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Historic Tales: A Novel by Anonymous (1790)

January 15, 2019

This odd romance is the earliest instance I’ve found so far of Anne’s life being told from the perspective of a more fortunate, imaginary friend, and although it’s an eighteenth-century production, the author seems to have already drunk deeply of the early Romantic movement (who the author was remains a mystery — he or she dedicated the book to Lord Carbery, as “one who, though unknown, has the honor of being allied to you.”) Any reader who gets even a twentieth of their way into the book will learn, very quickly, that true happiness is impossible to find at court or even anywhere moderately well-populated with ambitious (and possibly even foreign) people — the only hope for anyone is to live, like Anne’s friend, in healthy, uneventful rural surroundings.

And what surroundings they are! The novel’s opening introduces us to a small town in the French valley of Suzy (the author helpfully advises us in a footnote to consult Voltaire for an account of that valley’s historic residents) which is “the most luxuriant work of nature — its walks were embellished by the fairest of flowers, and watered by the purest streams … The fairest of its daughters was the innocent, soul-informed Eudocia — shaped by the hand of harmony, she was as superior to her companions of the vale, as they were to the rest of women.” The author is at great pains to let us know that the young people of Suzy owe none of their beauty to vanity or artifice of any kind:

They knew nothing of the refinements of dress — neatness and simplicity were their handmaids — unaffected touching graces, and the blushes of modesty, their sole ornaments. — The swains were distinguished for knowledge and courage — the chace gave health to their bodies, and music, painting, poetry, and the society of Suzy maids, refined their minds — they felt love, and stiled it not a weakness — they condemned not friendship as romance — nor did they dignify the mean actions of a sordid mind, by the term of prudence.

Eudocia, the fairest flower of the valley, is nonetheless not native to it; her mother is one Madame Valere, whose “air was that of a person of distinction, and her conversation spoke her blest by a good and polished education.” Madame Valere has chosen for as-yet unstated reasons to reject the greater world, not from “disappointed vanity and ambition” but because, having “experienced the fallacy of its allurements”, she decided she had had enough of them and fled — or at least, that’s the story she tells her young daughter. While she’s happy there, her only real friends are one M. Branville and his wife (Branville also consciously rejected a larger world — he left his position as a soldier after “conceiv[ing] a disgust to the army”). Branville has a son named Theodore, a few years older than Eudocia and highly enamoured of her, if not so much of the retired life his parents lead. Theodore has dreams of escaping small-town life for military glory, which he confides to a sympathetic but disapproving Eudocia.

”Your lively imagination, my dear Theodore (she would say) undoubtedly misleads you — I know no more of the world than yourself, but still every thing confirms me in the belief of my mother’s assertion, that it is not desirable. If the court has such charms, why do the greatest statesmen, and most distinguished favourites, fly to retirement at every pause of business, to unbend the mind, and taste the blessings of quiet?”

“But arms,” said Theodore, a deeper glow mounting rom his heart to his cheek, “but arms, my sweet Eudocia” —

“Is an unprofitable pursuit,” interrupting him, “and productive oft of disquiet and mortification.”

Even Eudocia, however, can’t soothe Theodore when news of Henry VIII’s victory over the French in the Battle of the Spurs reaches the valley. “And I,” cries Theodore, “Am wasting my youth and strength in inglorious ease — a flute! Gods! — When I ought to grasp a lance.”

Walking miserably home after this conversation, Eudocia is pleasantly distracted by the discovery that two visitors have “begged the protection of Madame Valere that night … Madame Valere learned that her guests were Sir Thomas Boleyne of England, and his Anna, on whom he doated with more than common fondness.” Sir Thomas and his daughter are both described as handsome and genuinely good-willed, both towards each other and the rest of humanity, but the description of Anne is full of warning signs for what’s to come, for she’s clearly a girl who pays attention to the latest styles, and “refinements of dress” are things the author has already made clear are the first step to even more unfortunate habits.

Despite all of her unnatural polishing, Anne is sincerely friendly towards and interested in both Eudocia and Theodore, teasingly asking Eudocia if Theodore is her “knight” and telling her that at court, “every lady who has pretensions to beauty had a knight, nay, twenty perhaps.” While Eudocia is doubtful about her ability (or desire) to capture the hearts of twenty knights, she finds herself longing to see the treasures of the court which Anne has been describing (not just the knights, but the clothing and furniture as well) and Anne kindly offers to bring her along if her mother consents. Madame Valere, unsurprisingly, is not nearly as excited as her daughter about this offer, especially as it’s apparent that Anne already had developed a little too much of a taste for being admired. ’Ah! my Eudocia … you know not this world for which you now pant — believe me who do — ignorance of it is your sole insurance from its ills … a knowledge of the world may improve the manners, but trust me, my young friends, does not mend the heart … Candour gives place to dissimulation — liberality to prudence — friendship to convenience — love to interest.”

