The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir

24 January 2011

Before I get started, let’s just take a moment to admire the rather romantically elegant cover of this book. It’s pretty nice isn’t it? Not to mention unusual. I like it. I mean it makes a change from cropped paintings and photos of miserable looking women in coifs turned slightly away from the camera.

Note, that if anyone comments with ‘OMG, they’ve ripped off Ugly Betty!11!11 That’s so inauthentic!11!1’ I won’t be held responsible for my reply. Actually, that’s not true, I’ll be proud to own my response because it’ll be a masterpiece of combined derision and pity.

This also applies to anyone who comments and accuses me of posting OMG SPOILERS. Yes, Anne Boleyn gets her head chopped off in the last half of this book. Sorry.

Anyway, moving on. I am not a big fan of Alison Weir’s books. I don’t have anything particular against them, I just find them a bit plodding at times, that’s all. She is a very capable biographer (that isn’t meant to sound patronising but that’s the best way that I could describe it) but I don’t know, there’s a SPARK missing from the way that she describes people and events. Maybe that’s just me though. It probably is as she is very popular and rightly so.

She’s started writing fiction now, which is basically a more whimsical re-telling of her non-fiction books as far as I can tell. I started reading The Innocent Traitor, which is about Lady Jane Grey but couldn’t get past the third chapter as I couldn’t handle Lady Jane’s incessant simpering and also because it was written in quite a self consciously apologetic manner with lots of facts shoehorned in so that the reader could presumably be in no doubt that they are in the hands of An Expert. It just wasn’t for me, but here again lots of people I know loved it so I am probably in the wrong.

I had a look at the Amazon reviews of this book though before I embarked on what appears to be my own non-review and was amused to note that a couple of reviewers had bought this particular book under the impression that it is a novel and were rather dismayed by this. I can just imagine them lying on the sofa, getting increasingly furious and wondering when someone is going to have sex or have a conversation or something. Anyway, kudos to them for perservering with what they clearly came away thinking was some bizarre post-modernist musing on Tudor justice. Or the lack of it.

Anne Boleyn. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

I rather liked The Lady in the Tower. I was a bit perturbed by how long it is, considering it describes events that took place over just a few weeks in 1536 and I was also unsure as to how it would pan out with regards to telling us something we don’t already know about Anne Boleyn’s execution. Was it going to be like Julia Fox’s rather pointless and weird book about Jane Boleyn, with lots of annoying ‘should have’, ‘would have’?

The answer is that the length is justified as Weir goes into a LOT of detail, but as to whether this book is a necessary addition to the pile of books about Anne Boleyn that already exist? Well, I am not so sure about that. It was a good read though, but I did find myself skipping passages that basically repeated the same well known facts yet again.

The thing is that I am suffering from Tudor Fatigue. I have basically HAD ENOUGH OF THE TUDORS. There, I’ve said it. I never thought it would come to this point, you know. I’ve been obsessing about Anne Boleyn and the Tudors ever since my grandfather, who was a Scots Guard in the 1950s and used to do guard duty in the Tower at night told me stories about his friends who saw the ghost of Anne by the White Tower. My grandmother was a Tudor fanatic too and so there were plenty of childhood trips to Hever, Penshurst and other places associated with them. She also had a huge collection of Plaidy and Lofts novels, which formed a reprehensible part of my early knowledge of the Tudor family.

Don’t make me scan the photo of myself aged six, gazing regretfully at the plaque that marks the alleged spot of Anne Boleyn’s execution. You wouldn’t like it. For a start, I am wearing bright pink with red hair.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower, Edouard Cibot, 1835. Photo: Musée Rolin.

I recount all of this rather regretfully. I love the Tudors but lately I’ve got fed up with them. Quality books like those by Ives, Starkey and Scarisbrick seem to have given way to awful, meandering cash ins that are passed off as fact, while at the same time the historical fiction market is saturated with the aforementioned novels with covers depicting women turning coyly away in long galleries. ENOUGH. JUST STOP IT.

I’m not an idiot. I know why this is happening. It’s because of that shoddy television series starring the unfeasibly handsome Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn’t it? I’m planning to watch the whole thing from the start next month and will most likely LOVE it, at which point I shall return and eat my bejeweled coif.

And before anyone chimes in with ‘How can you slag off something you’ve never seen, nah nah, I’m so superior’, well ACTUALLY, I dipped in and out of the first series and just couldn’t cope with the bizarre making free and lose with the known facts. I really, really couldn’t understand WHY they changed the Princesses Mary and Margaret into one person when they could have hired two hot actresses and had double the drama? It made no sense at all. It’s not like they were trying to be restrained is it?

Anne Boleyn. Photo: Hever Castle.

Anyway, back to The Lady in the Tower. It’s a good book, it really is but Weir’s view point is somewhat confusing at times. The thing is that I do believe that she has whopping, almost dare I say quite possessive (there are undercurrents of ‘Get off them, fellow historians and biographers! They are MINE! ALL MINE!’ in the way she discusses other people’s work) crushes on both Henry and Anne and ultimately it just pained her to have to a. say that Henry was basically a wife murdering bastard or b. Anne was a bit of a Slutty McSlut so in the end she veered this way and that between them, ultimately coming to no actual conclusion. So which is it? Murdering bastard or Slutty McSlut?

Do I recommend it? Yes, I do actually. It’s a good read. The bit where she comments on the fact that there were less than one hundred women at the Tudor court gives a whole new twist to those slurries of Tudor romances and I found the well placed musings on how long a person actually remains alive after beheading wince inducingly horrible. I also liked the bit at the end where she discussed the Victorian exhumation of bodies in St Peter ad Vincula.

If you are an Anne Boleyn fan, you might not know that her most famous portrait, which is held in the National Portrait Gallery is in urgent need of repair work but they can’t do it until they’ve raised the necessary funds. You can find out more by visiting here.

And there ends my review. Thoughts anyone?


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