Yuck, history. British history, at that! Before you completely dismiss me, though, hear me out. 1. The Tudors were fascinating. 2. Television producers these days only wish they could make this stuff up. 3. I can’t decide if I am sad or grateful that politics these days are not remotely this effed up. 4. Alison Weir is an awesome writer.
I normally assume that everyone else is as into British history as I am, but just in case you’re not, here’s the background. King Henry VIII of England had, as most people seem to know, six wives. The book I just read focused on the second wife, Anne Boleyn, who I figure is probably the most well-known of said wives, because she met a rather dramatic end: she was beheaded. Weir’s book is not a biography of Anne Boleyn, per se, as it deals with the events directly related and leading up to her demise. Anne Boleyn was convicted, along with five men of various rank, one of whom was her brother George, of treason and adultery (and incest). Modern-day scholarship seems to indicate that these charges were largely trumped up by Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry’s closest advisors, in order to remove Anne and her faction from power. There were lots of reasons for it: Anne and Cromwell were political enemies, Anne was unpopular, Henry was concerned about the succession (he didn’t have much luck with having sons), he wanted to get married again. Whatever the truth of the whole matter was, Anne was stripped of all her power and beheaded at the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. Anne’s ultimate triumph, incidentally, would be that her daughter, Elizabeth, survived political turmoil and persecution to become one of the greatest monarchs of England.
As I said, Alison Weir is a really good writer. I’ve previously read her biography of Elizabeth I (whom she obviously loves), and she manages to make history read like a solid novel. Admittedly, those crazy Tudors give her good material to work with, what with all their intrigues and affairs and what-not, but still. Making history fun to read seems like an impressive talent to me. The Lady in the Tower is definitely intriguing, if a little hard to follow at times. The contemporary documentation is fragmented, and it’s hard to keep all the names and titles of the British nobility straight. Still, if you’re into that sort of thing, you could do a lot worse than Weir. I think she does a good job of using the factual information available to her, not making too many assumptions about the motives or feelings of the people she’s writing about, and interpreting events through a broader understanding of the customs, etc. of the period. Ultimately, she makes a compelling argument for Anne’s innocence, based largely on the purported dates of the alleged encounters with her “lovers” and how they stack up against the other events in Anne’s life, and against the social structure of the day. There’s also a fun appendix at the end about legends and ghost stories associated with Anne. Enjoyable, if “serious,” reading.