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The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

Posted By Claire on February 24, 2010

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric IvesSeeing as this is my Anne Boleyn “Bible”, the book I can’t bear to be without and the one that I use more than any other, it’s funny that I have never actually reviewed it! So, I thought I would correct that glaring omission by reviewing this Anne Boleyn biography.

I think I might be Professor Eric Ives’s number one fan as I constantly recommend this book, along with his book on Lady Jane Grey, to Tudor fans. I’m always having emails from people asking for book recommendations, help with their homework, tips for Anne Boleyn projects etc. and this is the book that I always say is a “must-read”. Every Anne Boleyn fan should have it hand-cuffed to their wrist and sleep with it under their pillow, you just can’t live without it!

So, what makes “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” such a must-read and must-have? It is the fact that it is a comprehensive, detailed account of Anne Boleyn’s life based on real, solid historical evidence – not conjecture, rumour or myth – and Ives does a fantastic job of citing his sources, so it’s perfect for people like me who are researching Anne’s life and who want to go back to the primary sources, and it’s great for students writing essays or dissertations. Unlike some authors, the notes at the end don’t just say LP (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII) and leave you to guess which part of which volume, Ives gives you the full reference, e.g. LP vi 700. This brilliant referencing, combined with Ives’s readable style, wealth of knowledge and balanced views, make this the number one Anne Boleyn book in my view and nothing comes close to it.

“The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” – Contents

In the preface of “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives says:-

“This book is structured in four parts. “Background and Beginnings” deals with Anne’s origins, her education, her launch into English court life and the reasons for the impact she made. That leads on to a discussion of the romantic relationships which she had or is supposed to have had, and hence to her agreement to marry the king. “A Difficult Engagement” looks at the oft-told history of Henry VIII’s attempt to free himself to marry, but with a focus on Anne which undermines male-dominated interpretations of tradition. Part III, “Anne the Queen”, examines Anne’s marriage and consequent lifestyle, offering a picture of what it meant to be the consort of an English king at a magnification well in excess of what is possible for almost all her predecessors. Illustrating this is is a nearly complete display of such visual evidence as has survived, which, in turn, supports detailed discussions of Anne’s portraiture, of her role as an artistic patron, of the day-to-day context of royal living and of her mind and beliefs. The final section, “A Marriage Destroyed”, concentrates on the closing months of the queen’s life, demonstrating the sudden and unexpected nature of her fall, the coup which precipitated it, the dishonesty of the case against her and the tensions of her last days.”

That is a pretty good precis of the contents of this 400+ page book (2004 revised version), but I know that some of you appreciate more detail, so here is a rundown – I’ve just listed what each chapter covers:-


  • List of Illustrations – Details of all 64 portraits, sketches and photos.
  • Preface – Here, Ives explains exactly why he is writing a book on Anne Boleyn when there is so much already out there and every Anne fan will understand his comment “it is true that once she [Anne] interests you, fascination grows, as it did for men at the time, and finally for Henry himself”! He also argues Anne’s worth, why she matters and why she is an icon. This preface is spine-chillingly good and sets the scene for the whole book.
  • Titles and Offices – A “who’s who” of the characters mentioned in the book – very handy!
  • Family Trees – The Royal Houses of Europe, the Nobility of Henry VIII’s Court and the Boleyn and Howard Families.

Part I Backgrounds and Beginnings

  • A Courtier’s Daughter – Anne’s family background, who the Boleyns were, the Tudor Court, Thomas Boleyn and his role at court, and the Boleyn family.
  • A European Education – Anne’s education at the Habsburg Court under the care of Margaret of Austria, the skills Anne would have learned, life at the Habsburg Court, her time in France in the household of Queen Claude and the recalling of Anne to England to marry James Butler.
  • Debut at the English Court – The Shrove Tuesday pageant “The Chateau Vert” and Anne’s debut as Perseverance, Anne’s appearance and the myths surrounding her, and Anne’s style.
  • Sources – A look at the controversies over Anne and how historians and sources disagree over her. Was she “the cause of all evil”? Was she like Salome in wanting Fisher and More dead? Was she a Protestant martyr? Ives looks at the different sources that biographers can draw on to build up a picture of who Anne was.
  • Passion and Courtly Love – Between 1522 and 1527, Anne was linked to Henry Percy, Thomas Wyatt the elder and Henry VIII, and Ives looks at what sources say about these 5 years.
  • A Royal Suitor – How Henry turned his attentions from Anne’s sister to Anne herself, how Anne responded, what Henry offered Anne, Henry’s letters to her and how the relationship developed.

