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Between Two Kings by Olivia Longueville (2015)

February 14, 2016

This isn’t the first book to tell the story of an Anne Boleyn who managed to live past May 19 1536, but I’m willing to bet that it’s the most unashamedly melodramatic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re in the mood for a few hours of wish-fulfilling escapism, it’s hard to do better than a story in which Anne is saved from death at the last minute due to the sudden discovery that she’s pregnant, survives both the birth of her son and an attempt to have her executed again, moves to Venice under an assumed name, saves the King of France from assassination and then marries him (take that, Eleanor of Aquitaine!) and then, her heart grown hard by the suffering she’s been forced to endure, decides to take cold, lingering revenge on the enemies who put her in the Tower in the first place — namely, the Duke of Suffolk, Thomas Cromwell (here at his most Svengali-like; Henry VIII seems unable to think more than about twelve hours into the future without Cromwell’s assistance) and, inevitably, poor Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. And, as all melodramas should, it ends on a cliffhanger — not only has she started a campaign of mental torture in which Lady Rochford is getting letters written in her dead husband’s hand and Cromwell is being besieged with anonymous pamphlets detailing his crimes against the presumed-dead former queen, but Anne herself is now directly in the crosshairs of Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, the now cast-off mistress of the French King who severely resents this mysterious interloper for coming between them. Oh, and Jane Seymour’s son is born severely handicapped, and Anne is now pregnant with a potential heir to the French throne. Personally, I cannot wait to see what insanity unfolds in Volume II.

That’s a bare sketch of the story, but I’ll go into more detail in case you’re wondering about some of the stranger plot points mentioned in that summary. Anne’s pregnancy is discovered on May 18 when she has a bleeding episode and is examined by a doctor, who then announces that she’s pregnant. This news is not met with unalloyed rejoicing when Henry VIII hears of it, but since it’s out and Cromwell thinks it would look bad to execute a pregnant woman, he agrees to keep her in the Tower until she delivers, then execute her. While Anne is having a delightful seven months of (literal) confinement, there’s work afoot behind the scenes: her old suitor Henry Percy, together with her now thoroughly chastened father, has begun engineering a plot for her escape. Part of this involves persuading Cromwell that Anne should be burnt as a witch, which Percy manages to do in a rather unconvincing example of out-talking Cromwell and making him think it’s his idea without pointing out the pertinent fact that a burned body is extremely hard to identify. After Anne delivers a living, healthy son in November 1536 (she names him Arthur as a flip-off to Henry VIII, and the baby is given into Mary Stafford’s custody subsequently) she’s drugged with the assistance of a friendly attendant and then smuggled out of the tower and on to a waiting ship, from which she’ll be borne off to an old friend of her father’s who lives in Venice and who, in the classic melodramatic tradition, owes Thomas Boleyn his life and is therefore willing to do him the favour of pretending that Anne is, in fact, his own daughter. If you’re wondering why nobody notices her absence, Anne asks Henry Percy the same thing when she comes to as she’s being dragged aboard ship. Percy’s response is that the body slated to be burned belonged to a female convict who hanged herself the previous day and whom they’ve dressed in a set of Anne’s clothes. “We just took her body and substituted it for your body,” explains Percy, sounding a little too creepy-casual about it (Percy, how many times have you done this sort of thing exactly?) Nonetheless, his efforts are appreciated.

Off to Venice goes Anne, and off to the chapel goes Henry VIII, who now believes he’s a widower and that he can marry Jane Seymour without any legal complications. Jane, who’s left the micromanaging of her engagement and then marriage to the king entirely in the hands of her brothers, believes that Anne was guilty and deserved to die — at least, she keeps telling herself that an awful lot. Soon enough, she’s pregnant, with the baby due in November, so it will be year younger than Anne’s son.

