Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

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Rating: 1 Star

Review:

I honestly do not even know if I have the energy to write a review of this ridiculous 'scholarly' work. There are so many problems, such unprofessionalism, and even inaccurate historical facts, I don't know where to begin.

So, here we go:

Anyone who has read my reviews in the past know how I feel about Anne Boleyn. I do not see her as a victim or a heroine. I see her as an intelligent woman in love with a married man, who was able to advance her position socially into the very highest ranks in becoming Henry's queen. I see a woman who gambled on the fact that she would be able to provide Henry what Katherine could not, a son, but in the end she too would be cast aside when she could not follow through on her lofty promises. She played the game well for three years, but in the end lost, just as so many others did during Henry's tyrannical reign. I do not believe any of the nonsense about witchcraft, extra fingers, or the clearly trumped-up charges of adultery which can easier be dismissed given the timing and facts we know of Anne's whereabouts and pregnancies.

That being said, me making my feelings about Anne in historical context perfectly clear, I should also point out that I am well-versed in Tudor history and have read numerous books about the queens of England. I have read books dedicated to Anne alone, and can recognize a good biography when I see one, even when I do not hold the subject in high regard - Eric Ives being numero uno. It was a great read, despite my dislike of Anne. Since I am able to recognize a good Anne-related text, let me say this is certainly NOT one of them and to not waste the time or money. There are so many issues, as I briefly touched on above, it is almost overwhelming. I was updating every five minutes as I read about something new that was absurd or ridiculous or factually incorrect.

Now, I was reluctant to read this when I was still only in the introduction. You see, I greatly admire Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was put off right away when the author stated that Anne's execution was shocking even to those who believed her guilty of the accused crimes of adultery and treason, and states that Eleanor of Aquitaine was simply banished for the same crimes. I about said 'bye Felicia' right here. Eleanor was not banished. She was held captive by her husband (Henry II) due to her helping incite her sons into rebellion - more than once. So yes, treason. But no on the banishment and adultery (insofar as we know in regards to this marriage. As far as her marriage to Louis, that is another story). Basically, there is no comparison between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Anne Boleyn, and for the author to even use them in the same sentence was nearly enough for me to call it quits there. But I persevered (get it?), and deeply regret it. On we go to the more solid Anne-related reasons this book is terrible...

First, one of the factual inaccuracies that has been bothering me occurs early on. Here the author says that when Henry and Anne met Francis in Calais, Henry could not force Francis' wife Claude to come meet Anne (page 71). That is true, but not for the reasons the author states. See, Claude died in 1524. This visit was in 1532. By then Francis has remarried, and been so to Eleanor of Castile/Austria (depending who you ask on the 'of' part) since 1530. As someone who claims herself (on page 213) to be an 'Anne scholar', surely she should not have made such an error - especially because it was considered kind of a big deal that Eleanor refused to meet Anne at all. How did no one catch this? Not just the author, but anyone in editing or someone who proofread? I mean, seriously.

Secondly, the book just reeks left and right of unprofessionalism. While I am no fan of Starkey myself, largely due to his horribly misogynistic treatment of the queens and his insulting those of us in the Midwest and the implication The Tudors was dumbed down so we could understand it, this became a free-for-all on him and really any author who had ever said anything negative about Anne or used Chapuys as a reference - something the author then does herself! How can she say at one point that he is not unbiased (DUH! He hated Anne!) and we can't trust him, but then she goes on to take his written word on various other matters. She then goes on to insult not only Starkey, but those who have read him (and I am assuming those who take everything he writes as factual). The author writes, "...a not-very-historically-informed reader - that would be most of Starkey's audience, as he is not interested in courting the academics but rather the general audience" (page 17). Sorry lady, but I am a very informed reader who reads about these topics for pleasure, not academically. By page 231, the author has devoted a considerable sum of pages targeting Phillippa Gregory in particular for 'The Other Boleyn Girl'. Now, I have not read this, nor do I plan to, mostly because I do not read historical fiction, but come on. Attacking left and right those who present Anne in a less than flattering light? It's called historical fiction for a reason - though I agree that those who write in this genre should do a better job making sure their audience knows what is fact and what is fiction.

