Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

This is the second novel in Alison Weir’s new series telling the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII. I read the first book last year – on Katherine of Aragon – and enjoyed it; now, as you would expect, it’s the turn of the second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Like the first novel, this is a straightforward account of Anne’s life, beginning with her early years and taking us right through to her beheading in 1536. Whether you only have a basic knowledge of Anne’s story or whether you’ve read about her many times before, you can expect to learn at least something new from this book as it’s very long, very detailed and very thorough, leaving little out. As with the Katherine of Aragon book, I question whether it was really necessary to include such a lot of detail, but I did enjoy the book overall so won’t complain about that too much!

I found the opening chapters of the book particularly interesting because this section covered the part of Anne’s life with which I was least familiar – her time spent in the Netherlands at the court of Margaret of Austria, and in France serving first Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor, then Queen Claude, wife of the French king Francis I. Her experiences at these courts had an important influence on Anne’s life and character; she was able to observe the rule of these three very different women, she was exposed to new ideas and literature – including the works of women writers such as Christine de Pizan – and she began to develop her interest in religious reform.

Once Anne returns to England and catches the eye of Henry VIII, I felt I was on much more familiar ground. Perhaps for this reason I found the middle section of the novel tediously repetitive as Henry attempts to have his marriage to Katherine annulled, leaving him free to marry Anne. Of course, Alison Weir is only following historical fact here: the King’s Great Matter, as it became known, did go on for years and must have been very frustrating, to say the least, for Anne and for Henry – but it doesn’t make for exciting reading.

While this is very much Anne Boleyn’s own story, all of the other historical figures of the period are here, from statesmen such as Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell to Anne’s brother and sister, George and Mary. You may or not may be happy with the way these characters and others are depicted, depending on your own interpretation of events and on where your sympathies lie. When it comes to Anne, though, I think Weir has done a good job of making her feel convincingly human – not a heroine and not a villain, just a flawed and complex woman who loves the idea of being queen more than she loves the king himself.

As I’ve said, Alison Weir does stick closely to historical fact for most of the novel and I had no problems with the accuracy, although I accept that I am not an expert on Tudor history by any means – I read a lot of it, but not as much as some readers! She does take some liberties in imagining Anne’s feelings for Henry Norris – one of the men implicated in her trial – but with a lack of primary sources allowing us to access Anne’s own thoughts, how can we know how she really felt? There is also a scene in which Anne meets Leonardo da Vinci which I didn’t believe would be true, but in her notes at the end of the book Weir explains why she thinks it could have happened, while confirming that there is no real evidence for it.

The final chapters of the book describe Anne’s downfall and even though I knew what would happen to Anne, it was still sad to watch her story move towards its inevitable end. I found the closing scene slightly bizarre, but Alison Weir does talk about that in her author’s note! We also see the increasing prominence of Jane Seymour in the king’s life – Jane will be the subject of the third Tudor Queens book and I’m already looking forward to seeing how she will be portrayed.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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17 thoughts on “Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

  1. jessicabookworm says:

    I also have a copy of this to read and I look forward to reading more about Anne’s earlier life, especially after being a little disappointed with The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay by J. H. Round.

    • Helen says:

      I’m impressed that you have next year mapped out already! I can never plan that far ahead. Waiting until more books in this series are available could be a good idea. I’m particularly looking forward to reading the one on Anne of Cleves.

  2. whatmeread says:

    I’m not sure now what I’ve read by Weir. I would have thought this one, but apparently not. I have read several biographies by her and one fiction book. My feeling was that she was much better at nonfiction.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve only read one of her biographies so far and several of her novels, but I think I would agree that she’s better at writing nonfiction.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I have read The Other Boleyn Girl, although it was quite a few years ago. I prefer Alison Weir’s books to Philippa Gregory’s, even though they do tend to be huge!

  3. Margaret @ BooksPlease says:

    My reaction to this book is very much the same as yours. For me it’s far too long and repetitive, as you say particularly in the middle section. But it is fictional and I like to think that Anne and Leonardo da Vinci did meet. At that point in the book I just had to skip to the end and read her Author’s Note to see if it was true.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, definitely too long! I’m sure the middle section could have been condensed into fewer pages to help the story flow better. I like the idea of Anne and Leonardo da Vinci meeting too. 🙂

  4. Jo says:

    I have not read any Alison Weir for ages. Having seen her talk a couple of times, i know she does inform people that of course when writing her fiction, she can only guess what thoughts, emotions and feelings were going through her main protagonists mind.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, she points that out in her author’s note at the end of the book too. I suppose that’s one of the big differences she must find between writing fiction and non-fiction.

  5. Pam Thomas says:

    Is it just me, or is anyone else all Tudored out? My first thought on reading the review was, ‘oh, no, not ANOTHER book about Anne Boleyn’, and I avoid them like the plague. Other periods and subjects in British history are not only available, but often more interesting, and above all not already done to death.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t mind reading Tudor novels occasionally, but I suspect I probably haven’t read as many of them as you have. This is actually the first one I’ve read on Anne Boleyn for quite a while. I do agree, though, that there are plenty of other periods of history which are more interesting and less widely covered in fiction.

  6. Judy Krueger says:

    This does sound like a good series. I will have to check out what biographies Weir has written, since a couple people say her bios are better than her fiction. Speaking of biographies, I am on the first of four volumes of the Robert Caro bio of Lyndon B Johnson. Reading American presidential biographies also takes a reader through many of the same scenes and characters many times. I find it a good way to learn history.

    • Helen says:

      The only one of her biographies that I’ve read was on Elizabeth of York and I did enjoy it, although there was too much speculation for my liking. I would read more of them and I do think her writing style is better suited to non-fiction than fiction. There are a lot of American presidents I know very little about – I hope you’re enjoying the Lyndon B Johnson book.

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