Meanwhile, Anne is hiding out in Venice, masquerading as Anne de Ponthieu, daughter of Jean de Montreuil, but her cover is accidentally blown when she warns a well-dressed man in church that someone is sneaking up on him with a knife and is stabbed instead. It turns out that the well-dressed man is, in fact, King François I, who of course recognizes Anne from early times at the French court when his first wife was still alive. As it happens, Francois has just managed to pull off the annulment of his marriage to his second wife, Eleanor of Austria, and while helping Anne to continue hiding out, it crosses his mind that a secret marriage to the former queen of England might not be the worst idea in the world — after all, her son still has the potential to become king of England one day, not to mention that it would throw about a hundred spanners at once into the works for both Cromwell and Henry VIII since they’ve officially made an Imperial alliance. (The failed assassin was in fact sent by the Holy Roman Emperor, both out of principle and as revenge for the annulment of the marriage to Eleanor of Austria). Anne, thirsting for revenge against Cromwell, along with several other people, is quite pleased by this idea, and not just because of the political advantages, since as anyone who’s read a book about Mary Boleyn knows, François I seems to have spent more time in bed than out of it. It doesn’t hurt the cause of Anne’s son that Jane Seymour’s son, apparently healthy at birth, is quickly discovered to be seriously handicapped — not the sort of child Henry wants to inherit his throne.

Anne herself is quickly pregnant after her (second) secret wedding and much bodice-ripping, and she and François have embarked on the production of mysterious threatening letters to Anne’s enemies and tell-all pamphlets about the injustice of Anne’s “death”, but now François has thrown off his mistress, the Duchesse d’Etampes, and she’s decided that if he doesn’t appreciate her any more, perhaps the Holy Roman Emperor will be courteous enough to pay attention to the information she may have about this mysterious new queen of France, aaaand … cut! I don’t know when the second volume comes out, but I hope it doesn’t take as long as the second volume of Je Anne Boleyn.

SEX OR POLITICS? Mostly sex, or politics in the service of sex. The assassination attempt against François I, and the ensuing complications, are prompted by his rejection of Eleanor of Austria, and the cliffhanger political plot against him and Anne are largely powered by the malice of Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, François’ rejected mistress. Henry’s own attempts to interfere in France are largely, if unbeknownst to Henry, prompted by Anne’s actions. Anne’s and François’s sexual encounters take up almost as much page space as their political dealings. (Fortunately for Anne, this book doesn’t star her sister, so this particular version of François isn’t a rapist or sexual sadist).

WHEN BORN? It’s never specifically stated but I’d guess closer to 1507 than 1501, since Anne remembers herself as “a small girl” when first going abroad in 1513. Mary’s and George’s ages aren’t stated, either, although Mary is noted to be the elder.

THE EARLY LOVE The most important of these is of course Henry Percy, who proves steadfast and eventually helps Thomas Boleyn arrange Anne’s escape. He’s not the only one, however — after her engagement to Percy was broken off, she rebounded with Thomas Wyatt: “Tempted by Wyatt’s attention, she succumbed to her passion.” This liaison later comes back to haunt her when the king becomes seriously interested and of course she can’t admit to l’affaire Wyatt. The Duke of Suffolk either knew or suspected it, though, and dropped a lot of hints to the king which the latter ignored — at the time. Part of Anne’s anger and resentment against Suffolk stems from this. (It is slightly disheartening if extremely realistic that she’s determined to revenge herself on Suffolk for unfairly passing along information which was perfectly true).

THE QUEEN’S BEES By the time the story starts Jane Seymour has already ascended to the position of Queen-Elect, so we don’t get to see much of her in her maid of honor capacity. She’s a bit on the simple side and has no problem being puppeteered by her brothers; she’s got a touch of Candide about her, always ready to believe that the king is correct and that she lives in the best of all possible worlds. She sincerely believes that Anne is guilty of adultery until her brother Edward disabuses her of the idea (right after she gives birth to her son, no less). Jane is horrified and very reluctant to believe that her marriage was founded on a judicial murder, and has to admit to herself that had she known the truth, she still wouldn’t have tried to thwart Henry, since she wanted to be Queen. (Whether she could have thwarted him is not a question that’s deeply explored). She’s miserable at this knowledge and thinks her son’s disability may have been divine punishment. Whether she’ll be as successful as Anne in producing a more acceptable second child remains to be seen in the next volume, but since she’s still alive after this birth there’s at least a chance.