Madame Valere, being a reasonable parent, won’t forbid Eudocia from going if she wants to, but does insist both on accompanying her and dropping a number of dark hints about nobody learning except by experience and the worthlessness of gilded baubles compared to an honest heart. “Is it not odd, my mother,” says Eudocia, finally starting to catch on, “I should yet be a stranger to the events of your life — of your descent — or whether we are in reality the unconnected beings we appear to be?” But her mother, citing her wish for Eudocia to enjoy herself during her first journey from home, says it isn’t time to tell the story yet, so off go Eudocia and her mother with Anne and Sir Thomas, headed for the court of Louise of Savoy. Once arrived, Madame Valere sends a note to Louise introducing herself as the Countess Campobasso, whereupon Louise instantly takes her in and sends Eudocia to be an attendant upon her daughter, Margaret (Marguerite de Navarre).

Marguerite has been a frequent recipient of paeans in fiction due to her early interest in promoting women’s interests and religious reform, but this book resolutely avoids that particular trope. Educated she may be, but she lives in a court environment, and inevitably has become “haughty, superior, and vain … already her heart had had its embarrassments, concealments, intrigues, confidents, but, fickle in her attachments, love with her was merely amusement.” Her attendants take her behavior as their model, at least according to a distressed Eudocia as she reports to her mother that evening:

”A few excepted, I do not like them — they are lovely it is true, but they are unadorned by modesty — their looks assured — their forms distorted by affected gestures — and their hearts divided between twenty adorers. Whilst I sat among them, they began comparisons of the young courtiers, and straight the Countess’s usher joined them — and he fell to defamatory tales of noble lords and ladies of the court — to which they listened with strict attention; — when the bell rung for mass, a friar came to inform them Father Bertram would soon begin: `Would he were tongue-tied,’ cried they — supinely rising from their seats —`But prithee, Monsieur, be careful to remember where you left off.’ And so they said their prayers and returned again to listen with avidity to an evil tongue…. They concluded all with acclamations on hearing the treaty of marriage is signed between our Sovereign and the British Princess.’”

She concludes by demanding to know, in exquisitely teenage fashion (she is fifteen, after all) how her mother could ever be friends with Louise of Savoy. “She is unlike you — I cannot discover the least trace of that sympathy which is the bond of friendship.”

“Again, Eudocia, your fancy takes the lead of your judgment” says her mother, speaking for several centuries’ worth of parents. As it happens, she and Louise were once virtual twin souls and dearest of friends, but once again she havers at the idea of telling her daughter the truth about her own background and leaves Eudocia (and the reader) both curious and mildly irritated. Not for long, however — as Louise of Savoy’s household is set to travel to Abbeville, Madame Valere becomes ill and Eudocia stays behind to nurse her and finally hear the full story, prompted apparently by Madame Valere’s realization that she won’t be around forever and Eudocia should really know while there’s still time to tell her.

The story is a very long and involved one, beginning with the abortive engagement of Bona of Savoy to Edward IV of England (the anonymous author of this work appears to have been as much an enthusiast for French history as English — he or she had an excellent command of Louis XI’s career). Edward, of course, ended up terminating the engagement due to technical difficulties — he had married Elizabeth Woodville in the meantime — and Bona, along with her sisters and friends, began to understand just how ruthless the world of royal matchmaking could be. Among these friends was the future mother of Madame Valere, Eudocia de Montargis, whose best friend was Louis XI’s queen Charlotte of Savoy, and who herself was in love with Charlotte’s brother Philip of Savoy. At this point we’re treated to a long and — if you don’t mind the sudden departure from the 16th century — downright educational overview of Louis XI’s largely successful attempts to bring various powerful nobles to heel, primarily the Duke of Burgundy, and thwart said nobles in their attempts to ally with Edward IV by offering Edward better deals in their place. For strategic reasons, Eudocia de Montargis cannot be allowed to marry Philip of Savoy (who’s thrown in jail to cool him down) — instead she’s ticketed to be a wealthy but not overly well-landed sop to the Duke of Burgundy to compensate him for all the land Louis is attempting to grab from under him.

