Saturday, October 5, 2013

Upcoming posts!

So the last time I've written about my beloved Tudors was four months ago... and there's a lot I intend to write about as soon as possible, between math tests, research and the struggle for more sleep. If you keep up with the blog at all, here are a few articles I intend on getting to. 
  • Justifying my positive take on Showtime's The Tudors (2007-2010)
  • Tudor history and Game of Thrones parallels (when your two favorite worlds collide -- what a dream!) - who's based on who and what's based on what!
  • What was Anne Boleyn's religion?
  • The life of Margaret Douglas
  • The best Anne Boleyn novels, biographies, and films
  • My take on Anne Boleyn's age
  • A Jane Seymour mini-biography
  • Updated bibliography page
  • More book reviews! To be reviewed: the newest novel of Anne Boleyn -- Katherine Longshore's Tarnish, and the controversial Anne Boleyn biography by Joanna Denny
Thanks for reading and look out for more!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Family Feud: Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor in the Showtime series The Tudors

I know June 15th has come and gone, but I've been quite busy studying for finals and finally have time to write a blog about a particular letter written by Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon three days and 477 years ago. I know I touched on this stereotype/misconception about Anne Boleyn being an 'evil stepmother' in this post, but would like to explore the subject in fuller detail.

On 15th June, Lady Mary at last succumbed to her father's demands and submit to the Act of Succession which bequeathed the kingdom of England, upon Henry VIII's death, to the heirs of Jane Seymour's body. Mary had felt particularly confident about entering back into her father's good graces upon the death of Anne Boleyn; she had blamed everything, from the poor treatment of her mother to her own personal fallout with her father on Anne. But clearly it wasn't so. Just days after Anne Boleyn's execution, Mary was persecuted now more vigorously than ever. The king's councilors made a trip to her household just to violently threaten her; they called her a traitoress and claimed that if she were their daughter (this may or may not have been said by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk), she would have long ago been beaten to death for her obstinacy. Nothing like this had ever happened while Anne was alive.

I would not go as far as saying that Anne was a particularly affectionate stepmother to the Lady Mary -- she wasn't at all, but at the beginning, she certainly made an effort to be. We know for a fact that she got on well enough with her other stepchild, Henry's illegitimate son Fitzroy, who was married to her cousin. Anne wrote to Mary offering to intercede with her father the king and have her restored to favor, if only she would recognize her as the true queen of England; Mary replied that she knew of no other queen save her lady mother, but would appreciate it if the king's mistress would recommend her to her father. The queen was infuriated, viewing Mary as an obstacle on not only her path, but her daughter's too, as a rival heir beloved by the people. She asked her Boleyn relatives who served Elizabeth at Hatfield to beat Mary, who they were ordered to watch over and spy on, and she boasted at one point or another that she would have Mary married to some peasant. In the Tower, Anne repented for her treatment of the Lady Mary to Lady Kingston, the constable's wife and one of Mary's friends, and asked that Kingston extend her sincere apologies to Mary. However Mary never forgave Anne even though she did her father the king, and unto her death she would blame Anne and regard her as the bane of all evil. Upon becoming queen of England, Mary's relations with her half-sister Elizabeth would become strained, to say the least, and Mary would compare Elizabeth to her wicked mother and go as far as saying that Elizabeth was another man's child.

However, we clearly cannot blame all of the horrors of Mary's early life on Anne because she was not alive to see to much of it. It was not at her command that the king's councilors verbally abused Mary into submission -- Anne was dead, and so these were quite obviously her own father's orders. Jane Seymour was the queen of England at this time -- yet she is blamed for nothing. The legends that Jane worked tirelessly to reconcile Mary and Henry have very little basis, and even if she helped reconcile them, it was after Mary had already taken the oath of Succession, humiliating herself in order to please her father. Jane, quite wisely, feared incurring the king's disfavor far too much to go out of her way to save anyone, fully aware that now that she was queen, she had to work to save her own self. On a different subject, Jane was not exactly a Catholic hero, either -- there is only the legend that she asked the king very half-heartedly to show the traitors in the North mercy, only to be harshly silenced by him; she never again broached the topic or expressed her opinion regarding anything else. Jane Seymour and Mary Tudor may eventually have become friends, but both women were, quite unlike brazen Anne Boleyn, too afraid of the king to show how they felt about anyone. On the other hand, Mary Tudor would become great friends with Anne of Cleves, Henry's fourth wife, and the sixth queen, Katherine Parr; she and Katherine Howard would have a rather cold relationship. It may have been that Mary was unable to respect a stepmother who was younger than her by nearly ten years, or also that Katherine Howard was the late Queen Anne's cousin.

