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The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir

Posted By Claire on October 7, 2009

The Lady in the TowerIt’s here! The long awaited book by Alison Weir has been released in the UK and is being devoured by Anne Boleyn fans and Tudor history buffs.

Weir’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, has been publicising this book as the first book to be entirely devoted to Anne Boleyn’s fall; a little misleading when books like Retha Warnicke’s “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” and Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” cover Anne Boleyn’s fall and the events leading up to it in detail, but it is technically true!

I blogged last week on The Anne Boleyn Files about my thoughts on the first few chapters of “The Lady in the Tower” and what had struck me so far:-

  • Weir’s belief that Anne and Henry’s marriage was unhappy from the start
  • Weir describes Anne as “haughty, overbearing, shrewish and volatile”, perhaps due to hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancies and miscarriages – Harsh words!
  • Weir’s belief that Anne was not chaste and virtuous and that Henry became disenchanted or disillusioned when he realised this.
  • Weir’s ideas about Anne’s appearance – Weir writes about Anne’s sixth fingernail and her moles which could have been seen as marks of the devil.
  • The idea that Anne was Rhesus negative – not a new idea as it was put forward by Retha Warnicke, but it’s interesting that Weir is also discussing it.
  • Anne’s malice towards Mary
  • Chapuys – Weir does imply that although his letters are great primary sources Henry VIII’s secretary wrote of Chapuys’ “Tale-telling, lying and flattering”. Chapuys often relied rather too heavily on gossip.
  • Jane Seymour – Hallelujah! Alison Weir also believes that Jane Seymour may not have been the meek, demure, “sugar and spice and all things nice” woman that she is often portrayed as.
  • Henry’s accident – Did Henry’s accident make him think of his mortality and bring home to him the urgency of getting a male heir?

Those are just a few points or issues that struck me when I was reading the first few chapters and Alison Weir does not disappoint in the rest of the book. I was forever underlining bits, putting stars by paragraphs and making notes, and that is always a sign that I am finding new ideas and theories, or things that back up my own beliefs. Question marks or exclamation marks in margins mean I am not impressed and these were rare in Weir’s book.

I wouldn’t say that there was anything truly groundbreaking or revolutionary in Weir’s examination of Anne Boleyn’s fall, but there were times when I almost said “Ah” out loud when she explained something that I had never fully understood before or when she backed up a theory that others have put forward but never proven with evidence. My poor husband had to listen to me read bits out when I got overexcited!

What is a delight about this book is the detail that Weir gives about:-

  • The events leading up to Anne’s fall
  • The fall or “coup” itself
  • The men involved
  • The trials
  • Anne’s imprisonment
  • The executions of the men
  • Anne’s execution
  • The burials
  • Public reaction to the news of Anne’s execution, both home and abroad
  • Elizabeth
  • The legacy of Anne’s execution
  • The changing views surrounding Anne’s story
  • Anne Boleyn legends

Everything was covered and every question or niggling doubt that I had seemed to be answered in this book and it will definitely be the book that I use alongside my beloved Eric Ives book, which is getting rather battered. I don’t want to spoil the book by giving a rundown of Alison Weir’s thoughts and theories, but highlights of the book for me were:-

  • Weir’s examination of Henry’s role in Anne’s fall – Did he order the investigation? Was he determined to get rid of Anne at all costs or was he too an innocent victim who was made to believe the worse of Anne?
  • Weir’s accounts of the trials – How they were organised, who was on the jury, what happened and what evidence there was against the men and Anne.
  • The detail that Weir gives about the men – Too often we forget that Anne was not the only victim, five men were also executed and they were more than just names, they were real people with jobs and families. Weir explains who they were, how they got embroiled in the coup and examines whether they really were the “libertines” and homosexuals of Warnicke’s book.
  • Weir’s description of Anne’s execution and her look at the various accounts of it and the speech that Anne made.
  • Weir’s examination of the evidence that brought Anne down and how, if Anne was innocent, 95 jurors could find her guilty

I also love Weir’s words on page 322 and 323:-

“Notwithstanding all this [that some believed the evidence], it is almost certain that there was a grievous miscarriage of justice. The circumstances of Anne’s fall strongly suggest that she was framed; even her enemy Chapuys thought so.”


“In weighing up the evidence for and against her, the historian cannot but concluded that Anne Boleyn was the victim of a dreadful miscarriage of justice: and not only Anne and the men accused with her, but also the King himself, the Boleyn faction and -saddest of all – Elizabeth, who was to bear the scars of it all her life. In the absence of any real proof of Anne’s guilt, and with her having been convicted only on suspicious evidence, there must be a very strong presumption that she went to her death and innocent woman.”

