The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

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“Bordo’s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read.”—Boston Globe

Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a reconstruction of Boleyn’s life and an illuminating look at her very active afterlife in the popular imagination. With recent novels, movies, and television shows, Anne has been having a twenty-first-century moment, but Bordo shows how many generations of ...

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The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen

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“Bordo’s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read.”—Boston Globe

Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a reconstruction of Boleyn’s life and an illuminating look at her very active afterlife in the popular imagination. With recent novels, movies, and television shows, Anne has been having a twenty-first-century moment, but Bordo shows how many generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers have imagined and reimagined her: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-“mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. Drawing on scholarship and razor-sharp analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most intriguing women, teasing out what we actually know about Anne Boleyn and what we think we know about her.

“Riveting . . . Bordo’s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact.” —Book Page

“Engrossing . . . Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion.”—New York Times

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Engrossing....Ms. Bordo offers a fascinating discussion. . . . a strangely tasty book."
The New York Times

"Bordo’s sharp reading of Boleyniana and her clear affection for this proud, unusual woman make this an entertaining, provocative read."
The Boston Globe

"A fascinating and accessible study of Anne Boleyn's history and popular myth."
Shelf Awareness

"A feast of feminism and history…fascinates readers, and informs and entertains along the way."
Roanoke Times

"Delightfully cheeky, solidly researched…[Bordo] uses her good sense and academic training to shrewdly chip away at historical commentary, which has hardened speculation into supposed "facts."
The Daily Beast

"Engrossing…blending biography, cultural history and literary analysis with a creative writer’s knack for narrative and detail."
Louisville Leo Weekly

"Rivetting…Bordo’s eloquent study not only recovers Anne Boleyn for our times but also demonstrates the ways in which legends grow out of the faintest wisps of historical fact, and develop into tangled webs of fact and fiction that become known as the truth. "

"Bordo’s skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters."
Bitch Media  

"The perfect book for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn. Highly readable, interesting and thought provoking."
The Anne Boleyn Files

"Susan Bordo's Boleyn did the impossible - it made me excited to read about the Tudors again while reminding me to approach history and historical fiction with curiosity and a questioning mind."
Historical Fiction Notebook

"The University of Kentucky humanities chair does a superb job of separating fact from fiction in contemporary accounts of Boleyn’s life, before deftly deconstructing the myriad and contradictory portraits of her that have arisen in the centuries since her death. . . . The young queen has been the source of fascination for nearly half a millennium, and her legacy continues; this engaging portrait culminates with an intriguing exploration of Boleyn’s recent reemergence in pop culture." —Publishers Weekly

"A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike"
Kirkus Reviews

"Susan Bordo astutely re-examines Anne’s life and death anew and peels away the layers of untruth and myth that have accumulated since. The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a refreshing, iconoclastic and moving look at one of history’s most intriguing women. It is rare to find a book that rouses one to scholarly glee, feminist indignation and empathetic tears, but this is such a book."
—Suzannah Lipscomb, author of 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII

"If you think you know who Anne Boleyn was, think again . In this rigorously argued yet deliciously readable book, Susan Bordo bursts through the dead weight of cultural stereotypes and historical clichés to disentangle the fictions that we have created from the fascinating, elusive woman that Henry VIII tried—unsuccessfully—to erase from historical memory. This is a book that has long been needed to set the record straight, and Bordo knocked it out of the park. Brava!"
—Robin Maxwell, national bestselling author of Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Mademoiselle Boleyn

By turns sassy and serious, playful and profound , Susan Bordo cuts through the layers of legend, fantasy, and untruth that history and culture have attached to Anne Boleyn, while proving that the facts about that iconic queen are every bit as intriguing as the fictions.”
— Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

"In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, we watch Anne Boleyn the woman transform into Anne Boleyn the legend—a fascinating journey. Susan Bordo covers Anne's historical footprints and her afterlife in art, fiction, poetry, theater and cinema, each change reflecting the concerns of a different era. Meticulous, thoughtful, persuasive—and fun."
—Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

A Review From Open Letters Monthly:

"'Why is Anne Boleyn so fascinating?' Susan Bordo asks at the beginning of her richly engrossing new book The Creation of Anne Boleyn. 'Maybe we don’t have to go any further than the obvious. The story of her rise and fall is as elementally satisfying – and scriptwise, not very different from – a Lifetime movie: a long-suffering, postmenopausal wife; an unfaithful husband and a clandestine affair with a younger, sexier woman; a moment of glory for the mistress; then lust turned into loathing, plotting, and murder as the cycle comes full circle.' The invocation of the syrupy American cable network Lifetime is both a neat stroke and a warning flag – readers traumatized by flippant pseudo-history grow hyper-sensitive to such showbiz namedropping, and Bordo’s credentials as a feminist scholar can, in such circumstances, increase the fear of grating anachronisms (the past was a different country, a wise man once said, hardly needing to add, "They called ‘apples’ ‘oranges’ there"). Nightmare visions of 'Anne the Party Grrrl' loom, hardly alleviated by Bordo’s puckish choice of section titles ('In Love (Or Something Like It),' 'A Perfect Storm,' etc.).

