Susan Bordo – The Creation of Anne Boleyn (2013)


By far the absolute best book I’ve read on the Tudor’s and specifically on Anne Boleyn. Bordo is not so much interested in providing the reader with a biography of Anne Boleyn, but rather with exploring the reasons why Anne Boleyn has become the most famous of Henry VIII’s wives. It is quite true, while some will know the names of Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, the names of the later wives, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr fade into history, even for those who study this time period. Why has Anne Boleyn become for some a figure of such fascination? Why does she, more than any of the other wives arouse such strong feelings among those who either love or hate her?

One reason is that Anne Boleyn was seemingly at the center of Henry’s decision to break with the Church. While there was a great deal of background maneuvering and other politics involved, the traditional narrative is generally that Henry broke with the Roman Catholic Church because they would not allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Bordo examines Anne Boleyn however as a cultural construct and how most of what we know about her today comes from pretty recent knowledge.

Bordo takes issue with the way Anne Boleyn has been portrayed in recent popular culture, in things such as The Other Boleyn Girl, or The Tudors. Bordo’s problems with these portrayals of Anne is not that she thinks they are wrong, but rather these two cultural objects, a historical fiction novel and a dramatized TV show, claim to be representing fact. Bordo especially attack’s Philippa Gregory’s claim that her novel is “historically accurate,” in terms of its portrayal of the life of Anne Boleyn. In reality, we can not be sure of anything when it comes to Anne Boleyn because the sources are so scarce; We can only rely on knowledge that has been twisted and formed throughout the years, most of which came from people who had ulterior motives.

Throughout her study Bordo does not seek to condemn Anne to live on in history as a “harlot” but nor does she seek to rehabilitate Anne. There is no way of knowing for sure what happened during Anne Boleyn’s life and the events that led to her rise and downfall will remain to be clouded by politics and betrayal. We’ll never know if anything about Anne is 100% true, and that reason, the mystery and allure that can be ascribed to her, is why Anne Boleyn occupies such an important place in the historical imagination.

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