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Queen Anne Boleyn by Francis Hackett (1939)

February 9, 2013

This excruciating novel gets off to a deceptively entertaining start with Lord James Butler’s arrival in London and subsequent sightseeing and drinking spree, followed immediately by Anne Boleyn’s forcible separation from the “feeble” albeit appealing Henry Percy. “Go, go, go!” Anne tells him after it becomes clear that he can’t stand up to Wolsey, and she goes as well – back to Hever, where she’ll stew over the injustice of it all and, her parents hope, start softening to the idea of marrying Butler. “A winter in Kent could drive a girl to religion,” Anne grouses, but soon she’s driven to something much more likely to derail the book for good: Thomas Wyatt.

Wyatt had what was by any standard an adventurous life and theoretically he should translate well into fiction, but all too often he drags the story down instead of carrying it. The reason is plain enough – his story is forced to revolve entirely around Anne’s, and every thought he has and line he writes must somehow be about her. Given the tenor of her life and his poetry, the results are usually grim and, if Wyatt’s character is given a lot of attention, very monotonous. That this Wyatt is no more lively than most is signalled by his first appearance – he’s gone back to his parents’ home after separating from his unfaithful wife, and has decided that he might as well stop by Hever and pay a visit to his childhood beloved while he’s at it. (His mother worries about this: “Anne is so little kind! I cannot see why good men are drawn to cruel women.”) Wyatt himself is full of guilt and self-reproach: “His belief in his own honour was so essential to his love of Anne, so deep in his nature, that he could no longer enjoy the delight she had awakened in him. He was a bad husband …. he could not deny that from the beginning he had been unable to forget Anne Boleyn.” He and Anne have long, evasive conversations in which she tells him that he should at least make a go of reconciling with his wife, and in the meantime King Henry visits with a party of gentleman, including James Butler. Butler is there in the hope of ingratiating himself with Anne and setting a date for their wedding, but Anne has no desire to go to Ireland, so she and George make sure to leave Butler out of every conversation and slight him for his outmoded Irish fashions. Butler ends up drinking himself blind and deciding that they can all go to hell – “The devil take them; I’ll have [the title] in the teeth of them, or die plain Butler! I’ll have none of them!” He leaves Hever, and the story, the next morning, leaving Anne and the reader to the mercy of Thomas Wyatt.

There was hardly a mood in her he was not aware of – he could catch changes with a half glance, and even when he could not believe her beautiful he found it ravishing to observe her, so suddenly revealed in one instant, or veiled and denied to him. … Where he was so becalmed by the contradictory variety of the world, so forced to doubt himself and hold back, Anne possessed herself with ardour. Where he fumbled, she drew a line so clear and free that he submitted to it as to a master’s. It was herself she defined, out of her heart; and what she praised, what she condemned, what she loved, carried with it the keenness that is fresh from feeling….

Amid many similar reflections, he throws away his wedding ring, and before Anne is due to go to Court she finally admits that she loves him – “Kiss me, Thomas, and love me. Never give me over.”

After this we enter into a series of what are best described as recursive flashbacks in which Wyatt recalls being with the Boleyn siblings at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and especially discussing religious reform with George Boleyn: “Go into the twisted streets,” George tells him, “To the weavers, to the shoemakers. Go to the smiths and fullers. They hate this Cardinal …. They Bible is in their hands, Thomas, food for heresy. They’ll seek the divine inheritance. Men will die for this, and on this mayhap our Master hath not brooded.” Wyatt replies that he met heretics at Cambridge, “but princes can crush it.” After this, there’s a further flashback to Wyatt’s time at Cambridge – not meeting any heretics, but talking with John Fisher about his forthcoming marriage. Later, after a few scenes depicting Henry’s courtiers griping about Wolsey while Henry plays tennis, Anne chatting with other maids of honour at court, and Anne dancing with Wyatt at the Christmas festivities and asking him about Tyndale’s Bible, once again Wyatt begins to reflect, and this time we flash back to Cambridge at his meeting with Tyndale. It seems that he met Tyndale there, masquerading as “Master Hutchens”, and directed him to one Poyntz of Antwerp for assistance in getting his English Bible distributed. “By this means, within a few months, Tyndale and Luther were to come together.” So we’re given to understand that Wyatt is already well in with the reformers, and that he’ll naturally be anxious to lead Anne in that direction as well. She’s already “weary of Queen Catherine’s friars … if the New Testament was to be in French, Anne saw no reason why it should not be in English.” Wyatt gets Tyndale’s Bible for her, and then they … are overcome with passion and finally sleep together. We aren’t privy to this scene, but we do get to see Anne sneaking back to her room afterwards in the middle of the night, only to see – who else? – Lady Rochford lurking in a corner and asking politely what Anne’s been up to. Lady Rochford knows exactly what’s going on, of course, but doesn’t do anything … for the moment.

