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Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy License: A Book Review

Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire
Author: Amy License
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 624
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?

     Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?

     With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.

     My Review: Anne Boleyn is one of Henry VIII’s most famous queens. We think that we know her story. However, many historians are still debating who Anne was. They debate over Anne’s religious views and what may have brought her downfall. In this new biography of Anne Boleyn, Amy License chronicles Anne’s humble beginnings to her rise as Queen of England to her dramatic fall. She shows Anne as a woman with Protestant ideals.

     Anne Boleyn was never meant to be a queen. Anne was raised to serve queens and not be one. She was supposed to marry a nobleman and bear him many children. Anne served in both Margaret of Austria and Queen Claude of France’s households. Both of these European courts fostered Renaissance learning. They would hold debates on their views of religion. This was what prompted Anne to have Protestant leanings. She wanted to reform the Catholic Church, as Ms. License stated her approach towards the Protestant Reformation was a moderate one.

     Ms. License showed that Anne Boleyn was the one pursued by Henry. She claimed that Anne refused until she found that there was no choice. Once she accepted, she was committed to her relationship with him. Anne was ambitious to become a queen. She suggested that this was not because of her ambition or her love for Henry. Rather, like Catherine of Aragon who refused the annulment of her marriage to save Henry’s soul, Anne too thought that becoming queen of England was her calling. She saw herself as Henry’s savior. She wanted to save England by making them Protestant.

     Unlike many historians who saw Anne’s downfall as a result of a political coup, Ms, License believed that it was Henry who killed Anne simply because he was tired of her. She claimed that Cromwell was Henry’s servant. This was convincing because before Anne’s trial, Henry hired an executioner from France to behead Anne. What I did not find convincing was that Ms. License suggested that Anne died a Protestant. Ms. License completely overlooked the evidence analyzed by many historians such as Weir, Bernard, and Ives that Anne had died a Catholic. This is because Anne took the last sacrament and she asked Mr. Kingston if her good deed would get her into heaven. Ms. License did not even mention these facts probably because they contradicted her belief of Anne being a Lutheran. I have to agree with most historians that while Anne did have some Protestant leanings, she still had many Catholic beliefs and did die a Catholic.

     Overall, Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Hersey, Desire started out great but fell flat halfway through the biography. I was impressed with Amy License's biography of Catherine of Aragon because it was written with great detail, and I expected Anne to be just as well-written. Ms. License gave more attention to Anne’s early life than when she becomes queen. Anne’s queenship was barely examined. Instead, it focused on how Henry was tired of Anne. Ms. License did not even mention her turbulent relationship with her step-daughter, Mary. Anne’s downfall was also glossed over. She did not go into any depth with Anne’s trial. Instead of a well-written biography, I got a sloppy and disorganized biography of Anne Boleyn. This was not what I expected from a biography about Anne. There was nothing new, and the author overlooks many facts about Anne just to get her point across. If you are like me, wanting to read everything about Anne, then you should read this book. However, if you want to read a very detailed and well-written biography of Anne, I suggest that you skip it because there are better biographies of Anne out there.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars 


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