Unfortunately for Eudocia de Montargis, who gets along well with Burgundy even if her heart still belongs to Philip, Burgundy decides to pick a fight with Louis about Philip of Savoy’s unjust imprisonment, at which Louis, ever alive to insult, decides that he’s ceased to be worth the trouble and tries to have him assassinated. The assassination doesn’t come off as planned, and an outraged Burgundy returns to his duchy to start building up his armies. His two best generals are Count St. Paul and Baron de Comerci, and Louis, who wasn’t nicknamed “the Spider King” for nothing, promptly gets to work on them, sending secret messages and promising wealthy alliances if they’ll leave Burgundy for him. And they do — St. Paul’s reward is Bona of Savoy, and Comerci’s is Eudocia de Montargis, whose consent is required only in the most technical sense and is given solely because she knows that once she’s married, Philip will at least be out of prison.

Comerci, who is “of a jealous disposition” and has heard rumors about Eudocia’s attachment to Philip, marries her and promptly sets off with his new wife for the isolated Castle de Rossignol, where they’ll while away their hours of married life. “He never suffered her to receive any visitor in the castle, and very rarely to stir out of it,” is Madame Valere’s summary of her parents’ marriage. “When she did, a numerous train of vassals attended her; and her airings had more the melancholy appearance of a funeral procession, than excursions for health or the pleasures of beholding the bounteous gifts of prodigal nature, and the harmony of all her productions.”

Eudocia de Montargis dies when her daughter is fourteen years old, and her husband’s chief concern then becomes getting his daughter out of his hair as soon as possible. One Count Campobasso starts turning up for polite visits, and then one day —

”Charlotte,” said the Baron to me one day, as he entered my chamber, “the Count Campobasso loves you — and I approve him for my son-in-law; prepare then to receive him as your husband; you *can* have no objection to do so; and even had you such, you are not now to learn — I will be obeyed.

She has no particular objection, hoping to find him “a less severe master than my father” and marries “a man I knew little more of than the name. Is it strange such a union should be unblessed?” The “confidence, esteem and affection” which she now deems necessary for a good marriage are all lacking, and much like her own father, Count Campobasso is extraordinarily jealous whenever any other man pays the slightest bit of attention to her. After a still-young, lonely and pregnant Madame Valere rashly flirts with a knight named Bayard, Campobasso pretends to forgive her indiscretion until her child is born, then summons some trusty servants to drag her off into a multi-passaged cave and dump her there with a mattress, some dried fruit, and biscuits — the food, he explains, will be replenished (he’s not a monster, after all) and the baby will be fostered with a peasant family, but she’ll never leave. “Did I not tell thee I was an Italian?” he reminds her. “Should not that have taught thee to expect revenge?”

Madame Valere is eventually rescued by the combined efforts of both Bayard and Louise of Savoy, who during the recent campaigns were given a hint by one of Campobasso’s aides-de-camp that Madame Valere is not actually, as he pretended, deceased, but rather is being held prisoner. The now-toddler Eudocia is also retrieved from her foster family and reunited with her mother, but the question now looms — what are they to do? They can’t stay where they are. “To live with Louise, I should be known, and perhaps, fall again into the snares of my tyrant, who now bore some sway in Lorraine’s army.” Campobasso is too powerful to be brought down by a mere matter of abusing his wife, and her father is now dead, so her best bet is to disappear — which she does, taking Eudocia to the valley of Suzy with nothing but her jewels to finance their life, and a strong conviction that the life of court and marrying for strategic reasons is best avoided. Even now, she’s been reluctant to let Eudocia go into the wider world because as far as she knows, Campobasso is still alive.

The young Eudocia, with admirable understatement, thinks herself “the heiress to misfortunes” but now that her mother has recovered from her illness, she’s still ready to move ahead and join the retinue which is greeting the new Queen Mary, recently arrived in France to marry Louis XII as he makes his last-ditch attempt at having a living son. How much Eudocia has already given in to the allure of court life is easily seen both by the fact that she’s receiving the admiring attention of the Duc d’Angouleme (Louise’s son, the future Francois I) and by how she dresses — “her hair was fastened back from her forehead by a wreath of roses, formed by diamonds — while a few ringlets wantoning[?], gave a softer turn to her features; a plume of white feathers, yielding to the breeze, added grace to her form; her robe shewed its fine turns to the best advantage, of a silver, yet light texture, sparkled in the rays of the sun.”

Among the many sparkling individuals in the English train is, of course, Anne Boleyn — both Eudocia and the reader are relieved to see her after learning so much extended backstory in between meetings. Anne is as charming and friendly as ever, has the room next to the now-Queen Mary’s, and is soon giving Eudocia the news on Mary’s wedding, Mary’s real love interest and Anne’s own love affair. Anne has fallen completely for Harry Piercy — “the chief of our youth, the pride of his house, and ornament of his country,” and also the best friend of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, here portrayed not as the shopworn marital adventurer he already was but as a noble young man pining for Mary, their love affair cruelly torn apart by Henry VIII’s need for a marital alliance with France.