Many people still believe that Anne Boleyn was a whore who deserved everything she got so I hope that this book will go some way to restoring Anne’s image, we can but hope.

All in all, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, and would say that it is a must-read for Anne Boleyn fans and students doing essays or projects on Anne. Read it!

“The Lady in the Tower” by Alison Weir is published by Jonathan Cape and is available now in the UK. Click here to purchase from Amazon UK who ship worldwide.


24 Responses to “The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir”

  1. Fiz says:

    I am getting this for my birthday soon, and it has just had the most daming review by “The Sunday Times”. It was by some historian, of whom I have never heard and he crowed over the fact that Alison Weir hadn’t seen a particular document in the library at Oxford which contradicted the last third of her book. It’s spoilt the book for me and I don’t think it was a review but a spiteful piece of self-publicity! Grr!

  2. Claire says:

    I keep being put off books by reviews on Amazon so am trying not to read them now! Was it John Guy who wrote the review that you read? If so, he is a Tudor historian and author who has written books on Tudor England, Mary Queen of Scots and Thomas More. I haven’t actually read his books so can’t comment but I hate it when historians take potshots at other historians because it always reads like they’re trying to discredit them and raise their own reputation. I really enjoyed Weir’s book and loved the fact that she gives so much information about the events leading up to Anne’s fall and also all of the people involved, who are often ignored.

  3. Fiz says:
    Sorry, I can’t hyperlink it. Yes, you are right, it was John Guy! I hate that sort of thing too. I love Alison Weir and have emailed her a few times, last time to tell her that were originally touting her book as a “children’s” book! She was not happy! I did History at the original Canterbury campus of UKC (they’ve since got four more, one in Brussels!) and loved it. another friend did hers at Oxford and hated it because all her lectures were full of sniping remarks about other historians. Oxford may be very prestigious, but my friend said she envied me.

  4. Miss Moppet says:

    I’ve just posted here

    about the John Guy review of Lady in the Tower and more generally about pitfalls for historians!

    I did my history degree at Oxford and had a very positive experience. Since then I have found that the academic world can be at best a very supportive community, at worst very egotistical and bitchy.

  5. Claire says:

    Having read John Guy’s review again and looked at Alison Weir’s book, I do think he has a point and it isn’t just historians sniping at one another. As Miss Moppet points out in her article on her site, the world of historical evidence is a minefield and it is easy to quote sources that aren’t as solid as they may seem. I wonder if Weir has replied to Guy’s review at all.

  6. Miss Moppet says:

    Guy’s review isn’t the bitchiest I’ve read by any means. The academic world relies to an enormous extent on networking and exchange of information and an awful lot of errors get picked up in books before publication this way. Popular historians like Weir are less well off in this respect because they’re not affiliated to a university or institution, so it can be harder for them to build up a network of contacts.

  7. Fiz says:

    I would just like to say that I did read this, and enjoyed it, but I do not believe for one moment that Anne would have had the chance to to do what Francis I st suggested. Queen Claude’s court was a by-word for chastity and good works, and privacy was not really known about until the 18th century – everybody, whether in a palce, great house or a cottage, lived cheek to cheek.

  8. Francesca says:

    I greatly enjoyed Alison Weir’s new book but must point out that she has made some debatable asserstions about Anne in earlier books- most notably in her Henry VIII- King and Court where she asserts on very flimsy evidence that Anne was pregnant when she was executed. She no longer thinks this was the case – it is ironic that in her new book she refutes the pregnancy theory and in a footnote admits she herself was the person who gave it traction. Davis Starkey in Six Wives is scathing about her grounds for the pregnancy claim and Weir acknowledges his comments in her footnote.

  9. Rose says:

    I have recently read this book and it is just amazing! Rather embarrasingly, i must admit that this was the very first historical non-fiction i have read (I’m not as old as I may seem!), but still, there is nothing too heavy for me if it’s about Anne Boleyn! She was an amazing woman and I think that Weir does her justic in her book – and also all those others implicated in her downfall.

  10. Michelle says:

    I just finished reading this excellent book, and thought I would leave a few thoughts.

    Firstly, I felt that while Weir obviously believes that Anne was 100% framed, she tries to present any evidence to the contrary (of which there is precious little!).

    Secondly, I read John Guy’s review, and just cannot agree with it. One thing that struck me upon reading it was his statement that we just don’t know exactly what happened. Also that his wife is a historian (or something similar). Since he is correct about not knowing EXACTLY what happened, his criticism seems somewhat disingenuous. After all, what can a historian but do but look at all the facts they can, and then present their opinion? We will NEVER know EXACTLY what happened.

    Thirdly, while I wholeheartedly agree that Anne was framed, I don’t completely agree with everything Weir said. For example, I believe Henry had more of a hand in it than she does.

