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At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Outrageously Courtly Love

Lady Margaret Shelton, or Madge as she is known throughout the novel, arrives at the Court of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Madge is 15, close in age to Anne, who is soon to wed Henry. For Henry's late Queen has been put aside, Henry has formed his own Church of Engl...
Lady Margaret Shelton, or Madge as she is known throughout the novel, arrives at the Court of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Madge is 15, close in age to Anne, who is soon to wed Henry. For Henry's late Queen has been put aside, Henry has formed his own Church of England after splitting with Rome over his soon-to-be-Queen Anne. It's a dangerous time for all but the King, who revels only in a reign that gathers more and more wealth from the old Church, delightful food and drink, and of course his voracious sexual appetite now focused solely on Anne. But this novel is as much about Madge as it is Anne Boleyn. For Madge's fortune is explicitly tied to the ups and downs of Henry and Anne's relationship. And all too soon, there are more "down" moments!

Anne and Madge are enigmas, one minute displaying piety and virtue and the next speaking about the most outrageous forms of lovemaking, etc. For neither, quite obviously, is sure of how to gain and keep love. Both are slow to realize how a word spoken impetuously can cascade into dramatic scenes that could cause banishment or even death. Madge is betrothed to a loathsome Sir Norris while she madly falls in love with another man of no real consequence in Henry's Court, Arthur. Anne urges Madge on, as her own romance with the King waxes and wanes, decreasing as she gives birth to a girl and then proceeds to miscarry other babes, including one who would have been the long-sought-after Prince or heir to Henry.

At one point, the Queen will sacrifice the virtue of Madge in order to regain her husband's fancy, a plan that quickly falls apart as Henry suspects the "French" techniques of love as beyond debauchery and obscene. Ironically, the other members of the Court, outside of Cromwell and Jane Seymour, have little place in this tale, even Anne's brother, George.

Having read many, many accounts of Queen Anne Boleyn, this reviewer didn't expect to be so enthralled with another account of same, but Anne Barnhill has managed to craft a thrilling, human, and inspiring portrait of two characters who really did so little to deserve admiration, beyond their obvious physical beauty and charm, but who manage to have readers rooting for their success, even when one knows the end of the story for Anne.

Well-done, Anne Clinard Barnhill! Anne Boleyn is much more likable and probable in your depiction. This is a graceful, spicy, terrible, and totally engaging novel!

posted by literarymuseVC on November 17, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

An Obviously Well-Researched Novel

A sparkling account of the Tudor court, accompanied by the love story between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, as well as her cousin and lady-in-waiting, Margaret Shelton, will give you many hours of enjoyment. This is a familiar story, but it's couched in the intrigue of M...
A sparkling account of the Tudor court, accompanied by the love story between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, as well as her cousin and lady-in-waiting, Margaret Shelton, will give you many hours of enjoyment. This is a familiar story, but it's couched in the intrigue of Margaret or Madge Shelton's coming to the court and finding her life compromised in vastly unexpected ways. Ms Barnhill's research is apparent throughout the novel in details that enhance the reading. I was surprised by some of the finest details I hadn't known, even after having read many a historical novel about the 1500's and the Tudor era. This is a novel that held my interest and kept me reading, though it absolutely falls within the historical fiction category and not historical romance.


While we get a passing description of each person involved in the story, I believe they could have been filled out more. I think this may be due to the focus which seemed more on historical interest. What happened is that I didn't get strongly attached to any one figure, but rather became more involved in the court intrigue and details of the life there than in the characters themselves. The romance between Madge Shelton and her sweetheart Arthur Brandon was courtly, but never quite reached a point that convinced me of anything passionate, for instance. And, I didn't feel the desperation of Anne Boleyn as she struggled to keep her king, her child or her head.


Though it absolutely held a sense of the language and cadence of the times, I found the dialog rote. However, strangely enough, that was also one of the things I enjoyed most in the reading. I cannot emphasize too much the translation of historical detail. So while this might be annoying in a novel meant to engage one in both history and romance, it just worked to create an atmosphere of the times for me. I found it easy to overlook a diaglog that was matter of fact or predictable in light of the truth it was telling.


I will say this, in closing, I thoroughly enjoyed "At the Mercy of the Queen" as a glimpse into the Tudor court's outwardly sumptuous, but terrifyingly political ways. It was a walk I loved taking in the historical fiction genre. I cannot recommend it as a book with emphasis on the romantic or character driven aspects, as I've said. Although it does include these elements, the best of the book lies in the author's ability to transport us to another time and the reality of the queen's and a lady-in-waiting's lives.


