I have a deep fascination with Tudor times, especially with the various wives of Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn in particular is a figure that divides opinion - some people see her as simply an innocent victim of the fickle Henry's overwhelming desire for a male heir, others as a cunning, conniving adulterous whore. She's inspired many books - both fact and fiction - and the latest book I've read about her life is 'The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn', a fictional work by Robin Maxwell.
Now, one would presume that a book with this title would follow a simple diary format , but that actually isn't the case . The story is told from two points of view - that of the young Queen Elizabeth I ( Anne's daughter) in the early years of her rain, under pressure to marry, so long as she marries anyone other than the man she loves, and the viewpoint of Anne herself, through the diary she left for her daughter to read.
The diary element begins on the 4th of January 1522, many years before Anne became the queen, when she is presented with a blank book by the poet Wyatt. And the initial entries in truth read like the beginning of a diary that could have been written by any awkward adolescent - and given that Anne, whose date of birth is not known, would have been between 15-21 years of age at the time, this makes sense. She makes an awkward start, as many people do, claiming not to know what to write, and detailing the little dramas that make up her everyday life - an engagement to an Irish man she has never met, flirting with the many men that hang around in the palace, her boredom at having left France to serve at the dreary old English court.
Slowly though, the events in her diary become more dramatic, and more important - the night she catches Henrys eye, the beating she received from her father for attempting to arrange to marry for love, the intrigues and politics of the Tudor court.
All the while, these glimpses into Annes mind are broken up by a peek into Elizabeth's life in the present . The pressure to marry to secure the kingdom, for after all no mere girl can run a country. The first flush of young love, and memories of her own less than perfect past.
This book isn't terribly historically accurate - for example, like many fictional works it persists in the rumour that Anne Boleyn had six fingers on her right hand , a rumour started by Nicholas Sandar in 1585. Since physical deformities were regarded in those days as a sign of great evil, there is no chance that Anne would have captured Henry's heart had this indeed been the case - and it was indeed proved not the be so when her body was exhumed in 1876.
However, despite small inaccuracies, this book actually managed to open up knowledge I previously did not have about the times . One example would be the mentions of the Holy Maid of Kent, whom Anne visits at one point in the book looking for a glimpse into her future . Although there is no record of Anne herself ever having visited the Holy Maid, she certainly did exist, and was in fact executed for making prophecies about Henry VIII and his marriage to Anne .
The book is, in my opinion, largely sympathetic towards Anne, although she certainly has her faults. She is for example, short tempered, jealous, and obsessed with revenge on those who have wronged her at various points . I like this though - it makes her human, and makes the book itself much more believeable.
This is a story that has been told endless times in all manner of ways - but I certainly do think this particular version is worth a read, because the dual viewpoint of Elizabeth and Anne gives it a certain depth, and adds elements to the story that would not otherwise be there . An easy yet interesting read - 4 stars .
I have a fascination with Henry VIII and his wives, like many people Anne Boleyn is a particular character from this period that I enjoy reading about as she is arguably the wife who attracts so many conspiracy theories and it's hard to make a decision about whether she was the villain of the era or a hard done by woman who was sacrificed on the whims of the men in her life.
When I saw The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell in the library I instantly picked it up and added it to the pile I had ready to check out, I couldn't wait to start reading and begun as soon as I got home.
The story begins with a newly crowned Elizabeth I, within the first few pages she receives a visit from an elderly lady who gives her a journal her mother kept and eventually gave to this woman on the eve of her execution requesting that she should give it to Elizabeth when she feels the time is right. Whether it is the thought of her impending death (she is very, very old) or the damage the country sees Elizabeth doing to her reputation with the inappropriate relationship she is in with married Robert Dudley, but the woman goes to visit her and explains the time has come for her to read the thoughts of her much reviled mother.
When Elizabeth begins reading she has to do so with an open mind, being only three years old when her mother was beheaded she recalls a little love for the woman but over the years has had her mind and thoughts poisoned somewhat against her to the point that she now no longer thinks or her or speaks her name.
The book flips between pages of Anne's diary and the thoughts and actions of the young Queen Elizabeth as she slowly begins to understand that she was much loved by her mother, a fact that has been lost on her since she was a toddler and she also realises that her own struggles in life were not caused by Anne Boleyn but by her spiteful and semi-deranged father and his close circle of advisers.
The book is such a wonderful idea, well let me clarify that somewhat. This book would have been a wonderful idea had it been better thought out. I was looking forward to reading the private thoughts of this ill fated Queen whereas all this novel really does is rehash the old basic facts and tell the story in the first person in diary form. I am used to Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory weaving ambitious tales around true facts, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn read too much like a text book for me to get any real enjoyment from.