While Anne is still in prison, she’s waited on by her real attendants — Lady Anne Shelton et al, with the addition of the fictional Lady Eleanor Hampton, who’s there to be part of Percy’s and Thomas Boleyn’s plot to smuggle Anne out and swap someone else’s body for burning purposes. She’s very sympathetic to Anne, unsurprisingly.

The only other English maid of honor we see much of is Anne Basset, who achieved posthumous fame from the Lisle Letters and their chronicling of her mother’s everlasting attempts to get her and her sister placed at court. The real Anne Basset arrived at court in the autumn of 1537, just before Jane Seymour’s death. The book’s Anne Basset arrives a good bit earlier, early enough to become Henry VIII’s mistress for a decent amount of time while Jane is occupied with pregnancy.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR None notable.

THE PROPHECY No straight-up prophecies but since part of Anne’s mission is to get cold, cold revenge on the people who wronged her, she does end up getting messages in “George’s” handwriting sent to his widow which could look pretty spooky and prophetic if you didn’t realize that Anne is, in fact, alive. Cromwell and the Duke of Suffolk also get the treatment in the form of mysterious pamphlets detailing the reasons for Anne’s innocence, but those don’t have the same supernatural tang to them.

IT’S A GIRL! Anne remembers Elizabeth’s birth as “the happiest day of her life” but while we’re not given Henry’s reaction directly it’s clear that it was far from being the happiest day of his. It’s nothing compared to Henry’s fury at the birth of Jane Seymour’s child, however. After Dr. Butts informs him of his suspicions that the child is “mute, and perhaps deaf,” Henry erupts. “What could change for the better if the child is deaf and dumb? He won’t be named Edward! He can be called any other name but not Edward! Edward is a name for a Prince of Wales, for a healthy child!” He then storms out. Later on he declares that the baby will be named Richard, a name of ill omen for English royalty. He doesn’t come right out and say that he hopes the child will die early, but it’s pretty clear nonetheless. In true Henrician fashion, he later berates God for punishing him with this child and when he was only trying to obey the Almighty’s express wishes when he married Jane. As for Anne’s surviving son Arthur, Henry is tempted to acknowledge the child, especially when he hears that he’s looking strong and healthy, but as ever Cromwell is on hand to remind him that the baby was probably fathered by somebody else and so young Arthur goes off into countryside obscurity with his aunt Mary.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? No.

FAMILY AFFAIRS Anne remembers Thomas Boleyn as the usual calculating schemer who pushed her to have an affair with Henry in order to better the family’s future and refused to stand up for her when she was arrested and tried. Furthermore, he refuses to become the guardian of her child once it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. However, he gets a chance to redeem himself by repentantly arranging for Anne’s smuggling abroad so that she can evade her scheduled execution, and as Henry Percy explains the rejection of guardianship was just a feint so nobody would suspect him of being unduly sympathetic with his daughter. Thomas’s awakening was apparently prompted by his wife’s having a fit of hysteria after George’s execution on May 17th: “Elizabeth screamed and cursed him; hysteria overcame her, and she fell on the floor in the hall of the castle, sobbing uncontrollably and whimpering in heartbreak … cursing him again and accusing him of all mortal sins. She screamed that she wished him dead instead of her dear son George and her beloved Anne.” This is all we see of Elizabeth in the story, though presumably she’s informed at some point that Anne was not actually burned at the stake.

