New Read: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession

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.

32 thoughts on “New Read: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession

  1. Oh yes, Henry was really bad! I like how this series goes back to tell the whole life story of the Queens. I hope to get to it someday.

  2. I love this period of history – and quite right that Henry should come out looking bad. The thing is with Anne of course is that there’s very little that survived Henry’s rage or purge so it’s a period of history that I feel I’ll always wonder about. I love all these stories though.
    Lynn 😀

  3. Oh my, If you think that Anne’s ending was unfair and that Henry is quite the villain, wait until you read the one on Jane Seymour. Part of it briefly touches Anne’s final fate and I was shocked! Of course I don’t know how much history really is entwined in the story.

    I also liked this book a lot and I felt sympathetic towards Anne through all of it, in spite of never having really liked her. I think that Weir made an even better job portraying Anne than Katherine, partly because I felt that she was biased towards Katherine and it takes great skill to represent someone positevely or even just neutrally when you’re not siding with her, and partly because the records on Anne’s thoughts and ideas are much more scarce than those on Katherine’s (Weir already states that in her author’s note)

    1. Irene, I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this too. Interesting that you think Weir did a better job portraying Anne than Katherine. I would certainly agree that I think Weir did a great job of showing Anne in a balanced way, but I also liked her portrayal of Katherine. As for the ending, I have always thought Anne’s ending was tragic and unfair from the non-fiction I have read and the documentaries I have watched. I very much look forward to reading the next book on Jane Seymour, as I think she is probably one of the more overlooked of his wives.

      1. I have the book but haven’t got anywhere near reading it yet – still half way through the first one. I heard Alison Weir talk about the research she did for the book – as a trained historian I think we can rely on her interpretation. So if she emphasises the style etc more than beauty I believe thats what the attraction really was

  4. It does sound like a better-balanced account than either the Anne as heroine or Anne as villain images of her that have appeared in the past. I like Anne too, but she does seem to have been pretty horrible to anyone she saw as an enemy or a threat.

    1. Oh yes FF, she really does seemed to have been pretty horrible to her enemies or anyone she saw as a threat, but slightly understandable because she was in a very precarious and dangerous situation really!

  5. Philippa Gregory’s treatment of Anne Boleyn is less balanced, in my opinion, in The Other Boleyn Girl. She implied incest between Anne and her brother to produce the much desired male heir. Gregory also explains that the homosexuality charge against her brother and his circle of friends may have tainted Anne and precipitated her downfall. I have yet to read Alison Weir’s works. I have the first two novels in this series waiting on my Kindle. Now I only have to find the time… 🙂

    1. Carmen, I have not read The Other Boleyn Girl but I have seen the film and I agree from that I felt Gregory was quite biased against Anne. Although Anne’s brother George’s sexual promiscuity does come up in this book too, which is what leads his wife to inform on him. But there is no incest! I really hope you will find time for these books and that you enjoy them as much as I have. 😀

    1. Kelly, I have to admit I don’t think I have read any of Weir’s non-fiction, even though I think she is more well-known for that. However I have loved the novels I have read by her. 🙂

  6. I enjoyed this too, especially the earlier chapters as I was less familiar with Anne’s time in the Netherlands and France. I also found the portrayal of Anne quite balanced, showing both her good and bad qualities. The Jane Seymour book is great too – I’m sure you’ll like it! 🙂

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