    Therefore, IN MY OPINION (for what it’s worth LOL!), I think this is an excellent, well-researched, fascinating look at Anne’s final days. Fascinating! I literally couldn’t put it down, and like Claire, I was constantly reading parts aloud to my husband – I’m sure he was bored, but he knows my fascination with the whole subject!

  11. Kate says:

    I started this today and i too am marking certain lines and paragraphs like mad !!
    Im only in the first chapter but the following points you mentioned are leaving me seething !!!!

    *Anne and Henry’s marriage was unhappy from the start
    *Anne as “haughty, overbearing, shrewish and volatile”,
    *Weir’s belief that Anne was not chaste and virtuous and that Henry became disenchanted or disillusioned when he realised this.
    *Weir’s ideas about Anne’s appearance – Weir writes about Anne’s sixth

    Also this one on page 10 “Rarely or ever did any maid or wife leave court chaste” , referring to her time in France.
    And this on page 11. Anne protested that she had maintained her honor…….But that chastity may have been merely techhnical, for there are many ways of giving and recieving sexual pleasire without actual penetration. (Oh really, thank you for the lesson)

    Well frankly i dont know what to say !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Does she hate her ??? Are these things really true ?????? Why is this getting to me like this before i even finish chapter one ???

  12. Claire says:

    Hi Kate,
    I’m with Eric Ives regarding Anne and Henry’s marriage. I think it was, as Ives says, a relationship where “storm followed sunshine, sunshine followed sunshine” (p196), a passionate relationship of arguments and then lots of making up! I don’t think there is any evidence that it was an unhappy marriage.

    I don’t agree that Anne was “haughty, overbearing, shrewish and volatile”, I think she just carried on being the woman she was, someone who spoke her mind, and although Henry had been attracted to that quality before, because normally people told him what he wanted to hear, he began to tire of it and wanted her to be more submissive.

    My research into Anne’s time in France does not support the idea that she was corrupted by the French court. Queen Claude was known for her piety, virtue and strict morals and she was Anne’s mistress. I think Anne would have learned, from Claude and her former mistress Margaret of Austria, to guard her reputation.

    I spoke to Alison Weir about the sixth finger issue and she says that she thinks that Anne must have had some kind of imperfection on her hand because George Wyatt, grandson of Anne’s friend Thomas Wyatt, wrote of it and he had no reason to lie.

    Alison doesn’t hate Anne, she is fascinated by her, just like we are. I think she is harsher on Anne than I am but neither of us believe that Anne was some kind of angelic martyr, she could be very cruel at times.

    Hope you enjoy the book!

  13. kate says:

    Hi Claire,

    I dont believe she was angelic either, i think she was fiesty and strong.
    After reading your fabulous articles and other things on her time in France im convinced as your are that she was not promiscuous.
    I was just suprised at the way the book started out. Im much further into it
    now and really enjoying it, actually i cant put it down. She make non fiction so readable.
    I do love Alisons work, i guess she has to look at things much more objectively and without rose coloured glasses. I was just being over protective LOL

    Thank you as always for getting back to me and clarifying things 🙂 x


  14. Em says:

    I’m reading it at the moment. She has some interesting theories but I have to say I’m not convinced. She see’s Henry suddenly seeming to do a u turn and give Anne his total support shortly before her fall as being genuine even though she gives no reason why he should suddenly do this. If Anne had truly won Henry back I just think that Cromwell would have made sure the case against her was water tight. The case against Anne was so shoddy that only if she had been out of favour would it have been considered a good idea to put it forward.

  15. claire says:

    I bought this book yesterday and am looking forward to reading it

  16. Zara says:

    Just finished reading this book and wow! Lots of evidence that I had hardly heard of before. To me the most damning thing would be that the executioner was sent for days before her trial, the persons who sent for the swordman of Calais obviously knew she would be found guilty and beheaded.

    I did find Weir’s analysis of Anne’s personality very interesting. I’m fascinated by and love reading about Anne and have read this website for a while but to me there is rather too much ‘gushing’ about how wonderful she was, much akin to fans of modern day celebs, all the while forgetting that these historical people/celebrities are actual human beings who can act like right ****’s at times. I don’t doubt for a minute that Anne as well as all the other Queens were haughty, demanding and overbearing. There is ample ancedotes and written evidence of her arguing frequently. Yes, she had an awful, awful end and was used and tossed away but having an awful ending didn’t necessarily make her a nice person whilst she was alive.

    All in all, a fascinating, well researched book. Would highly recommend!

  17. Claire says:

    Thanks for your comment, Zara, it’s always good to hear what other people think of the books reviewed here. Have you read the Eric Ives book on Anne? That one is superb too.