Apparently, Mary spent much of the voyage confiding in Anne about her own unhappiness. “My connection with Piercy, and his with Suffolk, ensured me a favourable reception from my Royal Mistress. Sympathy of soul and tastes soon procured me a stronger interest with her, and into my bosom she shed those tears — to my ear she breathed those sights, the ills attending her exalted station. … the new Queen was received with loud acclamations of joy. The awful vow was soon repeated. Fear and strugglng propriety somewhat supported the lovely bride; yet an expression of mental absence and distress overspread her countenance. Lewis examined it as if desirous to penetrate the cause; an accident half revealed it; just as the bishop pronounced the nuptial benediction, a deep groan escaped the unhappy Suffolk. No longer master of himself, he reeled back overcome by sorrow, and was caught in the arms of the Duke of Norfolk.” Fortunately Louis, himself still in love with the memory of Anne of Brittany, is the understanding type. “Banish all thy fears, my daughter,” he tells Mary after the wedding. “I claim no other sentiments from thee than befit that name.” Mary is genuinely grieved when he dies a few months later, but pleased to know that he tacitly approves of her next marriage to Suffolk, which is promptly accomplished, and Mary returns to England. Anne, instead of staying to wait upon Queen Claude as the real one did, accompanies Mary back home, though not without regret. “She loved Eudocia with the liveliest affection, and the idea of parting with her poisoned the anticipated pleasure of meeting again her Piercy …. Eudocia with poignant grief saw the fair Anna depart; but they mutually vowed eternal friendship.”

Thereafter, Eudocia’s worldly fortunes increase steadily. Her long-gone father, the Count Campobasso, dies at the Battle of Marignan but not before making a last-minute confession that his wife and daughter were still alive somewhere, that he had wronged them, and to please somehow convey his enormous estate to them by way of apology. “Behold now the once rustic Eudocia, one of the first ladies of France, next to those of royal-blood; and her patiently suffering mother, restored to her former honours!” However, Eudocia’s romantic fortunes are in steady decline. Although the lustful Francois I has been so struck by her innocence and purity that he resolves only to keep her safe and make an honorable marriage for her, court gossips have naturally concluded the worst about their friendship, and when Theodore — now enlisted in the army under the name Orlando de Retel, for complicated reasons — is invited to court by well-connected army friends and hears these rumors, he’s shocked and grieved. “Oh, Eudocia! How art thou fallen — fallen from the nobleness of Virtue, to the abject state of Vice — abject, though decked by titles!” He resolves to ignore her when she sees him, and leaves without speaking to her directly. Eudocia, concluding from this behavior that he’s forgotten her, “confined the killing grief to her own breast” but her health begins to suffer. Thus is the essential perfidy of court life underlined.

Fortunately, diversion comes along in the form of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, although Eudocia has little interest in the games and no interest at all in the various suitors who circle around her. “Theodore was false, and that idea could not be effaced.” She is, however, very interested in re-establishing her friendship with Anne Boleyn — it turns out that the latter’s life has also taken some startling turns recently, and court life has ultimately worked upon her as Madam Valere’s mournful predictions suggested:

At Guisnes also was first visible the affection of the English King for the fair Boleyne, who was in the train of his Queen. In the lists he wore her colours — his emblem, device, motto, all breathed Anna, and proclaimed a passion as extravagant as unbounded. It has been said, Anna knew her charms, and exulted in their power — she delighted to behold their effects — and though her heart was free as an infant’s from one criminal desire, its wish for admiration was excessive — its vanity unconquerable — and in her conduct there was a degree of vivacity nearly bordering on levity. She loved Piercy tenderly — that is to say, as well as it was possible for her to love any man. But in a mind like hers, love is only a secondary passion.”

Readers of later novels, who are accustomed to scenarios where Anne and Percy are forcibly separated — either by Percy’s ultimate cowardice or the heavy hand of authority — will perhaps be surprised by the developments here. Anne and Piercy are still engaged, and no suggestion is made that the King wants to divide them for more than a brief time. However, Piercy is enraged that his fiancee should be receiving all of these favours from the King to demonstrate “a partiality as improper for Anna to countenance, as tormenting to Piercy to know she did so.” When Piercy rebukes her, Anne strikes back hard — telling him that she both “would not be controlled” and observing that he might not make such a good husband after all. “She must expect nothing less than tyrannic restraint, from an husband who dictated so arrogantly as a lover.” Clearly this relationship is experiencing some heavy weather, and the final blow is delivered by a helpful “busy tale-bearer” who drops in on Anne and Eudocia one morning to pass on a conversation he (or she) had just overheard between Cardinal Wolsey and Piercy. After the latter had “censured [Anne’s] encouragement of the King’s passion for her,” the Cardinal strikes a note that sounds downright sadistic:

”Leave her to herself, brave Piercy,” returned the Cardinal. “Giddy with the applause of cringing flatterers, she will work her own downfall; and thou shalt receive thy revenge in beholding her humbled to thy wish, when her dalliance and foolish toying shall have sated the fickle King.”

