Book Review: Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

Jane Seymour (15)

Lately I’ve been on an Anne Boleyn kick, reading everything about her that I can get my hands on in the hope of better understanding the woman she became during her reign as queen.

When I originally ordered “Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession” I was excited to read it because I had really enjoyed Alison Weir’s first book in the series called, “Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen”. Almost a year after finishing the one on Katherine I picked up this book…made it to page two and closed it. You see, I was discouraged by the fact that Weir immediately mentioned Anne’s extra nail. This is a topic I’m so tired of reading about and to be honest there is no proof that it actually existed. So I set the book down and swore I wasn’t going to read it.

About a month and a half later I decided to try again.

I began reading again and this time made it past the extra nail – I was reminded why I purchased the book in the first place. Alison Weir is a magnificent storyteller. She has a way of putting her knowledge of the time into use while writing a novel. This book is listed as fiction but you’ll find a lot of fact between the pages.

Weir’s story of Anne is refreshing, making Anne into a real person – one who never loved Henry VIII and was content to settle for power over love. Her relationship with her sister Mary was as troubling as we’ve always known and her love for her younger brother George was fierce. We see a side of her father, Thomas Boleyn that only slightly differs from other books about him. The part I liked about him was that he eventually reached a point and asked if it was all worth the trouble. This was prior to the marriage of his daughter and the king.

Anne’s physical attraction to Sir Henry Norris (in this story) surprised me but left me wanting them to have a stolen kiss. Then again I’m a sucker for romance in history. When Anne lost Henry Percy (because of Wolsey) Anne believed she would never again find love like she had with Percy – so when Henry pursued Anne she was confident that she would not fall in love with him because she was still saddened over the loss of her true love. She couldn’t love the king anyway, not after the way he treated her sister Mary – by raping her – he was a monster. She would not fall in love with him. Ever.

In every story about Anne that I’ve read she is always depicted as a woman who was intelligent and knew how to get what she wanted from men – something she learned while in Mechelen and at the court of Francis I. This book is no different. Anne’s cunning could compare to any woman of present day. She grew to love the power that came with being queen and became irrational when Henry embarrassed her by having mistresses.

If you are looking for a great novel about Anne Boleyn I’d highly recommend this novel – go back and read the one on Katherine, too. Well worth it. I’d give them both 5 out of 5 stars.

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  1. The mention of the finger annoyed me too. I had thought that it was considered an untrue myth about Anne and as a historian I would have thought better of Alison Weir. The idea of her having an extra finger etc was written down a few decades after Anne’s death by a man who had never seen her before.

    • It is considered a myth. This series by Weir is considered fiction, so she takes liberties. I believe this series is confusing for those who closely follow her non-fiction work. The Six Queens series is (I believe) meant for pure entertainment with a mix of some historical events. I’m worried about the Anne of Cleves book – I have it but have heard some of the story line and it worries me. Thankfully Heather R. Darsie has released a thoroughly researched book on Anne of Cleves that will blow everything we ever knew about Anne out of the water.

    • I just started reading and definitely miffed by the extra nail. But, the overarching annoyance is the bad character development so far. I don’t think I’m getting to know Anne on a personal level. Wish me luck on finishing this.

  2. Hello There! I just found your website a few days ago- but I am a long time Tudors fan (since age 10!! Lovely Site! I really want to read this series and start with Catherine of Aragon- but I’m so weary- your review has helped and yes, what a shame about the nail. I keep hearing mixed reviews of this novel but if you can give it a go and enjoy it for what it is so can I!

  3. I don’t know what it is about Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth that I find so fascinating, but I do. I remember seeing the movie ‘Anne of a Thousand Days.’ I think these books and movies aroused in me the question of how or why was Henry so in love with Anne that he would do anything to get her? Then why did that obsessive love turn to murderous hatred when he had her killed?

    He wanted a male heir desperately and she was probably smart enough to play on that.

    He was a sensuous man and, I believe ‘a boob man.’ In one letter, he calls her breasts little birds or something. In his rejection of Anne of Cleves, he doubted her virginity because her breast were slack.

