Posts Tagged ‘Anne Boleyn’

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Review: To Die For, by Sandra Byrd

09/09/2011

This review was originally posted on Luxury Reading September 7, 2011. Check it out for a great discussion in the comments, and add your own below!

In the 475 years since the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn, her story has been told and retold by countless historians and storytellers in attempts to exonerate and vindicate, or to further vilify. Contemporary writers have increasingly posited that the Queen was falsely accused and convicted through political maneuvering by her rivals at court; no matter what one believes, however, her story continues to rivet those who hear it.

But what of those who lived in the Queen’s shadow? While writers have shed light on some of the Queen’s most notorious family and friends, little attention has been devoted to others who lived in her orbit, whose lives were impacted by her triumphs as well as her downfall simply by knowing her. Sandra Byrd’s To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn tells the story of Anne’s rise and fall through the eyes of Meg Wyatt*, her childhood friend and lady-in-waiting whose own life also hangs on Anne’s favor with the king.

Meg Wyatt is in love with Will Ogilvy, the heir of a neighboring family and friend to the Wyatt and Boleyn families. When Will leaves for school with Meg’s brother Thomas and Anne leaves for the French court, Meg is left to care for her ailing mother, at the mercy of a controlling father and her sneering brother Edmund. Meg faces one disappointment after another from that point, including Will’s decision to take holy vows and her own marriage by proxy to the aging Baron Blackston. However, as Anne catches the eye of Henry VIII, she calls Meg to the English court and opens up a world of possibility to her.

All is not well for long, though, and as the reader travels through the familiar tale of Anne’s ill-fated royal romance the connection between her fate and Meg’s is sadly all too easy to see. While Meg visits clandestine reform meetings and struggles to retain her independence, Anne becomes ever more desperate to bear a son and keep the King’s love so that she can avoid the danger looming about them all.

While Anne’s fate is all too familiar, the success of Byrd’s story lies in Meg’s unexpected path to everything she thought she never wanted. Meg is such a vibrant character that she emerges from Anne’s shadow and takes her rightful place as the heroine of the novel; as such, the title could more accurately be “A Novel including Anne Boleyn, but really about Meg Wyatt” – and so much the better.

To Die For is an exciting and heartbreaking journey through one of the most tumultuous periods in the Tudor dynasty. Byrd’s clear and expressive writing style and her steady pace throughout give this book a priority place on the historical fiction shelf.

Rating: 4.5/5

*Meg Wyatt’s real name was Anne, but was changed by the author for the sake of narrative clarity.

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“I am come hither to die…”

19/05/2011
Anne Boleyn, granddaughter of Elizabeth Tilney...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s the 475th anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution at the Tower of London, two days after the executions of the men convicted of treason (and other sundry crimes) beside her.

I’ve made no secret here of my belief in her innocence, at least of the crimes for which she was beheaded, and I’ve often considered how England, Henry, Elizabeth, and the world would have changed had she lived on as queen.

In her honor, below is the commonly accepted text of her speech on the scaffold, and a poem in tribute.

First, her speech:

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince there was never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.

In memoriam:

 I am come hither to die,
for false treason convicted yet never confessed –
Have I sinned, not against you gathered here
O ye men who would speak evil
and turn my lord against me,
I will yet be with him evermore.
And though my body may rest beneath the ground
I shall remain in this world in the hearts of those
who even now would take up my cause.
I am come hither to die,
yet in dying will live forever –
to God I commend my soul, and to you I commend my memory.

Requiescat in Pace, Your Majesty.

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Loose “Threads”

04/02/2011
Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Image via Wikipedia

I doubt there’s a soul left who knows me yet doesn’t know of my deep and abiding passion for the Tudor dynasty, but just in case it bears repeating. Also common knowledge is that my favorite of Henry VIII’s wives is Anne Boleyn, and that I believe she’s gotten a terrible reputation from the perpetuation of inaccurate historical reports not only in nonfiction writing but also in novelizations of her life.

That being said, I can’t pass up a good story about Anne Boleyn. I was doing research on the ill-fated Queen and came across “Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII Miscellaneous Facts” at nellgavin.com.  I learned while reading that Gavin had written a book – Threads – about a reincarnated Anne having to make peace with and forgive a reincarnated Henry for his treatment of her. I decided to take a look (“it’s in a book…” ~ Reading Rainbow fans, this is for you)…

Gavin’s clever wordplay and use of imagery draw the reader in from the first page, and though the book’s sections don’t follow each other in a straight linear path they are clearly marked and not difficult to follow. Gavin retells the story of the Tudor queen using well-documented historical information, but rather than that being the central plot it is only one scenario in “Anne”‘s recollection. Threads is what Gavin refers to as a “reincarnation fantasy”, in which we meet “Anne” between lives in a limbo where she evaluates the life she has just finished and the lessons brought with her from lives before it. The reader has the opportunity to see those lives as well, and each one contributes in some way to explaining why Queen Anne lived and died as she did.

In order to avoid confusion, and in a move I appreciated completely, Gavin uses the “Tudor” names for characters who appear in each of Anne’s lives, and only occasionally offers an alternative name for the life in question: Henry is always Henry, Thomas Wyatt is always Thomas Wyatt, Princess Mary is always Princess Mary, and so on. As with Anne, Gavin’s treatment of each character and how they relate to one another provides a compelling literary explanation for the occurrences at Whitehall in the early 1500s; when combined with Anne’s omniscient “inter-life” reflections, it fleshes out an age-old story in a new and refreshing way.

As is usually the case, I drew a certain conclusion from the brief description I read on Gavin’s Web site, and I was eager to see a modern-day Henry-Anne relationship much like the relationship between Declan and Angelina in Nora Roberts’ Midnight Bayou (side note: don’t judge, and if you’re ever looking for a “romance novel” that defies its genre, check her out) — a story of physical and metaphysical reconnection that ultimately resolves a centuries-old conflict between two people. Unfortunately in this case, Gavin had other plans. Without thoroughly giving away the ending I will simply say I was disappointed with it and, had I wielded the pen, I would have done things differently.

However, I finished the book last week and have since taken a few days to mull it over. I may not agree with Gavin’s ending, but I appreciate how well it fits with the rest of the story — rather than jumping on a one-way train to the conclusion, Gavin focuses on every minute aspect of the journey and really makes the reader feel a part of it. Likewise, I disagreed with her use of certain apocryphal tales about Anne (such as the sixth finger rumor) and with one plot point that she explains in the Afterword has absolutely no basis in history, but the incorporation of each of those details is done purposefully and justified in the narrative.

I will read this story again. Hopefully next time I will pick up on even more than I did in my first read, but either way I know that I’m in for a wonderful story.

You can find Threads in print and for the NOOK at Barnes & Noble in print or NOOKbook, or at other major book retailers.

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