Given that Piercy apparently didn’t object to this unpleasant angle on the case, it’s immensely satisfying to see Anne vowing revenge on both men. Piercy will “repent [his] cruel taunts” and as for Wolsey — “Beware of that influence that I now, for the first time, exult in the possession of. Spite of thy schemes, thy arts, thy dissimulation, I may reach thee; and thou in bitterness own thyself foiled by the dalliance, the toying of a woman, Anna Boleyne.”

Eudocia is horrified by this and tries to talk Anne down, but Anne is firm. She’s sworn it, and there’s no going back. Eudocia next tries the tack of appealing to Anne’s respect for Catherine, but that won’t fly either — Anne swears that Henry was having doubts about the validity of the marriage before their current dalliance was even thought of. “Then why may not I ascend the vacant throne? My rejection of it could not restore it to Catherine; but it will doubtless be filled by someone less scrupulous than myself.”

Despite the inherent weakness of that argument, and Eudocia’s constant admonitions against allowing ambition to take hold, Anne gets to work on the King in earnest, and is rewarded with the title of Marchioness of Pembroke shortly after their return to England. Eudocia and her mother then retreat to a rural but still very luxurious villa near Suzy where, judging by the events that subsequently are listed, they live for approximately a decade, jumping from Wolsey’s failure to be elected Leo X’s successor to the sack of Rome to the news that Anne Boleyn is now officially married to Henry VIII in the space of what feels like about three months even though Leo X died in 1521 and Anne and Henry were married around late 1532/early 1533. Along the way, Eudocia is reunited with Theodore, who has covered himself in glory on the battlefield and has finally deduced that Eudocia was not, in fact, having an affair with Francois by the simple expedient of actually asking the king directly. News of Anne’s wedding arrives with a kinsman of hers, one Lord Sutton, who’s attending Wolsey on a visit to France, and it’s clear that Lord Sutton tends to share Madame Valere’s views on the culture of the court.

”Better had it been for my fair Cousin,” he said, “had nature cast her features in a homely mould. I do not know a woman who would then have been more estimable. Her good sense and lively wit would have rendered her sufficiently engaging to have secured her one faithful heart. But from being mistress of numbers, she knew not the value of one such. Her walk of life,” he continued, “has been through courts and luxurious palaces; and the false refinements she there was taught, vitiated her taste for simpler, finer enjoyments. It may be said of Anna Boleyne, nature exerted her nicest art to form a perfect creature — fortune has labored to defeat her aim.

Anne hasn’t yet brought down Wolsey, but Sutton confidently asserts that “the blow is impending over him — his disgrace already concerted …. Her coronation will be celebrated with such splendour, as minds like Henry’s and Anna’s may be supposed to dictate — yet would I own her of my blood with more exultation, were I to call her the wife of Harry Piercy.”

Wolsey, however, is not the issue at hand some while later when Eudocia — who is now married to Theodore and had two small daughters with him at an unspecified time — at last receives a letter from Anne herself. Despite her coronation, it’s clear that the bloom is already off the rose as far as being queen is concerned: “As I returned in procession to the palace, I was met by Piercy, and his eye, bent mournfully on me, struck my heart like a reproach. — Ah me! Perhaps — Why did I touch this discordant string — its vibration is sadness.”

The qualities that made Anne attractive as a mistress are, as it turns out, the same ones that make her (in Henry’s opinion) less attractive as a wife. “Unhappy in her own mind, she sought to hush her cares by the syren song of pleasure … she behaved to her former equals with affability somewhat too lessening to the dignity of a Queen of England. The haughty King thought such a carriage derogatory to her rank and state, and the playfulness which had captivated him in Anna Boleyne, he could not brook in the partner of his throne.” We’re told that “her enemies” were thrilled to misconstrue every one of her actions, though it’s never entirely clear who or why they’re her enemies in the first place (that this book could be so knowledgeable of the events of the first half of the sixteenth century but say absolutely nothing about its religious context is one of the many mysteries surrounding it). At any rate, Henry and Anne rub along miserably together, bound together only by Elizabeth, until Henry’s new interest in Jane Seymour, combined with some never-described “intrigues of the Princess Mary” convinces him that she’s having an affair with some members of her household. He accuses her at the May Day celebration after dropping a handkerchief, and the next day she’s arrested and taken to the Tower, whereupon she writes the well-known letter “From the Lady in the Tower” — which, unlike the original, Henry actually reads, though “the only part of Anna’s letter he attended to, was her request of being brought to an open trial.” She, her brother, and unnamed “minions” are condemned in a trial known to all and sundry to be a farce. Piercy is of course there, and “with audible sobs listened to her pathetic declaration of her innocence.”