In conclusion, Anne Boleyn was no afficionado of Mary and being the vengeful and intemperate woman she was, she felt no need to hide this and she treated Mary with cruelty. But she repented this privately, and the fact that she considered her treatment of her stepdaughter while imprisoned in the Tower when there were many other people and matters to think of shows that she sincerely regretted her actions and they weighed heavily on her heart. Mary, who suffered long and hard and wanted so badly to love her father despite the fact that he was more responsible for her cruel treatment than Anne was, could never forgive the queen and can't exactly be blamed for this. But to finally lay to rest the misconceptions and factoid of this family feud, my ruling is that, even though Anne was guilty of acting cruelly toward Mary, her intentions had started out well, and Mary's treatment of Elizabeth perhaps as, to some degree, petty revenge, was unfair too. In the end, both women were in many ways victims of the same man -- their husband and father who broke both their hearts on his bloody path for a male heir. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Biography Review: Mistress Anne by Carolly Erickson

As Maureen Quilligan wrote in the New York Times Book Review of The First Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn "was a real victim of the sexual scandals her brilliant daughter escaped, and a subject Ms. Erickson's sensitivity to sexual and political nuance should well serve." Indeed, Carolly Erickson could have chosen no more fascinating and appropriate a subject. Alluring and profoundly enigmatic, Anne Boleyn has eluded the grasp of historians for centuries. 

Through her extraordinarily vivid re-creation of this most tragic chapter in all Tudor History, Carrolly Erickson gives us unprecedented insight into the singuarlity of Anne Boleyn's life, the dark and overwhelming forces that shaped her errant destiny, and the rare, tumultuous times in which she lived.

Before there was the famous and beloved "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" biography (Eric Ives), there was this one, and it's often overlooked today because Ives' history is recognized as the Anne Boleyn 'bible'. Yet I found "Mistress Anne" enjoyable and informative, written in beautiful historical hindsight and witty, clever speculation -- but that's not to say it was lacking in glaring historical errors.

Given its publication date in 1984, it wasn't Erickson's fault that Anne's highly important education/life in the Netherlands during 1513, was not included. It was several years after the book was published that it was decided among scholars that Anne Boleyn was a student under Archduchess Margaret and not her sister Mary. Thankfully, Anne's time in France is described in a good amount of deal. But Erickson's greatest error was her description of Anne as having six fingers. This legend is common only among the ignorant as nearly every historian has proved it to be little more than propaganda spread by someone who was born decades after Anne died. None of Anne's contemporaries, who would be so quick to malign her, ever made comments about a sixth finger; funny, isn't it, how the rumor only came into existence more than fifty years after she was dead? That Erickson did not realize this is a bit sketchy to me.

"Mistress Anne" might be a quicker read than "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" and thus more convenient, but its lack of current and updated information paired with Carolly Erickson's indiscretions in terms of speculative errors make it a disagreeable biography for a first-time Anne Boleyn researcher.

Book Review: My Enemy, the Queen by Victoria Holt

NOTE: Because "Victoria Holt" was just another pen-name of Jean Plaidy's, I have tagged this book review under the author "Jean Plaidy" for my convenience. -- KC

It was Lettice who married the Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth I loved. And it was Lettice who was the mother of the Queen's beloved Earl of Essex. That young earl would one day break the Queen's heart. 

It was always Lettice, the constant spoiler in the triangle of love surrounding Elizabeth...

Most people familiar with the Tudors will know that Elizabeth was in love with Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, her whole life and died with his last letter close. Most will also know that Anne Boleyn was her mother, and it was her cousin, Lettice Knollys, the daughter of Anne Boleyn's niece, who 'stole' married this great love of hers. I've always been endeared by Elizabeth's forbidden love with Leicester and so by proxy, was never a fan of the star of this book -- no other than Lettice Knollys.

