This is three steps from being original, but I found it so touching that I could not but pass it on. Not original because I didn’t do the research, haven’t read the book, and did not conduct the interview. Heard Terry Gross discussing Man Booker Prize winning historical novel Bringing Up The Bodies with author Hilary Mantel.
This is the second in a series of three books set during the time of Henry VIII in 16th century England. The first concluded with the demise of Thomas More because he opposed Henry’s move to split with the Church of Rome in order to facilitate his trading Catherine of Aragon in for a newer model – Anne Boleyn.
As you might know, a relationship with Henry doesn’t turn out all that well for Anne either. But in the interview I learned that it wasn’t because Ms Boleyn wasn’t able to produce a male heir as I’ve long thought and most fiction holds. Author Mantel says: “I think it is a great mistake to regard these women as victims.”
The power that accrued to a Queen of England created a far larger sphere of influence than existed for other women of the era. And both Catherine and Anne were very intelligent, strong, political, and clever. “They are really strong; they are really involved. They’re deeply drawn into the political process, and they’re actors in it…agents of their own fate.”
Henry divorced his first wife for her inability to bear a son, he didn’t kill her. Anne Boleyn didn’t have a son, but her fate was different because her activities led Henry to believe that she had become a diplomatic liability and perhaps involved in a plot on his life. She had to be executed.
The benefit to Anne for apparently not having made ice cold Henry’s heart? Glad you remembered to ask. He ordered for her the most expeditious manner by which to leave this world and enter the next – a horizontal swing of a broadsword through her erect neck as opposed to a chopping block and a grunting axe man. The former was thought to be more humane.
“But she will kneel. She must be informed of this. There is no block, as you see. She must kneel upright and not move. If she is steady, it will be done in a moment; if not, she will be cut to pieces… Between one beat of the heart and the next, it is done. She knows nothing. She is in eternity.”
Ms Boleyn would have been blindfolded and the executioner (of renowned talent and brought all the way from Calais, by the way) approached silently in slippered feet from an unexpected angle. Nice guy that king Henry, really. He could have had her burned or hanged, let alone dispatched with an axe. I’ll admit though that one does wonder what of his qualities most attracted wives three through six.
*Interested in the last thoughts of anther wife’s head? Go to post of May 20, 2011
**Photo above of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in which she goes to the block for failing to produce a male heir…