Friday, May 26, 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir, an original retelling of a famous Tudor woman's life

Prominent royal biographer and historical novelist Weir is well-placed to craft this detailed fictional portrait of Henry VIII’s second wife.

Second in the Six Tudor Queens series, following Katherine of Aragon (2016), it begins with Anne Boleyn’s youth at the courts of the Netherlands and France, where she receives an education, learns to value independent thought, and views men’s perfidy firsthand. Also transforming her character are her ongoing rivalries with her sister, Mary, and Cardinal Wolsey, who she blames for her greatest romantic disappointment.

Naturally, considerable space is devoted to the king’s “Great Matter,” the political and religious entanglements that ensued as Henry sought to divorce Katherine and wed Anne. Weir isn’t blindly sympathetic toward Anne and doesn’t excuse Anne’s malice towards Katherine and her daughter, Mary. Instead, she explores Anne’s influences and motivations, creating a multifaceted portrait of an ambitious woman who reluctantly accedes to Henry’s courtship and later acts out of desperation to protect herself and her daughter, Elizabeth.

Even readers who know Anne’s story well should gain insights from this revealing novel.

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession was published this month by Ballantine (US) and Headline Review (UK). I wrote this review for Booklist's historical fiction issue (4/15).

Some additional notes:

- Yes, it's true that Tudormania peaked a few years ago, and numerous novels about the period (and Henry VIII's wives in particular) have been written. Anything new, therefore, needs to offer something original to readers. Fortunately, this one does. I appreciated the attention given to Anne's early years on the Continent, nourishing her intellect at the courts of the Netherlands and France, as well as her thwarted romance with Henry Percy.

- At 550pp long, this has to be the most substantial novel about Anne Boleyn that I've read, and I've read many (nonetheless, it moves along quickly).

- Interested in following along with the Six Tudor Queens series? On her website, Alison Weir has some info and a trailer for the upcoming third book in the series, about Jane Seymour.


  1. The thing is, Anne Boleyn had a brain. I don't think Henry liked a woman who argued with him, especially not about religion. And Katherine had a brain too. After all the trouble he went to, winning her hit him ANOTHER intellectual. You have to wonder how he ended up with a total of three smart women out of six...
    What an enchanting garden! Who would have thought all that magic lay beyond the dull gate? It reminds me of a youth hostel in New Zealand where I stayed some years ago. The building was dull from the outside and set in a huge concrete car park. "Are you sure you want to stay here?" asked the tour guide who was dropping off my mother and me. It was a one night stay and we had booked. Yes, I was sure. So we entered... and found magic! The inside was much prettier than the outside and at the back was a gorgeous garden, with seating space. Don't judge a book by its cover, eh? ;-)

    On Some Visual(King)Arthurs

    1. Henry was well-educated, and may have been proud of his ability to win an intelligent woman - but there were limits.

      Not sure what garden you're referring to, but I'm curious to see what it looks like!

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM

    I see that Alison Weir also has a new biography - first in a series? - on "Queens of the Conquest". There seems to be renewed interest in this period (Vikings, the Magna Carta later?)

    1. Yes - it's supposed to be a quartet of biographies about queens of the medieval period. Maybe she'll later write some novels about the era, too? I have seen a number of recent novels about the period, like those by Joanna Courtney, Carol McGrath, and Patricia Bracewell.