Saturday, January 03, 2009

Question from Elizabeth M. - Elizabeth Norton's bio of Anne Boleyn

Has anyone read an advance copy of Elizabeth Norton's biography of ANNE BOLEYN, due out in February?


Tamise said...

This book was published in November in the UK. It is on my list of books to read but am waiting for the library to get a copy.

Foose said...

Yes, I read it. It's not groundbreaking and I don't think Professor Ives is trembling in his bed thinking about it -- it's an adequate bio of Anne's life incorporating a lot of the recent research about her but more "popular" in tone. I felt it was unnecessarily repetitive throughout, and Norton's obsessive efforts to exculpate Anne from any imputation of "mean girl" behavior to Catherine and Mary verged on the comical.

The writing is not great, but I expected this. Norton wrote a previous book, She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of Medieval England, whose writing and research I wasn't very impressed with. I also had some issues with her definition of "she-wolfiness"; yes, I can see where Anne Boleyn would qualify, but Catherine Howard? C'mon! (Although to be fair an academic standard of lupine queens has not been formally established; I would hazard that it's based on an appearance of assertive and aggressive activity aimed at displacing male authority, French or Francospheric connections, and an appearance, if nothing else, of sexual laxness.)

I'd put this new Anne Boleyn book below Joanna Denny's bio -- Denny had some interesting and even original observations. But Norton's book is readable, pro-Anne and has some good pictures I haven't seen before (not of Anne, more of her locations, buildings and various tombs and such); I like the front-cover photo of the same portrait that Ives used on his own book, but with the black background bleached out so you have a very good view of the woman's features. If you're an Anne Boleyn fan, I'd say add it to your bookshelf.

Norton is going to tackle Jane Seymour next. This could be more interesting, since I think there's only 1 other biography of the queen (Pamela Gross's).

Elizabeth M. said...

Does anyone know about another biography of Anne, due out later this year, by G. W. Bernard?

Foose said...

Just what's on his Webpage at the University of Southampton:

He says:
"I have just completed, thanks to an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a study of Anne Boleyn. My aim is to shed fresh light on the life, and especially the circumstances of the fall, of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's queen, and through a book-length political biography to offer a striking reinterpretation of the political and religious history of a crucially formative period in English history. In the mid-1520s Henry VIII fell in love with Anne Boleyn, younger daughter of the courtier-diplomat Sir Thomas Boleyn. Kings often took mistresses and such affairs usually had little wider significance. But Henry's infatuation with Anne coincided with his growing conviction that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had always been invalid. And then Henry embarked on what proved to be a long journey that ultimately led to the repudiation of papal authority and to the coronation of Anne Boleyn as his queen. Yet just three years later Anne Boleyn was destroyed - convicted and executed for treasonously committing adultery with five men, including incest with her brother. It is the purpose of this study to explore what lay behind such dramatic events. The novelty of my argument is that careful scrutiny of the sources suggests that Anne may not have been wholly innocent of the adulteries with which she was charged."

He's anti-Anne's innocence, in other words. He and Ives exchanged articles on the subject in the English Historical Review and both dismissed Retha Warnicke's theory (deformed fetus, etc.). I recall Bernard relied a lot on a French poem that was circulated shortly after Anne's execution and on Lady Worcester's testimony.

Should be interesting! I can't wait for this one.

Elizabeth M. said...

Does anyone know when it will be out?
Seems to be the year for Anne Boleyn bios--the Norton, the Bernard ones, and is not Alison Weir coming out with one later this year, as well?

Bearded Lady said...

They exchanged papers? I thought Ives dismissed Lady Worcester testimony as exaggerated? And I thought Dr. G. W. Bernard already beat the “poem theory” to death.

Ya, I have to side with Warnicke on this one. Her stance is that De Carles (author of the poem) didn’t have access to the intimate court details thus his little poem was based on rumors and innuendos.

I don’t know. I am kind of bored silly with the Anne Boleyn books. And a book that claims Anne was guilty sounds a tad gimmicky to me.

Personally, I would really like to see more books on the other wives. Jane maybe?

Anonymous said...

Foose, I wish I read your review prior to purchasing the books. I completely agree; it is repetitive in parts and not well written. The arguments are hardly original and the work is particularly tedious for those who are well-versed in the life of Anne Boleyn.

Slightly OT – but having never found a copy of Pamela Gross’s work on Jane Seymour (though not through lack of trying!), I’m curious as to her arguments. Was it a good read; innovative in parts?

Foose said...

Well, I liked it because Gross was very earnest about researching every aspect of Jane Seymour's life and frankly, there's not a lot of information available, so I was impressed by what she found. As I've mentioned in other threads, Pamela Gross appears to be the first to identify Jane as Anne Boleyn's second cousin through her genealogical research related in the book.

On the other hand ... I think the book was actually originally Gross's Ph.D. thesis; the copy I got reproduced the typewritten format, which was kind of hard on the eyes. The writing is not very good, rather amateurish. The pictures included everything from Holbein's portrait to a Jane Seymour doll, so I think some rigorous editing could have been usefully applied.

But I have to say that Gross was sincere in her dedication to scholarship and collected every tidbit about Jane extant, so it was an interesting and very informative read from that perspective. Other historians and writers have built on her work, so I think it's definitely of value for someone researching Jane or Anne Boleyn.