The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir

I had absolutely no intention of reading another book by Alison Weir so soon after reading her book Innocent Traitor a fictional account of Lady Jane Grey’s life, but when I saw The Lady in the Tower sitting on the non-fiction shelves of one of Fife’s at risk of closure libraries I just had to borrow it. It is of course a biography of Anne Boleyn which was first published in 2009.

I must say that I preferred this one to the only fictional one of hers which I’ve read, and it’s also better than her biography of Mary Boleyn, which was just full of supposition and question marks. However this one isn’t perfect by any means. I find it annoying when she gives four slightly different accounts of the same meeting – shock horror, different people report things differently. It didn’t add anything to the book, except to bulk out the pages, just padding really. Weir should edit herself more strictly.

She also seemed to be keen to lay most of the blame of Anne Boleyn’s demise at Cromwell’s feet, and not Henry VIII. Cromwell was just trying to make sure that he himself didn’t end up getting the chop for facilitating Henry’s marriage to Anne. Kings have a terrible tendency to blame anyone but themselves for their bad behaviour.

Most of all though it was Anne Boleyn who set herself up for such a heavy fall. She strung a king along for years, not sleeping with him and playing the virtuous lady card – when in fact she was anything but innocent. She had hissy fits when she didn’t get her own way, she was greedy, arrogant and too familiar with men. Those men had the same failings which led to them all being despised and friendless within the rest of the court. The most amazing thing is that they didn’t see it coming, considering that Anne was supposed to be very well educated and politically astute. Anne and her gentlemen friends were almost certainly all framed, but we knew that already – didn’t we?

Henry must have felt such a fool for allowing Anne to behave as she did, apparently she humiliated him in public by being distinctly unimpressed by his musical skills and poetry – and saying so! Kings even more than most men need to be buttered up, and anyway I quite like Greensleeves. I’ve long thought that it was just amazing that Henry didn’t have her bumped off, poisoned or pushed downstairs or something, it would have been a lot simpler, but he did seem to be obsessed with doing things legally.

Well, The Lady in the Tower seems to have given me quite a lot to think about, and the cover reminded me that when I first saw Diana, Princess of Wales wearing her ‘D’ pendant which she was very fond of pre her marriage, I thought immediately that it wasn’t a good omen. Surely she must have realised that it was Boleyn’s favourite type of jewel too! No, I’m not saying that Diana was bumped off by anyone, except a drunken and drugged up driver, but they seemed to be a similar type of woman.

It was pointed out in the book that Anne’s temper tantrums might have been exacerbated by raging hormones, as after they got married she was almost always in a state of pregnancy or recovering from birth or miscarriages. I’d agree with that, but she was ‘difficult’ long before they got married, I suppose we can blame that on PMT!

Have you read The Lady in the Tower? If so what are your thoughts on it?

You might be interested in reading the love letters sent between Henry and Anne which are available on Project Gutenberg here.

And below is a lovely version of Greensleeves, if you fancy a listen to it.

Library Books

You might know that I’ve been doing an awful lot of library borrowing in recent months. Sixteen local libraries (Fife) are under threat of closure and I and lots of other people have been doing a bit of campaigning to try to get at least some of the libraries a reprieve. I’m concentrating on Glenwood, Markinch and Falkland as those are the ones nearest me. I’ve been to all three of them this week and my library haul is:

1. The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
2. Smut by Alan Bennett
3. The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth
4. A Particular Eye for Villainy by Ann Granger
5. Snare of the Hunter by Helen MacInnes
6. Peter Wimsey Investigates the Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
7. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith
8. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit

Jack has also borrowed books:-
First World War Poems chosen by Andrew Motion,
The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky
21st Century Science Fiction edited by David G Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden
and The Untouchables by John Banville (which he actually has a copy of but not read yet and only borrowed to boost the numbers.)

I haven’t read anything by Ann Granger before but the librarian likes her writing, nor have I read anything by Alan Bennett, but I’ve enjoyed his work on TV. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit is the only non-fiction book and it’s about the many Neolithic tombs, stone circles, brochs, hillforts, standing stones, Viking graves and such which are scattered all over Scotland.

I intend to read them all, it seems like cheating to take books out of the libraries and not read them – just to put the reader statistics up – but at this rate I’ll definitely have to stop buying books as my own unread books just keep piling up!

Have you read any of these book and if so what did you think of them?

PS. If you want to see photographs of the Falls of Dochart which we visited with Peggy and Evee in May then hop over to Jack’s blog.

