Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Lady in the Tower

With the release of 'The Tudors' Showtime has reignited a long held fascination with one of Britain's most significant monarchs Henry the Eighth. While the show is not intended to be a historical reenactment by any means, it nevertheless attracts viewers who enjoy high drama in any time period, others who may have a passive interest in history but love nicely put together TV mini-series or even the actual history buff who simply loves historical reenactments and are willing to forgive it's transgresses into the less-than-historical. (For my part, the show is a combination- but the sexual tension- and sex scenes- of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn was by far the best part of the show).

Capitalizing on this renewed interest, Alison Weir puts a more intense spotlight on one of the women in Henry the Eighth's life who held perhaps the most controversial role of any woman in Britain's history. That woman is, of course, Anne Boleyn.

Coming to the topic with a great deal of study and expertise (she's written two other books on the Tudor era), the author comes to her subject as no plebe. Her sources are often primary- at least as primary as one can get on a woman who was highly politicized and motivation is generally suspect- and where secondary sources are used, they are generally scholarly studies of the period. At times her scholarship takes leave and allows a chuckle, for example her query into whether one woman who had suffered under the same malaise as Anne Boleyn had been beheaded because she actually was a witch! Otherwise her seriousness and attendance to detail befit the academic world she appears to be addressing. And sometimes addressing directly (and with the same dryness, I might add). Midway (in the book, not the island) she hits her stride and the reader is compelled by the final days of the queen and the five men who met their death alongside her to continue turning pages.

Having, perhaps, nothing new (what is there really "new" to say about a woman who has been dead over 400 years?) to say concerning the life and times of the second wife of the Eighth Henry in general, she telescopes the final days of Miladies life between the accusations of adultery and treason mid April to the detaching of head from neck May the nineteenth. A busy and tumultuous time for the Queen one doesn't doubt, yet the inconclusivity in any direction makes one wonder why she spotlights this particular period in the queen's life when there are other questions that remain unanswered. For example, in discussing the motivations and intrigues of the accusations and eventual demise of the woman, her relationship to her husband is frequently referred to, yet never described with enough detail to be convincing. The same would be true of her relationship to Cromwell. To analyze this small passage of the lady's life means neglecting history which leads directly to motive which leaves the reader feeling as though they have walked into a film in the final moments of it's conclusion. If the author's sole intent was to assume a scholarly argument for the academic world alone, then she has succeeded splendidly. But if she is writing for the laypersons edification, then she has left readers with a sketchy sketching at best.


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