On her web site, Susan Bordo says that her goal in writing The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen was to delve into the question of why Anne Boleyn and her story continue to fascinate new generations. What was so special about her that Henry VIII risked everything to have her? Continue reading
Historical accuracy in the media means a lot to me; I’ve been a history nut for as long as I can remember. I love historical fiction, and as my profile says, I love visiting places where the history is palpable around me. Hever Castle in Kent, England, is just such a place.
I’ve been watching The Tudors series on Netflix this summer, and its treatment of Anne Boleyn during the first season was less than historically accurate. Natalie Dormer was enchanting and heart-breaking in the tragic role of Anne Boleyn; in this article she discusses creating her character for The Tudors. As Natalie worked with the writers, her second-season Anne became more dimensional and more accurate. I have always been fascinated with Anne Boleyn and have eagerly awaited my opportunities to walk in her shoes (and I did walk in the ones that went to the Tower, if I may be a little irreverent about a very sad story). When we planned our trip to southeast England, one of my first goals was to visit Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home. Of course, we have to put that in the terms that a girl born c1501 would understand; she was shipped off in 1513 to learn how to be a courtier in the Netherlands, France, and eventually back in England. Her “childhood” was over at about age twelve and she became a skilled member of court, rarely returning to Hever. If you don’t know what happened to Anne Boleyn and her family, I suggest that you start by reading one of the many excellent historical fiction novels. My current favorites are by Hilary Mantel.
When you enter Hever Castle’s park, you are greeted by a beautifully manicured topiary garden. Your first view of the castle is of its 13th Century gatehouse and walled bailey. According to Hever Castle’s web site, “In the early 1500s the Bullen [Boleyn] family bought the castle and added a Tudor dwelling within the walls and so it became the childhood home of its most famous inhabitant, Anne Boleyn. It later passed into the ownership of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. From 1557 onwards the Castle was owned by a number of families including the Waldegraves, the Humfreys and the Meade Waldos. Finally, in 1903, William Waldorf Astor invested time, money and imagination in restoring the Castle, building the ‘Tudor Village’ and creating the gardens and lake.” That brings us to today’s Hever Castle and our visit there in 2011. At the end of the topiary garden, you are welcomed across the drawbridge by interpreters. Dressed in period costumes, they help bring you back to the early 1500s. Once you enter the courtyard, you can see the Tudor wattle and daub structure that was built inside the stone bailey. As it is with most old homes, they wouldn’t let me take interior photos, but much of the house is as it was restored by William Waldorf Astor. It is a comfortable and elegant early 20th century English manor home — except that it was the home of one of the richest men in the world. Every detail, every piece of paneling, every fireplace, and every window speaks of the people who previously inhabited this home and of Astor’s dream of bringing Hever back to life. I spent an hour in the museum area talking to the guide about Anne Boleyn’s artifacts, including the prayer book that she took to the Tower with her, which have been purchased at auction and are kept at Hever. I walked up the small spiral staircase that led to Anne’s childhood room; I truly walked in her footsteps. Astor used Hever Castle as a place to entertain friends and business contacts; he added on exact Tudor-style extensions to the original castle which are now used as a conference center and a bed and breakfast. Although we didn’t end up staying on the property, I would recommend it to any die-hard Tudor history buff. In addition to the new accommodation wings, Astor also built a large Italian-style garden in which to show off his collection of statuary. It was raining by the time we got to the garden, but it was well worth the inconvenience of walking around in the rain.
I’ve always thought that Anne has been misjudged and reviled because her story was engineered, written, and then told by men. It wasn’t HERstory, it was HIStory. Anne Boleyn’s life is a warning to guard the rights as modern women that many women before us have struggled to achieve. Recent events here in the United States show us that 500 years later, women can still be made second-class citizens by the swift stroke of a vote.
Anne’s role as a religious reformer also cannot be ignored. She and Henry had different goals when they broke away from the Catholic church. While the story of the birth of the Church of England is one that can be read in countless books, we were privileged to be at the Globe Theater for a rehearsal of Anne Boleyn, a play about Anne’s role in the Reformation.
Hever Castle is an easy drive in the countryside outside of London and I highly recommend visiting. As with most English castles turned tourist attractions, there is an informal restaurant and other things to do beyond soaking up the history; there is even a jousting tournament in the summer!
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Wolf Hall came heavily recommended — it won the Man Booker Prize, and all that.
Hilary Mantel’s 672 page first installment of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy met every expectation. Once I sat down to finish it, I could barely put it down. I spent most of a full day devouring the last 400 pages. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one.
Does the name Thomas Cromwell ring a bell?
Not Oliver Cromwell, who was a distant relation and was also important to English history. Thomas Cromwell rose from impoverished beginnings to a post working for Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief minister. When Wolsey was unable to secure a dispensation from the Pope so that Henry could divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell deftly insinuated himself into Anne’s favor and became Henry VIII’s favorite minister. This resulted in a rapid rise to power and riches, which lasted until his execution in 1540 over the poor choice of Anne of Cleves for Henry’s fourth wife.
