Wednesday 26 May 2010

A Question of Sources

Over the course of the last three weeks, I have received many kind e-mails, comments and Facebook messages on this blog's day-by-day account of the fall and death of Queen Anne Boleyn (1536.)

Firstly, I would of course like to say a huge thank you to those who took the time to tell me of their enjoyment (more than one person has wondered if this was the right word!) of my series and also to thank those who came back every day to read it. A special word of thanks must go to Claire Ridgeway, creator of the superb Anne Boleyn Files, which was also running its own excellent series on the Queen's demise, but who still linked several of her posts to mine and vice-versa. I am both incredibly flattered and incredibly pleased, although I am sure more of the credit belongs to Anne Boleyn, rather than to myself!

Secondly, I would like to acknowledge the comments and supports left by a very worthy assembly of some of the finest writers of historical fiction currently in print - some of whom linked to my Anne Boleyn series from their own blogs, others who read, commented or e-mailed me. These fantastic authors included Elena Maria Vidal, author of the novels Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night's Dark Shade; C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret (2011); Catherine Delors, author of Mistress of the Revolution and For the King ; Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, Cleopatra's Daughter and the forthcoming Madame Tussaud and, finally, Robin Maxwell, whose book The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn was the first book a young me ever read cover-to-cover about the ill-fated queen. Miss Maxwell is also the author of a prequel, called Mademoiselle Boleyn, and the novels Virgin, The Queen's Bastard, The Wild Irish, To the Tower Born, Signora da Vinci and O, Juliet. The historical writer, Stephanie A. Mann, who is the author of the non-fiction book, Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, was also a reader! To all of you, a huge, huge thank you for your comments and support, particularly to Elena Maria Vidal, one of this blog's earliest and most supportive readers!

Thirdly, many readers have asked about what sources I used in writing the 1536 series and if I am planning to one day write a biography of Anne myself? The answer to the latter is - yes, I would very much like to and over the last few months, I have been having great fun researching the background of her family and researching the less-analysed personality of her mother, Lady Elizabeth Howard. However, it will be several years before I'm in the position to even think about publishing it, because in the meantime I am working on an incredibly fun series of novels about the life of fictitious socialite, Meredith Harper, and her posse of fabulous friends. The first installment, Popular, is due to be be published by Puffin in February 2011. I'm incredibly excited by this and hope you'll all pick up a copy when the time comes - I had the biggest amount of fun writing Popular, creating the characters and am thrilled to now be working on its first sequel. More information about the Popular series will be posted on the blog, as and when it's available!

On the subject of the sources, I'm thrilled that so many people want to read more. It's worth noting that my interpretation of Anne Boleyn's downfall is very much my own and it isn't really shared - or, at least, mirrored - by any other historian currently working in the field. The closest correlation probably comes in Derek Wilson's most recent book, A Brief History of Henry VIII: Reformer and Tyrant, as discussed in the post for May 9th. For those of you interested in learning about the period and starting relatively from scratch - you can't really go wrong with Wilson's short, pithy and thesis-driven biography. Other excellent starting points include Dr. David Starkey's immense and entertaining Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII and Divorced Beheaded Survived by Karen Lindsey. For those of you already at expert-stage (or thereabouts) and familiar with the intense complexities surrounding the academic minefield that is Tudor historiography and source analysis, then Alison Weir's The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, is bound to prove fascinating, as is R.M. Warnicke's The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family politics at the Court of Henry VIII. The standard biography of Anne is Professor E.W. Ives's magisterial The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn and although I disagree with much of the Professor's conclusions - particularly his work on Anne's youth and the nature of Henry VIII's involvement in her death - his work is thought-provoking, worthy and brilliantly researched. It's a must for anyone seriously interested in Anne Boleyn.

Over the course of the years, I've probably read more sources on Anne Boleyn than I care to remember, but as promised, here's a list of those that were more frequently consulted over the last three weeks. Their citation is not necessarily an endorsement - that is left entirely up to the reader!

Biographies of the Queen

Anne Boleyn by Marie Louise Bruce (London, 1972)
Anne Boleyn by E.W. Ives (Oxford, 1986)
Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions by G.W. Bernard (Yale, 2010)
Star of the Court by Serena Banbury (London, 1844)
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir (London, 2009)
The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy by E.W. Ives (Oxford, 2004)
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family politics at the Court of Henry VIII by R.M. Warnicke (Cambridge, 1989)

