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 The Creation of Anne Boleyn

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Virgo Vestalis Maxima

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Join date : 2011-12-30

PostSubject: The Creation of Anne Boleyn   Sat 22 Jul 2017, 16:34

I am reading a new book about "the Tudors' most notorious queen" and I am learning, yet again, that, when it comes to history, it is best to trust no one - absolutely no one. Susan Bordo, an academic from the University of Kentucky (can any good come out of Kentucky?), in her 2015 book, "The Creation of Anne Boleyn", explores how just about everything we know about Anne Boleyn comes from biased purveyors of "fake news" - notably Eustace Chapuys , but also from religious fanatics with various axes (or French swords) to grind.

Derek Wilson (whom I'm going to meet in October - yippee!) has said of Bordo's study: "Bordo has pulled off an important coup ...reminds us that, while history is fascinating, so is the history of history..."

The history of history - now there's something worth discussing. Any comments?
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PostSubject: Re: The Creation of Anne Boleyn   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 00:11

The historiography of Anne Boleyn makes for a particularly good case study. Everything from Lancelot Carles' poem in 1536 to Susan Bordo's book in 2015 seems to highlight the importance of critical analysis of texts and sources. 

Although Chapuys (the Imperial ambassador) was antipathetic towards Anne while Carles (with the French embassy) was sympathetic towards her, what's interesting is that both seemed to be in agreement that Henry himself had, by then, become something of a lose cannon and with a questionable temperament to boot. In terms of historiography, when 2 opposing narrators then agree on something, that would suggest that a lose cannon of hypothesis could well be a smoking gun of fact. On balance I tend to prefer Carles' take on Anne to that of Chapuys. Who can fail, for example, to be moved by his description of her dignified demeanour during her trial:

'Qui ne craint gresle, ou vent impetueulx
Elle s'asseure & prend coeur vertueulx
Plus que jamais, & ores ne veult craindre
Ceulx qu'elle a peu au paravant contraindre
Ainsi s'en vient avec ses Damoyselles
Non comme pour defendre ses querelles
Mais elle tient une grace, & maintien
Comme venant a l'honneur d'un grand bien...

Elle defend son honneur sobrement 
Sans se troubler, mais plus constantement
En son visaige asseuroit sa raison 
Que ne faisoit par force d'oraison'

A defining image which has stood the test of time and been passed down to us through the centuries.

P.S. Temp, I'm partial to the occasional shot of bourbon whiskey such as Jim Beam. Does that count as a good thing to come out of Kentucky?
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Virgo Vestalis Maxima

Posts : 5296
Join date : 2011-12-30

PostSubject: Re: The Creation of Anne Boleyn   Sun 23 Jul 2017, 16:01

Ah, but I get the impression that de Carles was possibly a bit smitten by Anne, Vizzer: he watched her die, too, and, like a good Frenchman, he noted and praised the beauty of her complexion, "pure and clear as though cleansed by all her suffering". On the other hand, another anonymous observer at the scaffold thought she looked absolutely dreadful (understandable, given the circumstances) - " feeble and half-stupefied"!

I'm actually quite shocked as I continue my reading of Bordo's book. I thought I knew a lot about Anne Boleyn: I'm beginning to realise that I know very little. As Bordo points out: "...(revisions) have made us question how much received wisdom about the Tudors, most of which we learnt in the school of popular culture, is sedimented mythology turned into 'history' by decades of repetition."

I should like, if I may, to quote a fair chunk from the opening chapter of "The Creation of Anne Boleyn" - these paragraphs really made me sit up. The chapter heading is Why You Shouldn't Believe Everything You've Heard About Anne Boleyn".

" 'For weeks Anne, like the goddess of the chase, had pursued her rival. She bullied Henry; she wheedled; she threatened; and most devastatingly, she cried. Her arrows pierced his heart and hardened his judgement. It was how she destroyed Wolsey. Now she would remove Katherine.'

Is this a quotation from Philippa Gregory's novel 'The Other Boleyn Girl', with its desperate, vengeful Anne? Or perhaps a fragment from the Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sander's famously vitriolic portrait of Anne in 'The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism'? Directions from the shooting script of an episode from the first season of 'The Tudors' series? No, this description was written by one of the twentieth century's most respected and admired historians of the Tudor era, and it comes from a book that is categorised as 'biography' and lauded, on the back cover, as 'a masterful work of history'.

There is no doubting David Starkey's expertise or his ability to juice up the dry bones of the historical record with the narrative drive and color of a novel. It's one of the main reasons his books like 'Six Wives' (2004) are so popular: people enjoy them. They are less likely to recognise though that Starkey - writing for a popular audience - is building a story for dramatic effect, imagining what Anne thought, said, and did - and how her actions impacted on Henry. Starkey's chief source of Anne 'bullying' Henry is Eustace Chapuys, Anne's sworn enemy; and his theory that the hardening of Henry's character was due to Anne's manipulation was just that - a theory. The idea that it was Anne who engineered Wolsey's fall is speculation. The evidence for the portrait he paints would never pass muster in a modern court of law, for it is slender to begin with and is nestled in the gossip and hearsay of some highly biased sources. As such, Starkey might have legitimately presented it as a case that can be made. Instead, he appears to deliver Anne's motivation, moral character, and effect on Henry to us as though it were established fact."

Apologies for the long quotation, but Lord, as I confessed above, this book is making me think twice about everything I thought I "knew" about la Boleyn. It's proving to be an interesting read...
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