Robert Dudley had his eye on the crown for years, but even when his wife died and he was free to marry Elizabeth, for the security of her throne and the peace of her realm, she had to spurn him and broke her own heart in doing so. It was Lettice, essentially a younger version of Elizabeth with the same dark eyes and red hair, who he found solace in, and it was Lettice who he married in secret when it became clear that Elizabeth would not. The queen forgave him but she never did, her Boleyn cousin. In the background of the main story of romance, jealousy, ambition and fruitless seduction are the politics of Elizabeth's reign unto nearly her death, a couple of years after she had to order the execution of Robert Dudley's son, a favorite who she adored like something between son and lover.

"My Enemy, the Queen" is thrilling and suspenseful in a way no other Tudor novel is. It explores an uncharted topic -- the rivalry between Elizabeth and her beautiful Boleyn cousin -- but also a romance and a historical profile (Lettice Knollys) that novelists favoring Elizabeth I so love to malign. While highly enjoyable and highly recommended, "My Enemy the Queen" had its faults, including an awkward lovemaking scene which made very little sense to me -- falling into a closet that is conveniently in the ballroom, really? -- and a poor ending for Robert and Lettice. While these two share enjoyable romantic moments, he is portrayed as (spoiler) trying to poison Lettice, holding true to propaganda of his day which was, well, plainly propaganda -- lies. That was disappointing. He is also portrayed as, for the most part, pursuing Lettice as a second choice, when, as much as I hate to admit it, it is likely that he felt some affection for her given that he risked his royal favor to marry a woman Elizabeth was notorious for disliking.

"My Enemy" was one of Victoria Holt's (aka Jean Plaidy) last novels, and was a great way to close out a brilliant career. The writing style is a bit more modern, different in that sense from a lot of her older pieces, but in exploring psychological factors and building dramatic and full-blooded plot, she holds true to her usual style, which is timeless genius.

Today in Tudor History: Anne Boleyn is crowned Queen of England!

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn
It's common legend what tragedy would befall Anne not three years after becoming queen, but her coronation was an utterly triumphant day and all Tudor history buffs should celebrate it. June 1st, 1533, was Anne Boleyn's victory after seven years of intense strife for the throne, and to this day, few coronations have ever been so costly -- or so grand and memorable. It officially began two days earlier -- Anne spent the night in the Tower of London (where she would be imprisoned by 2nd May, 1536) and left on a royal barge the next morning. She was garbed in beautiful cloth of gold and led by a handsome entourage of Knights of the Bath. There is little basis to the legend that she was poorly received by hateful Londoners, although onlookers were certainly not so enthusiastic about having a new Queen. They would remain loyal to Catherine of Aragon until Anne gave them a male heir, and unfortunately, that never happened.

Anne Boleyn was at least six months pregnant, because within three months she would give birth to Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace in September. Her belly was visible through the dress, and she had her hand on it while sitting on St Edward's throne in Westminster Abbey. She was crowned with St Edward's Crown, which had only ever before been used to crown a male king-regnant. Historians conjecture this was because of Henry's strong belief that the child she was pregnant with was a male, and thus the next king of England. It wasn't -- but it was Elizabeth, who would someday preside over a golden age in British history. Her mother Anne Boleyn would be the last queen-consort ever to be crowned independently from her husband. Anne Boleyn's coronation would be followed by a great banquet in which Henry would be absent from, probably so that his presence would not detract from the new queen's singular glory. There would be fountains of wine in the street that the commons enjoyed, at least more than their new queen.

The past eventful months had led to this day -- Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII were secretly married (arguably for a second time), the Archbishop of Canterbury and Thomas Cromwell had worked tirelessly to set up laws which authorized them to rule on the king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and then protect his new marriage from papal intervention, and of course there were preparations for the splendor of her coronation. Anne would rule a court of hundreds of servants that would be a center of art, learning, decadence and religious zest like no queen of England ever had before. She wasn't born to be queen of England, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that she had the heart of one, or at least that she certainly knew how to play the part. Congratulations on your lucky day 480 years later!

More about Anne Boleyn's impact and legacy as queen-consort of England can be read, here.

Book Review: His Last Letter by Jeane Westin

They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes. His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled. 

