Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Alison Weir has educated us quite a bit on King Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and pursues her ambition in Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, telling us the story of the king’s second and arguably most infamous wife. While her beheading has made the pages of countless history books for its ultimate political significance, few have sought to explore the unusually eventful life which led up to that point.
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Alison Weir Continues the Story
While mots notable leaders in history define themselves with their own character and accomplishments, King Henry VIII is a figure whose infamy became intrinsically tied with his murderous penchant towards his many wives. In her first book of the series, titled Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, historian Alison Weir relayed to us the story of the king’s first wife, the one who managed to escape from his descent into madness, losing much of what she had worked her whole life towards in the process.
At the end of her reign as Queen of England, King Henry had their marriage declared null and void as another, much younger woman, caught his attention: Anne Boleyn. The king is desperate for a heir to the throne, while Anne covets the queen’s throne. In her second novel of the Six Tudor Queens series titled Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, Alison Weir weaves together a portrait of the woman who has arguably turned out to be one of the most infamous queens in our history.
To begin telling this story Weir goes a bit further back in time from when the first book ended and delves into Anne Boleyn’s life from the start. The plot revolves around her upbringing at the royal court of the Netherlands, her time spent in France amongst writers and progressive artists, and her eventual understanding of the inequalities she has been suffering from her entire life as a woman.
We witness the complicated road laid out by her family to inch Anne closer and closer to the throne and just how much their grandiose ambitions were complicit in her eventual ascension to the throne… and perhaps more importantly, what she does with all this power. We learn of the relations between the Queen and her King, how they drastically evolved and deteriorated over the former’s short three-year tenure on the throne.
Anything for the Family
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t expect to learn much more from this novel than from the countless history books which already covered the topic. It seemed to me her biography had already been subjected to all possible scrutiny, but leave it to renowned historian Alison Weir to prove me wrong. As the book opens we are directly plunged into Anne’s world and shown everything from her perspective.
While this is indeed a novel, Alison Weir has done a tremendous amount of research about Anne as a person and does her best to explain the woman’s actions and motivations. The author does a commendable job at providing all the necessary context for some of the more questionable decisions Anne Boleyn made through her life, giving a new understanding of her biography which goes beyond a list of important events.
Personally-speaking, I found Weir‘s profound description of Anne Boleyn’s family to be absolutely fascinating, revealing plenty of little details about life back in those days. While on some level I was aware of the heavily hierarchical family structure prevalent in the past, to truly see its inner workings, why certain decisions were made and how the various members perceived each other was extremely educative.
The idea of the family name almost becoming an entity in itself which surpasses in importance the lives of individual members was definitely the prevalent school of thought. Whether or not such a dynamic is condemnable or condonable is up to us, but there is no doubt it played an irrevocable role in shaping Anne Boleyn’s part-inspiring, part-tragic life.
A Difficult Time for Women
While telling us Anne Boleyn’s story Weir also takes the opportunity to shed some light specifically on the plight of women back in those days. As Anne becomes increasingly educated and aware of her predicament we progressively learn alongside her of the inequality and oppression all women had to face back in those times.
I found it quite impressive how the author managed to weave this sort of historical perspective and social commentary quite seamlessly into the book, making it feel like part of the plot itself. Just in case you find this sort of thing bothersome, you can rest assured the social commentary always takes a backseat to Anne’s story and the two never work against each other. Ultimately, it serves as a strong reminder of how far we have come in terms of gender equality, and how long of a road we still have ahead of us.
In turn, this context is used to great effect as it colours everything Anne Boleyn manages to achieve in her unfortunately short life, highlighting just how much of an extraordinary woman she was to have virtually the whole world working against her. It’s quite difficult not to gain a new-found appreciation for her accomplishments and rise through the royal court, how she defied conventions and expectations through cleverness and perseverance.
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I would dare say it even makes her execution scene much more poignant, which by the way Weir describes in absolutely astonishing detail, doing her best to put us in Anne’s shoes during her final moments. Because we are so far removed from historical deaths they seldom have any real weight or impact behind them, and Weir made sure to fight that effect every step of the way in this book.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir is a fantastic second entry in the Six Tudor Queens series. The amount of research which went into this novel is worthy of all the accolades, and its delivery is entertaining, captivating and thoroughly informative from the very first to the very last pages. If you are interested in Anne Boleyn or King Henry VIII’s wives in a more general sense, I strongly recommend you push this novel near the top of your list.
We want men to admire us for our courage, our characters, and our intellect, not just our beauty.― Alison Weir, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession
Alison Weir is a British author of history books and historical novels, more often than not centering on biographies of British royalty. She wrote biographies of numerous figures including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katherine Swynford, and even the Princes in the Tower, amongst many others. As far as novels go she has penned some renowned works such as Innocent Traitor, The Captive Queen and The Marriage Game.