Not Just Another Page In History


As I was sorting through my bookshelves recently, I was working on winnowing my “Tudors and other assorted European royalty” shelf. Mostly comprised of Tudor history, I have books on Elizabeth I, Jane Grey, and of course, Henry VIII and his six wives among others by authors such as British historian Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser, and Eric Ives. One book made me pause as I picked it up.

Titled The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, author Alison Weir recounts the trial and execution of Henry VIII’s second queen. It’s a very interesting read if you’re in to Tudor history. Weir examines the great lengths Henry VIII went to, trying to put an official, righteous gloss on the entire sordid affair to appear justified in ridding himself of this wife and marriage. It didn’t work, needless to say. History does not look kindly on Henry VIII’s execution of Anne. Anne’s story is especially poignant and ironic given that her daughter Elizabeth became one of the greatest queens in British history, truly the legacy Henry VIII went to such terrible lengths to ensure.

I was reading it a little over a year ago during my second fresh IVF cycle and stopped in the midst of a passage talking about the fear and anxiety Anne endured as she waited for her fate. I had a visceral moment of identification with this woman who had miscarried and in the end, most likely died because of her inability to produce the desired child. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Anne’s story and eventual execution quite in the same way again, from a comfortable distance of centuries and a complicated legacy (some of the best contemporary sources on Anne Boleyn are the letters of the ambassador to Charles V, a man deeply partial to Katherine of Aragon and extremely hostile to Anne, which makes it difficult to suss out the true dimensions of Anne’s personality).

It was a sobering reminder of the very real ways infertility and pregnancy loss have affected families and people’s lives throughout history.  I put the book back on the shelf, but I don’t know that I’m going to read it again.

This post is part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more posts or join in, please go visit Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting!

Have been messing around with this post, but I think I’m sticking with the original – sorry for any confusion.



5 thoughts on “Not Just Another Page In History

  1. About a year ago, I was watching a documentary about Henry VIII and all his wives. And I struggled so much seeing the blame that was solely passed to these women. He was such a flawed and insecure individual. And yet he was allowed his behavior because of his status.

    Infertility is still blamed on women. Even in societies that accept diagnoses of male factor. Hence a big reason it is a silent disease.

    I wonder about Anne Boleyn. If her story would have been different if she found herself pregnant by another man.

    • I’ve wondered what would have happened if Anne had married Henry Percy and Henry VIII hadn’t interfered with that relationship. It is one of those intriguing questions in history.

      Yes, it’s amazing how much infertility is blamed on the woman, both historically and even today. I suppose some of it has to do with the ideas of male virility as an important part of masculinity and some of the patriarchal constructs that are still a part of society, but it sort of surprises me how even in a somewhat more “enlightened” age with regards to women it’s still such a persistent part of the myths surrounding infertility.

      Henry VIII is, to put it mildly, a fairly disturbing individual in history. I’ve seen some books that try to paint him as a “mad man” but the reality – that he was really very methodical, quite smart, and worked extremely hard to cover his excesses legally and with intellectual arguments – is almost more frightening because of what it says both about the man and the power structures surrounding him.

  2. I love Elizabethan history. I’ve read other Alison Weir books, but not this one. I put it on my list.
    Have you ever read Susan Kay’s Legacy about Elizabeth I? It puts every Phillippa Gregory to shame.

  3. So interesting. I have often thought how lucky I’ve been not to be a royal lady, whose sole purpose is to produce an heir. How awful it must have been to suffer infertility and pregnancy loss at a time when babymaking was your biggest asset, and lose your life as a result. I often wondered if they did a fertility workup on Kate Middleton before she was officially engaged, just to make sure she’d be okay, given modern technology. What happens if the prince’s chosen (or the prince himself) suffers infertility? Hmmm.

  4. When we finished our tour at the Tower of London, the ChickieNob asked our Yeoman Warder if he would take her back into the chapel and show her Anne Boleyn’s resting place. He took the two of us back in for a special silent visit to Anne. I still don’t know what made her ask if she could go back inside the chapel. But reading this post just reminded me of how sad she became hearing the story.

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