But such worries are dispelled early on in The Creation of Anne Boleyn and never return. Bordo spends the first part of her book, 'Queen, Interrupted,' recounting much of what we know about the actual history of Anne’s rise, reign, and ruin. It’s nimbly done, managing the small miracle of not feeling redundant despite the staggering number of times the story has been told before. But it’s the book’s second part, 'Recipes for 'Anne Boleyn',' and its third part, 'An Anne For All Seasons,' that gaily raise this book to the status of something quite memorable; it’s in these parts that Bordo gets at the real heart of her subject – not Anne Boleyn, but rather the infinite variety of cultural reconstructions of Anne.

Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her range is impressive, covering a dozen major novels – from Francis Hackett’s 1939 novel Queen Anne Boleyn to Margaret Campbell Barnes’ Brief Gaudy Hour (1949), Norah Lofts’ The Concubine (1963), and more modern bestsellers like Phlippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (partisans may wish she’d spared a mention for Suzannah Dunn’s sly and extremely impressive 2005 novel The Queen of Subtleties) – and all the major film and stage interpretations of Anne’s tempestuous relationship with Henry VIII, including the Charles Laughton camp-fest The Private Life of Henry VIII, the BBC mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the great 1969 movie Anne of the Thousand Days, and of course Showtime’s vamping, moronic The Tudors. It’s a shrewd strategy: now that Bordo has supplied her readers with the history, she can thrill and provoke them by citing the countless ways all these adaptations get the history wrong:

Anne of the Thousand Days, in addition to numerous other alterations of history, has that invented – yet somehow perfect – scene in the Tower between Anne and Henry. The Private Life of Henry VIII turns Anne of Cleves into a wisecracking cardsharp who is physically disgusted by Henry rather than (as history tells it) the other way around. A Man for All Seasons neglects to mention that Thomas More, besides being a witty intellectual, also burned quite a few heretics and was apparently not quite the devoted husband he appeared to be. The BBC production of The Six Wives of Henry VIII barely notes that there was a conflict of authority between Henry and the Church, beyond the issue of the divorce; its actually much more the wife-centered, 'feminized' history that [David] Starkey berates than [Showtime's] The Tudors, which spends a lot of time on the more 'masculine' (and for Starkey, historically central) end of things: diplomatic skirmishes, wars, and court politics.

Half the fun of these segments of the book will be arguing with them. For instance, the claim that there’s no dramatization of the conflict between king and Church in The Six Wives of Henry VIII is starkly wrong – indeed, it’s in the Jane Seymour episode of the series that its star Keith Michell gives one of his most passionate performances, on precisely the subject of Henry’s struggles with Rome. Likewise the sustained, extremely intelligent attention Bordo lavishes on The Tudors, and especially petite, slope-mouthed Natalie Dormer, whose Anne Boleyn is about as sexually alluring as a distracted basset hound: the reader might fundamentally disagree with the elevation of such an unworthy subject (so to speak), but the discussion itself is too interesting to forego (when Bordo interviews Genevieve Bujold, who shot to fame in Anne of the Thousand Days, the actress simply says 'Anne is mine').

Bordo charts the changes in Anne’s portrayal over the years, drawing up handy lists of historical errors, sparing nobody, not even Mantel, whose books come in for some sustained nit-picking (although nothing on the order of the full-dress deconstruction Gregory gets)(and yet it’s all done with such wonderful candor that it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the novelists themselves enjoyed the critiques). The focus of the book in these parts shimmers all over the fictional landscape, always with an acute eye:

The Tudors has replaced Charles Laughton’s blustering, chicken-chomping buffoon with Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s lean, athletic bad boy. Wolf Hall exposes Thomas More as coldly, viciously pious and turns the ruthless, calculating Cromwell we know from depictions of his role in Anne Boleyn’s death into a true “man for all seasons”: warm, loyal, and opportunistic only because his survival requires it.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn creates in its readers the deep hunger for more of the same; it’ll be a cold-hearted reader indeed who doesn’t finish the book wishing Bordo would have expanded it into a big fat study of the history and fiction of all the wives – or better yet, of Anne’s own daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. But our author is something of an intellectual dynamo, and unlike poor Anne, she’s got plenty of options."

