Back in March, I started reading Six Tudor Queens, an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel chronicles the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives. After being captivated by the opening volume, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, I didn’t wait long to pick up the next volume, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession.
In this unforgettable second volume, Weir takes us back to 1512 to start the ill-fated tale of Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second, bewitching wife. Who at just 11-years-old was sent by her opportunistic father, Thomas Boleyn, a minor but ambitious English lord, to serve at the royal court of the Netherlands. There, and later in the French court, Anne thrives: absorbing progressive ideas, learning the art of courtly love and adopting the French fashion. So when in 1522 Anne makes her debut at the English court, to serve upon Queen Katherine, wife of Henry VIII, she causes quite a stir and inadvertently catches the eye of the King; and when the King commands it is not a game!
I really sympathised with Anne as she finds her hopes of a love match with Henry Percy dashed and instead finds herself hounded by the King to become his mistress. She desperately spurns his advances – after seeing how he pursued and discarded her sister, Mary – but Henry will not take no for an answer. In fact her rejection only intensifies Henry’s pursuit, and finally with an aging Queen Katherine and no male heir, Henry proposes marriage. Though she feels no real affection for him, the opportunity to elevate the Boleyn family and to take revenge on her enemies, is too great for her to resist.
I have always admired Anne for standing strong and for her part in the religious reforms, including Bibles in English. However, in this novel, Weir also shows a side to Anne I didn’t like. As the years drag by waiting for Henry’s divorce to be finalised, she becomes bitter, spiteful and cruel – pushing Henry to ever harsher treatment of her kind, former mistress Katherine, their innocent child Mary and their supporters. Once married things do not improve either, as Anne finds herself under immense pressure after failing to produce the longed-for son and her feisty, independent attributes Henry formerly admired rail him in a wife.
Ultimately though, Weir had me on the verge of tears again as Anne bravely met her violent and, I feel, unjust end. In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but taken some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As in the previous book, Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale – and perhaps a more balanced portrayal of Anne. So through her eyes it really feels like you are there in the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, ambition, courtly love and danger; as well as gaining a glimpse of the enlightened Dutch court and the glamorous French court too.
Overall, I thought Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession was a powerful, gripping tale of an intelligent and ambitious woman, who was the victim of a restrictive and dangerous time. While Weir didn’t make me like Anne as much as Katherine, the one person who is really coming out of this series looking bad is Henry! I can’t wait to read volume three: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen next. Great 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? Or any of Alison Weir’s other novels?
This was also book 7/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.