Review: The Lady in the Tower

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne BoleynThe Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
by Alison Weir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lady in the Tower / 9780345519788

I'm really beginning to like Weir's historical analyses, though they do seem to suffer from some of the same problems. Overall, though, I loved this book and though I initially borrowed it from the library, I ended up buying a copy of the audio book to listen along to as well as buying a copy of my own to keep on hand. So take that as the strong recommendation as it is.

This is a scholarly look at the last days of Anne Boleyn. Weir starts with the last time Anne saw her husband Henry, follows the coup that brought down Anne and her faction at court so swiftly, analyzes the trial in close detail, explains the finer details of the execution, and ultimately follows with a quick overview of how Anne has been historically portrayed, depending on era and religious inclination.

One thing I really love about Weir's books is her use of source material. Everything presented to the reader is presented with context: this was written by so-and-so, writing during the reign of such-and-so (which greatly influenced what was safe to write about Anne Boleyn), with a religious bias of thus. Weir uses biased and hostile sources, but she uses them with discretion, noting whether or not she believes the source to be true or a fabrication. I like that, and I appreciate how she tries to provide a very broad-yet-clear view of the subject.

Some of the writing stumbles I noticed in her book "Mary Boleyn" are repeated here, though. There is a lot of repetition throughout the book, probably to help the reader follow along, but there is sometimes a strange sense of devja vu, as though you've accidentally flipped back a few dozen pages without meaning to. And the source material is sometimes sprinkled in so liberally that it threatens the flow of the reading -- this was why I ended up switching to the audio book, which handled the presentation much more smoothly. (And with really lovely accents on the part of the narrator; she cannot be praised enough.)

Then, too, the last chapter of the book (the one after Queen Elizabeth) should, in my opinion, be avoided entirely. The whole chapter embarks on a Golden Mean Fallacy intent on proving that the work you've just finished reading is unbiased and scholarly because it falls in the middling position of an analysis of Anne. It is extremely disconcerting as a reader to have just read how the jury was deliberately stacked against Anne, how an intended verdict may have been communicated to said jury in advance, how the king almost certainly must have sent for the executioner before the trial even began, and how Anne was very likely framed... only to have the author turn around and chide fellow historians for the "misconception" that Anne was "murdered". For Weir to assert that such a term is inappropriate because "she was executed in accordance with the law as it then stood" comes off as reaching, since it's entirely clear that she and the other historians are saying the same thing with different words: that Anne's death was deliberately engineered by others, and that the charges against her were spurious.

Having said all that, I strongly recommend this book, provided that you are good at following along over the copious quotes and sprinkled repetition (and, if you're not, check out the audio book which eases that almost entirely) and also provided that you take my advice and skip the last chapter.

~ Ana Mardoll


Pacal said...

Isn't there a recent book about Ann Boylen that alleges that she was in fact guilty of adultry and that the trial was just and fair for the time and that it is so unfair to accuse the various witnesses of lying etc?

It is my understanding that the scholarly consensus is that the adultury charges were bogus, so i'm at a loss to explain how this book got to that conclusion. Then again Ann Weir in her book accepts that the charges were bogus but that somehow the trial was fair?! Yeah that is a brain buster.

but then Ann Weir in book about the Princes in the tower takes Tyrell's confession seriously. No I'm not a Ricardian I think Richard III did have his nephews murdered I just don't take Tyrell's confession, in Thomas More's History of Richard III, the slightest bit seriously has evidence. Frankly Ann Weir who quite rightly dismisses has absurd the nonsensensical stories of the Princes or a Prince in the tower surviving, then embarked on a flight of fancy of a Ricardian type by taking seriously the gossip and rumours that Edward II survived. The arguements that Ann Weir used to defend that notion are the sort of arguements that Ricardians sometime use to prove that the Princes survived the tower.

Has it is I will probably read this book but I will probably avoid the last chapter.

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