insists on partnering her as she demonstrates the new French dances, and poor Mary Talbot is left to watch “her idol devoted to another.”

The next day, while awaiting the King and Queen’s arrivals, Percy decides to organize a riding jaunt into an allegedly haunted forest, inviting Anne, Mary Wyatt, Anne Saville (who is “passionately in love with Wyatt, but whose love was not returned”) Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, and of course Mary Talbot. Not by accident, Percy and Anne end up alone by a fairy ring, but are quickly discovered by Thomas Wyatt and Mary Talbot, who rebukes Percy for forgetting “knightly chivalry.” By way of apology he spends a bit of time with her, but that evening at chapel he’s back to obsessing over Anne and sending her notes in his prayerbook. Anne is mysteriously drawn to him as well, even though she’s been brought back to England to be troth plighted to “old Sir Piers Butler.” Percy tells Anne that he’ll break the engagement to Mary Talbot, seeing as he never wanted it anyway and that the Cardinal, who loves him like a son, will figure out a way around it. “I am glad!” says Anne, “But somehow I still have a boding fear! My soul is yours forever, yet a dread possesses it for fear our precious love may be broken.”

Cardinal Wolsey, portrayed uncharacteristically as a softhearted type whose common-law wife had died some years ago and who for her sake takes pity on young lovers, is taken aback by the news but cautiously hopeful – he points out to them that the King could still kibosh their engagement, but with the optimism of youth they begin telling everyone about their engagement. Thomas Boleyn is pleased, as Percy’s a good catch, and Wyatt manages to stammer out a few words of congratulation, even as he remembers the childhood vows he and Anne had made to each other. “He had believed her childish word, her every given pledge. His poetic soul had drunk in all her honeyed savings, and his romantic nature idealized the little imperious lover.”

King Henry and Queen Catherine arrive, and trouble arrives with them. As soon as he’s off his horse Henry wants to know the identity of the “sylph” over there with Lord Percy. “Saw you ever such witchery? She just floated!” says the enamoured Henry to Suffolk, the latter of whom is portrayed as Corrupter-in-Chief to the formerly virtuous King, and who assumes that Anne will be the latest in Henry’s string of mistresses. After this we’re shown an elaborate montage of very involved sporting scenes in which Henry tries both to attract Anne and drive off Percy, and succeeds on neither score. Anne loses a bet with Henry and he claims a ring from her (she gives Percy a heart-shaped pendant later to assuage his feelings), Henry plays a game of bowls with Percy and makes a lot of double-edged comments along the lines of “Northumberland, I tell you the game is mine!” while looking at Anne by way of a hint, and finally Henry decides to hold a tilting contest in which he’s matched up against Percy, who naturally refuses to do the gentlemanly thing and lose. Alas, even though Percy wins, he’s still defeated. As Henry announces to Anne before the contest, “Win or defeat, Henry Tudor will take you to lunch.” After lunch, Henry and Percy really start going at it – they compete in shooting at fallow deer, which for some reason necessitates their both taking their shirts off: “Stripped to the waist, the king and Percy stood together, two of the most superb men living,” we’re told, and they’d have to be to survive all of those different contests in one twelve-hour period. Having lost, Henry has Anne’s ring hung up from a tree branch, shoots an arrow right through it, and challenges Percy to do the same, at which of course he succeeds. I have no idea if the author intended any kind of symbolism with this, but let’s just say that it was there.

Shortly afterwards, Henry is descending upon the Cardinal “in negligee” meaning not fully attired, although my mind went to a very strange place there for a moment. He announces flatly that “I want you to procure me a divorce!”. Wolsey, seeing a “terrible scheme for his downfall” in this suggestion (which he assumes, accurately, was planted by the evil Suffolk) tries to stall – Clement is the prisoner of Charles V and of course will never grant a divorce while prisoner to Catherine of Aragon’s nephew. (Considering that this Hampton Court house party started just after Anne returned from France, that would imply that it’s been going on for about five years now). Henry declares that he thought the divorce might be more popular if afterwards he could put “an English maid upon the throne.” He also asks some suspicious questions about Percy – he’s gotten the impression that there may just be an attachment of some sort between himself and Anne. Wolsey demurs (“His eminence was in a fix” as we’re informed) but Henry is still suspicious.