After a few more scenes in which Cromwell is introduced, established as a crypto-reformer and then shown helping Wolsey along in suppressing some of the smaller and crappier monasteries (“We must milk these abbots” says Wolsey, harassed for money and fearful that the Church will look bad if things keep going the way they are), we’re launched into another long, long flashback in which we meet the young Cromwell, a down-on-his-luck wool trader living in the Netherlands, and learn how he came into Wolsey’s employment. The short version is that he met up with Wolsey’s son and helped him work out a few financial problems, and that Wolsey, a butcher’s son himself, recognized Cromwell as a kindred, self-made spirit and took him into his household.

Back in the present day, Henry is raging about Charles V’s breaking off his betrothal to Princess Mary, and Wolsey (prompted by Cromwell) has suggested challenging the legitimacy of his marriage, thereby opening the door to having legitimate sons as well as ditching the Imperial alliance for a French one. Henry, liking the idea but wanting to think it over, decides to take a little vacation at Hever Castle, where he can relax in the company of two former mistresses (Mary Boleyn and her mother, described as having assisted in “a branch of Henry’s education”). Once there, he realizes that he’s missed out on the potential of the third Boleyn female, although all are enchanting in their own way – “all the Boleyn women were different: the mother as cool as a pearl, Anne clear like a diamond, and Mary opaline.” Anne resists him as she doesn’t want to become yet another Boleyn notch on the bedpost – “I am another Mary.” Just as things are getting interesting, however, Wyatt returns from a diplomatic trip and notices that Anne is starting to grow distant. Perhaps the King’s attentions are altering her perspective, no matter how much she might tell herself she doesn’t want them?

She saw Thomas not as a poet who was a courtier, but as a courtier who wrote poems. The region of the imagination, on the shores of which he faltered, was as meaningless to her as those actual undiscovered lands to which adventurers were voyaging. It was no voyage that won her inner allegiance. Poetry was a dreamland, at best a prettiness and a facility, but nothing to grapple to, in a world of reality, of tangible values, and of power. Anne was at home in the thick, concrete world, where the King reigned, where he perceived her. Thomas’s world, strongly as he allured her to it, thrust her back from its threshold. She could hear its music, distant and plaintive, the voice of those generosities that made their beings sing together, but to follow it blindly would be to lose her way. Anne drew back from it. The possession of herself that Thomas gave her, from that hidden region, was in itself delusive. She could not trust herself to it. Her anchorage was at Court.

Once back at court, she dithers for a while – skipping out on a masque in order to please Wyatt, telling him that he’s still her true love – but once he’s off in Italy being captured and then breaking out of prison just before Rome is sacked (he knocks down a guard who comes too far into his cell, then locks the guard in), it’s pretty clear that Anne is entranced, if not by Henry, then by the idea of becoming Queen, which he’s just happened to mention to her. As we’ll learn later on, Anne is not actually in love with Henry and never will be, but a crown, freely offered, will always be quite alluring enough. Wolsey doesn’t know, Catherine doesn’t know, and Wyatt certainly doesn’t – after he gets back from Italy, he sends her messages via his sister and finds out after a while that she’s being paraded as Queen In Waiting, but not before we are plunged into YET ANOTHER ENDLESS FLASHBACK in which we learn that his mother prevented his being betrothed to Anne years ago because she was suspicious of Elizabeth Boleyn’s relationship with the youthful Henry VIII.

Wyatt, thank God, leaves the stage for a while after this so the pacing picks up for the divorce proceedings: we see Campeggio trying to talk Catherine off the ledge, More and Fisher arguing over whether Catherine’s case will stand, Lady Rochford gossiping with Mary Rose Tudor and the Duchess of Norfolk, both of whom are very interested to learn about Anne’s sneaking around outside Wyatt’s door in the middle of the night, and on a lower note, we also meet two porters at Allington named Steve and Luke debating current events – these two characters will pop up now and then throughout the rest of the book, ostensibly to show what The Common Man was thinking but really to provide painfully unnecessary exposition and symbolism (Steve is young and becomes Lutheran, Luke is old – a veteran of Bosworth, as he keeps mentioning – and remains Catholic. Get it?) Cromwell reveals himself as good not only with wool, money, and ideas but also with poisons (procured from Italy, where else?) and after Wolsey’s arrest, the latter is assisted into the grave with a little judicious use of “white powder.” The white powder doesn’t work quite as well when Cromwell insinuates it into John Fisher’s household, and Anne, who has been growing both more zealous for reform and more intolerant of anyone who dares to question her intentions for so much as a second, attends the execution along with her brother. The sight of the cook being boiled alive provides her with one of her few moments of doubt:

“But,” said George as they hastened away, “poisoning is to be discouraged. No person can live in surety otherwise.”