Part II A Difficult Engagement

  • A Marriage Arranged – The divorce, Anne’s role in the divorce, Tudor factions in regards to Anne, Catherine and Henry’s divorce plans , and Wolsey’s role.
  • Anne Boleyn and the Fall of Wolsey – Ives starts this chapter by saying that “it is tempting to draw a straight line – and a short one – from the events of July-September 1527 to Wolsey’s fall in 1529. The battle had been arrayed: Wolsey against Anne and her allies…” but what exactly was Anne’s role in Wolsey’s fall, what happened and why?
  • Stalemate, 1529 – 1532 – The struggle between Henry VIII and the Pope, Anne’s sharing of “The Obedience of the Christian Man” and Simon Fish’s work with Henry, the role of Thomas Cranmer, the “Collectanea” and how Henry came to believe that he was “an emperor answerable only to God”, the “Pardon of the Clergy”, factions and who supported Anne and the King.
  • The Turning Point, 1532 – 1533 – The misery of Christmas 1531, Thomas Cromwell’s arrival, the change in Anne and Henry’s relationship as marriage was contemplated, Anne being given the title of Marquis of Pembroke, hr visit to France with Henry and the consummation of their relationship.
  • Wedding Nerves – Anne and Henry co-habiting, a secret wedding, Anne’s pregnancy, Cranmer’s success at ruling in Henry’s favour, the demotion of Katherine of Aragon to Dowager Princess of Wales and Anne becomes known as Queen, and the different thoughts regarding Henry and Anne’s secret marriage and when it actually happened.
  • A Coronation and a Christening – Preparations for the Whitsun Coronation of Queen Anne, the coronation itself and the birth of Princess Elizabeth.

Part III Anne the Queen

  • A Royal Marriage – The controversy regarding Henry’s sexual problems, Anne’s first miscarriage, a discussion of the opinions on when a rift in the royal marriage began, Henry’s affairs, what Anne and Henry’s relationship was like, Anne and Mary, and the problems Anne faced.
  • Influence, Power and Wealth – Anne’s position as Queen Consort, Anne as patron, Anne and Cromwell, Anne’s influence and Anne’s finances.
  • Image – Anne’s love of finery, Anne’s coronation and the analogies between Anne, St Anne and the Virgin Mary, Anne’s white falcon heraldry, and how Elizabeth I drew on her mother’s use of iconography and symbolism.
  • Art and Taste – How Anne had learned from Margaret of Austria and Queen Claude that “magnificence was a regal virtue”, Anne’s ownership of gold and silver plate, Anne’s patronage of Holbein, Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” and its link with Anne, Anne’s Book of Hours and her interest in art and fine objects.
  • Life at Court – Henry’s building projects and Anne’s involvement, Anne’s new suite at Hampton Court, Anne’s taste in furnishings and clothes, her domestic life and Anne’s interest in music.
  • The Advent of Reform – Ives says “Anne Boleyn was not a catalyst in the English Reformation; she was a key element in the equation” and here he discusses Anne’s influence in the Church, her religious patronage, the Boleyns’ links with reformers abroad, what reform meant to Anne, and her link with French reform.
  • Personal Religion – Anne wrote “le temps viendra”, “the time will come”, in her Book of Hours so what did this mean for her personally? How did Anne become interested in French reform? What was her personal faith? Also, Anne’s involvement in poor relief and her patronage of education.

Part IV A Marriage Destroyed

  • The Rival, 1535 – 1536 – When did the rift in the royal marriage happen and when did Jane Seymour come into it? Katherine of Aragon’s death, Henry VIII’s jousting accident, Anne’s miscarriage  and the deformed foetus story, the stories regarding Anne, Henry and Jane Seymour, and Henry’s new love interest.
  • The Response, January – April 1536 – Jane Seymour and her backers versus Anne Boleyn and supporters, Anne’s quarrel with Cromwell and its cause, how Anne became a threat to Cromwell, and Cromwell’s decision to remove Anne.
  • The Coup, April – May 1536 – How Cromwell’s decision turned to action, the sequence of events leading up to Anne’s downfall, Smeaton’s confession and the evidence gathered, the stories and rumours, who provided the Crown with evidence, and Norris and Anne.
  • Judgement – The trial of Norris, Smeaton, Brereton and Weston, details on the jury, the pleas of the men and their conviction. This chapter also covers Anne’s trial, her behaviour, her conviction, George’s trial and the executions of the five men, it then goes on to examine the Crown’s case against Anne and the men, looking at the dates of the offences on the indictments and how the majority could be disproved, and the annulment of Anne and Henry’s marriage.
  • Finale – Anne’s execution, her appearance, her behaviour, her speech, the moment of execution, her burial and the consequences of her death.