    Short of a time machine how can we deduce how and why Henry was smitten. And why she aroused his rage later.

  4. I have always been interested in the Tudor Dynasty but have to confess I really didn’t know much. I knew Henry had six wives but what order they came in and the period they all lived, I couldn’t have told you.

    After a visit to Sudeley Castle last year and seeing the tomb of Katherine Parr I found myself wanting to discover more. I mentioned it to a friend and she lent me Phillipa Gregory’s book ‘The Taming of a Queen’. It took me a while to pick up the book but once I did the seed was set!

    On a visit to RHS Wisley I bought Alison Weir’s book ‘Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession’ but because I wanted to read the books in order I immediately ordered ‘Katherine of Aragon – The True Queen’. I know it is a novel but I am learning so much about the people and events that formed the Tudor period. I also find myself looking up events in history books to widen my knowledge.

    I’ve come to this late at 65 but these novels have certainly whetted my appetite and the old brain is actually beginning to absorb everything!! Long may it continue.

  5. About Anne’s reputed extra finger and wen, I think I read about them first in ‘the Concubine,’

    Other than a time machine, how else can we learn how people looked long ago? We can only go by contemporaries’ comments and portraits of the time. I realize a lot of trash talk was made about Anne. But if a number of contemporaries make a comment, even ones who were not inimical to her, it adds to the probability of it being true.

    Looking at portraits of Henry’s queens, I think the young Katharine of Aragon looked the most beautiful, So sad that her looks were ravaged by frequent unsuccessful pregnancies, The fact mentioned in the previous book ‘Katharine, the True Queen,’ that she died without being allowed to see her only living child, her beloved Mary, was heartbreakingl

  6. Alison says in the book she takes some lierary license with a few things. We as history buffs sometimes get a little uptight about historical accuracy. Henry was in no way a rapist but it added some zip to the story. As for the 3rd nail. We don’t actually know if she had one or not so let’s just go with it just briefly. Let’s move on from it now

    • My problem is this: I don’t think a historical novelist should represent as true what is known to be untrue; nor represent as untrue what is known to be true; and should not picture a person as vile, evil, and doing certain evil things etc. unless the known record bears out that he/she has behaved like that. So, e.g., Stalin can be pictured as plotting false charges against someone, he was known to do that. And a lot of nasty things can be laid against Henry VIII. But not, so far, rape.

    • I’m readng ‘Anne Boleyn; A King’s Obsession.’ It was not Henry that was said to rape Mary, but Francois, the lecherous king of France. Unless Mary was regularly raped by rulers and it was done to her again by Henry when she returned to England! Francois is described as cutting holes in young ladies’ walls so he could watch them undress and make love. It is said he spied on his father Louis and his queen Mary to see if Louis was able to possibly sire an heir who would precede him to the throne.

      • I remember Anne specifically calling Henry a rapist in the book as well as Mary also claimed that he raped her. Right? Or maybe she was referring to another woman bit I just finished the book.

      • Louis XII was not the fathild would have er of Francis I. If he had been, Francis would have had no worries about any child Mary would have borne Louis.
        I don’t know the precise relationship; but had Mary borne Louis a son, that child would have taken priority over Francis.
        And-I have never read that Francis raped anyone.

  7. I’m wondering why you are offended by the mention of the extra nail or finger. That it’s not documented? Anne did wear those long sleeves, a new style, which would have hidden it. Also, the wen reputed to be on her neck. That too caused a style, her necklace that would hide it.

    • The comments made about her extra nail and wen were made by those who had disliked Anne or did not even know her. That’s what upsets me. Eric Ives even states regarding the wen and high colored gowns that she supposedly wore were not in fashion until many years after her death.

      Ives believes that the extra nail is possible. The nail bothers me the most because it adds nothing to a story. Especially in this book. It was wholly unnecessary for Weir to mention it.

      • I thought the scene of Anne in front of her mirror did add to the story. It showed she was not a flawless beauty. It also alluded to a sense of inferiority to her sister Mary and intimates she must have been a lot smarter, to manage Henry a lot better ~ for a time

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