Wolsey, mindful of his head, summons Anne and Percy and begs them to cool it for a time or else he and they will be in real trouble, and Percy’s unhelpful response is to ask if Wolsey can marry them right then and there. Wolsey then appeals to Anne – surely a sensible girl like her can see the merit in not flaunting their attachment for a while – but her response is simply “I loathe your master and only wish that I were again in France!” Henry returns to nag at Wolsey about the divorce, and Wolsey says that his request has been “forwarded to the Holy Father.” Since Henry only requested a divorce about four hours ago, I’m not sure when that would have happened, but presumably Wolsey is still stalling for time.

The stalking of Anne continues – during a masque Henry spots her in disguise and dancing with Percy, whom Henry then elbows aside with the richly ironic comment, “What right have you in this lady’s regard that you track her like a hound?” Percy informs him that he and Anne are engaged, at which Henry denounces him for engaging himself to another woman whilst betrothed to Mary Talbot. Percy whips out his sword and tries to attack Henry, but Wyatt and Suffolk are there to pull him away in time (oddly, he suffers no repercussions for this). Henry then proceeds to tell Anne the glad news that he’s not really married to Catherine of Aragon after all, to which Anne reacts with shock and horror. Henry then proceeds to kiss her by force, and she screams and runs off. Not to be discouraged, Henry later presents her with a diamond bracelet and tells his dwarf fool, Will Somers (thoroughly unpleasant in this incarnation) to follow her around and see what she’s up to. After a few more hijinks, including Wolsey presenting Hampton Court lock stock and barrel to Henry in order to curry favour, the house party finally ends after about 120 pages, and the plot can move forward at last.

Anne and Percy, living in separate households, are now planning to elope to the Low Countries with Thomas Wyatt’s assistance , but unfortunately that plan is foiled when Will Somers hides in a chest in Wyatt’s room and overhears a key conversation which leads to Anne and Percy’s being seized by Suffolk’s guards just as they’re at the point of getting married. Anne is packed back to Hever, and Percy is brought before Henry, who informs him that if he’s so hot to get married he can marry right now – to Mary Talbot. “It dawned upon Percy what the king was about to do to him – consign him to a loveless life, a living death, and make him an object of scorn among his fellows.” But there’s nothing he can do, and the besotted Mary is brought in and they’re married straightaway. Only after the ceremony does Mary notice that Percy has become so ill that he’s on the brink of death.

Percy disposed of, there’s still the problem of conquering Anne’s resistance. Fortunately Suffolk is never at a loss for ideas, as we learn. “`Send her father on a mission. Her stepmother will play into your hands, Sire, and you will have her all alone,’ the Duke evilly suggested.” Henry doesn’t get the chance, though, as once Percy has been brought back from death’s door, he and Wyatt work out a scheme to send Anne back to France, which is the only way she can think of now to escape – and they succeed! As Anne’s ship enters open water, she opens a note which Percy gave her and it’s from Mary Talbot, expressing her sorrow at what she’s involuntarily done: “I wish you to know that I am innocent in being married to your lord,” and saying she’ll pray for Anne.

Anne is in France for two years, during which Henry exerts so much diplomatic pressure that she’s eventually sent back “practically a prisoner of state.” Back she goes to court, where she’s very unpopular with the pro-Catherine faction (led by the nasty and promiscuous Lady Rochford) who can’t quite figure out that she’s doing her utmost not to be the Queen of England. Henry, on finding out that there’s a lot of nasty gossip about Anne, sets her up in her own household and gives her her own maids of honour. There he proceeds to visit her every day and “insist on his cause” to the point where poor Anne is starting to steamrolled. “Anne was beginning to believe his plausible lies somewhat; and her brother, George, whom she loved, with her father and family, urged her to woo the crown, and they frowned on her treatment of the king.” Nonetheless, she holds out while pining for Percy, who also is advising her to hold out for a crown on the theory that at least this will cause Henry maximum hardship. While we see a few references to her reading Lutheran books (though never to what she thinks of the contents) her real break with Rome comes when Wolsey returns with the news that the annulment will not be granted and furthermore that everyone in Europe thinks she’s the king’s mistress. Anne lets loose:

“You dastardly false priest! You unclean minister of sacred things! You shameful travesty on all god! The Holy Mother will curse you!” and with all her purity she swept from the room, the king calling after her: “Come back, Lady Anne!” but she waved her hand, pointing towards Wolsey as she indignantly said: “You listen to it, and do not kill him!”