George Boleyn dies before the beginning of the book so we don’t learn much about him, however, his widow is definitely an old school Lady Rochford who consciously betrayed him to free herself from her marriage (she hates George and his numerous affairs so much that she willingly courts financial ruin and total dependence on her family in the future, just to be rid of him). She’s already teetering on the edge of sanity before the mysterious messages in George’s handwriting start showing up. We see comparatively little of Mary Boleyn but learn that she’s both pleaded for Anne’s life and won guardianship of her infant son. Anne thinks highly of her and regrets that she banished her from court over the Stafford business.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No, and pretty much everyone who isn’t Henry VIII knows it — Cromwell knows, Percy knows, and François I, remembering the young Anne at his court, dismisses the whole story as impossible before he even learns that she’s still alive and gets a chance to hear her side of things. She did, however, have a passing affair with Thomas Wyatt before getting involved with Henry and reasonably enough chose not to mention it at the time.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE The descriptions and exposition are all reasonably good and clear, except for an annoying tendency for titles to be misused and foreign words to be slipped in when they don’t add much except to emphasize that characters we should know don’t speak English are not in fact speaking English. (“What did that man do to the signora?” asks a Venetian woman, just to remind us that she’s speaking Italian). The dialogue is fairly flat and heavy on exposition. “I hoped that my father would legitimize me after our reconciliation. However, my hopes were premature,” says Mary Tudor to Chapuys in one scene, and later in that same scene Chapuys will describe Dom Luis of Portugal as a man “who would be a great husband to [Mary].” A lot of the dialogue is like that — there’s nothing really wrong with it, but odd false notes are struck a little too often.

ERRATA Not applicable for the most part, since this is an alt history and the whole point is that none of it ever happened. The use of real titles was wobbly, however — Jane Seymour is “Lady Jane Seymour” even though she wasn’t (Ladies in general have a distressing tendency to be Lady Firstname Lastname on one page of Lady Lastname on the next page, even thought these were not the same thing). Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly is oddly referred to as “Duchess d’Etampes” (as in “`François,’ said Duchess d’Etampes”) when you’d think an article would be called for: Duchesse was her title, not her given name. According to everything I’ve read, her supposed alliance with Charles V is very, very far from being established fact, but the stories are there and in a book which is frankly counterfactual I found it entertaining enough to see her coming into the alliance in an alternative way. As for Francois himself, his marriage to Eleanor of Austria was never annulled, though considering their estrangement and the fact that he had been forced to marry her in order to get his sons out of prison it wasn’t wildly implausible that his fictional counterpart should at least attempt it.

And while it’s possible that the ripple effect of Anne’s prolonged survival caused some different behind the scenes maneuvering, Anne Basset is portrayed as being already at court at the time of Jane Seymour’s winter marriage to the king, and as becoming the king’s mistress some months later when Jane is about halfway through her pregnancy. In reality, Anne Basset did not arrive at court until Jane was almost ready to give birth, making her tenure as Jane’s maid of honor an extremely short one.

WORTH A READ? In the extremely small subcategory of Anne Boleyn Novels Set In An Alternate Timeline Where She Lives, I admit that my preference lies with The Boleyn King: a major weakness of that series is that its sharp-tongued, hyper-alert middle-aged Anne is taken away far too soon and the series suffers badly for it. It also can’t quite make up its mind as to whether it’s a frank melodrama or a series exploration of the political ramifications of Anne’s having a surviving son, interspersed with a lot of sex scenes. Between Two Kings suffers from no such authorial whiplash; it’s melodrama from the start and only keeps kicking into higher gear as it goes on. Nobody who reads past the first five pages of this will have any reason to complain that they didn’t know what they were getting. Furthermore, it has the distinct advantage of featuring characters of whom the vast majority were real people, even if some of them are somewhat misplaced in the historical timeline (Jean de Montreuil lived in the fourteenth century and Anne de Pontheiu in the eleventh, but their characters are only placeholders, really). In The Boleyn King, too much of the story was taken up with the adventures of imaginary young people, none of whom (except the Boleyn King himself) would have existed even if Anne had lived. In this story, major protagonists and antagonists are all people who were distinctly real, and the cast is a much deeper one than my summary indicates; clearly the writer did her research on that score. As ridiculous as the story can get it’s nonetheless enjoyable to see how their life arcs are played with. The story isn’t finished yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if most of them end up in exactly the same places they did in history, and all the fun will lie in seeing the different paths they’ll take to get to identical destinations.

