Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. That, and the fact that she had her head chopped off, was pretty much all I knew about her. In The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, I learned about her life through a fictional diary that she kept for 14 years, from the time she was a young girl until the time of her beheading in May 1536.
Robin Maxwell, the author of this informative book, spent half a dozen years doing her research. The result was an entertaining book in which we learn about Anne Boleyn as her daughter does, through the words of her diary.
Elizabeth had grown up thinking of her mother as an adulteress and a traitor, for this is what she had been taught about her. She hadn't yet been queen for six months, when a Lady Sommerville came to see her one day. Lady Sommerville had been a friend to Anne Boleyn and taken care of her while she was imprisoned. She wants to present the new queen with a gift that she has been entrusted with – the diary of her mother, Anne Boleyn.
After talking with the lady for a few minutes, Elizabeth takes the diary. Determined that no one shall know about this treasure but her, she hides it even from those closest to her. Like a woman who has been without food for most of her life, she devours each and every written word that her mother wrote with greed.
The diary teaches her much about her mother, as well as her father, King Henry VIII. When the king first became interested in Anne Boleyn, he was still married to Katherine, his first wife. A king is interested in having sons to inherit the crown. Katherine had given him no children. The king became convinced that the reason for this was that Katherine had been married to his brother, and when his brother died, he took her as his wife. According to Leviticus“if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is impure, he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness and they shall be childless.” Henry decides that is the reason Katherine has not given him any sons and is determined to have their marriage made null and void.
All the time he pursues Anne. She is a virtuous woman and refuses to allow the king to bed her until she has a ring on her finger. She teases the king until he pledges his undying love for her and begs her to wed him. Through all of this she kept her virginity. From the time she agrees to marry him until the time they are able to wed, six long years pass. She does not give in to his passionate advances until they are married.
Once they are married, she quickly becomes pregnant. While Anne is pregnant, Henry begins seeing other women. When Anne confronts him, he informs her that it is his right to have mistresses and she had best get used to it. In his eyes, the only purpose of a wife is to give him sons. Her relationship with Henry only continues to worsen after she gives birth to a daughter, not the long awaited son.
Anne is pregnant twice more, but each of those pregnancies end in miscarriage. The second one was a boy and she probably would have carried him to term and given birth, but Henry was hurt in a hunting accident and someone ran in and told her that he had been killed. This shock caused her to miscarry.
Henry begins an affair with Jane Seymour and his first wife, Katherine, finally dies. Now, according to the Catholic church, he is free to remarry, except for the fact that he is married to Anne. Now she begins to experience some of what she put Katherine through. Henry does not try to get their marriage declared null and void, instead he has her accused of adultery and treason. She is put in the tower and held to be put to death, after a trial, which was, of course, fixed.
One Lady Sommerville endures the ridicule of others and is kind to Anne while she is imprisoned. She tends to her every need, even brushing her hair, for she still considers her to be queen until her death.
Anne writes in her diary up until the time of her death. The last entry is a letter to her daughter, Elizabeth. I'll admit, just thinking about her writing a letter to her child just before she had her head chopped off, brought tears to my eyes. I simply cannot imagine being in such a horrible position and leaving behind a child.
Elizabeth, the entire time she is secretly reading through her mother's words, goes through many situations herself. She is a kind and loving queen, but she is single. Everyone around her is urging her to marry, but not the one she has her sights set on, not the one she loves. The man she loves is married to a woman who is very sick and probably doesn't have long to live. Elizabeth spends a great deal of time with him, alone. She is criticized greatly for doing this and is told that she is irreparably harming her rule. She is making plans to have him made into an earl so they can marry once his wife passes on, when a messenger arrives with the news that his wife has died from a fall down a flight of stairs. Upon closer examination, it is discovered that she was only placed there to make it appear she fell down – in reality, she was murdered. Elizabeth, convinced that her lover had something to do with this, is furious. Can't he see the damage he has done?
Once Elizabeth finishes her mom's diary, she has changed in many ways. She still loves her father, but now sees him for the spoiled rotten royal brat that he was, one who believed that women were there only for his pleasure. After reading the way her mom was used and betrayed by just about every man in her life, she has made a major decision – she will never marry. The papers that she had been drawing up to have her lover declared an earl, she rips to pieces.
There is so much more that happens in this wonderful book. If I were to try and divulge it all to you, it would take many articles. Suffice it to say that this a great read, especially if you are interested in learning about Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, or King Henry VIII. My copy of this book was received free of charge; I won it in a competition on BellaOnline. If you wish to have your own copy of this book, there is a link to Amazon below.