Tudor queens have always been the primary point of encounter between academic scholarship, popular fascination with the nation’s colourful past and the exploitation of history as entertainment, cultural fantasy and wish fulfilment. Elizabeth I leads the field, but her mother, Anne Boleyn, runs her a close second – and with much racier taglines. Long before Natalie Dormer’s frequently dishabille representation of her in Showtime’s The Tudors, Anne has seemed an icon of female empowerment in a patriarchal age, and the focus of endless speculation, informed and novelistic, regarding her actions, motives and significance. Anne was half of the most decisive, arguably the most destructive, love affair in English history. It divided the king from his wife, the nation from its historic connection with Catholic Christendom and, ultimately, the new queen from her head. When Anne fell from Henry VIII’s favour she fell spectacularly, executed in May 1536 on charges of adultery with five courtiers, including her own brother. No wonder novelists and filmmakers have been drawn to her story, but its evident political importance has ensured continuing scholarly attention, most notably in a magisterial 1986 biography by Eric Ives, reissued in a new edition in 2004.
Enter G W Bernard, a professor at Southampton University and a distinguished interpreter of the political culture of early Tudor England, here addressing himself to a popular as well as an academic audience. To call Bernard’s book a revisionist biography would be something of an understatement. It sets