Anne moved her grey lips to answer, but no sound came. So she just smiled.

The memory of this execution would not leave her mind. She tried to drive it away, but it came back for weeks with the fidelity of a cur. The victim was so lonely that Anne could not cease thinking of him, and his end gripped and twisted her imagination. She was one of those unfortunate people who cannot help being more moved by a visual experience than by a spiritual one. Thomas Wyatt lonely in Calais left her tranquil, though she herself had caused it, but the fate of this cook who had been induced to shake a powder into the pottage as a hocus-pocus was so infinitely more terrible that it inhabited her. And yet she wished John Fisher had been poisoned.

She bounces back soon enough, however, only to learn that “the French Queen”, Henry’s sister, has decided to tell Henry about Anne’s affair with Wyatt, as told by Lady Rochford. Anne tells Henry that “she hath ever hated me,” and Henry dismisses the story and furthermore decides to make Anne a marquess, as “You cannot share a title with this Lady Rochford.” In gratitude, she gives him her pearl of great price and discovers something unfortunate: “Henry was not as powerful as she had supposed. This frightened her, but she was tender with him, and in the end it seemed to be as it should be.” Soon enough she’s teasing Wyatt (unfortunately back in the story by now) and telling him of her craving for apples, and when her coronation takes place, her confidence in her son isn’t strong enough to stop her from being “childishly” hurt that not every noble or commoner wants to stand up and applaud her.

Elizabeth’s birth is met with disappointment by both of her parents, but they keep their game faces on as they realize that the whole world is watching their reactions, and Henry afterwards becomes very fond of her. However, political considerations are pressing – Henry is trying to negotiate a balance between the France, the Empire and the Papacy, trying not to be excommunicated, while in the meantime Anne, who sees no reason why religious reform should be put on hold, keeps urging him towards more aggressive policies. Henry, inclined towards the old rituals if not the old Head of the Church, resists, and they quarrel. Anne is not portrayed as a one-note shrew here, I should point out, just someone with tunnel vision – more of a visual than a verbal thinker, as she was described much earlier; the Imperial court is far away and was never her friend, but the reformers are here, and she wants to offer them personal help (although she jettisons Tyndale after he starts awkwardly denouncing the divorce). She has no problem with the plundering of the abbeys but shows an inconvenient tendency to assume that all of the wealth acquired thereby will be used for altruistic purposes.

Henry’s thoughts are rather different. Anne miscarries a child in 1534, and another in 1535. After a brief fling with one Joan Guildford (the “very handsome young lady” of Chapuys’ reports), and in the autumn of 1535 Henry becomes attracted by Jane Seymour; sweet, quiet, sensible, and patient and diplomatic as Anne is not. Catherine of Aragon dies shortly thereafter, and suddenly an imperial alliance, so long out of reach, looks like a possibility, and Anne is out in the cold – especially after she miscarries. Her ladies, seeing that she’s starting to become politically null, begin drifting away from her, with only Mary Wyatt and a few gentlemen whose names I’m sure you know remaining as her friends. Henry, in fact, sees an opportunity for a wonderful series of double-crossings: “The Emperor could not see himself cut off from Flanders by sea, or have trade crippled, or have Henry driven for ever into Lutheranism. To regard him as a Catholic, on any terms, was Charles’s fervent wish …. And Henry, cold, practical, just as divorced from Rome as he was from Catherine and about as sorry for it, played on the Emperor’s pious response to Reginald Pole, the Montagus, the Exeters, the Nevills, the Dorsets – all the old guard, who meant precisely as much to Henry as Buckingham had done, or as Bishop Fisher had done …. He meant to have a boy, to knock them out. He meant to have the Church wealth, to knock them under.” Anne is in the way, and, frankly, has not been showing any aptitude for producing sons. He says nothing to Cromwell, but like any good servant, Cromwell knows his job is to anticipate what Henry wants, not wait to be told. At a confidential dinner with Chapuys, we learn that Cromwell intends to see that Anne is promptly … divorced. But Chapuys isn’t standing for that.

