Book Review for Women's History Magazine Issue 72, Summer 2013:
The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Family
by David Loades
Stroud:Amberley Publishing, 2011. £20 / $34.95. ISN B978 1 4456 0304 9
(hardback), pp. 288 Reviewed by Ruth E. Richardson M.Phil., author of Mistress
Blanche, Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante
The Boleyns featured on the political stage for a very brief period in the 16th century. As a family they were minor players at the royal court allied to the far more powerful Howards whose head was the Duke of Norfolk. Their enduring fame was established when Anne Boleyn became the love of King Henry VIII, who, rather uncharacteristically, pursued her for seven years. The pursuit was all, for Anne was an admirable, witty and accomplished mistress, only allowing consummation when marriage was a certainty. Conversely, as a wife, Henry found her lacking in the required humility and submissiveness. Nevertheless, she would have survived if she could have given him the longed–for son. Henry and Anne did have a healthy baby but this was, unfortunately, a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Then what really sealed Anne's fate in 1536, were her subsequent miscarriages. Henry had been through this scenario with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon and he evidently had no intention of repeating the process.
The chapters in this book, arranged chronologically, give the Boleyn family background, explain how Thomas Boleyn arrived at the royal court, examine the careers of the three Boleyn children in turn, and describe Anne's downfall. The last chapters provide information about Anne's nephew, Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon, and her daughter, Elizabeth I. The book concludes with an informed essay on whether the Boleyns could be designated a political family. This is a straightforward format but at times the story is hard to follow. More dates would have helped and occasionally it is difficult to decide who is being discussed as prior knowledge tends to be assumed. Thomas Boleyn very probably did have a good command of French but this is just stated without any supporting evidence. A small point, but this does demonstrate some of the drawbacks for the reader.
The best chapter concerns Anne's brother, George. As the author says 'George is not an easy man to get to know. In his youth he was overshadowed by his father, and in later years by his sister.' Nevertheless, George Boleyn's career, as described here, is easy to follow and is firmly based on clear evidence. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the chapter on Anne's