Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Hersey, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn:  Adultery, Heresy, Desire
by Amy Licence
publisher:  Amberley Publishing
date:  2017
pages: 472

An excellent work, although, perhaps not on the same level as Eric Ives’ analytical biography because of the word choice of ‘probably this happened; maybe she was here; she could have done this’. Examples of this guesswork: “Anne probably had a small entourage with her, perhaps a woman as chaperone and trusted servants from the Boleyn household”… p. 56; and worse, was the supposition on page 67, of the books which would have been in Margaret of Austria’ library.  This reviewer almost stopped reading after such frustrating and confusing lack of authenticity but decided to give Licence a further chance.

By using those conjectures, Licence diminishes her own research– which was commendable by the way.  Licence’s ability to explain the social and cultural elements of the era were outstanding, therefore, it is a pity she felt compelled to try to place Anne in scenes or guess what she was thinking.  The details in many areas covered, such as the Progresses made by Henry and Anne, were ambitious enough for a volume on their own—even covering Anne’s life prior to marriage to Henry could have provided an excellent and not overwhelming text. Licence could have stuck to the first part of Anne’s life and her heritage, then the glossing over of many of the last episodes in her narrative (her relationship with Mary and her trial), would not be so glaring after the extensive coverage of the earlier material of her time on the Continent and it’s impact on her.  Licence had difficulty in determining the greatest impact on Anne for her Protestant leanings (of which she was less deeply grounded than Katherine Parr).  Her stays in both foreign countries were with predominately Catholic hosts.  Licence’s repeated evidence of Anne being more radical than Henry was in the fact that she wanted to use the revenue from the dissolved monasteries for charitable endeavors.  This in itself is not Protestant.  Fundamentally both she and Henry were Catholic.

When reading Anne Boleyn’s life story, one cannot contemplate that Henry VIII was a victim to the Court’s machinations including foreign alliances, aristocratic gambits and feminine ambitions. He was omnipresent, all powerful and tyrannical. Anne’s life must be read in the context of her era, not ours.  It was not always easy to discover where Licence’s analysis fell.  The use of the love letters Henry wrote to Anne as proof of his affection can also be used as examples of his tyranny.  These notes have been interpreted as bullying when read as applying psychological pressure on Anne.  Regardless, Henry’s will was carried out with little concern of the fall-out and by 1536 he wanted to replace Anne.  Her reign of influence was over once Henry determined it would be.  Anne was a victim of the adage, “Queens are born not made?”

Licence’s coverage of the lesser-known family background and the time of Anne’s life when she was in the Courts of Margaret of Austria and the French was of particular interest as a reader can better understand the impact on her life.  Licence does not venture very far into the realm of analysis giving credit to other historians, despite being painstaking in her chronology of Anne’s life.  This approach could deter the more casual reader.  Said reader could have benefited from a Family tree as a visual aid to help keep straight the many similarly named relatives such as the Geoffrey Boleyns, Mary Sheltons, Thomas Howards, Margaret Tudors and even the Princess Marys.

This reviewer appreciated the extensive use of notes—something that appeared to have gone on the wayside for non-fiction titles.  It was a pity they were mostly secondary sources, rarely contained page numbers and did not always follow the quotations in the text. The inclusion of the Appendix, “Anne’s Bills and Debts” was mystifying as it had not been stressed in the text that she spent too much money nor was it tagged as never-before-seen material.