Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Quest for Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

The true personality of Anne Boleyn was lost the moment the sword struck off her head.  After her death only the bravest, or most fool hardy spoke out in her defence. She was the subject of poems, histories, scandals, and it wasn’t until her daughter Elizabeth’s reign, twenty-two years after her execution, that it was safe to speak well of her again.
Recorded feelings among her contemporaries are mixed, John Hussey, a former supporter of Anne wrote, “...that which hath been done and committed by Anne the Queen...which is so abominable and detestable that I am ashamed that any good woman should give ear thereto.”

Sander, a Catholic priest and not an admirer of Anne, writing long after her death, published a scathing attack, describing her with witch-like features, and the child she lost in 1536 to be a “shapeless mass.”

At the time of her arrest Archbishop Cranmer wrote to the king of his shock and horror. As a friend
Thomas Cranmer
and supporter of the queen, he was clearly on edge and aware that should she fall, her supporters could be suspect too. It is interesting that he qualifies his condemnation of her with the little word, “if.”
If the reports of the Queen be true, they are only to her dishonor, not yours. I am clean amazed, for I had never better opinion of woman; but I think your Highness would not have gone so far if she had not been culpable. I was most bound to her of all creatures living, and therefore beg that I may, with your Grace’s favor, wish and pray that she may declare herself innocent. Yet if she be found guilty, I repute him not a faithful subject who would not wish her punished without mercy. And as I loved her not a little for the love which I judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel, so if she be proved culpable there is not one that loveth God and His Gospel that ever will favor her, but must hate her above all other”

Thomas Wyatt

A few were more outspoken in their support. Her long-time friend, and (some say) one-time sweetheart, Thomas Wyatt, made his feelings quite plain. “These bloody days have broken my heart.”
And even her enemy, the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys, raised some doubt as to her guilt in his remark, "there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others..."

During Elizabeth’s reign, the poet John Foxe included Anne in his Book of Martyrs, declaring that Elizabeth’s long reign was God’s way of testifying to her mother’s innocence.

Later historians and, more recently, novelists have taken Anne’s name and molded her into something unrecognisable, in some cases bordering on the inhuman. By the late nineteenth century her guilt was a bone of contention. In 1884 Friedmann’s,  Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536 the author places the blame squarely with Cromwell, seeing her downfall as a political coup. And Agnes Strickland, with supreme elegance, states quite plainly that Anne, “never incurred the crimes for which she was brought to the block.” Strickland denounces Henry as a “despot” in pursuit of an heir.

Similarly, the twentieth century did not find a resolution to the question of Anne’s character and, like Strickland, the leading Tudor historian A. F. Pollard regards Anne as a victim of Henry’s quest for an heir, although, instead of Cromwell, he cites Chapuys as being behind the initial rumours against her. 
Henry VIII

In the 1970’s Anne becomes the heroine of feminists and Anne Chapman, while agreeing that her failure to produce a son was the main reason for her fall, puts the blame squarely on Cromwell’s shoulders. In Chapman’s hands Anne is not so much a maligned innocent as a heroine, a tragic martyr flying the flag for the cause of feminism.
“In these conditions of capricious hatred and undeviating ruthlessness, Anne Boleyn lived, triumphed – and perished.”

As we approach the 1990’s Anne character changes once again in a study by Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII, in which she states Anne’s fall was due to her having given birth to a monster, a fetus so deformed as to suggest witchcraft. Warnicke argues that during the period in question doctors believed birth defects to be the result of sexual misconduct. This may well be true but charges of sexual misconduct, incest in particular, had long been used against women who stepped far enough from their prescribed role s to become a nuisance to their male contemporaries.

Thomas Cromwell
In her book published in 1995, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, Karen Lindsey returns to the idea of Anne as a feminist icon, reconfirming that Anne’s failure to provide an heir caused her fall, but this time citing Cromwell as the main instigator of her arrest.

Today, the leading historian in Anne Boleyn studies is the late, great Eric Ives whose concise and in-depth research has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn provides a balanced opinion, citing not just Anne’s failure in childbirth  as the catalyst for her fall but extending her crimes to include meddling in politics and fervour for reform.

 Initially, the shared desire for reform brought Cromwell and Anne together but, where Cromwell wanted to bring down the church and enrich Henry’s coffers, Anne desired to restructure the existing church, iron out the rough edges, remove the wheat and throw away the chaff.

Ives also cites the Anglo-Imperial alliance, during which negotiations Henry and Chapuys fell out over Charles V's refusal to acknowledge Anne as queen. When Henry, quite typically, refused to back down Cromwell was unwilling to jeopardise his dealings with the Spanish ambassador and Ives says, “…Anne Boleyn had become a major threat to Thomas Cromwell…A hostile Anne threatened both his standing with the king and his key financial achievements…Despite the risk, despite all his past debts, Cromwell’s very survival no longer coincided with the survival of the queen. She must go.”

