Historical Fiction and Its Impact on History

This is a topic that I am extremely passionate about – historical fiction, and history. Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir are quite possibly the most well-known authors on Tudor history. Both women are historians, both women are authors. While Gregory appears to only write historical fiction, Weir began her popular career writing non-fiction, and then transformed into what I would consider fiction/historical fiction.

Before I delve into the topic I must confess that I am a fan of historical fiction. I began reading books by Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory when my interest in the Tudor was first piqued at the beginning of the new millennium. Gregory’s books in the Cousin’s War series like The Red Queen, The White Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughters gave me the history that led up to the Tudors, and made me want to understand how that history impacted the Tudor dynasty. But before I jumped in with both feet (to the Tudors), I wanted to know more about the White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville) and her husband, King Edward IV. To this day they are still my favorite King and Queen consort because of Gregory’s books and my subsequent research. With that I began searching for every article I could find online about the well-known couple.

Programs like The Tudors pulled in millions of viewer to explore the exciting world of Henry VIII and his court – led by the handsome Jonathan Rhys Meyers (JRM) as Henry VIII one could not help but get pulled into his world of opulence, sport, love and politics. It was everything I could have asked for as someone who was wanting to envision this world of centuries ago. It was easy for me to put aside the fact that JRM had no true resemblance to the infamous king because he was able to make me believe he was indeed the man through (in my opinion) his superb acting skill. The same goes for his queens, Katherine of Aragon (KoA) and Anne Boleyn. As we know KoA was not a brunette, yet Maria Doyle Kennedy was able to transport me back in time to the plight of KoA through her acting chops. Anne Boleyn, who was played by the marvelous Natalie Dormer, did not have blue eyes, yet I was able to see past that as well. The point that I am trying to make is that the writing is what transported me back in time to the first half of the sixteenth century, not the accuracy.

While there are many historical purists who wish to discount any piece of historical fiction, I tend to promote, and encourage those wanting to learn about the dynasty to start with historical fiction, and then move to non-fiction when they want to learn the real history – because, let’s be honest, in most cases the two fall very closely together.

The beauty of historical fiction is that the author is allowed to fill in the gaps – to tell the story where we do not have actual contemporary evidence to do it for us. This is generally where the problems come in. In Gregory’s book The White Queen she writes that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta used spells and “witchcraft” to get the King of England to marry her – after the disappearance of her sons, the princes in the Tower, Woodville placed a curse on the people responsible for the disappearance of her sons in the Tower of London. There is no evidence that either occurred but it makes the story even more interesting, especially when she curses her son’s murderer to have no male heir…enter the Tudors. The connection that to this day people still believe to be true because they have not done further research.

On the other hand, Weir claims in her newest book on Anne of Cleves called Anna of Kleve – the Princess in the Portrait, that Anne was no virgin. Using this contemporary report as her basis:

Surely, as ye know, I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. For I have felt her belly and her breast, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid… [The] which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters… I have left her as good a maid as I found her.”

This makes it seem to those who do not know better that *spoiler alert* Anne was no virgin – that she had given birth prior to her marriage to King Henry. Using a online marketing machine to spread the message has not helped Anne’s true story be told, only to perpetuate the myth even further.

While I will always defend historical fiction, I also see it as my responsibility to clear the air, so to speak – to leave my readers or followers with examples of nonfiction, or contemporary reports that examine the scene more thoroughly. Case in point, Heather R. Darsie’s book called Anna, Duchess of Cleves – the King’s Beloved Sister, in this book the author explains a different side of the story that had not been told my the English during the downfall of her marriage to the King. This time we see what I now believe to be the true story – that politics is what destroyed their marriage, not Anne.

I implore all of you to read historical fiction for entertainment and early learning – then move forward and research further to discover the true stories of these fascinating people. Do not assume that everything you read in historical fiction is fact. Assume otherwise and learn for yourself…that’s the fun part – in my opinion.