“Divorce!” And have her live, have her build up a party!”

“Who is there to help her?” sneered Cromwell. “She has no one but me.”

“You are mad,” Chapuys told him. “I’ll show you how this goes. For ten years, ever since the King threw out his Queen and made his daughter a bastard, this devil has made him give land and fortune to all these men in the Household. They carried messages back and forth. They saw it all. They watched the King when he was unguarded. A clean sweep of them! Confiscate their goods! You wiped out the Observants, my friend. Wipe out these observants. Every one of them.”

“But how? But how?”

“How?” Chapuys’s thin lips curled. “Rochford’s wife was in the Tower, and he never went to her. Lady William Howard, whom the King made love to, was put in the Tower … You have a thousand, ten thousand things, to go on. Who is that squire? Norris. He and her brother are the most dangerous.”

“But evidence.”

“Evidence, Master Secretary? Do you pause to find Ganymedes in these monasteries? You load nuns with babies they have buried. You take friars by the cartload to the Tower. You catch Thomas More writing with chalk and coal. Then you speak to me of evidence. Evidence!”

Thus does the Imperial Ambassador teach Master Secretary his business. The five men and eventually Anne are plucked off one by one, and are tried and condemned, with Lady Rochford testifying to Anne and George’s incest. On May 19th, Anne, accompanied by her four ladies (including Margaret Wyatt) and watched by Cromwell, Suffolk, Steve and Luke the Everyman spectators, and Thomas Wyatt (from his cell window) refuses her blindfold and is beheaded, but not before making a surprising final speech:

“Christian people, I come to die – but think not, good people, that I am sorry to die, or that I have done anything to deserve this death. My fault has been my great pride, and the great crime I committed was in getting the King to leave my mistress Queen Catherine for my sake, and I pray God to pardon me for it. I say to you all that everything they have accused me of is false, and the principal reason I am to die is Jane Seymour, as I was the cause of the ill that befell my mistress.”

Sure, it would have been nice if she could have said this, but … regardless, Wyatt is released a month later, and while walking in the gardens with Elizabeth Darrell encounters the two-year-old ex-Princess Elizabeth with her nurse. “What is to become of her?” asks Elizabeth Darrell, and Wyatt, for once mercifully brief, ends the conversation, and the book, by saying “Who knows! One day she may be Queen Elizabeth.”

SEX OR POLITICS? Politics. The novel was billed as being fairly steamy when it came out, but that was likely just because it showed Anne as sleeping with someone other than Henry. The political content is fairly substantial, if flawed (Chapuys suggesting Cromwell’s moves to him? I doubt that). However, due to the choppy flashbacks and ponderously written dialogue, the religious debates which end up ripping England apart and getting numerous people killed are about as fascinating as a mayoral council debate over how to fund a new parking lot.

WHEN BORN? 1507 – George and Mary are older, but by how much is left vague.

THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy, although he exits the story pretty quickly and is replaced by the gloomy and literary Wyatt, with whom Anne is inexplicably infatuated to the point where she’s willing to risk a lot by sleeping with him.

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Madge Shelton turns up about eight years early, around 1525, and is one of Anne’s better friends. Nan Cobham and Jane Parker are there as well, unsympathetic from the first as they twit Anne about being unmarried while they themselves are already engaged and married. Elizabeth Darrell, Wyatt’s future mistress, is also there – their relationship doesn’t enter into the book (and indeed it doesn’t seem to have started until after Anne’s death) but she and Wyatt do have a few conversations towards the end, presaging this development.

Jane Seymour turns up at the end, virtually voiceless but with an interesting character description: “Of all the maids-in-waiting who came from Queen Catherine, Jane Seymour was perhaps the least incisive … under her surface, and she was now twenty-five, she had a knowledge of the world that was less spirited than Anne’s but in its way more sagacious. It went with an amorousness that had much patience in it.” As with many other characters who flit through the story, one wishes they had been given a few of the many, many pages alloted to the backgrounds of Wyatt and (to a lesser extent) Cromwell.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: There’s a maid named Sarah at Hever who mostly provides Wyatt with convenient pieces of gossip. Steve and Luke, the Everyman chorus who turn up every now and then to comment on the action, would also fall into this category as they’re employed at Wyatt’s estate of Allington.