    Regarding “gushing”, I don’t believe that I gush about Anne or make her into a martyr or saint, she certainly wasn’t and I think that’s part of what makes her so fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever painted her as perfect and I often wonder if I would have actually liked her if I met her in real life. She was a woman with many flaws but she was also an amazing woman – highly intelligent, passionate about religion, reform and the Arts, and someone who was very politically astute. The more I read about her the more fascinated I become!

  18. Ginney says:

    Just started reading this! It is incredible! Thanks for the recommendation.

  19. margaret says:

    i think that there maybe a little too much adoration of anne by some people ,i dont agree with her execution at all and believe she was innocent of all charges at her trial.but knowing how precarious her life was like with henrys rage and domineering ways ,why did she not realise she was playing into the hands of those who wanted her gone thats not what i would call intelligence she had been with him long enough to know him and im sorry to say i dont think their marriage was happy ;very volatile very passionate but not happy ,the problem is it got quite clinical with them trying to produce the son and heir and with all the dissappoinment of miscarriages ,he wanted out and out he got with a dire ending for her and the ridiculous custom of the “man”taking a mistress is just hilariouswhile wife is locked up pregnant .no not a very nice time to live in she was very haughty and that was her downfall and no one was allowed get away with that with henry tudor.

  20. joseja says:

    I don’t mean to steer the conversation away from the reviews of this title (I have read Ms. Weir’s book: Henry VIII And His Court, and I am familiar with her work, which is pretty solid), but after looking through the book review portion of the site (my apologies if I missed it) I noticed that Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies”, which was published in 2012 – the second book in the “Wolf Hall” trilogy – has not been reviewed. So I would like to be the first, if I may.
    I did not know where else on the review portion to do so.
    At any rate: anyone who has read it knows that “BUTB” is not about Anne Boleyn but Thomas Cromwell; in fact, she only appears in the story as the principal of his two-dimensional victims, but the section that deals with the plot against her, her imprisonment and execution, seems all the more compelling – as if it were snatched from current headlines – for the tightness of the few airy, but wary exchanges between her and Cromwell, and the larger scenes between Cromwell and her friends and enemies.
    Since there are little or no records of her actual words and there is no official transcript of the May 1536 trials, most of the words attributed to her by various writers and commentators can probably be filed under either fantasy or conjecture except for her scaffold speech, bits of the sworn statements of others, and a few observations of William Kingston.
    ‘Course it’s necessary to transfer some words and ideas from an author’s imagination directly onto historical figures in novels, but Anne is an enigma that needs a deal more fleshing out than usual, and even as we enjoy savoring the author’s words in a good retelling as if they were hers, that treatment tends to make her more fictional in the first person method. At least I think so.
    In “BUTB” Anne’s thoughts are never divulged and the author assigns her neither overt or covert motives – Ms. Mantel uses only the steel-trap memory of the King’s Secretary who was once Anne’s best ally but now her worst adversary to supply clues to her frame of mind. That device somehow gives us a more satisfying, silent, view into Anne: once a pretty coquette, her arrogance has swollen as her charms have receded; her desperation and loneliness increase yet exist alongside the delusion that she has a world full of admirers who will come to her rescue if only she gives them – could give them – one look…
    The 16th century becomes real and fresh here; the people in it might well be facebooking the latest intrigues and gossip with feet propped on ornate carved desks at home, or texting in chambers – one eye on their devices and one on the proceedings.
    Well, I will say no more, but this book is pure wordcraft, and although it is the ’til-now-untold story of another figure who changed the course of history, I feel sure that lots of “Anne fans” will be thoroughly satisfied by “Bring Up The Bodies”‘ treatment of their heroine, as well as find out even more interesting things about the movers and shakers of the day.

  21. joseja says:

    Hello, Claire
    I had posted a comment on this thread the other day. It was awaiting moderation but somehow got scrubbed a few hours ago.
    If it did not make it past the “gate” then I think I may know what happened…
    Thanks for your input 🙂

  22. joseja says:

    Okay never mind. Hmm..Thanks again!

  23. Claire says:

    Hi Joseja,
    I can see three comments from you – this one, the one starting “okay never mind” and the one starting “I don’t man to steer…”. I didn’t see another one queued for moderation – sorry!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Bring Up the Bodies. I decided not to review it because I would have been highly critical of it. I had to make myself carry on reading it and I felt no empathy for any of the characters, not even Cromwell. I found the characterization very two-dimensional. I hate writing bad reviews so I chose not to review it. Obviously others have loved it, but I just didn’t get on with it.

  24. Amy says:

    Just got my own copy of this and finished it in about 24 hours. Fascinating read! The way everything was laid out so logically makes me wonder, if we held a mock trial today with this same “Evidence”, what would be the outcome? I have the feeling that poor Anne and the men charged with her would be easily found innocent.

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