I think most of us know the basic tale of Anne Boleyn and those of us, like me, who read extensively into her life are aware of many little historic titbits relating to her. The problem is this book didn't tell me anything new, whether as historical fact or historical fiction. As a diary I thought Anne's personality and thoughts should come through but everything she says is rather too generalised to really be able to get into her mind and understand the torment she went through after realising her cruel husband, the King, had fallen out of love with her. Everything was told with a clinical eye and this doesn't ring true for a feisty woman such as Anne Boleyn who was facing the fight of her life after delivering her husband of a baby girl rather than a boy, although as history tells us this 'girl' went on to become one of the greatest monarchs this country has ever known so her legacy surely lived on.
Another thing I despised about this novel is the bias the author showed when it came to portraying Anne as a kind and generous maid, loving to a fault and always thinking of others. Now, I know the medieval period is open to much speculation but I very much doubt whether Anne Boleyn was this kindly person with always a good word on her lips. In fact real diaries and correspondence from the time show that the opposite is in fact more likely with the Queen having a sharp tongue and ideas very much above her station, I believe she would have done anything to be Queen and had Henry not decided that the grass was greener with Jane Seymour think she would have held a rein of terror over the people of England for as long as they allowed her to.
Of course this is open to debate, I just didn't like the rosy way the woman was portrayed by Robin Maxwell as it didn't ring true in the slightest and in a way made a total mockery of the diary theme to the novel because surely such a kindly caring woman would have written with far more emotion that this book reveals. Even the diary entry written directly to her daughter just before her own execution read rather factually with barely a hint of the terror Anne Boleyn must have been feeling at her fast approaching death - the first Queen of England to ever have been publicly executed.
I was disappointed, very disappointed indeed. After reading the novel, and skimming many many pages of pointless drivel, I felt I knew nothing new about the life of Anne Boleyn or any of her peers. The incestuous relationship she supposedly undertook with her brother was glossed over within a couple of pages which was surprising as this was the main event that led to her death, rather than a 'normal' affair which probably would have resulted in her death sentence being commuted into lifetime servitude in a far away convent.
I would imagine that someone who doesn't know much about the life of this strange and badly done by woman would get more out of this book than I did, but if you know a fair amount about her as I do then you really will be wasting your time as there is nothing original in this novel and it's not even terribly well written.
You can buy a paperback copy of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn from www.amazon.co.uk for around £5, although personally I would recommend you borrow a copy from the library just in case you are as disappointed as I was by the end of it.
As some of you know I have an obsession with Henry VIII and his wives so whilst browsing on Amazon for my next book to read I stumbled across this one and had to have it. I bought a second hand copy that is admittedly tatty but readable, because of this it cost me only a penny plus p&p. My copy was written in 1997 but there is a 2002 version that costs £5.49 new and £1.68 used.
The Secret Diary Of Anne Boleyn is of course a work of fiction. As far as we know Anne Boleyn did not have a diary, mores the pity! The book begins with us meeting her daughter Elizabeth I early on in her reign. She has yet to become the formidable Queen she later was and is still very much the flirty young woman she was in the beginning. An old woman called Lady Sommerville asks to see Elizabeth and when she is granted an audience she hands over this diary.
Elizabeth is portrayed as always believing the lies about her mother, she was a traitor, an alduterer and her beheading was right and just but when she starts reading the diary she realises these claims aren't true and perhaps Henry was at fault.
The diary begins at the point where Anne returns to the English court after spending time at the French court. She is given the empty book by Thomas Wyatt and decides to record her thoughts in it. We then go through the years that follow right up until the day before her beheading. Initially the diary is written as a "dear diary" kind of book but after Elizabeth is born it switches to being a way of Anne communicating with her daughter.
The diary is of course not written daily, that would lead to an enormous book! In between diary entries we read more about Elizabeth and what she's doing and some of Elizabeth's actions are attributed to the diary such as the reason she decided never to marry.
I have to say this is a great concept for a book and it works really well. It isn't a long book at only 250 pages but completely held my interest. Although it is fiction it does contain some truths, the diary entries often reflect on events we know really did happen and this makes it more credible.
I found the entire book interesting and couldn't put it down but I did find some of the sections about Elizabeth and her being a giddy young woman in love with a married man went on a bit long and I was thinking "the diary, let's just get back to the diary!". However I warn you there is a small part at the end of the book that wasn't really necessary and didn't really fit with the rest of the story, you'll know what I mean if you read it!
It's a great semi-fictional read for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn and her life, don't expect alot of detail or completely accurate history and this will provide an interesting read.