New Read: The Early Life of Anne Boleyn


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?


7 thoughts on “New Read: The Early Life of Anne Boleyn

  1. It’s a shame this wasn’t what you were expecting. It does sound too academic for the general reader. I don’t think I’ve read any non-fiction about Anne, although I’ve read quite a few fiction books where she appears as a character. She is depicted as the older sister in The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, but I think most historians agree that she was the younger one.

    1. Helen, it does seem a history of Anne Boleyn is proving elusive for most readers which is a shame. Sadly I haven’t read The Other Boleyn Girl, or in fact anything by Philippa Gregory, but I have watched the film 🙂 Also I have just had a large haul from The Works of all of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series so I shall soon remedy the fact I have never read anything by her as well.

  2. Pity it was a bit dry and academic. I’ve always been fascinated by Anne, but now you mention it I’ve never come across a bio of her specifically – she’s always just appeared in various histories of the period. I did read a semi-fictionalised account when I was very young of her and Catherine Howard’s marriages to Henry, which I really enjoyed, but I’m struggling to remember who it was by – either Jean Plaidy or Antonia Fraser, I think. If it comes back to me, I’ll let you know…

      1. Yeah FF, I have only read about Anne within histories of the period – it would be great to find one just about her. Thank you for the recommendation 🙂 I haven’t read anything by Jean Plaidy but she is an author I am always seeing about and have wondered about.

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