The New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler
Publishers Weekly
Bordo (Unbearable Weight) writes that the goal of this engaging cultural biography was to “find the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn and rescue her from the pile of mythology that had built up around her” even before her beheading in 1536, a sad end that earned her the dubious distinction of being the first Queen of England to be executed. The University of Kentucky humanities chair does a superb job of separating fact from fiction in contemporary accounts of Boleyn’s life, before deftly deconstructing the myriad and contradictory portraits of her that have arisen in the centuries since her death, which range from the virtuous heroine depicted in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563) to the “selfish, spiteful, and vindictive” sister of Philippa Gregory’s bestselling 2003 novel The Other Boleyn Girl, which Bordo skewers quite mercilessly and at length for its historical inaccuracies. In addition, the author offers interesting insights into the representation of a historical figure, as well as varying feminist interpretations of Boleyn’s legacy. The young queen has been the source of fascination for nearly half a millennium, and her legacy continues; this engaging portrait culminates with an intriguing exploration of Boleyn’s recent reemergence in pop culture. Agent: Sam Stoloff, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Apr. 9)
Library Journal
Cultural thinker Bordo (humanities, Univ. of Kentucky; Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body) sets out to right what she sees as history's unjust portrayal of Anne Boleyn. She reviews the ways in which Henry VIII's second wife has been depicted, both in historical writing since the 16th century and in popular culture more recently. Bordo clearly hopes to revitalize Boleyn's image. The unfortunate queen has at times been cast as a shrew who nearly destroyed the English monarchy. Instead, Bordo presents her as a powerhouse feminist who was ahead of her time. But the author's insistence on judging historians—who have necessarily framed Boleyn through the lens of their own times—by standards she violates via her own assumptions and speculations makes her historical review of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII hard to take seriously. The second half of the book, which analyzes fictionalized versions of Boleyn over the succeeding centuries right up through the recent BBC series The Tudors, is stronger. VERDICT This book may appeal to die-hard Boleyn and Tudor hobbyists but does not stand out as a serious title.—Elizabeth Goldman, Perth & District Union P.L., Perth, Ontario
Kirkus Reviews
A dissection of the many varying portrayals of Anne Boleyn (1501–1536) since her death. Bordo (Humanities/Univ. of Kentucky; The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private, 1999, etc.) begins her study of Boleyn through the ages with the attempted eradication of the doomed queen's presence from Henry VIII's castle and life. It was with this erasure, writes the author, that Boleyn ceased to exist as a person and became a character known only through the lenses of others. The chief contemporary accounts of her time at court come from a diplomat and supporter of Boleyn's predecessor, Katherine of Aragon. The portrait is that of a villain, which Bordo thinks is unfair and probably historically inaccurate due to the biases of the sources. The author examines many of the histories and fictions that make Boleyn their subject, from early biographies to novels, plays and TV shows. While she makes a compelling case for her assertion that Boleyn was a strong and independent victim of the times rather than a bloodthirsty and power-mad vixen, Bordo's own biases are apparent. She portrays the former queen not as simply misunderstood but as a feminist hero for the ages. The angle won't surprise those familiar with her other works, but occasionally the book feels less like history than sociological theory. While the obvious discontent with many Boleyn accounts is a main focus of the book, one consequence of all the attention given those works is the likelihood that readers who are not well-versed in the lore will become curious about all the stories, including the negative. A great read for Boleyn fans and fanatics alike, though not for readers seeking a general biography of the queen.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547834382
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 223,747
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Bordo , Otis A. Singletary Professor in the Humanities at University of Kentucky, is the author of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private . Her work has been translated into many languages and frequently reprinted in collections and writing textbooks. A popular public speaker, Susan lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and daughter, and teaches humanities and gender studies at the University of Kentucky.

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Read an Excerpt


The Erasure of Anne Boleyn and the Creation of "Anne Boleyn"

For Anne, the arrest was sudden and inexplicable. At the end of April 1536, the king, by all outward appearances, was planning a trip with her to Calais on May 4, just after the May Day celebrations. She had no idea that at the same time the trip was being organized, the Privy Council had been informed of planned judicial proceedings against her, on charges of adultery and treason. Her husband was a genius at keeping his true intentions hidden. He had it down to an art: the arm round the shoulder, the intimate conversations, the warm gestures of affection and reassurance. And then, without warning, abandonment — or worse. It had happened with his longtime counselor and second Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, who saw him ride off one morning with promises of a friendly conversation that never happened. More famously, it had happened with Thomas More, whose intellect Henry had once valued above any other man’s and whose conscience he had pledged to honor, then punished with death. This time, however, Henry’s turnabout was not only fatal but also unprecedented. For the first time in English history, a queen was about to be executed. And, if Henry had gotten his way, written out of his memory — and history.

Even before the execution, Henry had begun the business of attempting to erase Anne Boleyn’s life and death from the recorded legacy of his reign. On May 18, the day before Anne’s execution, Thomas Cromwell, aware of rumors that people were beginning to question the justice of the verdict and concerned that foreign ambassadors might write home sympathetic accounts of Anne’s last moments, ordered William Kingston, constable of the Tower of London, to "have strangerys conveyed yowt of the Towre." Kingston carried out the order and assured Cromwell that only a "reasonable number" of witnesses would be there, to testify that justice had been done. In fact, by the time of the execution, delayed still further due to the late arrival of the executioner from Calais, there were more than a thousand spectators. For unknown reasons and despite Cromwell’s orders, the Tower gates had been left open, and Londoners and "strangerys" alike streamed in.

