The finest biography of Anne Boleyn yet produced

a Review by Anthony Hoskins

(wHdc) The finest biography of Anne Boleyn yet produced


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G. W. Bernard's "Anne Boleyn: fatal attractions" (Yale, 2010), a Review by Anthony Hoskins

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"The finest biography of Anne Boleyn yet produced (conspicuously redolent neither of gender studies revisionism nor myth perpetuation) is G. W. Bernard's Anne Boleyn: fatal attractions (Yale, 2010). This is a work of first rate scholarship (the author is professor of history at the University of Southampton and is Editor of the English Historical Review. His email to me (at the end of this post) I think contains some interesting thoughts on the unfortunate (and dangerous to serious historiography) current plethora of "historical biographies".

Two things, perhaps of interest.


Many Americans (myself included) descend from "gateway" Elizabeth (Alsop) (Baldwin) Fowler (c.1625-1688), of Milford, Connecticut, a Boleyn descendant. In his new book, Mr. Bernard makes brief reference to Elizabeth Alsop's g-g-g grandmother - Alice (Boleyn), Lady Clere (say 1489-1538). I for one relished this insight into an ancestress about whom before I had only known the basics. It was interesting to learn Alice (Boleyn) Clere served as Princess (later Queen) Mary's custodian/jailer at the Clere's home, Ormesby St. Margaret, Norfolk, and that Alice, Lady Clere treated poor Princess Mary with kindness and compassion - despite Lady Clere's arch-Protestant affiliations. Alice was evidently of a very different character than her distinctly unpleasant (though fascinating) niece, Queen Anne.

On p. 81:

[January 1534]
"For the moment [Queen] Anne [Boleyn] piled on the humiliations [to her step-daughter, Princess Mary] She ordered Alice, widow of Sir Thomas Clere, of Ormeby, Norfolk, who had Mary in her custody, not to allow her to use the title of princess: if she did, Alice was to box her ears as an accursed bastard - or so the gentleman who was Chapuy's informant said. Anne had also ordered that Mary should no longer be served breakfast in her chamber but was now to come to the common table, something of a humiliation for a princess. And, shortly after Alice was sharply reprimanded by Lord Rochford,  Anne's brother, and the duke of Norfolk, for treating the princess with 'too much honesty and humanity': Mary was to be treated as the bastard she was."

[citing TNA, PRO, PRO31/18/3/1 fos 31-2 and 42v-43 (Cal. S.P. Spanish, V i no. x pp. 32-4, and no. xvii p. 57; LP, VII 171, 214)]

Fascinating Boleyn family dynamics: Queen Anne and her brother "chewing out" their Aunt Alice for treating Princess Mary kindly!  Note however that Mr. Bernard was unaware that Lady Clere was the Queen's aunt. Also, Alice's husband was Sir Robert (not Thomas) Clere (d.1529), and that "Ormeby" (probably the spelling Chapuys had favored) was actually the Clere manor of Ormesby St. Margaret, Norfolk.


G.W. Bernard has long been a supporter of my hypothesis that Mary Boleyn's Carey children were likely fathered by King Henry VIII.

Perhaps G.W. Bernard's words to me before his /Anne Boleyn/'s publication earlier this year might be of interest.

G.W. Bernard to Anthony Hoskins, 2 April 2010:

"I remain very sympathetic to your position and I repeat it in my imminent biography of Anne Boleyn.  I add nothing new.  In the nature of things, whether Mary's children were Henry's is not something historians can conclusively prove, but your proposition has always struck me as a plausible hypothesis.  There are several suggestive bits of evidence.  I find the contrary dismissiveness of Jonathan Hughes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puzzling. I can see every reason why Henry would not have wanted to acknowledge Mary's son Henry as his bastard.  I shall be interested to see your further consideration of the chronology of Henry's grants to William Carey.

I share your doubts about the current profusion of popular biographies. The trouble with writing a book a year, to a pre-set deadline, is that you just don't have time to work away at details, to consider possibilities, to look close at awkwardnesses.  Once you do that, you are inescapably delayed ...  My worry is that for the world at large, popular biographies are what history is, and the prolific output of popular biographers is contrasted favourably with the much slower rate of publication of academic historians (forgetting also that much of the time we are also teaching). "

Again, I highly recommend G.W. Bernard's "Anne Boleyn: fatal attractions"

Anthony Hoskins
History, Genealogy and Archives Librarian
Sonoma County Archivist
Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library
Sonoma County Library
211 E Street
Santa Rosa, California 95404

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