3 1/2 stars

posted by Humbee on February 27, 2012

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  • Posted February 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    An Obviously Well-Researched Novel

    A sparkling account of the Tudor court, accompanied by the love story between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, as well as her cousin and lady-in-waiting, Margaret Shelton, will give you many hours of enjoyment. This is a familiar story, but it's couched in the intrigue of Margaret or Madge Shelton's coming to the court and finding her life compromised in vastly unexpected ways. Ms Barnhill's research is apparent throughout the novel in details that enhance the reading. I was surprised by some of the finest details I hadn't known, even after having read many a historical novel about the 1500's and the Tudor era. This is a novel that held my interest and kept me reading, though it absolutely falls within the historical fiction category and not historical romance.


    While we get a passing description of each person involved in the story, I believe they could have been filled out more. I think this may be due to the focus which seemed more on historical interest. What happened is that I didn't get strongly attached to any one figure, but rather became more involved in the court intrigue and details of the life there than in the characters themselves. The romance between Madge Shelton and her sweetheart Arthur Brandon was courtly, but never quite reached a point that convinced me of anything passionate, for instance. And, I didn't feel the desperation of Anne Boleyn as she struggled to keep her king, her child or her head.


    Though it absolutely held a sense of the language and cadence of the times, I found the dialog rote. However, strangely enough, that was also one of the things I enjoyed most in the reading. I cannot emphasize too much the translation of historical detail. So while this might be annoying in a novel meant to engage one in both history and romance, it just worked to create an atmosphere of the times for me. I found it easy to overlook a diaglog that was matter of fact or predictable in light of the truth it was telling.


    I will say this, in closing, I thoroughly enjoyed "At the Mercy of the Queen" as a glimpse into the Tudor court's outwardly sumptuous, but terrifyingly political ways. It was a walk I loved taking in the historical fiction genre. I cannot recommend it as a book with emphasis on the romantic or character driven aspects, as I've said. Although it does include these elements, the best of the book lies in the author's ability to transport us to another time and the reality of the queen's and a lady-in-waiting's lives.


    3 1/2 stars

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Outrageously Courtly Love

    Lady Margaret Shelton, or Madge as she is known throughout the novel, arrives at the Court of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Madge is 15, close in age to Anne, who is soon to wed Henry. For Henry's late Queen has been put aside, Henry has formed his own Church of England after splitting with Rome over his soon-to-be-Queen Anne. It's a dangerous time for all but the King, who revels only in a reign that gathers more and more wealth from the old Church, delightful food and drink, and of course his voracious sexual appetite now focused solely on Anne. But this novel is as much about Madge as it is Anne Boleyn. For Madge's fortune is explicitly tied to the ups and downs of Henry and Anne's relationship. And all too soon, there are more "down" moments!

    Anne and Madge are enigmas, one minute displaying piety and virtue and the next speaking about the most outrageous forms of lovemaking, etc. For neither, quite obviously, is sure of how to gain and keep love. Both are slow to realize how a word spoken impetuously can cascade into dramatic scenes that could cause banishment or even death. Madge is betrothed to a loathsome Sir Norris while she madly falls in love with another man of no real consequence in Henry's Court, Arthur. Anne urges Madge on, as her own romance with the King waxes and wanes, decreasing as she gives birth to a girl and then proceeds to miscarry other babes, including one who would have been the long-sought-after Prince or heir to Henry.

    At one point, the Queen will sacrifice the virtue of Madge in order to regain her husband's fancy, a plan that quickly falls apart as Henry suspects the "French" techniques of love as beyond debauchery and obscene. Ironically, the other members of the Court, outside of Cromwell and Jane Seymour, have little place in this tale, even Anne's brother, George.

    Having read many, many accounts of Queen Anne Boleyn, this reviewer didn't expect to be so enthralled with another account of same, but Anne Barnhill has managed to craft a thrilling, human, and inspiring portrait of two characters who really did so little to deserve admiration, beyond their obvious physical beauty and charm, but who manage to have readers rooting for their success, even when one knows the end of the story for Anne.

    Well-done, Anne Clinard Barnhill! Anne Boleyn is much more likable and probable in your depiction. This is a graceful, spicy, terrible, and totally engaging novel!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    At the Mercy of The Queen is a beautifully written historical fi

    At the Mercy of The Queen is a beautifully written historical fiction novel. Unlike so many portrayals of Anne Boleyn, in this novel she is far more complex a figure than the way she is usually portrayed, as a scheming manipulator. Here she is charming, witty, intelligent, extremely astute, and yes, manipulative. But after watching what happened to Katherine of Aragon, Anne certainly knew her status – her very life – depended upon producing an heir. Barnhill paints Anne, flaws and all, as a sympathetic figure. In fact Barnhill’s writing is so easy to get swept up in, I found myself rooting for Anne, despite knowing the tragic end.

