Le Temps Viendra, Volume II by Sarah Morris (2014)
The concluding half of this story of time-travel and bodily possession (the first volume was released last year). Anne, the modern-day heroine who’s obsessed with Anne Boleyn and who resembles her to the extent that she too has an indecisive married boyfriend, has just received a text message from said boyfriend that he’s finally decided to leave his wife. She doesn’t have much time to celebrate, though, because at that moment she feels faint and passes out. When she wakes up, she’s back in Anne Boleyn’s time, as well as being in Anne Boleyn’s body. She’s also skipped forward in time a bit, since when she left previously it was the summer of 1528. Now it’s September 1, 1532, the day on which Anne is to be created Marquess of Pembroke.
It’s a good occasion to begin with, because almost all the main characters, and a lot of not-so-main ones, are gathered together for the occasion; her parents, brother, various ladies-in-waiting, aunts, cousins, and of course Henry. The latter manages to begin the day on a sour note by telling Anne that he’s been talking to her father and he really thinks they should wait a little longer to be married; Archbishop Warham is dead, Cranmer will be the new appointee, and surely they’ll be able to patch things up with Rome enough to be married in the new year. At this point, the narrator says, “I felt something snap in Anne … I should have shown more humility, but the fire of Anne’s temper had already taken hold.” She proceeds to give Henry a dressing-down encompassing her (historically-recorded) anger that she might have married someone else long ago and had children, along with indignation that he still cares what “the Vicar of Rome” thinks. “Please don’t tell me do you still believe popish, superstitious nonsense, that somehow the Pope’s displeasure can touch such a mighty king as yourself and that he has the power to damn your soul for all eternity?” She then threatens to leave him and return to Hever, after which a panic-stricken Henry tells her that she can’t go, as he has a gift for her. He proceeds to surprise her with a box of Catherine of Aragon’s jewels – “I want you to wear these today, Anne. I want the entire court to know that very soon you will be Queen of England.”
“I had always sensed Anne’s strong engagement with her own destiny,” the narrator tells us, as she contemplates the amount of influence Queen Anne will have over almost every aspect of the king’s life and, by extension, the life of the country. Unfortunately, as the book goes on, we’ll see that the exact opposite is true of the narrating Anne-within-Anne, and that quality is one of several factors which will ultimately hobble the story badly.
Much like in the first book, Anne proceeds to live through several years of Anne Boleyn’s life while at the same time being conscious of what will happen to most of the people around her in the future – though she tells us that after a while, this ability begins to fade as she becomes more accustomed to living in the sixteenth century. She says continually that she’s hoping somehow to change history. But although she’s in a unique position of being able to observe life from the inside but comment as an outsider, this version of Anne’s world holds few major surprises. Mary Boleyn is still a reckless charmer who loves country life and men more than status, Calais is still the place where Anne and Henry first sleep together (after Henry promises that he’ll love for eternity), the child she loses in 1534 is still a redheaded stillborn son, and Jane Seymour is still a conniving cow with no redeeming features whatsoever.
There is a wealth of minor surprises, though. We see Anne falling out with Lady Wiltshire after the latter’s widowing and remarriage to a husband who was in Princess Mary’s camp, and Anne’s resulting letter trying to patch things up with her – the same letter which would ultimately finish in Cromwell’s hands as evidence of some indefinable sort. We see Lady Worcester, supposed originator of accusations against Anne – here she’s a lively, aggressively sociable sort who has no ill intentions towards her but merely tells her brother that her flirtatious behavior is no worse than the queen’s, with accidentally fatal results for the latter. And we see Anne’s almoner, John Skip, preaching his Palm Sunday sermon on the subject of Queen Esther and Haman and later apologizing to Anne for disavowing her. Jane Boleyn also gets her own subplot; like many previous Janes, she’s desperately in love with George Boleyn but he could take or leave her. Anne befriends her and consistently scolds George into cleaning up his act on the grounds that the Boleyn family can’t afford any scandals right now. After Anne’s son is stillborn at the end of June 1534 (she tripped on a staircase, and the fall caused what she thinks must have been placental abruption) Henry takes a mistress, and Anne enlists Jane to help her frame the mistress for theft and get her banished from court. At which point, Anne is dragged back into the modern world, where it turns out that she’s had an epileptic seizure and that it’s been only a few hours since she blacked out.