As Anne prepared for her death, distraught over the delays, which she feared would weaken her resolve to bravely face the executioner, Henry was spending much of his time at Chelsea, visiting his future bride Jane Seymour and making plans for their wedding. He was eager to remarry as quickly as possible. But first he had to eradicate Anne. Even before the call sounded her death, dozens of carpenters, stonemasons, and seamstresses had been hard and hastily at work at Hampton Court, instructed to remove all signs of Anne’s queenship: her initials, her emblems, her mottoes, and the numerous carved, entwined H’s and A’s strewn throughout the walls and ceiling of the Great Hall. Similar activities were going on at other royal residences. Henry was determined to start afresh with his new wife. Sometimes, the alterations were easy. Anne’s leopard emblem became Jane’s panther with clever adjustments to the head and tail. Various inscriptions to "Queen Anne" could be painted over and replaced with "Queen Jane." He got rid of her portraits. He (apparently) destroyed her letters. But the task of erasing Anne was an enormous one, since even before they were married, Henry had aggressively enthroned her symbolically in every nook and cranny of his official residences. Not surprisingly, especially since Henry wanted it done with such speed, many H’s and A’s were overlooked by Henry’s revisionist workmen. Today, even the guides who provide information to visitors at Hampton Court are not sure how many there are.

Researching this book has been a lot like standing in the middle of that Great Hall at Hampton Court, squinting my eyes, trying to find unnoticed or "escaped" bits of Anne, dwarfed but still discernible within the monuments of created myths, legends, and images. In part because of Henry’s purge, very little exists in Anne’s own words or indisputably depicts what she did or said. Although seventeen of his love letters to her escaped the revision, having been stolen earlier and spirited away to the Vatican, only two letters that may be from Anne to Henry remain, and one is almost certainly inauthentic. Beyond these and some inscriptions in prayer books, most of our information about Anne’s personality and behavior is secondhand: George Cavendish’s "biography" of Cardinal Wolsey, which credits Anne with Wolsey’s downfall; the gossipy, malicious reports of Eustace Chapuys and other foreign ambassadors to their home rulers, Constable Kingston’s descriptions of her behavior in the Tower, and various "eyewitness" accounts of what she said and did at her trial and execution. Since Henry destroyed all the portraits he could lay his hands on, it’s even difficult to determine what Anne actually looked like. Later artistic depictions, all of them copies and only a few believed to be copies of originals done from actual sittings, are wildly inconsistent with one another, from the shape of her face to the color of her hair, and her looks, as described by her contemporaries, range from deformed to "not bad-looking" to "rivaling Venus." Whether or not these portraits are actually of Anne is a source of constant debate among historians and art historians.

You might expect Anne to be resuscitated today at the various historical sites associated with Henry’s reign, but, in fact, she’s not very prominent there either. In the gift shops, thimbles, small chocolates, and tiny soaps "commemorate" Henry’s wives democratically. Everything is in sets of six, each wife given equal billing among the tiny trinkets, as though they were members of a harem. The "and his six" view of the wives is everywhere in Britain. Yet despite the "all wives are equal" spin of Hampton Court and the Tower of London, and despite the absence of Anne’s own voice and image among the relics of the period, she is undoubtedly the most famous of Henry’s wives. Ask any random person who Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, or Katherine Parr were, and you probably won’t even get an attempt to scan stored mental information. The name "Jane Seymour" will probably register as the apparently ageless actress well-known for Lifetime movies and ads for heart-shaped jewelry. But Anne Boleyn, at the very least, is remembered as "the one who had her head chopped off ."

Henry may have tried to erase her, but Anne Boleyn looms large in our cultural imagination. Everyone has some tidbit of Anne mythology to pull out: "She slept with hundreds of men, didn’t she?" (I heard that one from a classical scholar.) "She had six fingers — or was it three nipples?" (From a French-literature expert.) "She had sex with her own brother." (From anyone who has learned their history at the foot of Philippa Gregory.) She has been the focus of numerous biographies, several movies, and a glut of historical fiction — Murder

Most Royal, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, The Other Boleyn Girl, Mademoiselle Boleyn, A Lady Raised High, The Concubine, Brief Gaudy Hour — which, thanks to Showtime’s The Tudors, have multiplied over the last several years. (By a 2012 count on Amazon, more than fi ft y biographies, novelizations, or studies were published in the preceding fi ve years alone; and that’s without considering electronic editions, reprints of Henry’s love letters, or Tudor books within which Anne is a central, though not main, focus.) Anne has also become a thriving commercial concern (Halloween costumes, sweatshirts, coffee cups, magnets, bumper stickers). Internet sites are devoted to her, and feminist art deconstructs her demise.

