Anne Boleyn Has Had a Bad Reputation for Nearly 500 Years. Hayley Nolan Wants to Change ThatHistorians in the News
tags: book review
As the second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn was one of the most powerful women in the world in the 16th century. In fact, Henry’s desire to annul his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon so he could pursue Anne is widely credited as a key factor leading to England’s astounding break with the Roman Catholic Church in 1533. Even so, her peers at the Tudor court didn’t hold back when it came to their ideas about her. Contemporary descriptions of Boleyn painted her as a seductress, as power-hungry, and even as a witch with six fingers who enchanted the king.
And those descriptions stuck.
For hundreds of years, Anne Boleyn’s bad reputation has run throughout both conventional historical narratives and popular depictions of this time period. And there’s been no shortage of them: The story of the woman who had been Henry’s queen for only three years before he ordered her beheading in 1536, on charges of treason, has retained public interest — look no further than the film The Other Boleyn Girl, in which Natalie Portman portrays Boleyn as a scheming temptress, or the television series Wolf Hall, featuring Claire Foy’s Anne as part of an ambitious and social-climbing family.
But for historian Hayley Nolan, those portrayals of Boleyn raised several unanswered questions.
“I wanted to get to the truth of why and how Henry could do that to Anne,” says Nolan. “Then in researching him, I discovered that everything we’ve been told about Anne is not the truth.”
Nolan’s new book, Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies, is part biography and part historical exposé, challenging the conventional sources often used to explore Boleyn’s life while highlighting the queen’s humanitarian, religious and political efforts.
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