Thursday, March 29, 2012

At The Mercy Of The Queen

This book caught my eye when I was at Barnes & Noble so I put it on hold at the library.  As always, anything from The Tudor period and Anne Boleyn fascinates me.  The author Anne Clinard Barnhill focused the novel on Anne Boleyn and her tumultuous reign as Queen.  She writes mainly from the viewpoint of Margaret Shelton, Anne's cousin.  She has appeared in other Tudor novels but she was quite prevalent in this one.  I like that the author chose to write about Margaret because not much has been written about her, other than the fact she served Queen Anne and was her cousin.  Even though I am fascinated by the Tudor period, it seemed there were no other viewpoints or details to cover. 

The author is related to the Sheltons and so took a special interest in Margaret Shelton.  I like that this book introduces a new voice with a new perspective.  Anne Boleyn is always fascinating to me, complex and controversial.  I don't know that I would like her in person, but she continues to fascinate readers centuries later.  Margaret serves Anne and so is privy to many of her private emotions and moments.  The novel shows a softer, sweeter side to Anne that many probably didn't see in her time.  She had to remain strong and passionate to keep the King and impress the courtiers.  After having Elizabeth, she lost two little boys in miscarriages and was never quite able to bring the King back to her affections.  Margaret is there to comfort and care for Anne during these hard times, when she begins to be abandoned. 

The King, also a complicated character, never the faithful one begins to fall for Jane Seymour.  This is where I believe Anne's fall began in earnest.  The King liked the thrill of the hunt but quickly tired of the woman after.  Anne was able to hold him a bit longer than most, but because of her inability to produce a male heir after everything the King had done to make her Queen (put aside his first wife Catherine and the new religion), his fuse was shorter.  He was no longer young and did not have the time to wait.  This worked against Anne as well as her own temper.  After suffering the loss of two children and knowing she was in danger, her temper flared more often and she was often railing at the King and getting mad instead of being sweet.  Unlike his first wife Catherine and Jane Seymour, Anne was willful and strong.  The passion the King fell in love with now was his annoyance and her downfall.  It was only time before Anne was to be put aside.

I found myself actually having sympathy for Anne even after her controversial rise at Court, because here she is basically abandoned at Court, her daughter far from her, with no one but her cousin to care for her.  She had to watch as the King fell in love with another woman and powerless to do anything.  Because of the King's age and declining health and weight gain, he wasn't able to be intimate as easily.  With all this working against Anne, who was of course blamed, the King's secretary began to find ways to get rid of her for the King.  So that he could remarry.  Anne was deeply religious which may be surprsiing, but she was opposed to the King's closing of the abbeys and monasteries and using the money for his treasury.  She often argued with him and Cromwell that they should use it for the poor, or at least keep the good ones still open.  Her passion for this worked agaisnt her as well and is what led to her friendship with Cromwell coming to an end.

She was soon brought before the Court, charged with treason and adultery on several counts.  Margaret asked the King to serve the Queen in her last weeks and he let her.  I don't know if this was indeed a fact, I've heard several names of ladies that stayed with her until the very end.  Not all were her supporters either.  The men that were accused with her were put to death, including her own brother.  Anne left the world bravely, dignified and poised.  The King extended one last service to her and ordered for a French swordsman to do the deed as it would be less painful and messy.  Margaret goes on to marry and have several children away from Court, keeping the memories of the Queen close to her heart.  You also feel for Margaret in this book, because the Queen asks of her a favor.  In between her miscarriages, while the Queen is still trying to gain back the King's love and favor, she asks Margaret or Madge her nickname, to sleep with the king for her.  The Queen believed she had more control this way by putting her own kin before the King, someone she could trust and that could possibly tell the King good things about her.  This is the main thing Margaret is known for in history, is her affair with the King.  Some still conjecture whether Anne put her up to it or not- it would seem to make sense if the two had a good relationship and were trying to help one another.

My conclusion is that this book was very entertaining, interesting and provided a refreshing outlook.  Of course it has sexual scenes and references, but overall I recommend it for history lovers.

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