My own obsession with Anne began early in 2007, with an e-mail from England sent by a young journalist looking for a feminist to coauthor a book with him. The book was to be about famous women and their pursuit of pleasure, in defiance of the rules and restrictions of their cultures. In the original plan, Anne Boleyn was to be one of many, from Cleopatra to Queen Latifah. Uncommitted but curious, I started casually reading about Anne. And found I couldn’t stop. It was a total gorge. I consumed Boleyn voraciously, sometimes several books a week, one after another, as if I were chain-smoking. I rented movies and documentaries, read all the popular histories, delved into all the scholarly debates, and discovered the thriving industry in Tudor fiction. I gobbled them like candy. My lust for Boleyniana was right up there with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse (fourth grade), James Bond (college), Sylvia Plath bios (graduate school), and O. J. Simpson and JonBenét Ramsey (pop culture critic). And in the end, she became the only woman on our list whom I wanted to write about, and researching her life and how it has been represented has consumed me for the past six years.

Why is Anne Boleyn so fascinating? Maybe we don’t have to go any further than the obvious: The story of her rise and fall is as elementally satisfying — and scriptwise, not very diff erent from — a Lifetime movie: a long suffering, postmenopausal wife; an unfaithful husband and a clandestine affair with a younger, sexier woman; a moment of glory for the mistress; then lust turned to loathing, plotting, and murder as the cycle comes full circle. As Irene Goodman writes, "Anne’s life was not just an important historical event. It was also the stuff of juicy tabloid stories . . . It has sex, adultery, pregnancy, scandal, divorce, royalty, glitterati, religious quarrels, and larger-than-life personalities. If Anne lived today, she would have been the subject of lurid tabloid headlines: RANDY KING DUMPS HAG FOR TROPHY WIFE."

But Anne hasn’t always been seen as a skanky schemer. For supporters of Katherine of Aragon, she was worse: a coldhearted murderess. For Catholic propagandists such as Nicholas Sander, she was a sixfingered, jaundiced-looking erotomaniac who slept with butlers, chaplains, and half of the French court. For Elizabethan admirers, she was the unsung heroine of the Protestant Reformation. For the Romantics, particularly in painting, she was the hapless victim of a king’s tyranny— a view that gets taken up in the earliest fi lm versions of Anne, Ernst Lubitsch’s silent Anna Boleyn and Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII. In postwar movies and on television, Anne has been animated by the rebellious spirit of the sixties ( Anne of the Thousand Days ), the "mean girl" and "power feminist" celebration of female aggression and competitiveness of the nineties ( The Other Boleyn Girl ), and the third-wave feminism of a new generation of Anne worshippers, inspired by Natalie Dormer’s brainy seductress of The Tudors to see in Anne a woman too smart, sexy, and strong for her own time, unfairly vilified for her defiance of sixteenth-century norms of wifely obedience and silence. Henry may have tried to write his second wife out of history, but "Anne Boleyn" has been too strong for him, in the many guises she has assumed over the centuries.

One goal of this book is to follow the cultural career of these mutating Annes, from the poisonous putain created by the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys — a highly biased portrayal that became history for many later writers — to the radically revisioned Anne of the Internet generation. I’m not such a postmodernist, however, that I’m content to just write a history of competing narratives. I’m fascinated by their twists and turns, but even more fascinated by the real Anne, who has not been quite as disappeared as Henry wanted. Like Marilyn Monroe in our own time, she is an enigma who is hard to keep one’s hands off of; just as men dreamed of possessing her in the flesh, writers can’t resist the desire to solve the mysteries of how she came to be, to reign, to perish. I’m no exception. I have my own theories, and I won’t hide them. There are so many big questions that remain unanswered that this book would be very unsatisfying if I did not attempt to address them.

Perhaps the biggest question concerns Henry more than Anne herself. How could he do it? The execution of a queen was extreme and shocking, even to Anne’s enemies. They may have believed Anne guilty of adultery and treason— and Henry may have too— but even so, it still does not explain Anne’s execution. Eleanor of Aquitaine had been banished for the same crimes. Why did Anne have to die? The answer, I believe, is psychological as well as political; to find it, we have to venture — with caution, for his was an era that lived largely by roles rather than by introspection — into Henry’s psyche. Another unsolved mystery is the relationship itself, which began with such powerful attraction, at least on Henry’s part, and created such havoc in the realm. It is often assumed that Anne, in encouraging Henry’s pursuit, was motivated solely by personal (or perhaps familial) ambition, while Henry was bewitched by her sexual allure. This scenario is a sociobiologist’s dream relationship — woman falls for power and protection, man for the promise of fertility — but ignores how long and at what expense the two hung in there in order to mesh their genes. We know that Henry was intent on finding a new wife to secure the male heir that Katherine, through their seventeen-year marriage, had failed to produce. But why Anne Boleyn? She wasn’t the most beautiful woman at court. She wasn’t royalty and thus able to serve in solidifying foreign relations. She wasn’t a popular choice (to put it mildly) among Henry’s advisers. Yet he pursued her for six years, sending old friends to the scaffold and splitting his kingdom down the middle to achieve legitimacy for the marriage. Surely he could have found a less divisive baby maker among the royalty of Europe?

