Friday, May 20, 2011

On Meddling

I wanted to post something about Anne Boleyn yesterday, on the anniversary of her execution, but I got busy with studying for finals and writing the novel, so we're just gonna be a day late with this.


For those who aren't familiar with her, Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second wife and Queen of England. Henry courted Anne for roughly seven years before marrying her and making her his queen. After failing to produce a much-needed male heir, Anne's enemies took advantage of the King's displeasure with her and plotted her downfall, ultimately leading to her execution on May 19th, 1536 on false charges of adultery, treason, and incest.

(This is the Sparknotes version, however, and I'm greatly simplifying a long, fascinating tragedy that I would encourage anyone who's interested to research more about.)

Anne's lasting appeal can be credited to a variety of reasons -- her tragic fate, her romance with the notorious Henry VIII, the strength of her character, the enigma of a woman taking a man's world by storm. For me, personally, I've always admired Anne's spirit, particularly her courage in the face of incredible adversity, often overcoming problems with her intelligence and wit. She was not physically beautiful, reports indicating that she was of only moderate good looks, yet her vivacious personality captured the heart of a King and court. Anne was bold, brave, and indomitable. A modern woman by many of today's standards, an anachronism.

When I think of Anne, one of the first things that comes to mind is her speech on the scaffold:
"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."
One line that has always stuck with me is this one: And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. It's been interpreted as meaning that Anne was asking future historians to review her case and judge her by the truth of their findings, as opposed to believing the guilty verdict delivered by a jury of people who hated her. 

And that got me thinking.

As a writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, I feel like there's an opportunity to be the champions for the dead. We can be their voices, give an alternate account of what happened and maybe why. We can explore the what if's and why fors. We can't change the past, but we can explain and interpret it to the best of our abilities, given the evidence available. In effect, we can "meddle" with Anne's cause, hers and many others from bygone times.

Of course, we'll never know everything, and it's likely we'll get some things wrong, but we can bring an awareness of our history from a more human, more personal perspective. Because Anne, like so many historical figures, was not just a name in a textbook -- she was a woman who lived, and loved, whose life was cut tragically short, and she shouldn't be forgotten.

P.S. Spoiler alert! Anne's only daughter, Elizabeth, goes on to become Queen Elizabeth I, reigning in a golden age for England, and becoming arguably one of the best English monarchs. Take that, Henry. ;)


  1. I'll have to admit - the most exposure I've had to Anne Boleyn was from the show, The Tudors. I think Natalie Dormer did a good job with her, based on what she had to work with. But she is an amazing character.

    Hmm, that's an interesting take on historical fiction. A good piece of HF for me is one that "brings" the world to life.

  2. @Maybelle - The Tudors is actually what got me into Anne Boleyn, to begin with, haha! Upon rewatching the series (once I'd learned much more history about her), I can safely say that Natalie Dormer's portrayal is the best and most accurate I've seen. The show kept fairly true to history in most cases when it came to Anne, and Dormer's performance was beautiful.

    Bringing the world to life is definitely important, I would agree! Setting often plays a huge role in HF, and getting that right is among the top priorities. Can't have anachronisms running around ruining immersion now. ;)