My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Who was Anne Boleyn? I can never think of her without thinking of Scarlet O’Hara as well, because that’s how I picture Anne, as strong willed, determined, feisty, and unafraid. Anne was real though, not fictional, and she’s come through history as a scarlet woman, an unscrupulous home wrecker who probably deserved to be executed. Susan Bordo has tackled the question of who/what this woman truly was and why Henry VIII, once so besotted with her, came to feel compelled to wipe her off the face of the earth.
The first half of The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a historical study of contemporary documents, most of which, alas, were written by the queen’s detractors (especially Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador.) But Anne had her admirers as well, and Ms. Bordo does an admirable job teasing out and presenting their opinions as well. Of particular merit is the space the author devotes to chronicling Anne’s valuable religious work and her genuine social concerns; there is some evidence, for example, that Thomas Cromwell, who played a major role in her downfall, agreed with Anne’s religious tenets but differed with her about what should be done when the religious houses were “reformed”.
The second part of the book examines Anne’s role in popular culture over the centuries. Ms. Bordo provides brief reviews of her treatment in literature, up to the present day. Surprisingly, she devotes even more time to Anne’s portrayal in the movies and television, with entire chapters describing the production of the recent Showtime series, “The Tudors”. Not being much interested in pop culture and celebrity, reading this section seemed to me like perusing an issue of People magazine at the hairdresser. Hence the four star rating. But hey, that’s just me.
Overall, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is strong enough to counter the image of Anne Boleyn as a thoroughly immoral concubine or witch. Perhaps she is not England’s greatest queen, but she made an important contribution to the country’s religious development, and was, after all, the mother of England’s greatest queen. Talk about important contributions!