Anne takes the guilty verdict in stride and, upon returning to the Tower, begins to write her last letter — naturally, it’s intended for Eudocia. “Behold the end of envied grandeur!” is the salutation, and Anne then proceeds to both bewail the fact that she didn’t behave more like Eudocia in her youth, and protesting her innocence of the charges against her.

OH! That I had listened to thy persuasions! — that I had imitated thy example! — we began the race of life nearly together, and a strong similarity marked the fortunes of both. — Oh when I recall the time in which thou wert beloved by Francis; when I reflect on the grace which adorned him, and call to mind thy noble rejection of his vows — the preserved simplicity and constancy of thy soul; — how do I shrink from the comparison! …. So might I have lived with honour, and died in peace — Piercy! I might in thee have found a Theodore — in thy love, that happiness, I sacrificed to specious greatness.

… Believe this assertion, sealed with my blood. I am innocent, even in thought, of the dreadful crimes I stand condemned for — pure from such stain, even as thy own soul. — Adultery — was not that charge a stab sufficient for my fame? — Must Incest — horrid Incest, blacken it?

It’s a long letter and is written episodically — Anne breaks off to have a last visit with her daughter, then returns to lament that she’ll never see Elizabeth again and condemn Henry’s cruelty, along with crying “Catherine — injured Catherine — thou art revenged.” As the hour approaches, she calms, writing “I have paid my devotions to Heaven — my soul is calmed, and I wait my doom with patience.” (Any particular religious leanings related to her devotions are not mentioned). Finally, in hope of meeting the celestial choir shortly and bidding Eudocia to “Weep no more … ere this can meet thy eye, all will be over, and nought remain of thy sister — thy friend, but the name, the fatal name of ANNA BOLEYNE.”

Upon receiving the letter, Eudocia faints — whereupon Theodore, picking up this “sacred Relick”, looks at their two young daughters and observes that “Should ever your young hearts sigh for a Court, this, like a powerful talisman, shall check the wish, and tell you there is no real charm, save innocence — no worthy pride, but virtue.”

SEX OR POLITICS? Much more political background and intrigue than most novels, even if the timelines are rather scrambled. Whoever wrote this book clearly had a deep interest in French history and manages to weave the characters into it pretty reasonably (well, excepting the timeline issue). Sex is a mere hint, with the exception of Anne’s bluntly phrased anger that anyone could believe her guilty of incest (and if that doesn’t sound explicit, bear in mind that Anne Boleyn, An Historical Romance, which appeared fifty years later, was so vague about the incest charge as to effectively eliminate it). What’s notable about the way the story is told is that religion is a total non-factor. Religious troubles in England are never mentioned, Anne’s reformist tendencies are never mentioned, Eudocia — presumably brought up as a good rural French Catholic — never reproaches Anne with it once. If you had never read anything other than this novel about them, you could be forgiven for thinking that both Henry and Anne remained loyal to the Pope to the end of their days. The closest we get to even a hint on the subject is Lord Sutton’s saying that as Henry didn’t want to wait to marry, he persuaded a bishop to give them “a private dispensation.” Anne’s downfall is attributed almost entirely to Henry’s jealousy and love for Jane Seymour, and Anne’s retaining her old habit of flirting and being more familiar with her now-inferiors than she should be.

WHEN BORN? Eudocia is fifteen when the story begins in the summer of 1513, just after the Battle of the Spurs. Anne’s age is never stated exactly, but the girls are pretty clearly close in age, with Anne possibly a year or two older — giving her one of the earlier birthdates I’ve seen, sometime between 1496 and 1498.