Wolf Hall tells the story of Cromwell’s rise to power along with Anne Boleyn and her family. It’s a triumphant book, in which we can’t help but cheer for the success of Thomas Cromwell and his family. Hilary Mantel has created a new paradigm for Cromwell in this lovingly crafted piece of historical fiction.
We already know the story, but what makes Wolf Hall exceptional is its attention to detail.
The book is full of characters, and if you aren’t already familiar with Henry VIII’s court, you will be by the time you’re done — be prepared to read with your Wikipedia open :).
For example, Mantel vividly describes Thomas Cromwell’s relationship with Hans Holbein, who painted at Henry’s court. This painting shows the turquoise ring that Mantel tells us was given to Cromwell from Wolsey — it’s the little things about this book that give us a human picture of a statesman who was also a man.
In this interesting article from The Telegraph, Hilary Mantel talks about how she decided to write a trilogy about this time period.
I was kind of surprised how the book ended and since I already knew there was a sequel, I felt that the book came to a sudden stop.
When she completed Wolf Hall, she realized she had too much material to just put it into her planned two books. Between Wolf Hall and The Mirror and the Light, which will be about Cromwell’s final downfall, Mantel added Bring Up the Bodies, which covers the year prior to Anne Boleyn’s execution.
“When I came to write about the destruction of Anne Boleyn (a destruction which took place, essentially, over a period of three weeks) the process of writing and the writing itself took on an alarming intensity, and by the time Anne was dead I felt I had passed through a moral ordeal,” the author told the newspaper.
“I can only guess that the effect on the reader will be the same; the events are so brutal that you don’t want to take a breath and turn the page, you want to close the book.”
The beauty of Wolf Hall — and why we as readers care about the essentially despicable Thomas Cromwell — is Mantel’s genius at drawing us into Cromwell’s mind. Her plot structure allows us to trust Cromwell’s plan and we believe that he will be successful.
It’s all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.
I can’t wait to read the next installment; I’ve already got it on hold at the library! I hope I don’t have to wait six months.
A friend faithfully reads The New York Times and brings me clippings with tidbits he thinks I might like.
When he read Charles McGrath’s review of Hilary Mantel’s new book about Anne Boleyn, he knew I’d be hooked. I’ve put both books on my queue at the library.
I just finished Carolly Erickson’s The Favored Queen which visualizes Anne Boleyn’s fall through the eyes of her maid of honor, Jane Seymour, who eventually replaced her as Henry VIII’s wife. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the book, but it was an interesting perspective — and not a flattering look at the doomed Anne. As far as Erickson’s work on the Tudors, I think I’m done with her.
Since I’m retiring in eight days, I also will have time to watch more movies. In looking for a photo of Anne, I came upon pictures of Genevieve Bujold as Anne in Anne of a Thousand Days.That’s a movie I want to find, as well as watching all the seasons of The Tudors again.
That puts a thought in my head… how many movies are there in the Henry VIII canon? Do you have a suggestion for me? Or books — there’s bound to be one I haven’t read yet. Feed me, Seymour, with Tudor trash!
Every now and again I go through a period of intense need to create, and blog posts just flow out of me. Of course, the converse is sometimes true and I can’t work up the desire to even log on to Got My Reservations. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to write a book right now!
I do have a book in my head, though, and it’s based around one of my favorite historical characters, Anne Boleyn.
After visiting her childhood home this summer, I got an idea for a DaVinci Code style mystery. Maybe when I retire…
Anyway, the last month has been a dry spell, but at least I have a reason. It’s been one of those hanging-by-my-fingernails starts to the school year. We have a new curriculum and most of its resources must be accessed online. I spend hours looking through menus trying to find the book I need and then have to page through PDF files because the page in the index isn’t exactly the same page as it is in the PDF list. Don’t you think that the publisher would understand and try to fix at least that little annoyance? And there are so many others, but that’s not why I’m writing at 6:46 am this morning.
While reading the painful account of my niece’s road to foreclosure, my heart was breaking. In the spirit of sharing her joys and tribulations to help others as she does, I have linked her story up here. Perhaps there is someone in your life who needs some support from a friend.
Are you a comment reader? Sometimes the comments are as fascinating as the blogger’s stories, so this week I skimmed down Jessie’s comment list. At the bottom, I found the blog where she links up her Saturday Linky Love and decided to check it out. I want to reach out there in cyberspace and hug Staci from Simply Staci for saying what I haven’t had time to write this year, much less say to the parents of my students. If husband wasn’t still sleeping, I would have laughed out loud at Staci’s comment about middle school dances.
I hope that your life isn’t in a dry spell and that you are enjoying your weekend. I’m determined to get those 50 baseline proficiency essays graded so that I can re-emerge into cyberspace sometime soon, not to mention have a weekend life. See you soon!
Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love England and usually hoover up books about the Tudor era.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for a regular book review site, I encourage you to check out misfitandmom at At Home with a Good Book and a Cat.