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10 Comments
  1. Good lord. Pray tell, is a young Catherine de’ Medici already around for Alt!Anne to meet, or did Francis not make that marriage for his second son (yet)? What about Diane de Poitiers?

    Percy the bodyswitcher and Cromwell outwitter must be a first. Btw, now I’m wondering about the AU where Hilary Mantel, emotionally unable to kill off Cromwell in the third volume, instead decides to have HIM fake his death by substituting a convenient prisoner and escape to have adventures on the continent ever after.

    • sonetka permalink

      François is trying to keep Anne’s true identity under wraps so while he goes back to France for a while, she’s still in Venice, so his children haven’t actually met her yet. There is a scene with Henri and Diane de Poitiers in which he naturally expresses some concern about the mysterious woman who’s his new stepmother, but his major preoccupation is with her religious views — he doesn’t want her to be too strongly reformist. His marriage to Catherine is referenced but we don’t actually see her. Presumably at some point these people will all have to actually be in the same room together :).

      Percy the body swapper is definitely without precedent in my experience, though there are a couple of books in which Anne’s corpse is secretly spirited out of St. Peter ad Vincula to be buried at Hever, but I don’t think Percy is involved in any of those. And when it comes to “characters who are supposed to be executed but secretly survive” In Bed With Anne Boleyn features a Mark Smeaton who gets smuggled out to the continent and goes on to be a famous painter!

      And oh, God, that Hilary Mantel scenario is horribly plausible. However, in that case, she’d have to give up all the plaudits about how true and well-researched her work is, so my bet is that Volume III will feature a Cromwell who no longer wants to live; probably he’ll recognize the signs of some terminal illness or other (he has seen how they diagnose cancer in Italy) so he’ll know that his arrest and trial are forthcoming and choose not to stop them since this will be a quicker death than he’s facing otherwise. He’ll make some careful provision to ensure that his son gets everything he wants and then go serenely to the scaffold, confident that Katherine Howard, whose reputation he’s already well aware of, won’t last long and her faction will fall with her.

  2. Since the Valois easily give the Tudors a run for their money in royal dysfunctionality, I must admit the “Anne as Catherine’s step-mother-in-law” prospect alone sounds like the crack fic I didn’t know I needed in my life but clearly do. 🙂 Henri expressing concern about Anne’s religious views sounds oddly historically right and thought-out characterisation like for this kind of novel, though?

    Mark Smeaton the painter: dare I ask why he changed arts?

    Speaking of painters: has anyone yet done “Hans Holbein, Emperor’s Secret Agent At The Tudor Court” yet? With the Anne of Cleves fiasco a cunning plot? I mean, he was ideally placed and knew everyone. And clearly, he didn’t die of the plague but faked his death because Henry was on to him at least.

    Good lord, Mantel!Cromwell dying of cancer and thus welcoming a quicker death and secretly triumphant in future knowledge sounds completely plausible as a way for her to have Cromwell win after all and to spare him the indignity of unravelling emotionally. In such a scenario, will the “mercy, mercy, mercy!” letter to Henry be a cunning ploy to ensure Gregory won’t be harmed?

    • sonetka permalink

      I’m hoping that said crackfic materializes but will need to wait until Volume 2 to see if it’s worth recommending on the basis of “Valois soap opera meets Tudor soap opera!” The scene with Henri is only a few pages long, but although the writing isn’t the most graceful the secondary characters do tend to have their priorities pretty much where they had them historically, with the exception of Charles V, who’s upset about the annulment which didn’t actually happen. As for why Mark Smeaton changed it up, I honestly have no idea, and the text certainly didn’t go out of its way to explain. Presumably it wouldn’t do to become famous for his musical skill since there’d be a greater chance of being recognized, so he decided to work on his visual side? Hans Holbein does play a part in Luther’s Ambassadors where Anne enlists him to paint the famous double portrait and sneak all kinds of references to her reign and reformist religion into it. It’s clear that he knows what it’s all about and that he approves, but he doesn’t actually mastermind anything. Odds are that Holbein the Agent or Holbein the Detective will turn up one of these days, though — if Mary Boleyn rates multiple novels, surely he should get at least one!