One enduring answer to the mystery of Henry’s pursuit of Anne portrays her as a medieval Circe, with Henry as her hapless, hormonedriven man toy. This image, besides asking us to believe something outlandish about Henry, is an all too familiar female stereotype. Even the slight evidence we have tells us that Anne’s appeal was more complicated than that of a medieval codpiece teaser. We know, from recorded remarks, that she had a dark, sardonic sense of humor that stayed with her right to the end. We know that she wasn’t the great beauty, in her day, that Merle Oberon, Geneviéve Bujold, Natalie Dormer, and Natalie Portman are in ours, and that her fertility signals were weak: Her "dukkys" were quite small, and her complexion was sallow. We know that there was something piquantly "French" about her. Just what that means — today as well as then — is somewhat elusive, but in Anne’s case, it seems to have had a lot to do with her sense of fashion, her excellent dancing skills, and her gracefulness, which according to courtier and poet Lancelot de Carles, made her seem less like "an Englishwoman" than "a Frenchwoman born."

Anne the stylish consort is a familiar image. What is less generally familiar, outside of some limited scholarly circles, is Anne the freethinking, reformist intellectual. Both courts at which she spent her teenage years were dominated by some of the most independent, influential women in Europe. Anne spent two years in the household of the sophisticated and politically powerful Archduchess Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, and then seven years in France, where she came into contact with Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of Francis I. Marguerite was visited by the most famous reformist thinkers of the day and was a kind of shadow queen at Francis’s court; Queen Claude had the babies, but Marguerite, who is sometimes called "the mother of the Renaissance," ran the intellectual and artistic side of things. Anne spent most of her formative years at Francis’s court and was clearly influenced by Marguerite’s evangelicalism — which in those days meant a deep belief in the importance of a "personal" (rather than a churchmediated) relationship to God, with daily prayer and Bible study as its centerpiece. It’s also possible that Marguerite taught Anne, by example, that a woman’s place extended beyond her husband’s bed and that this, ironically, was part of her appeal for Henry. For traditionalists at court, Anne’s having any say in Henry’s political affairs would have been outrageously presumptuous, particularly since Anne was not of royal blood. Henry, however, had been educated alongside his two sisters and was extremely close to his mother; there’s no evidence that he saw Anne’s "interference," so long as it supported his own aims, as anything other than proof of her queenly potential. In fact, in the six-year-long battle for the divorce, they seem much more like coconspirators than manipulating female and hapless swain. Henry, whose intellect was, in fact, more restless than his hormones (compared to, say, the rapacious Francis), and who was already chafing at the bit of any authority other than his own, may have imagined Anne as someone with whom he could shape a kingdom.

These are pieces of Anne’s life that are like those entwined H’s and A’s that Henry’s revisionist architects didn’t see. But while Henry’s workmen were blinded by haste, we have had centuries to find the missing pieces. Sometimes our failure to see has been the result of political animosity, misogyny, or religious vendetta. Others have wanted to tell a good story and found the facts got in the way. Still others have been too trusting of the conclusions of others. And others didn’t know where or how to look when the trail wandered outside the boundaries of their discipline, time period, or areas of specialization. The Great Hall at Hampton Court is thus for me not just a reminder of Henry’s efforts to erase Anne, but also a metaphor for how later generations have perpetuated that erasure.

This book is not, however, a "corrective" biography of Anne that traces her life from birth to death, chronicling all the central events. For that, we already have Eric Ives’s magnum opus, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, as well as several other excellent biographies. Anyone who wants to find a full narrative of Boleyn’s life should consult those sources. Nor do I enter into specialized scholarly debates, found only in academic journals. What you will find here, in the first part of the book, is some cultural detective work into what I see as the soft spots— the missing pieces, the too readily-accepted images, the biases, the absence of some key cultural context — in the existing literature, along with some theories of my own, based on the six years of research I’ve conducted for this book. Although not meant to be straight "history," I have organized it chronologically and have attempted to provide enough historical detail to create a coherent backstory. That section, called Queen, Interrupted, concludes with Boleyn’s death.

The second part, Recipes for "Anne Boleyn," and the third, An Anne for All Seasons, comprise a cultural history not of her life, but of how she has been imagined and represented over the centuries since her death, from the earliest attackers and defenders, to the most recent novels, biographies, plays, films, television shows, and websites. Readers whose image of Anne has been shaped by the recent media depictions and novels may be surprised at the variety of "Annes" who have strutted through history; I know I was. My annoyance with popular stereotypes was one reason why I started this book; I expected it to be a critical exposé of how thoroughly maligned and mishandled she has been throughout the centuries. But the truth is not so simple. Anne has been less the perpetual victim of the same old sexist stereotyping than she has been a shape-shifting trickster whose very incompleteness in the historical record has stirred the imaginations of different agendas, different generations, and different cultural moments to lay claim to their "own" Boleyn. In cutting her life so short and then ruthlessly disposing of the body of evidence of her "real" existence, Henry made it possible for her to live a hundred different lives, forever.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    For me, this was a book like no other! I have not found myself u

    For me, this was a book like no other! I have not found myself underlining, making margin notes and dog earring a book for many years - but this book just ignited me so much that I had to make notes, notes and more notes! I did not merely really like this book, I loved it! No, I have none of those conspiratorial affiliations or associations - this book is just unique and very different. I'm a history buff, especially a British history buff, and I love the cultural aspects of history. This book could have been more tailored to my interests!