There are still those who persist in seeing Anne as she was originally personified and G. W. Bernard in his book Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions asserts that the accusations against Anne were all true and that, according to Tudor law, her death was deserved. Although he accepts that the accusations made against her, (mostly by clergy) could be the product of gossip, Bernard maintains that “Gossip is not necessarily false.”  The unfortunate death of Princess Diana in 1997 gave rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, none of which have any real basis in fact. Royals will always be the focus for gossip and rumour, and since Anne's prominence in church reform made her some powerful enemies, it seems only fair to regard the charges laid against her with some suspicion.

When it comes to fiction, Anne’s reputation has suffered even more, and she appears either as a too-good-to-be-true heroine of all the virtues, or a depraved, incestuous, power-hungry mother of monsters. I think I have shown that opinion has been divided since the moment of her arrest and, considering the historical material available to novelists (as discussed above) there is little surprise that historical ‘truth’ (whatever that is) has been lost along the way. Readers of novels should always be aware of the distinction between historical fact, and historical fiction.

In my forthcoming novel, The Kiss of the Concubine, I have tried to keep my feet more firmly on the ground and find a middle way. Of course, there is no hope of ever knowing the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn, or categorically defining the reasons behind her fall, but it seems we never tire of trying.
In writing The Kiss of the Concubine, I have juggled with all these sources, wrestled with the conflicting opinions and applied some commonsense but, in the end, Anne tells her own story. I haven’t tried to purify or excuse her, and neither is she demonised. The voice that speaks from the pages of my novel comes from the inner ‘Anne;’ the hidden ‘self’ that nobody can ever really know. As human beings we always rationalise our own actions and justify even our cruelest moments, and maybe her proud, power-seeking ways were like a suit of armour, covering perceived inadequacies and protecting a vulnerable, ordinary woman, who just happened to attract the attentions of a king. 
If you read my novel, please remember it is fiction.

The Kiss of the Concubine will be published very soon.
Watch a trailer of The Kiss of the Concubine here.

Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading and works consulted: 

A.F.Pollard, Henry VIII, (London: Longmans,1905)
Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest, vol. 2 (London: George Bell & Sons,1882)
Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Reading: Random House, 2009)
G.W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)
Greg Walker, “Rethinking the Fall of Anne Boleyn,” The Historical Journal 45, no.1 (March 2002)
Joanna Denny, Anne Boleyn (Chatham: Piatkus Books, 2007)
Karen Lindsey, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII (Reading,MA: AddisonWesley,1995)
Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History,15271536, vol.1 (London: MacMillan,1884)
Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII (New York: Cambridge UP, 1989)
Hester Chapman, The Challenge of Anne Boleyn (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1974)
Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Interview with Helen Spring Author

Today I am rejoined by the fabulous author Helen Spring who has been working Blood Relatives,  a sequel to her novel The Chain Makers.  I couldnt wait to invite her here to tell us all about it.

 It is lovely to have you back, Helen. Last time we met up we talked about your novel ‘Strands of Gold’, and you told me you were currently working on a sequel to another of your novels, The Chainmakers.  It must be a great feeling to have finished the book. It’s called Blood Relatives isn’t it?  Tell us all about it and why you wanted to write a sequel?

I had a great response to ‘The Chainmakers’, and the one thing people asked over and over again was  ‘What happened to them afterwards?’ All stories and characters have an end at the close of the book, but of course the people continue in our minds, and in the ficticious world they inhabit. In this case the family unit was interesting, because at the end of the novel we have a couple with one son, and one baby who is an orphan.

Yes, that’s right. And your main character in ‘Blood Relatives’ is in fact that small baby, but all grown up. How did you think up her story?

Well, I felt that her adoptive parents, Anna and Clancy, had endured quite enough in ‘The Chainmakers’, but here was this sweet child, with lovely parents but a very chequered biological background, who would have to live her own life her way. As is happened, by the time she was 20 years old WW2 was raging through Europe, and the Italian side of her family would be living in German occupied Rome, so the story was there for the writing, so to speak.

I quickly came to empathise with Victoria, and you have an interesting personality conflict between her and Giorgio, the Mafia boss, who is of course a distant relative. Why are you so interested in the Mafia?

I couldn’t escape it! Victoria and Giorgio shared a common great-uncle, who had been deported from the USA back to Italy. When he died he left Victoria a lovely Roman villa, it was entirely understandable that she would be thrilled and want to see it. Of course the Italian Mafia during the war was totally different to New York in the 1920’s. Circumstances and priorities have changed, but both Victoria and Giorgio bring their own prejudices to their relationship.

Was the research difficult for this part of the story?