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

Kate Saunders of The Times says on the front of Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir ‘If you don’t cry at the end, you have a heart of stone’ So there you go, I have a heart of stone, in fact I’m as hard as nails – did I tell you I come from Glasgow?

Anyway, I knew the story of Lady Jane Grey so nothing was a surprise and for me that was the problem with this book, I think if you don’t know much about the subject then this is the book for you. I knew most of the history involved, if not all and I found the massive info dumps annoying.

The tale is told from several different characters’ perspectives and I don’t think that that was well done as they all had much the same voice as far as I was concerned’ which is definitely not something that happens with real people.

It is about one of the most tragic occurrences in English history, a young girl used and abused by the very people who should have nurtured and loved her most. That they only saw Jane as an object for their own advancement was shameful but probably not that surprising to the people around them at the time. In fact if you have a look at the news reports there are plenty of abusive parents around now.

That’s probably me being a right grumpy besom but I think for some reason I have a problem with Alison Weir as a fiction writer, I intend to have a go at one of her straight history books as I think I might prefer those. I see that her history books veer mainly towards the Tudor period, I fancy trying her Eleanor of Aquitane, but the question is – will she be as good a historian as Antonia Fraser? No doubt I’ll find out. Have you read any of her non-fiction books?

Recent Book Purchases

Recent Book Purchases

On our recent road trip down to England I bought quite a few books – surprise surprise I hear you say.

1. Film-Lovers’ Annual – 1934
2. The Derbyshire Dales by Norman Price
3. The Better Part by Annie S. Swan
4. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
5. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
6. Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell
7. The Provincial Lady In America by E.M. Delafield
8. Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell
9. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
10. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy even more books as I saw two old Batsford travel books and I actually thought I had bought one Batsfprd book but I’ve just realised that the Derbyshire Dales book was actually published by Warne. I’m now regretting not buying Batsford’s England and Scottish Borders. Oh well, hopefully they’ll turn up at another time and place.

I bought the Dean’s Film-Lovers Annual from 1934 for the photos in it, some of very famous film stars such as Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and an awful lot that I had never heard of so I’ll be googling them. There are interesting photos of film sets too and a photo of Harold Lloyd’s sitting-room showing bookcases full of books. I’d love to be able to see what they are.

Mary Boleyn – The Great and Infamous Whore

I haven’t read anything by Alison Weir before and I had been under the impression that she only wrote fiction so I was surprised to find Mary Boleyn – The Great and Infamous Whore in the history section at one of my local libraries. Interestingly this book seems to be subtitled The Mistress of Kings on Goodreads, maybe that was for American sensibilties!

Anyway, when I saw this book sitting on the library shelf I immediately wondered if there really was that much known about Mary Boleyn – enough to fill a book, and now that I’ve read the book I can tell you that indeed there is very little known about Mary Boleyn at all.

This book is full of question marks. Pages and pages are devoted to the fact that it isn’t even known which year she was born or even if she was the eldest of the Boleyn daughters or if Anne was. These pages all point out that previous writers have stated facts which couldn’t be correct. I’m afraid I almost gave up, so annoyed was I with it, after all it is really an irrelevance – whether Mary or Anne was the eldest daughter. Although I reckon that any psychologist would tell you that Anne displayed all the classic qualities/faults of a middle child. She wanted to be the centre of everyone’s world. Mary seems to have been disliked by both of her parents, I think by her father because she resembled her mother’s side of the family – the Howards. And probably disliked by her mother because her husband Thomas Boleyn blamed his wife for Mary being a disappointment, she wasn’t a manipulative schemer and that was really what he admired in people, Mary didn’t do anything to help promote her family’s position.

I did plough on to the end and the book does throw up interesting facts about Tudor life which I didn’t know about – such as: that sweating sickness which seemed to be so rife was not the plague as I have previously read. It seems to have been an illness which must have mutated over the years until it was no longer the killer it had been. At the height of its strength it could kill people within a couple of hours of the victim feeling ill. It sounds like a very virulent flu to me.

Inevitably sister Anne makes an appearance in the book and as ever I was struck by how patient Henry VIII had been, I think Anne should have counted herself lucky not to have got the chop a lot sooner than she did, such as immediately after Henry realised that she wasn’t the innocent virgin she had been making herself out to be in the six years or so that she had been holding him at bay!

If you just want to immerse yourself in things Tudor while you wait for the next instalment of Wolf Hall coming around you might enjoy this book, but at the end of it you won’t be much the wiser about Mary Boleyn’s life, although she was much maligned by the sound of things as she doesn’t seem to have been any more promiscuous than the rest of them.

Have any of you read any of Alison Weir’s fiction books and if so what did you think of them?