Fun Fact #1: Know what else is totally unprofessional? Pretending to be a scholar while calling Henry a 'pussy-whipped hubby.' Yet she did, right there on page 13. Keep it classy, Bordo.

The author's treatment of Katherine and Mary is highly suspect for someone who claims she is not writing a just biography of Anne, but a 'cultural history.' In a cultural history (especially the parts about, you know, how Anne has been portrayed), I would expect facts only, not the constant injecting of opinion on the marriage and Katherine that we are constantly subjected to. The author has the nerve to try to paint Katherine as the problem, not Henry, when she herself in other sections is proclaiming that Henry is the problem in regards only to relating to Anne. Excuse me, but I am pretty sure Henry is the root cause all the way around - and Anne was certainly not innocent. But, back to Katherine and Mary. We have them labeled 'self-righteous' on page 13. Then by page 17, Katherine has already been called 'proud' and 'stubborn' many times - right, because how silly of the old hag to want to preserve her marriage and protect Mary. (I hope it is clear here that I am being facetious here when referring to Katherine in this way; of all the Queens, I admire her the most, despite what this author might have you believe of her). As if more examples are needed (but they are, to show how absurd this portrayal of Katherine is), on page 73 the author writes, "Katherine remained stubbornly glued to her 'rights'" and "Mary behaved either like an obsessively dutiful daughter or a spoiled brat (depending on your point of view) in refusing to acknowledge Anne as queen." So, let me get this straight, Mary was a spoiled brat for supporting her mother? For wanting the inheritance that was rightfully hers? It is obvious which camp the author falls into. The author is seriously so enthralled by Anne, that she seems to believe Anne was genuine in offering Mary friendship and life at court in return for acknowledging her as queen. While I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that she was plotting to kill Mary (or Katherine, for that matter), but I can believe she wanted Mary close in order to keep an eye on her. Here is the last example I will use, from page 174, "Katherine, after all, had fought him tooth and nail for six years, stubbornly refusing all attempts to provide her with a dignified exit, seemingly unconcerned that she was tearing England apart with her resistance." Look lady, I have put up with a lot of nonsense in this book, but that takes the cake. It was HENRY who tore England apart, not Katherine or even Anne herself. It seemed to be that when the author was discussing Anne, Henry was to blame for everything, but when discussing Anne and Henry together, everything was Katherine's fault. That does not fly and should not, regardless of your opinion on any of the players involved. It's like the author (remember, a self-proclaimed Anne scholar) suddenly knows nothing about Henry whenever Katherine is discussed; like she does not recognize suddenly that he gradually became a tyrant (though I am of the belief it was always there, kind of lying in wait, even in his early years) who did as he pleased. No one should be surprised that he ordered Anne's death to make himself look all the more the wronged husband who had loved his wife and she had been unfaithful - of course this would have been a major crime, the succession of the throne was at stake.

Fun Fact #2: The author is also a doctor, apparently (I know nothing of her beyond this book, so perhaps she actually is. I don't know). By this point in the text she has diagnosed Henry as either having a borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. In a previous chapter she asserted that if he lived today he would have been diagnosed with ADD. Interesting that in this same chapter she calls into question the theory of Henry possibly having McLeod Syndrome, stating that, "bioarchaeology, like evolutionary psychology, is heavy on theory and light on proof." Pot, meet kettle.

In the end, there is nothing groundbreaking about this book. I was truly hoping for a cultural history and a study of Anne through the ages, with her various portrayals (I did enjoy reading the excerpts of how Victorian-age children learned of Anne) but too often it became a diatribe against another author. In truth, it is already pretty widely accepted that Anne was innocent of the charges against her and Henry was looking for a quick way to get rid of the wife he had once loved, but had since grown tired of. Even those of us who side firmly with Katherine can recognize the superstitions of the age, all that about witchcraft and deformed fetuses, moles and extra fingers. All of it was piled on to further demonize Anne through the centuries. No on is disputing that - or should be, at this point. Anne's strengths were also her flaws - ambitious, scheming, even ruthless at times, I believe.

While I could go on, this review has taken more than enough of my time. The book eventually just becomes an homage to Natalie Dormer, who gave a great performance as Anne in The Tudors. I was glad to be done, as I am glad to now be done with this review as well.

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