There’s something undeniably intriguing about the English Tudors—and far more entertaining than any reality show. During this period, England was under the reign of King Henry VIII, the harsh and egotistical king who ruled for more than 36 years and is famously known for marrying a series of six wives. One of the wives that stands out is Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Anne Boleyn was a fascinating figure who refused to be a mere mistress to the king, instead using her beauty and intelligence to secure the title of queen. Henry’s infatuation with the young woman led him to establish the separate Church of England so that he could annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and pursue Anne’s hand in marriage.
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Unfortunately, Anne was unable to provide a male heir, so Henry invented reasons to end the marriage. On May 19, 1536, after only three years of marriage, Anne was beheaded on claims of adultery and incest. The execution of Anne made her a key figure in the political and religious revolution that would commence the English Reformation. If you’re interested in learning more about the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, we’ve compiled a list of historical fiction books that novelize the life of this controversial woman. From her upbringing in France to her courtship with Henry, here’s a fascinating glimpse into Anne Boleyn.
Doomed Queen Anne
This is an engrossing story about the events that led to Anne Boleyn’s ascension to the throne. Anne Boleyn was born a typical girl with no wealth or titles, but still managed to win over England’s most powerful man, King Henry VIII. Doomed Queen Anne portrays the extent of Anne’s cleverness, ambition, and hunger for power; despite Henry being married, Anne was able to capture his attention and convince him to banish Queen Catherine of Aragon and Cardinal Wolsey. Anne was aware of Henry’s fickle temperament but made the fatal mistake of believing she was safe from it. She achieved her goal of becoming queen, but at what cost? Carolyn Meyer is a talented storyteller—packing intriguing dialogue and mesmerizing scenes into her exploration of the twists and turns of romance and betrayal—and has the ability to evoke sympathy for a figure that has garnered an enduring reputation as a promiscuous woman. Written for a young adult audience, this novel is historically accurate and presented simply, making it a perfect choice for anyone entering the Tudor world for the first time.
King Henry VIII would notoriously marry six women—and while we know how the story ends, have you ever wondered how it began? Evelyn Anthony provides an interesting account of the courtship between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, from the summer day when Henry first laid eyes on the beautiful Anne in the rose garden of Heber Castle to the passionate affair they shared. Educated at the French Court, Anne refused to share the same fate as her younger sister, Mary, who was married off to a country squire after bearing Henry a bastard son. However, Henry was not one to give up easily, and Anne wouldn’t settle for anything less than a crown. Anthony provides a solid reenactment of what occured between Anne and Henry and the ways they reshaped 16th century society to fit their desires. This is a tale of love and ambition, featuring a cast of iconic figures, in which we see Anne at the height of her success and follow her as the wrong moves lead to her execution.
The Boleyn King
A captivating reimagining of Tudor England is provided in fascinating detail in this royal drama. In an alternate reality, Anne’s stillborn son grows to become the king after the death of his father Henry VIII. Anne isn’t dethroned or beheaded; instead, she supports her seventeen-year-old son Henry IX—known as William—as he takes on the throne. We follow the highs and lows of our four adolescent protagonists—William, Elizabeth, Dominic, and Minuette—as they tackle obstacles from love triangles to a rising Catholic rebellion. The stakes rise as William attempts to fight for control of his kingdom and reign in his obsessive desires. Despite author Laura Andersen using her imagination to fill in the gaps, this alternate world parallels history and makes realistic assumptions, such as proposing that there would be a clash of wills between Princess Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn, two fiercely independent women.
Robin Maxwell has decided to go where other authors have refused—Anne Boleyn’s childhood. In a refreshing take, we follow Anne’s unconventional upbringing in France. Her father is assigned to spy on the French Court while her sister, Mary, is assigned her own mission: let herself be seduced by the King of France. The novel does an excellent job depicting the tribulations Mary and Anne undergo while living with a manipulative, power-hungry father and uncle. We also gain insight into the world of unimaginable wealth and depravity that shaped and influenced Anne, as Maxwell goes to great lengths to expose us to the glamour and politics of King Francois and Queen Claude’s Court. Surrounded by a world of passion, intrigue, and betrayal, Anne observes the ways a woman can gain power by catching the eye of a king. As she grows into a young beauty, Anne will learn how to become the woman she was destined to be. An amazing cast of supporting characters buoys the action—even Leonardo da Vinci makes an appearance!
We know plenty of details about the courtship and marriage between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but what were their lives like before they met? While King Henry was once married to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn was involved with Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland. In this fictionalized version, King Henry meets 16-year-old Anne and greedily ends the secret betrothal between her and Henry Percy (known as Harry in the book). Anne is left brokenhearted and in the company of Emma Arnett, a cunning and practical girl who quickly becomes one of Anne’s closest friends. Emma’s purpose is to ensure the flourishing of Protestantism by placing Anne’s sights on Henry. Norah Lofts also introduces us to the fictional Lady Bo—Anne’s stepmother and a sharp contrast to the elegant dukes and countesses of this story. All the characters in The Concubine are complex enough to resemble real people with relatable motivations and fears; in Anne’s case, she fears damaging her reputation like her older sister Mary did. The drama is tantalizing and even though you know how this story ends, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat reading it.
The Other Boleyn Girl
What this novel lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for in raw entertainment. The Other Boleyn Girl imagines a rivalry between the Boleyn sisters. Philippa Gregory presents Mary, the eldest Boleyn sister, as young and inexperienced instead of the promiscuous mistress she was in real life. At the age of 14, Mary catches the eye of King Henry VIII and quickly falls in love with the handsome young prince. However, her ambitious father and uncle intend to use her as a pawn in their schemes for the rest of her life. Mary is sensitive and follow her heart, but Henry grows bored of her. As a Boleyn woman, Mary knows her duty, and is forced to step aside for another woman…her younger sister, Anne. Unlike her submissive sister, Anne is headstrong and obsessed with gaining the respect of men. There’s sex, love, violence, and suspense as the opposing sisters meet at the culmination of their rivalry. How far is Anne willing to go to win Henry’s heart?
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