    Susan Bordo is a philosopher, cultural & feminist historian, and humanities scholar from the University of Kentucky. She has presented us with a finely detailed, acutely researched and edifying history about the 'becoming' of the famous English Queen, Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo details precisely how the myth of Anne Boleyn has been created, defined and re-defined over the centuries.

    This is not just a history book, nor is it to be considered necessarily biographical in nature. It is rather a book that details how the cultural history of Anne Boleyn over the centuries has morphed into the myth behind the Queen and about how those myths have shaped our understanding, and our version about the 'reality' of this fascinating woman, who, many feel, was a modern age woman confined by the 'feminine strictures' of her 16th century world. Anne Boleyn; was she a saint or a sinner? Was she really the instigator of reformed religion in Britain? Was she, in fact, malformed? Did she truly have the adulterous relationships that led her to the scaffold or was this simply a conspiracy that allowed Henry to bed a more fecund woman who could, he hoped, provide him with a true heir to his throne? How have the myriad characterizations of Anne in books, plays and movies, shaped our common perception of her as a female and Queen? What do we really know about the woman who was Anne Boleyn.

    Drawing from myriad and prime sources such as the writings of Eustace Chapuys ,and Thomas Wyatt, Ms. Bordo sets the stage for the beginnings of the mythology that would develop. Topics covered in this book include how a variety of plays and movies, and the actors and actresses in them, have formed a part of our cultural understanding of Anne Boleyn. Ms. Bordo goes into detail about how each actress who has portrayed Anne Boleyn, and each writer who has written about her, have added their own 'personality' stamps to our conceptualizations about this legendary Queen. She has interviewed many of the living actress' and writers up to, and including, Natalie Dormer who played the Queen in the acclaimed TV series, "The Tudors" and writers such as Hilary Mantel. "Additionally, Ms. Bordo has spoken to the directors of plays and films about Anne Boleyn as well. She has researched all of the biographies and extant writings about this, most famous, Queen, and she delineates how these very diverse depictions have shaped our modern understanding and cultural opinions about this maligned, but thoroughly modern, Queen and woman by looking at her in relation to the realities and social norms of her own time.

    I especially like an included quote from the famous author, Hilary Mantel, ( author of "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing Up The Bodies" fame) which states "...we always write from our own time...". How true is that? Each generation puts it's own stamp on the 'reality' of history and historical figures. Ms. Bordo attempts to sift through the various 'versions' of Anne Boleyn that have been devised by many authors, film makers, actors, and 'news' sources over the ages to try to distill what the reality of Anne Boleyn was.

    I even enjoyed the Chapter headings of the book! They are all so descriptive! Here are a few:
    Part One : Queen Interrupted
    Henry: How Could He Do It?
    Part Two : Recipes for Anne Boleyn
    Annes After Lives from She-Tragedy to Historical Romance
    The notes and sources pages are monumental! The pages are filled with rich fodder for future reading. The sources include books, periodicals, and websites. Another favorite inclusion is a "fact checker" which posits the facts versus the fiction in some well read books such as "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory.

    When I read historical fiction I remember, first and foremost that I am reading historical fiction - not history. One of my favorite things to do is read a good historical novel along with a non-fiction book concerning the same time period. I enjoy understanding to what extent the author has used the facts and how they have woven their fiction around the facts.! I think doing this had provided me with a wealth of solid historical background that I would certainly not have enjoyed had I merely read the fictional work. I love factual history, which in many cases, can be even more fascinating than fiction!

    Have a look at "The Creation Of Anne Boleyn's" Face Book page and the author's blog/website.

    This book was a delight to read, and I know, without any doubt, that it will be of interest to a wide array of people; those who love history, those who love British history, cultural historian fans, those who question how the media can "make or break" popularity. It's winner of a read!

    This is the advertising verbiage for the book:

    "...Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first-century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships.

    Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and re-imagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto “mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies...."

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, feminist scholar Susan Bordo beg

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, feminist scholar Susan Bordo began with an agenda.

    "I would find the 'real' Anne Boleyn and rescue her from the pile of mythology that had built up around her. Presumptuous. Grandiose."

    As she proceeded to explore the various historical sources, and the spins and interpretations put upon Anne Boleyn by a plethora of historians, novelists, playwrights, moviemakers, actors, and bloggers, Bordo discovers the “real” Anne Boleyn is not so easy to find.