Biographies of the other key players

A Brief History of Henry VIII: Reformer and Tyrant by Derek Wilson (London, 2009)
A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Times of Catherine Howard by Lacey Baldwin Smith (New York, 1967)
Bastard Prince: Henry VIII's Lost Son by Beverley A. Murphy (London, 2001)
The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon by J.A. Froude (London, 1891)
Henry VIII by Jasper Ridley (London, 1984)
Henry VIII by J.J. Scarisbrick (Yale, 1997)
Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox (London, 2007)
Letters and Accounts of William Brereton edited by E.W. Ives (Lancashire and Cheshire, 1976)
Lives of the Queens of England by Agnes Strickland (8 volumes, London, 1851)
Mary Tudor: The First Queen by Linda Porter (London, 2007)
Mary Tudor: The Spanish Tudor by H.F.M. Prescott (London, 1940)
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey (London, 2003)
The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth by Edward, Baron Herbert of Cherbury (London, 1649)
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Lady Antonia Fraser (London, 1992)

Other Works

Henry VIII and his Court by Neville Williams (London, 1971)
Historical and Biographical Works by John Strype (59 volumes, Oxford, 1812 - 1828)
History of the Acts and Monuments of the Church of England by John Foxe (London, 1563)
History of the Reformation of the Church of England by Gilbert, Bishop of Salisbury (London, 1679)


'Anne Boleyn's Religion' by G.W. Bernard (English Historical Review, 1991)
'Sexual Heresy at the Court of Henry VIII' by R.M. Warnicke (Historical Journal, 1987)
'The Fall of Anne Boleyn' by G.W. Bernard (English Historical Review, 1991)
'The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Reassessment' by R.M. Warnicke (History: The Journal of the Historical Association, 1985)
'The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Rejoinder' by G.W. Bernard (English Historical Review, 1992)
'The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered' by E.W. Ives (English Historical Review, 1992)
'The Fall of Anne Boleyn Revisited' by Maria Dowling (English Historical Review, 1993)
'The Usurped and Unjust Empire of Women' by Jenny Wormald (Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 1991)

Contemporary Sources

From those alive at the time, I read the letters of Alexander Aless, a Scottish evangelical staying in London during the Queen's final months, the so-called "Baga de Secretis" of suppressed documents pertaining to state trials from 1499 - 1537, the correspondence of Nicolas Bourbon, the French tutor to Anne Boleyn's nephew, the memoirs of George Cavendish, a former gentleman-usher to Cardinal Wolsey, The Chronicle of Calais, the memoirs of Jane, Duchess of Feria, the memoirs of Sir Henry Norris's valet, George Constantine, the history of Wales written by the soldier Ellis Gruffydd, Edward Hall's chronicle, all the correspondence coming out of the French embassy in London, especially that written by Lancelot, Bishop of Riez and Jean de Dinteville, the letters of Eustace Chapuys, the Hapsburg Emperor's ambassador in London at the time, the household expenses of King Henry, Queen Anne and Princess Elizabeth, the treatise of Father William Latymer, the sermons of Father William Skip, the poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, the work of Lord Crispin de Milherve, the letters of Father Matthew Parker, future Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lisle Letters collection, the so-called 'Spanish Chronicle,' and the private papers of George Wyatt and William Camden, both of whom wrote in Queen Elizabeth's time. And of course, the Calendars, Letters (foreign and domestic), Dispatches, State Papers and official government documents archived in the 19th century of all relevant documentation relating to Henry VIII's reign in England and Ireland!

Once again, with many, many thanks,

Gareth Russell


  1. Great blog - I have enjoyed your accounts very much and look forward to future posts. I can't remember how I stumbled upon it, but I'm glad i did!

  2. Dear Gareth, I am overwhelmed by your kind words. And your list of sources is quite impressive, too. I hope you write your own book about Anne someday. If you do, it will be THE definitive work on her life, I'm sure. Congratulations on your novel! And if you are anywhere near darkest Pennsylvania this summer, do please come and see us!

  3. I love your posts and thank YOU for all of your hard work!

  4. Your research and writing is most impressive and inspiring. Thank you!

  5. Gareth - if I may be so familiar to call you by your first name - as an historical fiction author and self-proclaimed "esoteric archaeologist" (that's a little humor), I have worked with other writers in the past on projects, and never been as truly smitten by another's command of capturing the essence of a moment as I have been by yours in your description of Anne Boleyn's execution. And we both know the reason for such uncontrollable admiration on my part - lots and lots of hard work by you researching Anne's enigmatic life. Great work Gareth - you are a star - and you better do Anne justice and write that book about her! Yours in the spirit of Clio, OP

  6. Hi Gareth,
    I'm sorry to say that I missed this post and have only just seen it. I really enjoyed both of our series on Anne Boleyn's downfall as I think they complemented each other perfectly as we both focused on slightly different things and had our own takes on events - brilliant.
    I just want to say thank you to you too, for your support of me and the AB Files. I agree with Olivia, your book on Anne definitely needs to be out there. I can't wait to read "Popular"!


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