THE PROPHECY: The Boleyn women, along with their brother and Wyatt, meet a “wrinkled beldame” at the Field of Cloth of Gold who invites the two girls to cross her palm with silver (yes, in those exact words). Mary is told that she’ll be “Lucky in love – you’ll ever follow your fancy!” and to Anne she says, “Up, up, fair lady! The world at your feet!” She has second thoughts after seeing all of Anne’s hand, though: “Mistress, I misdoubt. Could fortune be your foe?” They end up walking away from her rather quickly and run slap into the King’s party, which awes them appropriately and doesn’t give them so much as a tingle of foreboding. Wyatt’s “Some day she may be Queen Elizabeth” at the very end isn’t quite as hamfisted as the “beldame’s” predictions but doesn’t score any subtlety points either.

IT’S A GIRL! “Henry wrinkled his forehead and winced. But his pride enabled him to mutter a word to everyone who murmured his joy.” Anne similarly puts on a happy face, not wanting to give her enemies to satisfaction of seeing her upset.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Yes, which she keeps very well concealed – Wyatt spots the “deformity of her finger, a small second tip growing from the side of it” only after he’s known her for some time. He’s repulsed at first, but then “a flood of tenderness” follows as he sees how Anne conceals it, and he feels for her.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: Mary is described early on as having a “heart opened to any attractive man like a door without a lock” – she doesn’t mind their misbehavior as long as they aren’t overtly cruel, and they sense this and are “tender in forsaking her.” Her children are both clearly stated to be Henry’s. George is intelligent, sharp-tongued, and rowdy – he pals around with Francis Bryan, and “boasted that he could overcome any woman, a prowess that flashed in his saucy eyes.” Wyatt is intimidated but also helped by him – George brings him French books and encourages him in his early poetic efforts. Henry finds him good company but perhaps a little over-aggressive – at Wolf Hall in September 1535, he enjoys the relaxed pace of life and the quite company of Sir John Seymour: “It was a relief after George Boleyn.” Lady Rochford is catty, spying, and spills the story of both Anne’s affair with Wyatt and her intrigue with the King to various interested parties. Anne describes her as “A little, bitter wench, with eyes that slant inwards. She hath ever hated me,” and Henry helpfully elaborates that she has “a face that hath semblance of a cat.” Elizabeth Boleyn is cool, efficient, and a bit of a dark horse – she has that mysterious past entanglement with Henry, after all, which makes the neighbours look on her with suspicion. She runs the household with “metallic precision” and warns Anne about taking on the men of Henry VIII’s court in her quest for religious reform – “You are no match for them.” Thomas Boleyn is barely there, but turns up long enough to show that he’s ambitious and cold, as usual.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No, although once more Thomas Wyatt is the only arrestee who ever slept with her, and unlike most of the others he survives.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: There’s very little that’s good about the dialogue, and you’ve already seen more than enough of Wyatt’s musings. As in a few other books of this time, there are awkward dips in the exposition where the times are directly compared to our own. Henry VIII “spent fifty thousand pounds, in our money, to replenish his cellars with wines.” It’s jarring. Then there are the misplaced quotes — Francis Bryan, on meeting Wyatt somewhere, says “Oh ho, you’ll sup with me. A wench, a wench, my kingdom for a wench.” This isn’t the only book to slip Shakespeare lines in eighty years before their time, but it never gets less irritating. Richard III is referenced a few times in the story (Luke is a Bosworth veteran) but whatever variant on that line he may actually have uttered, Shakespeare is the one who shaped it into what it is now. It’s anachronistic and annoying.

ERRATA: The book has obviously been very closely researched and the attention to detail in some places is superlative – I’ve never seen another book which so carefully tracked a character’s titles and called them by those titles which would actually have been used. The Duke of Norfolk is the Earl of Surrey until the moment he actually becomes the Duke of Norfolk, instead of having his ducal title used earlier for the sake of convenience, and Mary Rose Tudor is called “The French Queen” by the other characters. However, there are some really strange inaccuracies – most egregiously, Anne’s calling out of Jane Seymour while she’s on the scaffold. While sources disagree on what precisely she said, none of them have her saying anything remotely like this, and furthermore it’s highly unlikely that she would even have contemplated it – that simply wasn’t done, even if she hadn’t had her surviving family and daughter to consider. The order of her “lovers'” arrests is also strange – Brereton “disappears” on April 25th, Norris on April 29th, and then Smeaton on April 30th. I don’t know of any source which says anything other than that Smeaton was arrested first and the others followed in the days after his confession. The author must have known this – it may have been a last-ditch attempt to introduce tension, but if so, it didn’t work. And while Chapuys certainly interfered in English politics much more than an ambassador was supposed to, the suggestion that he was primarily responsible for Anne’s murder – even to the point of suggesting lines of questioning and other potential victims – is, to put it mildly, hard to sustain. Anne was an obstacle to the imperial alliance, certainly, but as Catherine was dead, regularizing the situation somehow wouldn’t have been impossible and, as Henry himself recognizes earlier in the story, the Emperor really was anxious to smooth over the past. For his ambassador to suggest in so many words that the Queen of England (or de facto Queen, from the imperial point of view) should be killed in order to make way for the alliance would have been outrageous and met with a reaction not to be contemplated. Besides, did Cromwell really need his business taught to him like that? He, better than anyone, would have known who Anne’s supporters were and what they were capable of doing.