THE EARLY LOVE Theodore for Eudocia, and in the fashion that would be followed by many a later romance, they marry and retire to rural surroundings, safe from the evil influence of the court. She’s briefly enamoured of a man named Pierre Bayard while at court, but he has the good sense to tragically die in battle about four-fifths of the way through the story so that her reunion with Theodore is unencumbered. Anne, of course, has her early romance with Piercy, which comes to a very uncharacteristic end — much like Sarah Fielding’s Anne from a few decades earlier (and very unlike most other Annes) the final choice to end the relationship with Piercy is hers — not, as in the Fielding story, because she’s angry at Piercy refusing to fight for her, but because he was jealous of the king and apparently agreed with Wolsey that the best course was the let Anne self-immolate and have her come crawling back to him. From a twenty-first century perspective, it’s hard to see much that’s appealing about this particular version of him, but the late eighteenth century apparently saw it differently, as the wish of both Eudocia and Lord Sutton — and later, Anne herself — is that she had married Piercy after all. At least he appears to be genuinely grieving when he appears at her trial — Anne writes to Eudocia that he “often surveyed me, as I stood at the awful bar — and when my unrelenting uncle pronounced my sentence — a groan — a groan of agony burst from [his] forgiving — [his] yet sympathizing heart.”

THE QUEEN’S BEES One of Eudocia’s fellow attendants upon Margaret is named Ellinor, but other than her, Anne herself, the “tale-bearer” who breaks the news of Piercy’s and Wolsey’s conversation, and a brief appearance by Jane Seymour at the end, we don’t really see too many of them — nor do the ones we do see do all that much.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR Eudocia to Louise of Savoy, Queen Mary Tudor, and Queen Claude, Anne to Archduchess Margaret (before the story begins), Queen Mary Tudor and — for a while — Catherine of Aragon. Unlike the real Anne, she has to return to England with Mary and does not remain to attend upon Claude.

THE PROPHECY There’s lots of general doom-saying about the perils of materialistic courts and marrying for position and not love, but nothing that quite rises to the level of a prophecy, except possibly Eudocia’s reaction upon hearing news of the wedding. “Averted from thy head — oh Anna! — my friend — be all ill consequences from this unseemly union.”

IT’S A GIRL! While we don’t see his reaction directly, there’s no suggestion that Henry was unhappy with another daughter — in fact, we’re told that he was very fond of Elizabeth and her birth was celebrated with “unusual ceremonies and honours.” His wish for a male heir goes unremarked.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Not mentioned.

FAMILY AFFAIRS We see Anne’s father towards to beginning, but he doesn’t leave much of an impression other than being generally amiable even if he has, regrettably, made his living in court. Anne mentions her brother to Eudocia at one point while they’re still in France — “gallant is the youth, and much esteemed by our English dames he is, it is true, fiery, petulant, and somewhat gay, but then is he candid, generous and sincere.” She hints that Eudocia might marry him so she might be “indeed my sister.” In her final letter she regrets the fate that the incest accusation will bring him to, but neither Mary Boleyn nor Jane Boleyn are mentioned. Anne’s success in marrying the king after vowing revenge on Piercy and Wolsey is attributed partially to “Her uncle Norfolk, her kinsman the Earl of Ormond, and others, blinded by ambition, encourag[ing] the unthinking Anna to pursue the road to royalty, which opened plainly to her view.” This, at least, is what her cousin Lord Sutton says. However, it’s not very convincing — the scene in which Anne vows revenge on both Wolsey and Piercy and to become Queen herself leaves a strong impression that she both would not want and would not need a whole lot of help from the male contingent of her family. Curiously, neither her father nor her brother are mentioned as having encouraged her — unless the Earl of Ormond is meant to be Thomas Boleyn, who did attempt to claim that title, though it would be curious for the author to describe him with that title when he appeared in the book earlier.

The first and only mention of her brother comes in Anne’s last letter: “Great God! Why was I reserved to this? — Rochford — murdered Rochford — my Brother — oh! my Brother — I saw him, Eudocia — he passed me as I paced the gallery — He passed me as he was led to suffer — What a scene! — Even our stern keepers wept, and breasts unused to pity received the soft emotion.”

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No, though her “light” behavior made it easier to twist light flirtation into something much worse. “Malice itself could produce no proof of her dishonour.”

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE For someone touting the virtues of a simple existence, the author spends an awful lot of time describing elaborate clothes and palaces, though they’re sometimes explicitly intended to repulse, — as when the perfume in Louise of Savoy’s rooms is described “sickening the sense with Asiatic delicacy.” Still, the author can’t keep the disapproval going all the time, as when get our first look at Anne Boleyn, ominously fashionable clothing and all:

[Her] lovely face was ornamented by her luxuriant hair, dressed in the current fashion, and confined by a hat covered with waving plumes — her slender waist, and fair proportioned arms, were set off by a covering of black silk, buttoned with rich gems, the sparkling lustre of which was obscured by the beaming of her eyes, whose first glance conveyed conviction of superior sense and talents in their owner.

