Through out my life, I have had a fascination with the Tudors and as an adult I have been particularly interested in the figures of Elizabeth I and her mother Anne Boleyn. So when I saw Endeavour Press had reprinted J. H. Round’s The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay (originally published in 1886) I hit request immediately!
Like many people, I knew the infamous rise of Anne Boleyn in the Tudor court where she soon caught the eye of Henry VIII, who went on to break with the Holy Roman church to make her his new wife and queen. Unfortunately for Anne her fall from grace and death came just as fast as her rise! What interested me so much in this book was the chance to find out more about her childhood and early life; the time before the well known events. In his essay Round discusses and compares thoughts on: her possible dates of birth; whether she was the younger or older sister; her previous marriage interests and whether she was the Boleyn girl who went to the French court.
While I found this all very interesting, I was disappointed that this really is ‘a critical essay’ rather than a history of Anne Boleyn. Instead of laying the events and facts out to the reader as they happened, Round introduces other historians beliefs on these events and facts then argues for and against them using letters from the time and other historians discoveries. At first I found this all rather confusing especially as I have little to no previous knowledge of this period or the historians he was talking about. I’m afraid I had always took it as fact that Anne was the younger sister and that she was the daughter that was sent to the French court!
So in one respect I did learn a fair bit from this book but it was hard going at the beginning and in hindsight I really would have benefited from having more existing knowledge. I also think Round’s writing style really shows it’s age (to be fair it was written in the late 1800’s) and I found it very matter of fact, with no personal or emotional additions to bring the history alive. Plus there are copious amounts of footnotes – which if you’re a student or an avid history reader you may find very helpful and interesting – but for me, just an interested regular reader, it was all a bit too much. However most of these are more my problems than the author’s, who clearly wrote this for other scholars and educated amateurs of the time.
Overall, I found The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay to be an interesting and quick read. But it was not the book I was looking for and I would say I was not the intending audience either. Okay read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Can you recommend any histories of Anne Boleyn?