      I would bet actual money (albeit not a ton of it) that Mantel will use some variant of the “secretly glad to die” plot. I’ll reiterate and say that I wish I could write a book a quarter as good as hers are, but she simply cannot stand to have Cromwell really lose control of anything. And yes, I’m sure that “Mercy, mercy, mercy!” will be written in a spirit of ironic parody, as he thinks to himself that only Henry could be so taken in by such an over-the-top appeal, and Mantel will justify it on the grounds that Cromwell was so controlled that he would be simply incapable of writing such a letter sincerely. Because self-contained people never collapse at the prospect of imminent violent death.

  3. Esther Sorkin permalink

    Sounds like a good read — although I might wait for volume 2 and read them as a set (I hate waiting too long for resolution of a cliff-hanger.) My guess — Mantel will have Cromwell guess that Henry will have one of the “conservative faction” reading the letter to him, and drafts it to shock them into silence (rather than insist on hanging, drawing and quartering.) Cromwell will welcome death as he becomes sick of taking the blame for the number of people that Henry wants to have killed.

    • sonetka permalink

      I’m cautiously optimistic — the writing isn’t particularly outstanding and personally I can get enough of repetitive sex scenes when it’s already been established that these particular characters are compatible, BUT it’s a lot of soapy fun and now that the setup has been established I’m hoping for lots of entertaining clashes between Anne and her new stepchildren, Henry and his increasingly-disarrayed court, and with luck some improbable political disasters featuring all of them in prominent roles. But I agree in waiting for volume 2; sometimes those come promptly and sometimes they come … not so promptly. (I really do want the other half of Je Anne Boleyn to turn up one of these days but it’s taking its time).

      I like your idea of how Mantel’s Cromwell will ultimate control — of course, that letter wasn’t just going to be read by the king, and Cromwell would know it. I’m not sure he would have been at risk for the nastier forms of execution, though, as he was Earl of Essex by then.

  4. The most frustrating thing is that I know HM has it in her to do this to a historical character she loves. If you read interview statements of hers re: Robespierre, she sounds every bit as much in love with him, and every bit as much with an ax to grind re: him having been portrayed as a villalin in pop culture, BUT “A Place of Greater Safety” is written in a way that makes Danton just as sympathetic, and if I hadn’t read her extratextual statements, I’d have assumed her favourite was Camille Desmoulins, if anyone. And she certainly has Robespierre lose control more than once during the novel, notably towards the ending.

    Of course, “A Place of Greater Safety” has multiple povs, and as much as the Cromwell exclusive pov contributes to the immediacy of the Wolf Hall novels, I wonder whether it didn’t, during writing, contribute to the unability to let Cromwell lose (control or the high ground) now and then. Mind you, I don’t see how the Anne of Cleves misadventure could be spun without Cromwell losing at least some control of the situation (because cancer or no cancer, that alliance was supposed to integrate England and Henry in a Protestant Europe, plus Cromwell did try to save the marriage instead of immediately jumping ship when it was obvious from the get go Henry wanted another change of wife). But undoubtedly he’ll regain the upper hand before the end.

    You know, the first person narration of the Shardlake novels makes it impossible because Shardlake wasn’t there (he hears the classical tragedy way, via messenger) but I wish Sansom would tackle Cromwell’s ending in close up, because his Cromwell is my favourite in terms of plausibility so far. Maybe in a short story?

    The more I think about it, the less likely I find no one has tackled Holbein as a main character or at least pov character yet. Surely someone must have? Someone who is preferably not Dan Brown?

