Many nonfiction books about Anne Boleyn’s life already exist, but leave it to Alison Weir to write one that offers a fresh perspective on the life of one of England’s most infamous queens. Weir - a bestselling author and Tudor historian - focuses on Anne’s arrest, imprisonment, trial, and execution in The Lady in the Tower. Delving into a treasure trove of documents from Anne’s contemporaries along with later sources, Weir examines the shocking conspiracy behind the queen’s downfall and beheading.
Almost 500 years after Anne Boleyn’s execution, the world continues to be fascinated by her. How did one woman have such an enormous impact on English religion and culture? Weir painstakingly researches the world of Henry VIII’s court to determine if Anne was a victim or a villainess, sometimes with surprising conclusions.
Popular belief has Henry VIII himself orchestrating the events that led to Anne’s demise because of her inability to bear an heir to his throne. Jane Seymour was already waiting in the wings, and in his desire to be rid of his second wife, Henry ordered Cromwell – his chief advisor – to find some reason to execute her. However, Weir believes that the reasons behind Anne’s death sentence were much more complex. Citing documents from key players in Henry’s court, Weir makes a convincing argument that Cromwell, not the king, had his own deeply personal reasons for removing Anne and “the Boleyn faction.” It was Cromwell, Weir asserts, who set the events in motion.
The Lady in the Tower explores a ruthless world where people were disposed of on the whim of a king who was determined to get his way at any cost, whose his minions would do everything in their power to stay in his good graces – even if it meant sending innocent people to the scaffold. Anne was aware that she could fall just as easily and drastically as she rose, and she was also aware at how much she was reviled by most of England, including many of Henry’s closest friends and counselors. Weir demonstrates how Anne’s enemies took advantage of her bold, flirtatious ways - along with her inability to give Henry a son – to construct the charges of treason against her.
We can sense Anne’s panic as she realizes she is swiftly falling from favor. We get a picture of what life in the Tower of London must have been like for her during her imprisonment. Eyewitness accounts are used to reconstruct Anne’s final moments on the scaffold before the swordsman from Calais – her executor – struck off her head. Weir adds intrigue and new insight to the story of one of England’s most controversial historical figures. I couldn’t help but look at Anne Boleyn in a new way. The Lady in the Tower is a finely crafted and enjoyable read, but I would expect nothing less from Alison Weir.