Anne Boleyn: in defense of historical inaccuracy

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The historic Channel 5 drama series Anne Boleyn, directed by Lynsey Miller, stars black British actress Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen Consort Tudor at the height of her power and influence, shortly before her dramatic fall and execution in May 1536.

Even before the first episode aired, some complained that Turner-Smith’s cast was historically inaccurate because Anne was white. But these complaints ignore several existing versions of the doomed Queen’s story that have deliberately and creatively portrayed her beyond the agreed facts.

The series itself recognizes its place in this tradition. One of his slogans states that he is “Inspired by truth … and lies”. Turner-Smith’s enigmatic and wonderfully intense performance is the latest addition to a long line of television and film performances of Anne.

Two of the most memorable are the romantic drama by Charles Jarrott Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) with French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold, and the HBO series The Tudors (2007-2010) in which British star Natalie Dormer plays fiery Anne in modernized and glamorous costumes. At the same time, this Anne is faithfully written to her historic reputation as a religious reformer (Dormer would have insisted
that his Anne is shown encouraging the use of the English Bible at the royal court).

A controversial queen

Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII was unpopular with followers of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. These people included Eustache Chapuys and others, often anonymous, ambassadors of royal courts across Europe. Unknown author of Spanish Chronicle relays scandalous rumors used to show Anne guilty of the adultery for which she was, in part, beheaded.

During her lifetime and after her execution, the facts and fictions of Anne’s life therefore mingled. Next to the rumors there was also the legend of a very intelligent and determined woman who won a crown only to lose her head three years later.

This mix of facts, rumors and legends can also be found in popular historical novels about the period. In my future research on historical fiction, I contend that some of these novels purposely use historical inaccuracies to refer readers to uneven and often defamatory historical records, and also to encourage them to ask, “Who was the real woman?” “

You may be familiar with the first two volumes of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Room (2009) and Raise the Bodies (2012), in which Anne Boleyn is a main character. This Anne is as ambitious and ruthless as any of her most dramatic on-screen portrayals, but also surprisingly fragile and vulnerable in a detailed historical context.

Why artistic license is so important

Before Mantel’s famous bestsellers, there were other fictions from Anne’s life that emphasized her historical significance by mixing facts with inventions – even with fantasy. The Anne in Deryn Lake’s Place Sutton (1983), in a moment of fear, helps a wizard cast a spell as she realizes that she cannot give Henry the son he needs.

that of Robin Maxwell Anne Boleyn’s Secret Diary (1997) adopts its journal form to imagine Anne’s innermost thoughts. We follow her from her first days at the royal court until the day before her execution. Most of Anne’s real writings are lost in history, but this novel works with our desire for the “real” story by imagining it on an emotional and psychological level.

Suzannah dunn Queen of subtleties (2004) has a similar motivation to Maxwell’s, it seems, when he imagines Anne Boleyn’s point of view in modern language and slang. In the opening section of the book, Anne, addressing her daughter, the future Elizabeth I, boasts that by marrying Henry VIII she “took Old England by the throat”, leaving her “forever changed. “. It’s true.

Like the other novels mentioned here, Dunn’s is wonderfully well documented, but her deliberate imprecision of expression makes Anne what she inevitably is to modern audiences: a woman destroyed and then seen as ahead of her time – to so much so that it joins ours. time.

Partly because Anne Boleyn’s life ended the way she did, with her as a notorious and executed traitor, the facts of her case don’t entirely agree. A certain artistic license is both inevitable and important in understanding the timeless power of its history. The Year of the Historical Tale and the Year of Fiction are both imaginative creations and opportunities to reflect on its historical significance.


Leanne Bibby, Senior Lecturer in English Studies, Teesside University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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