    The book is divided into three sections: Queen, Interrupted - a look at the historical record; Recipes for “Anne Boleyn” - how the fictional story of Anne Boleyn has been mixed and rebaked, according to the time in which it was told; and An Anne for All Seasons - a look at how Anne has been portrayed in motion pictures, with especial attention to Anne of the Thousand Days, the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the Showtime series The Tudors.

    I found this book provocative and insightful, the arguments well made, and the book itself flowed well. If you are an Anne Boleyn fan, or even an enemy, you need to read this book.

    Bordo points out (repeatedly), that the main historical source for much of the contemporary material about Anne’s life comes from her sworn enemy, who had his own agenda and was trying to the best of his ability to instigate a Spanish invasion of England. Eustace Chapuys, Spanish ambassador, and personal friend of Katharine of Aragon and Princess Mary, never heard a rumor that was derogatory to Anne that he failed to pass on, whether it could be verified or not. Most historians agree that Chapuys was an extremely partisan and unreliable source, yet while sometimes they dismiss what he wrote, in other places they heavily depend upon him for some or much of their material. Additionally, each historian brings his or her own prejudices about Anne, which become apparent in their choice of language (including Bordo, as she admits).

    Like Anne Boleyn herself, Susan Bordo is not afraid to make enemies and burn bridges. She blames historians David Starkey and Alison Weir, among others, for giving too much credence to questionable historical evidence and negative portrayals of Anne Boleyn. She also loathes the way popular novelist Philippa Gregory has played fast and loose with what historical facts are agreed upon. Bordo even picks fault with novelists she greatly admires, such as Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Out the Bodies. When it comes to motion picture portrayals of Anne, even though Bordo cites the historical inaccuracies of Anne of the Thousand Days, and The Tudors, she is a big fan (as am I) of the underlying spirit, sexuality, and complexity brought to the role of Anne by actresses Geneviève Bujold, and Natalie Dormer, both of whom she interviewed at length for this book.

    Bordo takes an analytic look at how Anne Boleyn has fascinated generations, and how each has remade Anne to fit its stereotypes and needs. Was she a scheming seductress? A Protestant martyr? A loving, protective mother - or a cold, calculating one? A raging, vindictive nag? A helpless victim? Was she an early feminist, insisting on sovereignty over her body, and the freedom to express her thoughts and ideas? Bordo includes some interesting answers from a web poll asking “Anne Boleyn - Angel or Devil?:”

    “It’s far too simplistic to define her as either an ‘angel’ or ‘devil.’ She was an intelligent, educated, highly sophisticated woman, who certainly possessed many flaws, significant among them being considerable arrogance, but who was also far too complex to be dismissed simply as a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ character... She really was a great deal more than a home-wrecking harlot who ran off with another woman’s husband, but she also wasn’t an innocent lamb who had no idea what she was getting herself into. She was hugely complicated and not easy to dismiss.”

    I loved this book because it challenged me to think beyond my own vision of “who Anne Boleyn really was” and to consider that all great historical and fictional characters are impossible to fit into neat little boxes.

    "Anne has been less the perpetual victim of the same old sexist stereotyping then she has been a shape-shifting trickster... In cutting her life so short and then ruthlessly disposing of the body of evidence of her “real” existence, Henry made it possible for her to live a hundred different lives, forever."

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted June 29, 2013

    Expensive-more fan review than scholarly

    Like the author I have a huge interest in Anne Boleyn and feel she was not quite as horrible a person as history has made her to be. That being said I don't quite know if I got my money's worth from this book. The first half is more "scholarly" than the second, but I found some of the author's facts to be puzzling. She mentions a "Sommersby" portrait of Anne Boleyn I can't find anywhere online except for a mention on her own website. I did find a "Somerley" portrait online with comments that it could be Anne, was the author meaning to reference this portrait instead? She also asserts siblings kissing on the mouth is "completely appropriate behavior". Maybe so for her, but in my opinion I don't think so. I also was not surprised, knowing the author is a feminist, to find many of the wrongs done to Anne attributed to women hating men. The second half of the book was fun review of most books and entertainment about Anne. Being a fellow fan of The Tudors I loved the interview with Natalie Dormer. It did feel though like I was reading more of a fan magazine than histrical novel.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Susan Bordo impressively analyzes how and why the modern world sees the doomed queen. Simultaneously scholarly and conversational, she debunks the "truths" nearly everyone spouts about Anne and presents contemporary Tudor era accounts and biases which curiously resemble our own political situation. "Who" reports information becomes paramount in discerning the truth of the information reported. Those characters with political and personal agendas are exposed and reevaluated. Yet Anne remains an enigma who will continue to haunt us all.
    This is a book Tudor scholars and casual fans can enjoy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013

    Confused--your distribution chart lists a one star rating, but t

    Confused--your distribution chart lists a one star rating, but there isn't one among the actual ratings/reviews.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted July 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted November 22, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted December 1, 2014

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