The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

Article excerpt


Many of us are familiar with Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, though popular novels and films such as Anne of a Thousand Days. Numerous biographies have recounted the legend of Anne, the upstart, who broke up a royal marriage, causing England's break with the Church, and who was tried and executed on the charge of adultery with five men, one of them her own brother. In our own time, public opinion about her guilt of adultery has changed, but her image as a femme fatale has not. That is until now.

The latest biography to tell Anne's story is The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn by Retha Warnicke. First printed in 1989, and released last fall in a popular Canto edition, it was marketed as an original revisionist study. But this book is more than original - it challenges close to every other work written about Anne since her execution. Although scholarly in nature, this biography caused an immediate controversy among historians because Warnicke argues that Anne was not guilty of adultery and was not brought down by a faction at court, but was deliberately rejected and put to death by Henry after she miscarried a deformed fetus.

Many modern historians have tried to blame Anne for her own fall by charging that she was ruthlessly ambitious, manipulative and excessively sensual.

Warnicke traces these claims back to the dispatches of an Imperial ambassador named Eustace Chapuys. While most historians have accepted Chapuys' authority, Warnicke identifies him as a painfully biased source (Anne's "greatest critic") and one distinguished only by the "extraordinary inaccuracies of his remarks. …