I was excited to read "His Last Letter" -- I've loved the Elizabeth and Dudley forbidden love since Philippa Gregory's "The Virgin's Lover", and this book was dedicated entirely to them. I truly wanted to love it, but HLL fell a bit flat for me in some areas.

Firstly, while this was understandably historical romance, it was romanticized to the point of being a little cliche... okay,a LOT cliche. I don't doubt Robert Dudley was in love with Elizabeth, but I feel like Westin should have addressed the fact that there was some ambition, on his part, in the mix. Next, and this is something unforgivable to me in all novels, it would have to be the awkward placement of their sex scenes. SPOILER AHEAD -- I feel as if there was no build-up to their sex scene in 1576, and that more sexual tension could have been weaved, at least in their earlier years. Which leads to my final complaint -- the story is set between 1585-1588, the last years Elizabeth and Dudley spend together before his death. This was arguably 'sweeter' as they are together still in their old age, thick and thin, but her 'flashback' chapters, which were almost half the book, could have focused more on when they were young, passionate and in love -- most of the book shows them as fond but mellow with age, and I find that a bit unfair. They were once so recklessly in love and that would have been entertaining to read about.

Despite the notes in the previous paragraph, I enjoyed many parts of "HLL" as well. I may not have enjoyed how she built up their love, but the way she concluded it was poignant and beautiful, and her version of his real last letter brought me to tears. I don't want to spoil it, but their last ride together in 1588 was a beautiful addition. My favorite part of the book was her in depth chapter guide/timeline so that you don't get confused with the constantly changing dates, and the phenomenal author's note and reader's guide! The reader's guide was like a guide to all of Tudor England and it was deliciously informative. So thankful to her for that interview.

All in all, "His Last Letter" is recommended, although not particularly strongly. It's romantic, inclusive, heart-warming and an excellent read for someone who can't get enough of Tudor England and Elizabeth I's iron will and sass.
The enigmatic Anne Boleyn comes to life in this charming, brilliant portrayal by acclaimed British novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes. The infamous love of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn undertook a rocky journey from innocent courtier to powerful Queen of England. A meticulous researcher, Margaret Campbell Barnes immerses readers in this intrigue and in the lush, glittery world of the Tudor Court. The beauty and charms of Anne Boleyn bewitched the most powerful man in the world, King Henry VIII, but her resourcefulness and cleverness were not enough to stop the malice of her enemies. Her swift rise to power quickly became her own undoing. The author brings to light Boleyn's humanity and courage, giving an intimate look at a young woman struggling to find her own way in a world dominated by men and adversaries.

"Brief Gaudy Hour" is an earlier Tudor fiction piece, and what you first need to bear in mind while reading this is that some of the language is going to be dramatically different from what you're used to. For instance, 'lovemaking' is courtship, not sex. I know I was certainly confused at first upon reading Henry saying that surely 'many men have made love to you before' (not an exact quotation) to Anne, and then going on and calling her a virgin. Anyway, there are many novels of Anne Boleyn so what makes this piece particularly unique? (Aside from the language of course.) "Brief Gaudy Hour" is romantic. Many authors get caught up in how the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII ends that they are already setting Henry up as a monster, so that Anne is without a 'Prince Charming' to fall in love with. Whether Anne was ever truly in love with Henry or simply working with him in a partnership of politics and ambition, we can never be sure, but their vivid and gripping romance in this book convinces you it was a passionate alchemy of both. If you've been looking for a book of Anne Boleyn that is as much history as it is love story, then "Brief Gaudy Hour" is the book for you.

Another impressive facet of this book is its inclusive coverage of the trials of Anne and particularly her brother George. If you're tired of the stereotypical 'gay' and 'obnoxious' George Boleyn, you'll be glad to know that he is portrayed kindly and accurately. "Brief Gaudy Hour" has a lot going for it, but its outdated language and fact (Anne Boleyn has a sixth finger) make it less likable. Naturally this was no fault of the author given the year of its publication. To me, the reason I have to subtract a star is the incompleteness the reader will feel at the ending. Given her harrowing journey and great legacy, it just was not satisfying to me. However, the ending is but one part, and detracts little from this romantic and emotional Tudor masterpiece.