Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Author: Eric Ives
Publication Date: 2004
Cost: The book is available on for just under $14.00, and the Kindle edition is slightly less expensive.
Where Did I Hear About It: I looked this book up about two years ago, but I did not get a chance to read it cover to cover until now, although I have used it as a reference book several times.

The Backstory

About a year and a half ago, I read Joanna Denny's biography of Anne Boleyn, and you can see the discussion of Anne's life here.

What About the Book?

If I appreciate anything about this book, it is the fact that Eric Ives clearly knew the limitations of the sources available to compose a biography of his subject. Ives created an excellent analysis of what he had, but he did not offer any particular insight into his subject. If Joanna Denny ran amock with her theory that Anne was England's Protestant savior, Ives used all of the same sources, and more of them, without offering much new analysis. This is almost the exact opposite approach Ives took in his later work about Jane Grey.

Ives truly used every source available to him, and more, to write this book, which makes it an extremely admirable effort. No other work about Anne Boleyn is a better piece of reference material. For example, the images he includes are absolutely remarkable and extensive. In addition, he explores Wyatt's poetry for references to Anne, and one gets the sense that he went through Wyatt's work poem by poem before coming to the conclusion that there wasn't very much to be found, whether direct or veiled references. He also discussed the varying images indicated to be Anne Boleyn and which ones were likely or unlikely accurate candidates.

Although well-researched, Ives's work lacks insight. I think everyone who picks up a biography of Anne Boleyn is looking for insight into her personality and into why she captivated Henry VIII. Obviously, the sources are very much lacking here, but Ives does not offer anything new into the equation. The only exception is Anne Boleyn's fall, coming at the end of the book. Ives includes a lot of detailed information about Jane Seymour's appearance in Anne's and Henry's lives and whether or not Henry VIII had grown tired of Anne. However, Ives could have wrapped up the book a bit more completely with perhaps some information about references (or non-references and/or the destruction of references) to Anne after her execution and how Elizabeth's accession affected the public memory of Anne. Instead, Ives ends his biography with Anne's physical life, and this feels like a missed opportunity to the reader.

Ives's book, for all of its research, is actually a very easy, and a fairly enjoyable read. It is also an excellent reference book on Anne Boleyn--a more complete resource does not exist. Although also well-researched (although less specific), Ives improves upon Starkey's rather salesman-esque writing style. This biography of Anne will be extremely hard to best, even by an exceptional scholar, unless new, undiscovered information comes to light.

Rating: A 9 for writing style and use of a wide range of resources.
Buy It or Borrow It: I would certainly buy it. It is extremely unlikely that a better biography will be published about Anne within the next generation. After reading it, if you're really interested in Anne or in Tudor history in general, this book will be an excellent resource to refer back to when considering historical fiction, television or film, or other scholars who consider a related subject.

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