Eudocia’s charms, by way of contrast, spring from her “bosom white as unsullied ermine”, graceful limbs, and “long dark-brown tresses falling in ringlets below her waist … and the animation of her black expressive eyes indicated a soul worthy of its casket.” The only thing said about her clothing is that she wears a robe made of lawn — about as simple as it’s possible to get. In short, Eudocia is an unspoiled, entirely natural beauty, while “Anne Boleyne was a master-piece of nature, but the world had discovered Nature was not a sufficient modeller, and that to please or charm, art must lend her aid, correct the gesture, polish the dullest spots, inform the mind, and draw out all its powers. For these advantages, the beauteous Anna was brought to France by her fond father; his intent was answered, and she was confessed the most accomplished as well as lovely, ladies of her age.”

Nonetheless, the author takes a fair amount of pleasure in describing both women, and also enjoys long and moderately elaborate explorations of the elaborate homes in which various characters live. He or she also luxuriates in explaining various royal conflicts and the machinations of the King of France. In short, as much as we’re told that Suzy is the be-all and end-all of a truly virtuous existence, we barely see the place and it doesn’t get a tenth of the attention of French royal apartments or the Field of Cloth of Gold.

ERRATA A rare appearance of the “Real Woman Weds Fictional Man” tag when Bona of Savoy marries one Count St. Paul, not the Italian nobleman she eventually married (though perhaps the fictional count would have been better, her real husband appears to have been something of a handful, to put it mildly). And the timeline is a classic early-novel spaghetti timeline; the events of Anne’s life are rearranged, compressed, and drawn out so that Cardinal Wolsey is still alive and in power just before her coronation, and her courtship with the king technically lasts a good eleven years — quite the extension for a romance that wasn’t exactly brief in real life. The Duke of Suffolk receives a massive upgrade to a romantic, pining young hero whose sole love is Henry’s sister, instead of being , well, what he actually was.

WORTH A READ? As a historical artifact it certainly holds interest as a very early maid’s narrative, wherein Anne Boleyn’s story serves as the oak tree around which the maid’s fictional and much duller romance grows. Eudocia is not, it must be said, much of a heroine — she’s too perfectly good, rather like the later Mildred Wyatt in Anne Boleyn: An Historical Romance (1842). It’s patently obvious to the reader that no matter how long they’re separated, she and Theodore will eventually marry, and she’s subject to no serious temptations beyond getting pretty clothes and a ten-second flirtation with another man who later conveniently dies in battle. Even legendary satyr Francois I decides to restrain himself just because she’s that good. “His noble heart retreated with horror from the idea of seduction, and a crime so black. `No, no, my fair modest lily of the vale,’ he said, `Francis will never again seek to sully thy whiteness. I will protect thy soft delicacy, till I find one deserving of possessing thee.”

Anne herself, however, is in a very interesting transitional stage. She’s not yet the Protestant martyr of the nineteenth century, and has more than a few things in common with the lively, sharp-edged Anne Boleyn of Henry and Sarah Fielding’s portrayal several decades earlier — most especially in her rejection of Piercy because he displeases her, not, as in the usual way, because they were forced apart. However, in the Fieldings’ portrayal, Anne’s troubles arose from within the hearts of herself and the people around her. It made no difference whether she was in rural Kent or the middle of London; mistakes and follies (her own and other people’s) affected her just as sharply in the middle of bucolic bliss as in a palace. The emphasis Historic Tales places on the importance of location is, for the time period, quite new. The author’s footnoted reference to M. Voltaire’s writings suggests that he or she was up on the more modern French authors and thinkers; I would be very surprised indeed if the author was not familiar with Rousseau’s proclamation that “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state” and that Eudocia’s virtuousness springing from her humble rustic upbringing is intended as a demonstration of that.

Of course, Eudocia’s background differs from Anne’s in a key particular; Anne always knew she was well-born, whereas Eudocia only learned that fact after she was grown up. But Anne’s cousin’s wish that Anne could be known as the wife of Harry Piercy (who himself lived in somewhat rough surroundings) seems to show that being born conscious of status would not in itself be fatal once one removed to the country. After all, Eudocia ends up uncorrupted by her new wealth and status, and there’s no suggestion that she gives up any of it once she returns to Suzy. She is the spiritual ancestress of many, many imaginary friends and maids of Anne (not to mention real women cast in those roles, notably Mary Boleyn and Margaret Wyatt) who learn by her downfall that the court is a glittering den of vice which makes it inherently impossible to be virtuous or happy. But while the character of Eudocia looks ahead to the nineteenth century, the sharp-edged, enjoyable Anne remains rooted in the eighteenth. It would be hard to find a better example of the shift that was shortly to take place in the literary afterlife of Anne Boleyn.

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