    • sonetka permalink

      Yes, I really am looking forward to her take on Anne of Cleves (as well as seeing more of Jane Seymour). Cromwell not catching on immediately to what’s happened with Katherine Howard — I really hope she does have him caught genuinely flat-footed, it would, perversely, make him much more sympathetic :). It’s still possible that the third book will have him realizing how much he deluded himself to justify what he did, and I’ve seen people justify the first two books on the grounds that we’re seeing events from inside his head and that of course he’ll manage to justify things to himself. Which is all well and good, but having events like the masque featuring all five men, Mark Smeaton as a possible pervert who later terrifies himself into confession, conveniently leaving out the two arrested men who weren’t executed because they don’t fit into the whole “it was the masque” theme … all of this stacks the deck pretty heavily in Cromwell’s favor, unless we’re supposed to believe that he was actually hallucinating all of these events or misremembering to the point where he becomes completely useless as a narrator. And I agree, I would REALLY like to see Sansom’s take on Cromwell’s end. Like you said, there’s surely room for a short story narrated by some other person who was there, or possibly even Cromwell himself.

      A quick look through WorldCat gives me a novel called “Portrait Of An Unknown Woman” which is narrated by Mercy Giggs but appears to have Holbein as deuteragonist, a novel from the 1920s called “The Holbein Mystery” (though that could be about one of the paintings) and something by Emanuel Stickelberger called “Holbein in England”. By far the most promising-looking when it comes to heavy spy drama is something called “The Traitor’s Mark” which came out a couple of years ago and seems to feature a London goldsmith trying to track Holbein down after his mysterious disappearance when he died from the plague — OR DID HE? Slim pickings considering how important he was, but they do exist.

      • One argument for “She’ll allow him at least SOME self delusion”: The way Cromwell near the end of “Bring up the Bodies” suddenly wonders whether his wife was faithful to him and whether his children were his children, and can’t get the idea out of his head again once he’s had it. I always thought that was the kind of karmic backlash which works only in a novel, not in other forms of narration, which is why both the stage and the film version choose different conclusions (also different from each other), because it’s all in Cromwell’s head, and it’s in a way the logical consequence of him having spent a great deal of the novel inventing thought crime and turning every spicy gossip into facts. Also, a rare instance of where we can be sure the author doesn’t want us to regard Cromwell as right, we’re not supposed to think “yes, sure, maybe Elizabeth cheated on him” but “zomg, now he’s doing it to himself”, thereby tainting the idyllic memories which have been his refuge until now.

        But even so, I agree, the way Mark Smeaton goes down, the masque, George Boleyn bursting into tears at his trial instead of keeping his composure, Jane Boleyn being the one to make the incest suggestion, well meaning Richard Rich totally snubbed by mean Thomas More, all these are pro-Cromwell alterations by author, not pov. And Cromwell’s opponents in the third volume will be so genuinely hissable (Gardiner and Norfolk certainly don’t need Hilary Mantel to give them a bad image), it’s hard to see where a “what have I done?” moment for Cromwell is supposed to come from.

        re: Anne of Cleves and more Jane Seymour, I’m also very curious about her take on Jane’s sister who marries Gregory and survives the lot of them (Cromwell, Jane, Gregory and her ambitious brothers)! Dare we call her “The other Seymour girl” 🙂 ?

        Thanks for the “Holbein in novels” info. “The Traitor’s Mark” looks like something worth checking out if I find it in a library.

      • sonetka permalink

        Oh yes, you’re right — that had slipped my mind and that was a fantastic moment; showing how he’s managed to twist his own mind in the process of twisting other things. A good example of how once an idea is put into a man’s head, he’ll never get it out again :). And you know, I can live with George Boleyn being a sleazy skirt-chaser whose wife loathes him; it’s become something of a cliche but it’s not like there’s any resounding historical evidence against it. But the stuff that’s just flat-out contrary to the record is a different issue. (Perhaps George Boleyn’s crying will be meant to make Cromwell’s later begging letter look less panicked by comparison?) But as you said, Norfolk and Gardiner are so awful that even I will probably be feeling pretty bad for him at the end!

        Elizabeth Seymour would make an excellent novel subject, especially since she didn’t get cut off untimely! I’ve often thought the same thing about Margery Horsman, who keeps getting elbowed out by invented maids of honor or real ones who weren’t around for nearly as long. Maybe they just come across as too sensible to be interesting :).

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