    The protagonist is Anne’s beautiful and spirited cousin, Lady Margaret (Madge) Shelton. Madge comes to court as a young woman, with her beloved nurse and dog, and soon finds herself in love with the bastard son of a nobleman who is in fact, far from noble. Madge’s loyalty and devotion to Anne is inspiring, and their kinship and love is at the heart of this poignantly written novel. Even Henry is painted as both charming and generous, and also cruel and mercurial. Like life, there are no simple characters in this novel, each is layered and flawed, even our wonderful heroine, Madge.

    In short, I would highly recommend At the Mercy of the Queen. Historical fiction fans will love it, as will all hopeless romantics, and those who just love a beautifully written book with wonderful characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    Pretty good

    Good historical fiction that stayed close to the actual history. I found it rather predictable, but enjoyable.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2014

    I was not impressed with the writing. None of the characters wer

    I was not impressed with the writing. None of the characters were well-developed at all, which was a real shame because we were dealing with some very dynamic people with very deep, complex personalities and the portrayal of all of them was very flat and banal. I was literally shaking my head in amazement at how some of the scenes played out. Master Cromwell came in and took away my beloved pet dog, which overshadows how my family is falling out of favor and I really ought to be scared for my life? I'll go pick some flowers then. Seriously. It is pretty sad when you don't even feel sorry for Anne Boleyn when she's executed, or feel worried for how the two lovers will end up together, or feel any emotion for any of the characters' lives at all, because the character development was just that bad. I've read textbooks about the Tudor era that made me feel more attached to these people than this book did. There are so many other Tudor-period historical fiction novels out there that delve into personalities better than this book did, and even more that describe the intrigues of the Tudor court in more detail. You can do much better than this book on all fronts. Big disappointment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    Interesting look at politics at court, but nothing too special.

    Interesting look at politics at court, but nothing too special. It did treat more sympathetically with Anne Boleyn than most, which was nice. Dialogue was a bit trite and there was a lot of kissing "full on the lips," but it made for a good beach read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    A romance set in tudor england

    A reasonable tale set in the court of Henry the VIII. I was distessed by several anachronisms so if you are a scholar or researcher skip this book. If all you want is some light entertainment buy this book.

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  • Posted August 21, 2012

    A deliciously ravishing and jaw dropping novel!

    Can Tudor drama get any sexier? This was such a great read I would only read a chapter a night to stretch it out as long as I can. But then I came down with the flu.....and OMG I finished it in two days. I loved loved loved loved Madge. And I will always be a die hard Anne Boleyn fan, especially after this read.

    If you are a die hard Tudor era Fan, and love reading about courtly love,sex,drama,lies,schemes....and just pure deliciousness.....this is the book.

    Anne Clinard Barnhill is my new fave Author.... Along with Philippa Gregory. But seriously, BRAVO!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2012

    Pretty good

    Not a bad read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    Excellent Tudor Era Historical

    I've always been fascinated with Tudor England, and Anne Barnhill does an excellent job transporting the reader to that place and time. Every time I read a novel about Anne Boleyn, I keep hoping it will have a happier ending. Without giving away the ending, I'll just say that the author managed to stay true to history and also allow the reader an emotionally satisfying read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    Not very good

    Didnt care for this one wish I hadnt purchased it

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2012

    Sexy and Sweet

    This is a sexy, engrossing page-turner with a sweet spirit. See Anne Boleyn in a brand new way, through the eyes of "Pretty Madge," the lady in waiting who becomes her sexual tool and bargaining chip. Though the story is harrowing and fraught with suspense, there is also love, and characters with dignity among the scoundrels -- honor to be found in the perils of court. Loved it.

    Great for historical fiction book clubs. An accessible story with a heart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2012

    Fantastic

    Considering all readers know Anne Boleyn's fate, this story is written in such a way as to try and make readers forget, momentarily, her grissly fate. Margaret Shelton is a young girl sent to be one of Queen Anne's ladies. Not much younger than Anne herself, Margaret is much more innocent and naive about court life. She soon learns that what she wants and what her family wants are two very different things, as Anne also had to lear Margaret is a refreshing character and her proximity to Anne shows a different Queen than most historians reflect. A must read for historical fiction fans.

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    Posted July 7, 2013

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    Posted May 6, 2014

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    Posted November 11, 2011

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    Posted March 25, 2014

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