Not so much difficult as almost overwhelming. There was a great deal of material, most of which was not relevant. In particular, I got very bogged down by the Ardeantine Cave Massacre, which is very well known in Italy but hardly known of here. In the end I had to ditch almost all except bits which were pertinent to the story I was trying to tell. The war kept getting in the way from beginning to end of this book, which was intended to be a love story.

Ah! It is a lovely love story. The lovely Guy is quite hunky isn’t he? What was the conflict between him and Victoria?

Getting them together was the problem! With all that was going on, they had very little time together so it was hard to build the romance. Of course, that was exactly what was happening all over the world at that time, separation and months without news of loved ones. I wanted to show that.

It’s interesting that they were from very different backgrounds. I liked that element of the story.

Yes, and also with very different experiences of the New York Mafia, who he would call ‘The Mob.’ His impoverished childhood has made him very self-reliant and what we would call today ‘street-wise.’ But he is very determined to make his own way, and has a happy attitude to life.             

And of course by the time Victoria managed to get back to New York, Guy was away fighting in Europe.

Yes, and the New York that Victoria returned to was also changed by the war. These were hard times for everyone, but I felt it was important that when Guy eventually comes home he is still full of fun and ready for anything.

I can’t wait to read it again, Helen. What are your writing plans now?

My next job is to put together a collection of short stories, which I also enjoy writing.
I could do with a bit of a rest and I am hoping this will be less demanding than another novel, but who knows? My characters have a way of writing themselves into interesting situations!

I shall secretly hope that they inflate into another wonderful novel. Thank you so much for joining us again. I am sure we will all rush to buy it as soon as it hits the shelves.

Thank you for having me. I look forward to speaking to you again.

Helen Springs books are available in paperback and on Kindle.

Click here to purchase if you are in UK
 Click here if you are in the US

Click here to purchase if you are in the UK
and here if you are in the US

Click here to purchase if you are in the UK
and here if you are in the US

Friday, 4 October 2013

Transistion, Tenuous Hopes, and Trauma.

I haven't been about much lately, you may have noticed, possibly not. 2013 has been an odd year for me so far. it began in its usual fashion, the familiar routine of combining writing and family living doesn't alter much. But now there have been some life altering decisions, and big changes may lay ahead.  

First of all, my grown up sons, 34 and 24, left home and for the first time my old fella and I are on our own. The house is quiet, the food bill has halved and the washing basket is sometimes empty. We sat back and looked at each other. 'Now what?'

But before we'd even grown used to the solitude or had time to exploit it, we had an offer on our house, and accepted it. The smallholding has been on the market for about two years now and I was beginning to think we'd never have any interest in it. Of course, in today's climate, things could still all go horribly wrong, but we can't think like that or the moving day might arrive and the removal van  turn up to find lofts still full of junk, and an awful lot of 'stuff' I don't really need still to pack.  

We have been here since 1996, and in that time, we have collected an awful lot of junk. My roots have gone deep, and wrenching them out and replanting them in a new home will be hard. That is why I am glad the prospective buyers seem to be as  much in love with the place as we are. This was very important for, had they not shown the right level of devotion to it, I might have turned their offer down.

The view from my present desk.
So, now we are packing, clearing out barns, and battling with solicitors, surveyors and removal companies, and it isn't much fun. I long for the day when it is finally over and we can sit down, relax properly, and begin to sleep at night again. The new house is not much smaller, but has considerably less land. It will be much easier to maintain and will be cheaper to run. There are a few things we need to do to make it home but, most of all I am looking forward to designing my new writing space. Hopefully, it will be as creatively fertile as this one has been. It will be a bigger room, with french doors leading onto the patio, the Preseli mountains in the far distance, the sea in the other direction. I can hardly wait to get started, although my present view is difficult to beat.

Book sales have been great this year, and I was very pleased to be part of the Castles, Customs, and Kings anthology put together by the English HIstorical Authors Blog. Several of my non-ficiton essays are included. It is a sizeable book, absolutely bursting with information from all eras of British history. Available as a paperback or a kindle. The reviews are excellent. You can look at it more closely by following this link.

As well as participating in the EHFA blog, getting the Cwrtnewydd Scribblers' anthology, Take Five, together, and marketing my other books, I've also managed to finish The Kiss of the Concubine on schedule.

The Kiss of the Concubine should be out on Kindle before I move, the paperback, if fate smiles kindly, will be available shortly afterward.

It is the story of Anne Boleyn and, in the words of one of my reviewers, 'The story of Anne Boleyn has been told many times, but never quite like this ...'

To whet your appetite for The Kiss of the Concubine, I've put together this trailer on You Tube. It is very short, if you can please take time to watch, and leave a comment.

Other books by Judith Arnopp include:

The Winchester Goose

The Forest Dwellers

The Song of Heledd

Dear Henry: Confessions of the Queens

A Tapestry of Time
For more information about my books please visit my webpage