The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

by Suzannah Dunn




Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and
confectioner, fatefully linked in a court
rife with intrigue and treachery

She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favor. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060591588
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/01/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Suzannah Dunn is the author of ten novels in the United Kingdom, including The Sixth Wife and The Queen of Subtleties, both published in the United States as well. She lives in Brighton, England.

Read an Excerpt

The Queen of Subtleties

Anne Boleyn

Elizabeth, you'll be told lies about me, or perhaps even nothing at all. I don't know which is worse. You, too, my only baby: your own lifestory is being rewritten. You're no longer the king's legitimate daughter and heir. Yesterday, with a few pen-strokes, you were bastardized. Tomorrow, for good measure, a sword-stroke will leave you motherless.

There are people who'd have liked to have claimed that you're not your father's daughter at all, but you've confounded them. You're a Tudor rose, a pale redhead, whereas I'm a black-haired, olive-skinned, coal-eyed Englishwoman as dark as a Spaniard. No one has felt able to suggest that you're other than your father's flesh and blood.

You won't remember how I look, and I don't suppose you'll ever come across my likeness. Portraits of me will be burned. You'll probably never even come across my handwriting, because my letters and diaries will go the same way. Even my initial will be chiseled from your father's on carvings and masonry all around the country. And it starts tomorrow, with the thud of the sword to my bared neck in time for my husband's public announcement of his forthcoming marriage. As his current wife, I pose a problem. Not such a big one, though, that the thinnest of blades can't solve it.

I want you to know about me, Elizabeth. So, let's start at the beginning. I was born at the turn of the century. And what a turn, what a century: the sixteenth, so different from every one before it. The changes I've seen. Gone, quite suddenly, is the old England, the old order of knights and priests. England used to be made of old men. Men born to their place, knowing their place. We Boleyns have always prided ourselves on knowing just about everything there is to know about anything, with the exception of our place.

I was born in Norfolk. My mother is a Howard. Her brother is the Duke of Norfolk. I was born in Blickling Hall. I've no memories of Norfolk, but I'm told that the land is flat, the sky high and wide. So, from the beginning, it seems, I've had my sights on the horizon. The climate, in Norfolk, is something I've heard about: blanketed summers and bare, bone-cracking winters. Inhospitable and uncompromising, like the Howards. If the world had never changed, that would have suited the Howards.

Something else I've heard about the Howards: that the Duke, my Uncle Norfolk, has the common touch. At first, it seems a strange thing to hear about the last man in England to have owned serfs; but in a way, it's true, because, for him, business is everything and he's unafraid to get his hands dirty. No airs and graces. Land and money: that's what matters to a Howard. My uncle has never read a book, and he's proud of the fact. Ruthlessness and efficiency: that's what matters. He'll clap you on the back, one day; stab you in it, the next. No hard feelings, just business as usual. Never trust a Howard, Elizabeth, not even if you are one. Look where it got me, sent here to the Tower by my own uncle.

But I'm a Boleyn first and foremost. My father didn't have the Howard privileges; he's had to make his own way in the world. And he has; oh, he has: cultured, clever, cool-eyed Thomas Boleyn. England has never seen the likes of him. For a start, he has a talent al-most unknown here: he speaks French like a Frenchman. Which has made him indispensable to the King.

We Boleyns have lived a very different life from everyone else, in this country; from everyone else under these heavy English skies, in their musty old robes and gowns, slowly digesting their stews. I lived in France from when I was twelve until I was twenty. I grew up to be a Frenchwoman, I came back to England as a Frenchwoman. There are women in France who are strong, Elizabeth, because they're educated. Unlike here, where the only way to be a strong woman is to be a harridan. Imagine how it was, for me, to come back. For years, I'd been thinking in French. In France, anything seems possible, and life is to be lived. Even now, stuck in the Tower, a day away from death, I'm alive, Elizabeth, in a way that most people here haven't ever been and won't ever be. I pity their bleak, groveling little lives.

Forget Norfolk, Elizabeth; forget the Howards, and old England and Catholicism and creaky Blickling Hall. Think Hever: the castle which we, the Boleyn family, made our home. Mellow-colored, grand, and assured. Perhaps you'll go there, one day. I grew up there.

I was a commoner, but I became queen. No one thought it possible, but I did it. I supplanted the woman who'd been England's queen for nineteen years, a woman who'd been born "the daughter of the Catholic Kings." Her royal blood, her regal bearing, her famed grace and benevolence were nothing against me, in the end. She was a fat old pious woman when I'd finished with her. And England was changed forever. It had to be done. I got old England by the throat, and shook it until it died.