She’s a bit disappointed to be back in her old life, and the reader will probably be disappointed as well, because instead of getting to see Tudor interiors and read about minor courtiers, we’re now stuck with watching Anne’s relationship with her boyfriend, Daniel. He moves in with her, but his estranged wife is, predictably, not too happy about this arrangement and soon Daniel is quarreling with her constantly about their daughter, Anne is quarreling with him constantly about his daughter, and while we’re supposed to see parallels here with Henry VIII’s and Anne Boleyn’s relationship, the fact that there are no larger issues attached makes it difficult; the modern equivalents are nasty, dreary and dull. The best scene by far in this section was the one where Anne, grieving the stillbirth of a baby who in her modern life did not exist, goes alone to the chapel where she knows he’s buried beneath an unmarked stone, lies on the floor, and prays.
By May, it’s clear that her relationship’s days are numbered, and she can’t bring herself to try and save it. She’s realized that she and Daniel are actually later incarnations of Henry and Anne – “When Henry had pledged to love Anne for all eternity, he set our souls upon a path of shared destiny, which assured the two of us that we were always going to meet again; we were always going to fall in love under the same impossible circumstances.” Daniel’s way of breaking off the relationship is a vast improvement on Henry’s, though; instead of taking out a hit on her, he simply leaves her a note telling her that he’s going back to his wife.
Anne, crushed by this betrayal, decides to visit the Tower of London and leave a bouquet at Anne’s grave in St Peter ad Vincula. And while there, she suffers another medical event, one which returns her once more to Anne Boleyn’s world. This time it’s April 30, 1536, and Mark Smeaton has just gone to have dinner with Cromwell. The reader, of course, knows what’s going to happen. Unusually, Anne knows as well, and despite her hopes, everything unfolds exactly as it does in the records. She’ll have no modern life to return this time, however – modern Anne has had an aneurysm, just as she did in the first book, and this time she did not survive.
SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, by a decent margin. We also get some pretty good summaries of political doings, though with an annoying tendency to have all the proto-Protestants be nice, reasonable people and all the Catholics to be mean, unreasonable people. But sex gets a lot of attention; too much, in fact, since in an effort to convince the reader that Anne and Henry are the most passionate lovers ever, the author has them consummate their relationship by slamming each other onto a sideboard while the silver plate goes flying all over the room. Not surprisingly, Anne emerges the next morning looking like Bella Swann after her wedding night. Very surprisingly, Henry somehow never hurts himself or throws his back out during this or any of their many similar sessions.
WHEN BORN? May 31, 1501 – this was stated in the first volume.
THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy appears in Volume I, but is out of the picture by Volume II.
THE QUEEN’S BEES: Lots and lots of them, many more than are usually named – Anne Gainsford, Margaret Wyatt (now widowed from her possibly nonexistent first husband and remarried to Anthony Lee), Anne Cobham — who among other things becomes pregnant by George Boleyn, Lady Worcester, Lady Wingfield, Lady Rochford, two of Anne’s aunts, Joan Champernowne, Elizabeth Harvey – who turns out to be Henry’s unnamed mistress of 1534 – and of course Jane Seymour, whom Anne welcomes to court by screaming at Sir Francis Bryan to take her away because she’s an evil usurping minx. This is of course because Anne knows how the story is going to end, but it’s a bit rough on Jane nonetheless. Though Anne gives us to understand that Jane is “a snide and conniving bitch … I loathed her lack of authenticity” (whatever that means?) and Jane later turns out to be the “one maid more” who misreports Lady Wingfield’s deathbed confession, it was hard not to think that maybe she had a few reasons to dislike Anne.
The sheer number of women waiting on Anne was impressive, and the number of children they all produced was even more so. One thing I appreciated about this book was that it gave a sense of just how many women were in and out of Anne’s household all the time, and the state of perpetual pregnancy that also existed there; someone is always getting ready to drop at any moment; the isolation which Lady Rochford feels because of her childlessness, and Anne’s horror at having to be surrounded by pregnant women after her own stillbirth, are easy to see.
THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Now that she’s moved up in the world, Anne is being waited on by highborn ladies exclusively – her favourite is Mary Duchess of Richmond, whose marriage she contrives as a personal favour to her (and of course to her father, the Duke of Norfolk). Since Mary is a good character, she naturally inclines towards reform far sooner than any of the rest of her family.
THE PROPHECY: Nothing outside of Anne’s twenty-first century remembrances of what would happen to all of these people and her relief (and sometimes regret) that she couldn’t tell them.
IT’S A GIRL! Henry comes to visit her after the birth and is visibly holding himself together. “I remember seeing a tempest of emotion in those piercing, unforgiving blue eyes of Henry’s. I saw his anger, disappointment and bitterness at what I was sure he perceived as my betrayal.” Eventually he asks if the baby is healthy, but after Anne reassures him that she is and begins babbling about how they’re sure to have a boy next time, he stalks off. Over the next few months, though, he keeps nagging her with “You promised me a son!” and although he’s happy to let her keep Elizabeth with her for a while, he forbids her to nurse so that it will be easier to conceive. He doesn’t really start speaking to her normally until she conceives again, two months after Elizabeth’s birth.
DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? No – this was covered in Vol. I and not detailed further here.
FAMILY AFFAIRS Anne’s parents are continuations of their first volume selves, and depicted with comparative sympathy; her father is aggressive and ambitious but not monstrous (he’s also cautious enough to keep urging Anne to avoid an irreparable break with Rome) and her mother is gradually becoming ill and weak. Anne’s concern for her mother when she came to the Tower isn’t just general worrying about how she’ll take the news, but fear that her health might not stand up to hearing it. Her father comes to visit her in prison, completely unable to figure out what to do, and she asks him to take her mother away from the city and for both of them to stay away so they don’t have to hear what’s being said about herself and George.
Mary Boleyn contains few surprises – like many other renditions of her, she has “a kind and gentle manner” and prefers “the country life of a noblewoman” over a life competing at court. She’s one of the few characters whose fate Anne actually tries to change, albeit not very effectively. Having learned that her sister is in love with the nobody William Stafford, Anne realizes what a blow it would be (and was) to the Boleyn family to have their daughter breaking ranks by eloping with him, dooming herself to “a fate of banishment, social isolation and poverty.” Anne’s solution to this problem is that have Mary swear on the damnation of her soul that she’ll never marry Stafford; this being accomplished with “a rich Bible” Anne shows just how out of place she is in the sixteenth century by assuming that this will take care of it – until a pregnant Mary turns up to announce her marriage two months after Anne’s stillbirth.
Jane Boleyn, Anne comes to realize, is “not the harridan that history painted her to be,” but rather shy and a bit prickly. Anne makes a friend of her for a while when she convinces George to pay more attention to his wife, but ultimately things go bad after Anne and Jane conspire to frame Elizabeth Harvey, the 1534 mistress, for theft. In what is unfortunately an offstage moment (it happens when Anne is back in the present and we only hear about it post hoc) Jane is caught at it and Anne, frightened of what the king will do, pretends she didn’t know anything about it and Jane is rusticated for a long, boring stretch during which she decides that the Boleyns are users through and through and decides to throw in her lot with Princess Mary’s faction. Her accusation of George is explained as coming from her anger at the Boleyns – especially anger at Anne’s abandonment of her – and her wish to be free of a philandering husband.
George is a happy-go-lucky type who’s bored by Jane (she’s crazy about him but not as sexually adventurous, which Anne attributes to her “conservative upbringing”). We’re told that he’s very intelligent and his diplomatic missions are mentioned, but since we’re always using Anne’s viewpoint, we never get a chance to see him doing anything diplomatic; rather, we see repeated scenes of Anne ticking him off for neglecting Jane, while George looks sheepish and nods and smiles while promising to cleave unto his wife only, which he’ll do for about a month before sneaking into the long grass once again. During one of these jaunts, he manages to get Nan Cobham pregnant and she’s rushed off to Ireland to have his illegitimate son in secret. When she returns, she’s angry at him because she’s separated from their child, and she’s thoroughly pleased to have the chance of giving evidence against the Boleyns as they fall. So it is that not one but two jealous women end up bringing George down.
DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No.
WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE More than the first volume, this volume needed another editor. Distracting misprints appeared just enough to be really irritating (“Navel College” in a header being the strangest) and there were several misuses of words – “lay” sometimes appeared where it should have been “laid”, and “enormity” was a frequent offender; when a just-ennobled Anne told a maid of honour that she was “reflecting on the enormity of this day”, I winced a little. Now, if Catherine of Aragon had said it, it might make more sense, but she doesn’t – we hardly see her at all, though we get to read a lot of complaining about her and her modern counterpart, Daniel’s wife Rose.
The dialogue is just awkward, for the most part. Both sixteenth-century and twenty-first century people talk like self-help books quite a lot – when Anne is fretting about covered heads and silent tongues after her coronation, Margaret Wyatt assures her that “There will be some who will never forgive you for stealing the king’s heart, but in truth, it speaks more of their own fears than it touches upon your person.” The modern Anne has a couple of really repellent moments which feature both bad writing and smugly parroted therapeutic cliches:
As I had made my own “Churchillian” speech that day, I prayed to God that Rose would not strike too deeply at Daniel’s Achilles hell; his deep and overwhelming love for his daughter. I hoped that she loved her daughter with maturity enough to prevent her using Jemima as a weapon against her father in the weeks and months to come. I hoped that she would pragmatically accept the truth of this matter; that to be in a marriage with someone who did not love you must surely be greater torture than to have to carve out a life that one might proudly call one’s own. Yes, I hoped beyond all hope that I was dealing with a woman who had enough insight and dignity to let Daniel go.