WORTH A READ? The author writes in his afterword (which is by far the most interesting part of the book) that it was originally intended as a nonfiction biography but that he changed it to a novel because he didn’t think that his interpretation of Anne would be accepted by the standard authorities of the time. In my opinion, this was a terrible mistake, because the novel is usually either leaden, confusing or dull – often all three. The extended flashbacks, which are obviously intended to flesh out Cromwell and Wyatt, do nothing more than to destroy whatever pacing the story has. If he really needed to have all that information in the story (and the material itself wasn’t that bad – especially Wyatt’s connections with the Reformist underground, which gets dropped halfway through for some reason) he should have scrapped this draft and started the book earlier in dramatic time; as it is, the reader ends up being jerked back and forth – Wyatt separates from his wife! Anne loses Percy! Wait, now Wyatt is about to be married! Now he’s learning of his engagement for the first time! Look, William Tyndale! Wyatt and Anne start sleeping together, is this after his separation? Yes, it is – but now we’re getting to see his parents consulting over his engagement and deciding that he shouldn’t marry into the Boleyn family after all! It’s annoying, confusing, and unnecessary, and the end result is that there is far, far too much Wyatt in the book. He’s there to be a pair of eyes through which we can see and understand Anne, but what he ends up being is a one-note depressive bore who steals time from characters like Chapuys, who doesn’t even appear to exist until after Anne and Henry are married, and More and Catherine of Aragon, whose brief scenes actually manage to be somewhat interesting. But between the pacing and the deadly prose, it’s virtually impossible to remember what’s going on if you take a break of more than five minutes while reading.

The afterword has some good observations about re-interpretation of Anne Boleyn – the author was trying to imagine her as something more substantial than the woman of whom A.F. Pollard said “she appealed to the less refined part of Henry’s nature; she was pre-eminent neither in beauty nor in intellect, and her virtue was not of a character to command or deserve the respect of her own or subsequent ages.” The author also notes that “We in 1939 … are not so tempted to demand that Anne Boleyn should have been an understudy of Queen Victoria.” Subsequent generations of historians would agree with him, but unfortunately that doesn’t make his book any more readable. And even the author, although striving to break away from the Victorian images of Anne as either a conniving shrew or a put-upon victim, doesn’t manage to shake older ideas altogether. Unlike many older productions, this book at least establishes Cromwell’s existence and doesn’t try to make him remotely pleasant, but it holds fast to the pre-20th century fictional convention that while Henry may have mistreated Anne, conniving Catholics were the ones who saw to it that she died.

From → Book Overviews

  1. I think the Jane Seymour reference in Anne’s execution speech is taken from the Spanish Chronicle and we know how accurate that is!

    • sonetka permalink

      Oh, that would explain it! I’ve been lazy about reading the whole Spanish Chronicle, and I really should. It was especially strange here because Hackett made such a point of talking about re-evaluating sources and not relying entirely on Chapuys et al — though from Chapuys to the Spanish Chronicle hardly seems like a step up. It was the SC that gave Katherine Howard her “I would rather die the wife of Culpeper” speech as well, wasn’t it? Obviously the writer was an early frustrated novelist, writing events the way they should have happened rather than the way they did :).

  2. I think Hackett wrote non-fiction too (I use that term loosely!) as I have a biography he wrote about Henry VIII somewhere.

    Perhaps you could do Anne’s life through the SC? Isn’t there a bit where Mark Smeaton hides in a cupboard and comes to Anne when she calls out for some marmalade? I have never seen that in a novel – great shame!

    • sonetka permalink

      I think this was Hackett’s only novel — he wrote lots of nonfiction, though. And no, I’ve never seen the “marmalade” incident in a novel, but the maid named Margaret who gets executed has turned up once or twice.

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