Forget the ex-wife, for now, and let's start instead with men. Because the story of my life -- and now, it seems, my death -- is largely a story of me and men. I like them. They're easy to impress. I like male openness, eagerness. When I came to the English court, twenty and fresh from France, I fell in love with Harry, Lord Percy. Nothing particularly unusual in that. Women did it all the time. What made the difference was that Harry was in love with me. Twenty-two-year-old Harry Percy: that lazy smile; the big, kissable mouth. He dressed beautifully ...

The Queen of Subtleties. Copyright © by Suzannah Dunn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not the usual Anne Boleyn book, that's for sure. There are several things going on for this one, though: interesting perspective, historical detail, the main characters. But it can get a bit confusing if you're not that familiar with history. I had read several books on the Tudors before I tackled this one so I could follow the story but friends and relatives who are no history buffs or who were a bit rusty found it a tad bungled.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anne Boleyn, one of the most dynamic and influential people in all of European history is shown in this work to be a whining creature that actually show little care for her daughter. The addition of the confectioner does nothing to move the drama nor enlighten use as to the tenor of the times. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with this book.
tekajust on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was too confusing. I didn't relate the confectionary to Anne other than she liked sweets!Perhaps the authors thoughts were too sublte for me to understand or she just felt it was a twist for the tale to be more interesting to read. Anyways, I was glad to put it down and only would recommend for reading if someone was trying all of Dunn's works.
nevusmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another story of Anne Boleyn. The chapters alternate between Anne's letter to her daughter, written the day before she is to be beheaded, and the memoir of Mrs. Cornwallis, the palace confectioner. Honestly, this wasn't that interesting.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
This novel takes a very different approach to the story of Anne Boleyn. The modern slang may throw a lot of readers off. There are actually two alternating stories being told here; Anne’s story, as being recounted in a letter to her daughter Elizabeth, and the story of Mistress Lucy Cornwallis, the King's confectioner, who falls in love with musician Mark Smeaton. There actually was a Mrs. Cornwallis, who was the Kings confectioner, but all else about her here is fictional. In this novel, she’s portrayed as being the same age as Queen Anne Boleyn, for whom she has little to no sympathy - she cannot even bring herself to refer to her as “the queen.” Lucy’s story starts in spring 1535. A young man comes to her kitchen, as she is busy boiling sugar; she assumes he is looking for her assistant, Richard, who has a lot of “friends.” He returns, eventually, because he is been intrigued by the final product as it appears on the King’s table. Over time, he continues to return, Lucy learns his name, and they become friends. Anne’s story is jarring, and IMO, does her no justice. While putting the story in contemporary language is an interesting choice, what often comes across is not witty, as all Anne’s admirers and even enemies will grant her, but mean, coarse, and vulgar. Occasionally it works - for instance, the emblem the king wore when jousting has been transmuted from “Declare I Dare Not,” to “No Comment.” I could also imagine Anne, in a “mood,” making fun of Henry’s poetry (as some have said she did) by reading it aloud in a funny voice, with her hand dramatically over her heart. I could not imagine her telling people to “eff off,” or calling someone “an arrogant little prick,” Anne is reported to have been much more eloquent than that. Henry, as told from the viewpoint of this Anne, is a p*ssy-whipped wimp, and this, too, is a very great stretch of the imagination. Where this novel works for me is in the vivid descriptions of the candy making (“Sugar, powdered, gets everywhere. In my hair and down my throat.”), the periodic moving from one location to another, the challenges and different ways of making “subleties.” So for that reason, I think the book is an interesting read, this peek at the duties, gossip, and goings-on of the people backstage in the saga.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it was a struggle to read this book entirely! So much so, that I stopped reading the Lucy Cornwallis parts and stuck to only Annes. Where to begin. First off, historically incorrect in many places. The language used is ultra modern. For example referring to Charles Brandon as Charlie. Francis as Franky, etc. Not to mention words like the F-bomb. Seriously this book is badly written. The way the author has portrayed Anne is ridiculous! She sounds like a whinning, uncaring, cold, calculating gold digging *itch! Not that Anne Boleyn was a saint, but she wasn't as badly written as this book is! The Lucy Cornwallis segments had nothing to do with the story of Anne Boleyn and it was so boring!!! The book really insults a persons intelligence, especially if you are well versed in Tudor history! I would like a refund for the book and the week of my life that was lost / wassted back!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall, I thought the book was easy to read and interesting. There were two stories being told, Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis. The story of Anne Boleyn was wonderful, I thought it brought Anne to life. Though, I really don't know what Lucy Cornwallis had to do with anything. Plus she was a fictional character. All in all, I would recommend the book to other avid readers who enjoy novels of the Tudor era.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Queen of Subtleties was a good book, it was a nice change to have two stories told at once. But it was different than the other books I've read about took the view that Mark Smeaton was infact her lover...I don't agree with that view, but liked the book all the same.