The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
published 2001 set in the 1520s
That night there was dancing in the queen’s rooms. The king had brought his musicians to play for her. It was apparent to everyone that though he sat beside her, he was there to enjoy watching her ladies as they danced. Anne was among them. She was wearing a gown of dark blue, a new gown, and she had a matching hood. She was wearing her usual necklace of pearls with the B in gold as if she wanted to flaunt her status as a single woman…
[on another occasion, getting ready to see the king] She pushed her French hood far back on her head so that her dark hair showed, and straightened the gold B that she always wore round her neck.
‘What d’you see when my hood is set back like this?’
‘Your smug face.’
‘A face without a line on it. Hair that is glossy and dark without one thread of grey.’
observations: Should be read with yesterday’s entry.
Anne Boleyn is contrasting herself with the aging Queen Katherine of Aragon, whom she is plotting to replace, and her sister Mary is reluctantly ‘helping’ her. The necklace has caught out commentators before now – the excellent BBC version of this book (not to be confused with the not-quite so good Hollywood film) had at least one reviewer complaining about the weird anachronism of the Essex-girl ‘B’ necklace, when its reality is well-attested.
It’s difficult to know what Anne Boleyn actually looked like – attribution of pictures is very shaky, and images could have been painted after her death, or in deliberate flattery. But with all that, it is hard to see, in any of the existing collection, why she was considered so beautiful – or what made her, a not particularly-well-born girl, so attractive to a powerful king that he waited 6 or 7 years to have her, and in doing so took political and religious decisions that affect the United Kingdom to this day. Of course he wanted and needed a son for the all-important succession, but he didn’t need Anne Boleyn to get one (and she didn’t manage it anyway). The story is fascinating – and it is fictionalized, Gregory has to invent a lot of detail and conversation and fill in the gaps. But it never does to think ‘well that bit must be made up, couldn’t have happened like that’ because the documented events of the 1520s and 1530s are so extraordinary that you would condemn them as improbable fiction if you didn’t check them out.
Anne is wearing a French hood here, in contrast to her sister Mary's gable hood yesterday: Anne is said to have introduced the French fashion over the Spanish and English gable, and it does seem a lot more attractive and flattering.
Links up with: more portraits of real people here, here and here – one of Anne Boleyn’s enemies.
This image of Anne Boleyn, based on one at Hever Castle, her childhood home, can be found at Wikimedia Commons