In this final part of the book, Ives writes of Anne’s legacy, Elizabeth I, and concludes by saying:-

“In 1558, however, the miracle happened. On Monday, 28 November, to the cheers of the the London crowd and the roar of the Tower artillery, Elizabeth came through the gates to take possession of the fortress as queen. The bastardized daughter of the disgraced Anne Boleyn, with her father’s complexion but her mother’s face, splendidly dressed in purple velvet: Elizabeth, by the grace of God, queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith. Is it fanciful to feel that after twenty years, the mother in the nearby grave in the chapel of St Peter was at last vindicated?”

No, Professor Ives, it is not fanciful, and I like to think of Anne smiling down from Heaven at that point. She had the last laugh don’t you think? It was her daughter who became one of England’s greatest monarchs and not the son that Henry so desperately wanted.

Final Thoughts

What else can I say about this book? Only that if you have only got enough money for one Anne Boleyn book then this is the book to buy. I also use the books by Alison Weir, Retha Warnicke, Elizabeth Norton, Josephine Wilkinson and the many six wives books that are out there, and they all have their good points and their own unique perspectives, but this book is the one that I use every single day and the one that I trust when I really need to know something.

It is a book that recognises Anne’s importance as Queen, her impact on England and her legacy, and it is also a book that gives you an inkling of what the real Anne was like, it will satisfy you.

“The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives is available from Amazon UK or, or your favourite book store.


12 Responses to “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives”

  1. emma says:

    Like you Claire i love this book and it’s by my bed or where ever i am at the time.
    There are many books out there telling the stroy of Anne but this is the best and what is good is that Ives backs up every thing in the book and it not just here say like alot of other books! It nice to have a book on Anne that you can trust 100%. I would love to meet Mr Ives and talk to him about Anne.

  2. Louise says:

    I had always been interested in Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn since I was a child, but I think it was probably Ives who first got me interested in George. He painted a picture of a young man worthy of attention and not just a shady figure in the background. For that I will always be indebted to him.

  3. Eliza says:

    I also live this book and I have it in the drower by my bed!! Eric Ives has deep knowledge of Anne and the Tudor Era!

    Great book!!

  4. Bess (Elizabeth) Chilver says:

    I love this book. I have both copies of it – the early and recent versions.

    A few years back, I took part in an episode of “Days that Shook the World” by BBC2/4. It focussed on that last hours of Queen Anne and the events that led up to her judicial murder (because that is what it was!).

    I was asked to take part by Kentwell who were mostly providing their house and gardens for part of the filming. I discovered (after it was broadcast) that I was playing Anne’s aunt, Lady Anne Boleyn.

    I was very nervous about how the fillm-makers may approach this subject – expecting it to follow the usual myths. But I was very pleasantly surprised.

    The producer was practically GLUED to Eric’s book. She had a copy that was so well read and thumbed, that the front cover had come off. She was quite prepared for me to help with points of historical accuracy in terms of etiquette within the court, authenticity of stage set and costume. In our numerous discussions over the course of the filming, the producer commented she had talked directly to Eric Ives on a number of occasions via the phone – he was extremely helpful all the time.

    The episode was very good indeed. It can be found on youtube in 3 parts. If anyone is interested, I can provide links to it.

  5. Katherine says:

    That’s so cool Bess! Would you provide a link? What was the experience like?
    Lovely review Claire! I love your description of it as your Anne Boleyn Bible! That’s the way I felt about my copy too!:D

  6. Hannah says:

    I just read through this book for the first time and loved it! I also admire Ives’ meticulous research and specific examples. I definitely know much more about Anne than I did. This is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in her!

  7. Karen says:

    I have Ives 1992 book entitled, “Anne Boleyn,” which is now out of print. Is this book essentially the same?

  8. Claire says:

    “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” was published in 2004 and I think is a revision of the 1992 version. During the 90s Eric Ives and G W Bernard wrote articles arguing over Anne Boleyn and I think that the 2004 book has been updated to take into account these arguments. I haven’t seen the 1992 book but I would think that they are the same in essence but that the 2004 book has some additions.

  9. Nishita says:

    Thank you very much for this recommendation. I am fascinated with Anne Boleyn. I have read the more trashier novels out there, and I think I am ready for something a bit more balanced and insightful.

  10. Kate says:

    The Epilogue brings tears to my eyes.
    I look forward to meeting the guru next year on the tour. Hopefully he will sign my copy 🙂

  11. Hi says:

    Can I recommend Elizabeth 1 by Margaret George , to anyone. Margaret George is an incredible author. Memoirs of Cleopatra made me laugh cry, and fel like I was Cleopatra. For the first time, I could feel , not just look at Cleopatra’s story. The same with the Auto bio of Henry 8. REALLY good. I’m just disappointed that she doesn’t write more often. A book every 5-6 years!!

  12. Claire says:

    I haven’t read that one but I do have a copy of her “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” which was recommended to me.

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