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Book Review – “Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen” by Alison Weir

Jane Seymour (9)

Before I begin my review, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of Weir’s series on the six Tudor queens. There are quite a few Weir haters out there but you cannot deny this woman can write one hell of a novel – not to mention she’s popping one of these out every year. It’s quite amazing.

Description of Book from Amazon:

Acclaimed author and historian Alison Weir continues her epic Six Tudor Queens series with this third captivating novel, which brings to life Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII?s most cherished bride and mother of his only legitimate male heir.

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and as an adult, Jane is invited to the King?s court to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumors of Henry?s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn?also lady-in-waiting to the queen?all the more shocking.? For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a haunting incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures Anne as his new queen?forever altering the religious landscape of England?he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King?s affection and earn favor for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son, or will she be cast aside like the women who came before her?

Bringing new insight to this compelling story, Alison Weir marries meticulous research with gripping historical fiction to re-create the dramas and intrigues of the most renowned court in English history. At its center is a loving and compassionate woman who captures the heart of a king, and whose life will hang in the balance for it.

My Review

I have met many amazing authors over the past few years and have read plenty of books to draw comparisons. Even my husband knows when a book is good because I am constantly raving about how great it is and neglect everything in our life to continue reading. That is how I feel about this book – to be honest, it’s how I felt about the first two books in the series as well.

The reason I love Weir’s novels so much is because she makes the story come to life for the reader. With every page I’m transported back in time to whatever the topic may be. Her writing seems effortless, something I envy.

Many have asked (prior to reading this novel), “Why is it called ‘The Haunted Queen’?” Well, the answer is simple but may not be obvious at first: Jane Seymour, as the third wife of Henry VIII, married him less than two weeks after the execution of his second wife Anne Boleyn. Jane, in the novel, is haunted by the memory of Anne and her involvement in the late queen’s downfall. Jane was also very concerned about hurting dowager princess of Wales, Katherine of Aragon while she still lived and Henry was courting her. She felt as though she had betrayed a great friend whom she had been very loyal to while in her service and after she was removed to serve Anne Boleyn. But, let’s be clear, she is mostly haunted by Anne Boleyn. In the story, Jane is visited at night in her bedchamber by a shadow figure – she could not make out who it was but became convinced it was Anne Boleyn seeking revenge on those who had wronged her…Jane saw herself as instrumental in Anne’s downfall. Every time the shadow visited something awful would happen.

This story is a real page-turner even though we already know how it is going to end. I always find it interesting to see an authors creative take on history. In my opinion, Weir does not disappoint. Her description of the Seymour family at the beginning of the book really brought them to life. You get a feel for each member and what they brought to the table, how the death of a loved one affected the entire family and how ambition brought them near the crown. Jane is often seen as the boring queen, but in this story you get to see the “real” Jane: deeply religious, extremely loyal, kind to all and haunted by her past discretions. There may even be some surprise developments.

If I am to find anything negative to say about this novel it would be the fact that Weir found the need to slip in the extra nail again…I’m not sure why it bothers me so much but it was one of the reasons I set aside the second novel “A King’s Obsession” for weeks before going back to it. The other thing that I noticed while reading this book was that I felt (at times) that I was reading a scene straight out of “The Tudors”. It was quite strange to be honest – it made it easy to read and imagine the scene because it was something I was familiar with but I wonder if it influenced this novel at all or if it was straight coincidence. Even with that being said I absolutely LOVED this book and I hate that I have to wait another year to read the next one on Anne of Cleves. The idea of being halfway through his six wives and this series makes me wish he had married ten times, only so this series won’t end for another seven years. But that’s me being selfish.

Lastly, there was one part of the story that I found intriguing – we all recognize Jane from her Holbein portrait and that is who we see her as…in this story we come to understand more about it and why she looks the way she does in the portrait.

If you are a fan of the Tudor dynasty, or even if you are a fan of Alison Weir, I highly recommend this book. You will not be disappointed!

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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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