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She gets her head cut off.
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This is actually the second biography of Anne Boleyn that I’ve read. The first was the much more acclaimed, and much longer, Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives. I’ve got to say that Ives’ biography is one of the most well-researched and most boring books that I’ve ever read. It’s like reading a detailed list of every napkin Anne Boleyn ever owned. Very informative. Very dry.
I would definitely recommend Denny’s biography over Ives’. The treatment of her life is very similar, but the books diverge wildly on the more controversial subject of her death. Clearly, she was executed as part of a conspiracy by Henry VIII who had been very busy studying the Gospel According to St. Bastard. The most popular version of this conspiracy is that she was cast aside in favor of Jane Seymour when she failed to produce a male heir. There is some merit to this, it is indeed why Henry abandoned Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne in the first place, but he had truly been in love with Anne and pursued her for seven years before they were married. She had only been Queen for three years, there’s no earthly way his love for Jane Seymour could have been so consuming as to eclipse her entirely. Of course, he was insane, which helps.
Denny provides a much more convincing backstory. Yes, Anne was cast aside for Jane Seymour, and yes, Henry was on board with this because Anne had failed to produce a son, but this was a cover for larger political issues. Anne was single handedly bringing the Protestant Reformation to England, previously a Catholic nation. The issues of succession as they stood, unless Anne produced a son, pitted Catherine’s Catholic daughter Mary against Anne’s Lutheran daughter Elizabeth, threatening to evoke a civil war unless Elizabeth and Mary could both be cast aside in favor of a male heir. At the same time, the Holy Roman Empire (as one might guess, Catholic, by the name) threatened war on England if they didn’t abandon Protestantism – which would never, have ever happened under Anne’s rule.
Henry needed a way to get rid of Anne or face war with the Holy Roman Empire for sure and a possible future civil war as well. Experience with Catherine proved that divorce wasn’t worth the political capital and time that it cost. Being the king, and a merciless bastard, he chose execution instead.
Ironically, the charges he trumped up were adultery and tampering with the line of succession. And yet, on the eve of Anne’s execution, he forced her to sign a document annulling their marriage on the grounds that she had been previously engaged (though the relationship had never been consummated) to Henry Percy. If the marriage was never valid, she could never have committed adultery. And yet, she was executed anyway.
Yep. That Henry VIII. Batshit insane.
Anyhow, this is a good biography for anyone who enjoys a good beheaded woman as much as I do, though the best biography in that genre that I’ve read is definitely Stefan Zweig’s biography of Marie Antoinette. So what that it was written in German sometime last century? Marie Antoinette was executed in French in 177somethingorother. That book is awesome, definitely one of the most engaging biographies I’ve read.
Of course, if you just like Anne Boleyn as a heroine/tragic historic figure and want to read some historically questionable smut, The Other Boleyn Girl is actually pretty good. Historical fiction is way more fun than biographies, mostly because the authors can make shit up to make the plot flow. History itself has lots of gaps and nasty little inconsistencies. Historical fiction, on the other hand, can just go ahead and say “To hell with the truth! Let them eat cake!” See, what I did there? I threw in a quote that is actually fiction, though it’s been presented many times as historical fact. Cunning, eh?
And yes, it is historical fact that Anne Boleyn paid her executioner to make it quick, though she did not actually have six fingers. Horny as he was, she wouldn’t have been able to seduce Henry VIII with any obvious deformities. The man did have some standards. Jury’s still out as to what they were, but they apparently included the standard number of digits.