Anne doesn’t seem to notice that she, of all people, is hardly qualified to talk about making a life of one’s own when most of hers seems to have been spent glomming onto either her married boyfriend or Anne Boleyn.
ERRATA While there were a good many interpretations I disagreed with, it’s hard to fault the research; verifiable details on what Anne wore, where she was staying on certain days, what the rooms looked like and what they ate were very good. However, I do feel obliged to mention again that there’s no evidence George Boleyn ever had any children, legitimate or illegitimate; certainly there’s none to indicate he had any with Nan Cobham, who seems to have been chosen as the neglected mother of his child mostly to explain her hostility towards Anne when she waited on her in the Tower. The use of titles was very shaky, though: Elizabeth Harvey switched back and forth between being Lady Elizabeth and Lady Harvey, Jane Boleyn was sometimes Lady Jane, and sometimes characters had the right titles, but in the wrong year: Anne and Mary Boleyn are sometimes called Lady Anne and Lady Mary after their father gets his earldom, and sometimes they aren’t.
WORTH A READ? This one is frustrating. As I said in the summary, the modern Anne almost cripples the story; although she’s able to tell us a lot of things about the sixteenth century which it’s unlikely a native of that century would mention, she simply doesn’t work as a character in her own right. What we see of her in her modern incarnation is flat and unpleasant; she loves Daniel, she hates his wife, she’s frustrated. That’s really about it. We don’t know what her job is, her favourite food, her actual religious opinions, anything except that she loves Tudor history. That’s nice, but it’s not enough of a foundation for building an interesting, three-dimensional character.
When she’s living in Anne Boleyn’s body, she’s inconsistent. We’re told that she brings some ethereally sexy, modern quality to Anne which makes her stand out, but it’s hard to see how she does this since her control over Anne is very inconsistent and sometimes not there at all. She constantly tells us how much she wants to change the course of history, but despite being in Anne’s body and able to say her own words at least some of the time, she makes virtually no real effort to do this. The one time she really tries to change things, she has Mary Boleyn swear an oath that she won’t marry William Stafford. That’s it. She doesn’t try to get Stafford removed from court, she doesn’t send Mary away, nor does she take what one would think was the obvious step of arranging a marriage for Mary to someone who is not William Stafford. But the rest of the time, she’s completely passive and does nothing but hope that things will somehow be different. At the May Day joust of 1536, she sits with Henry, hoping that the message from Cromwell won’t come before it ends – it comes. She never thinks of trying to get him away or try to forestall the message somehow. She gets pregnant with Elizabeth in December of 1532, and spends a good part of the pregnancy hoping it will turn out to be a boy, even though she knows her history well enough to guess who the baby is. She doesn’t seem to really contemplate one obvious step she could take if she doesn’t want to get pregnant in that month. Similarly, when Jane Seymour arrives at court, Anne throws a shrieking tantrum and demands that she be removed at once. Since this isn’t possible (or fair) she confines herself to fuming and thinking that she really ought to be friendlier to Jane but just can’t manage it. Again, it never seems to cross her mind that trying to marry Jane to someone else might be worth a shot. (Why not Henry Norris? Wealthy, eligible, right there in front of her – hmm, he might be a good candidate for Mary Boleyn as well). Obviously, Anne would not necessarily be able to succeed in any of these ideas if you want to keep history in approximately its current shape, but it was baffling that she didn’t even try. I also disliked her tendency to take over when Anne is making noble speeches, but to slough off the tantrums and recriminations as “Anne’s temper” taking over.
This is a shame, because there is clearly a tremendous amount of research that has gone into the book; I’m not being sarcastic when I say that the notes in the back were by far my favourite part of the book. Very few Anne Boleyn novels keep me thinking “Hey, I didn’t know that,” on a regular basis, but this one did: she knows whether the walls in Hever’s main hall were plastered or covered with tapestries, that dressmakers’ models were called babies, that there was such a thing as Queen Edith’s crown as well as the crown of Edward the Confessor. (Not a secret, of course – but I didn’t know it until I read the book).
Fortunately, the author has another, nonfiction book — “In The Footsteps Of Anne Boleyn”.
In this one, she and Natalie Grueninger have made a very detailed and thorough inventory of places associated with Anne which it’s possible to see today – not just the obvious surviving buildings, but locations where a single room or even arch dates back to her time and is something she would likely have seen. It’s essentially a guide for tourists, but although I have no plans to cross the ocean any time soon, I still loved it. I say skip the novel and get the guidebook.
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