In the next chapter, appropriately titled “A Villainous Plot”, the ladies of the court are once again denouncing the supposedly immoral Anne in terms the ladies of River City would recognize – “We must assiduously cut her and make her feel it” – and lamenting that the King may actually marry her, when the Duke of Suffolk enters with a modest proposal; he should abduct Anne while she’s out for her morning ride and convey her to secure location “and his majesty can detain her at his pleasure until his fondness wears off somewhat.” His wife agrees to assist him in this venture, and off Suffolk goes to Henry, who decides that this just might be the touch of romance his suit needs. “By gad!” he says, “That would be a bold trick.” However, Henry Norris has been stationed outside the doors of the room to keep anyone from entering, and overhears the plot himself. Off he goes to Wyatt, who tells Percy, who dons full armor and rides out to intercept and wound Suffolk during the abduction attempt. As he and Anne ride back home, they come to the belated realization that she’s going to have to give in to Henry eventually if she wants to survive.

“Does Henry think he can break me?” she asked with withering scorn.

“He will, princess, or kill you! That is certain as fate.”

“Then he will kill me!” is all she said, riding furiously forward as if her pace must keep time to her surging heart, her face set in determination, yet strangely beautiful, as she thought and thought and rode along.

She refuses to see Henry for a while after the abduction attempt, but eventually he barges his way back into the house and gives her the title of Marchioness of Pembroke by way of apology. Meanwhile Wolsey, who never could procure that annulment, has died, lamented by Percy but not by Anne, who can’t get over the fact that he refused to defend her honour before the rest of Europe. After a brief detour in which Anne’s home is burned down by a monk-led mob and Anne meets a gypsy prophetess who outlines her future with a strange accuracy, the newly appointed Archbishop Cranmer informs Henry that his marriage to Catherine is invalid after all, and grants him an annulment.

St Erkenwald’s Day following, the King, urged on by Suffolk, decides to break the news to Anne in the most romantic way possible; he seeks her out and announces that he will end all of this uncertainty “by having my will with you.” Anne’s reaction is to threaten him with a knife and a cry of “Unhand me, Sire! – I shall scream else!” Strangely, she’s not consoled when he informs that they’re actually going to get married – “the king led Anne into a corner of the room and overrode her every protest, and placed his kingly command upon her to marry him.” An unfortunate priest is summoned to do the honours, and Henry shouts him down when he tries to ask if the crying, shivering Marchioness of Pembroke is really willing to go through with this. So the service is performed, Henry enjoins the witnesses not to say anything to anyone about it until he gives the word, and reassures Anne that anyone who traduces her honour for sleeping with him will have their tongue ripped out. We are mercifully spared a wedding night scene, though I think Edgar Lee Masters’ “terrored hour of consummation” would about sum it up.

Anne is now resigned to her doom. “So Anne became attached to the king though her head and heart feared him. She was suspicious of him, yet she clung to him. Her nature shrank from him, yet she was drawn to him.” Henry’s announcement that Anne is “QUEEN OF ENGLAND!” is greeted with shock and then embarrassment by the ladies of the court, and her coronation follows in due course. It goes smoothly, but there is a disquieting note struck when Henry spots some half-remembered faces in the crowd.

“Wyatt, who are they? I seem to know his face but forget his name. By Jove, what a superb ankle that beauty has!”

“It is Sir John and Mistress Jane Seymour, Sire, of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire,” Wyatt replied.

“My, what snapping eyes! He is evidently bringing her to court. She must be one of your ladies, sweetheart!” he said enthusiastically to his queen.

The day ends with their receiving the papal decree telling Henry to put Anne away, and Henry flirting with “the starry-eyed damsel” who Anne somehow knows will supplant her.

And that’s the end. This was, apparently, only Part One. In postscript, we’re told that “The author has nearly completed another volume …. He promises that the coming book will be freighted with vivid scenes of romance blended with history more intensely interesting than the book you have now read.” I can’t find any trace of the sequel and am not sure if it was ever published. Although I’m wondering what serial adventures the author could have worked into a sequel, on the whole it’s just as well that there isn’t one. Reading this book was exhausting enough.

SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, largely nonconsensual. Even though the book is by no means well written, quite the contrary, so much time is devoted to Henry’s continuing efforts to get an unwilling Anne onto her back that the cumulative effect (not to mention the forced surprise wedding at the end) is incredibly disturbing.

WHEN BORN? Not clear. Mary and George are implied to be older but we see them so little that we can’t really be sure.

THE EARLY LOVE: Thomas Wyatt is an early contender, having been Anne’s childhood sweetheart, but is quickly knocked out of contention by Percy. The latter is described by an admiring Wyatt as “a modern Hercules. He stood over six feet tall, with a splendid head, with noble, chiseled features, set well on massive shoulders. Black hair curled softly about and clung to his temples. Large blue eyes looked at you with an insistence of force and strength, yet they could soften to the tenderness of a woman’s.” He strips well, as we learn in the chapter where he and Henry are competing in manly sports, and owns a horse named Hector — appropriately enough for a character both noble and ultimately doomed to disappointment. “Sir Piers Butler” is only mentioned, not seen.

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Quite a few are named, but unfortunately they don’t have much by way of distinguishing personalities. Among Catherine of Aragon’s attendants are Lady Rochford (implied to be unfaithful to George and very nasty) “Donna Elvira de Salines” who seems to be an amalgam of Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby and Catherine’s duenna, Donna Elvira, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Countess of Surrey. They’re allied with Mary Rose Tudor, who isn’t quite a Queen’s Bee but I don’t know where else to put her. She’s presented as friendly towards Anne at first and inviting her along on outings to further Henry’s pursuit, but she balks at the idea of Anne becoming Queen and even goes along with her nasty husband’s kidnapping plot. Mary Talbot is also there – she’s sympathetic to Anne (much like her counterpart in Vertue Betray’d, 1682) but ineffectual against the rest.

Anne’s attendants are Mary Wyatt, sister to Thomas and whose only notable act is to scream and faint when she hears the gypsy prophecy of Anne’s eventual fate. Anne Savile is there as well – she has an unrequited love for Thomas Wyatt, we’re told, but that plot point is never developed. “Margaret Gaynsford” is another attendant, and George Zouch is mentioned as well. Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton both have brief mentions, but the latter gets no lines.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Percy and Wyatt duke it out for this honour. Anne’s maids are all very helpful as well and try to assist her in her plan to elope to the Low Countries with Percy. Percy is faithful to Wolsey, whom he loved like a father, and who apologizes to Percy on his deathbed for “destroying your life.” On the negative side, Will Somers is a very effective spy and servant to Henry.

THE PROPHECY: This gets almost a whole chapter near the end, in which “an old and grizzled hag” with a living snake around her waist blocks Anne and Co.’s way, calling out “Hail – England’s future queen!” and tells her = her to come by their camp at eight for more information. George Boleyn later advises her not to go near them, but “La, la, George! I love an adventure, let us go!” says Anne, who you’d think would have had enough adventures by then. The gypsy then tells her:

“Motherless girl with poor advisers, your love belongs to a man who will never mate with you. Unhappy you, with a merry suppression over your hurrying destiny. Queen to be, but woe the day! When the roses of England encircling crown your brow, on that very day they will begin to fade and turn into a crown of thorns!” she ominously said.

After that, she breaks out the crystal ball, in which Anne sees her coronation, herself discovering Jane Seymour on Henry’s knee, and finally the scaffold and the block. Mary Wyatt screams and faints at this, but Anne calmly thanks the gypsy and gives her some money. The gypsy, touched by this, calls her “a gentle soul, too gentle for your hard destiny,” and gives her a charmed ring containing two hairs of “the great Atsinkan”, telling her that she’ll have good fortune as long as she keeps the ring on her finger. Anne makes sure that she’s wearing it during her coronation and still has it at the end of the book, so presumably she was due to lose it sometime in the sequel.


DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Never mentioned, nor is the wen.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: Her family are fairly shadowy in this one. We see George Boleyn a couple of times – urging her to accept Henry’s assault and telling her not to go to the gypsy camp – and he’s described as “a fine specimen of English manhood” but otherwise his usual role of gallant advisor and protector is amply filled by Percy and Wyatt. We never even see him and his wife together. Mary Boleyn’s existence is noted – in a step up from previous works – and she’s even mentioned as Henry’s former mistress, but her only appearance is in a nonspeaking role where she holds Anne’s train during Anne’s creation as Marchioness of Pembroke. Thomas Boleyn is generally described as ambitious and also presses Anne to yield to Henry, but he doesn’t get much attention. Anne’s stepmother features for one conversation and is alluded to a few times (Henry says that she described Anne as willful) but again, she’s very far in the background.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? N/A, but considering how she’s portrayed, I highly doubt the sequel would have shown anything remotely inappropriate on her part.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: The writing is clumsy enough as it is, but Time has added defects which can’t be blamed on the author, by which I mean that any character who is startled or upset will respond with an “ejaculation.” Wyatt and Percy are frequently startled or upset over the course of the story. The sentence that did me in occurred during one of Percy’s frequent meetings with Anne: “`Heaven bless you!’ he ejaculated fervently.” All of this can be excused by the fact that it was written in 1912. Less excusable is Anne’s incessant laugh of “La, la!” and the insane overuse of adverbs: nobody ever, ever, just “says” anything – we’re always being informed that they said something nobly, fervently, slyly or (my favourite) “evilly.” And in case you missed it the first time, I wanted to make one more mention of the best unintentionally comic sentence in the book: “The king’s toilet had not been completed, and he was in negligee.”

Overwriting features as well, mostly in the ample descriptions of Nature:

Anne stood sadly gazing at the gorgeous panorama that stretched before them. The silvery river looked like a thing of life as it ribboned out into the dimming distance through gladed ways and open stretches, the autumn sunlight playing with it in sparkling splendor. The glory-tinge of autumn was upon everything; the leaves showed signs of the kisses of the season and were turned to burnished gold and changeful red. In the topmost branches of beech and oak, immediately below them, saucy red squirrels leaped from bough to bough. Lordly pheasants, robed in glossy sheen and with barred entrainage, strutted over the velvet sod, while antlered stags in rivalry posed as knight champions in the distant glade ready to do battle with one another before the eyes of their lady loves.

A lot of the book is like this – in large doses it can make you dizzy.

ERRATA: Aside from the obvious (abduction attempts, failed elopements to the Low Countries, Anne’s house being torched by monks) the timelines are very compressed – that house party at Hampton Court, judging by the political events referenced, lasts from approximately 1522 to 1528. Versailles is also repeatedly mentioned, though it didn’t exist then, and Anne is created Marchioness of Pembroke a year early, in 1531. Wyatt’s marriage is never mentioned, and Percy is still available to attend Anne after his own marriage as his wife is understanding that way. Mary Rose Tudor is not referred to either as Duchess of Suffolk (for clarity) or the French Queen (for accuracy) but as Princess Mary Tudor (or, in a note she sends Anne “Mary T.”) which was incredibly confusing: I kept mistaking her for Henry’s daughter Princess Mary Tudor, who is referenced but doesn’t actually appear. The titles are wonky – he gets some things right (Sir John Seymour and his daughter Mistress Jane) but otherwise they’re either inconsistent – Lady Mary Talbot becomes Lady Talbot, Lady Rochford is sometimes Lady Jane – or flat-out wrong: the Duke of Suffolk is frequently just called “Duke”, which makes him sound less like a fearsome instrument of evil and more like a harassed band member.

WORTH A READ? It’s bizarrely entertaining and it certainly shows how much popular perceptions of Anne Boleyn have changed in the last century, but I have to say, a little of this book goes a long way – the prose is thicker than cornstarch pudding. A few pages of it is probably enough for all but the most fanatically dedicated readers.

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From → Book Overviews

  1. A velvet sod has a slightly different meaning in English today! Always wanted to read this but the book has always been expensive to buy. I hope you are going to do E Barrington as that one has always intrigued me, too.

  2. sonetka permalink

    So what does it mean in English now? I’m not sure I should ask. And yes, I’ve got the E. Barrington post half-written and will be putting it up soon. That book is hard to summarize, though I can’t quite put my finger on why.

    You should be able to read Drew’s “Anne Boleyn” for free here: — enjoy!

  3. Thanks, I have a soft spot for over-blown prose! I believe E Barrington also wrote under the name of L Adams Beck, just to confuse things!

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