Robin Maxwell, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn (Simon & Schuster, 1999)

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn is, in short, the sad portrait of a woman who was misunderstood. Through a plot that seems almost too bizarre not to be based on historical fact, the characters of Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth are developed. Though liberties are certainly taken in the writing of this novel, the atmosphere of Tudor England is well portrayed, and the somewhat confusing web of Henry VIII's six wives is masterfully untangled.

The story begins, not with Anne herself, but with her daughter, a young queen struggling with new responsibility of monarchy and the pressure from her counsel that she be married. Her love for Robert "Robin" Dudley is only one of the obstacles that dissuades her from consenting to a marriage with a foreign king. Just as she begins to feel overwhelmed, a peasant comes forward with a long-secreted possession: Anne Boleyn's diary.

As Elizabeth reads slowly through her mother's account of the events surrounding Anne's long affair and eventual marriage to Henry, she has many revelations about her own past. While she had been raised to believe that her mother was little more than an amoral (albeit beautiful) witch, the diary reveals Anne's true character as fiery and passionate, but not at all evil. In fact, the more Elizabeth learns of her mother, the more she discovers about herself.

Anne's life, Elizabeth finally decides, was dictated entirely and eventually ruined by men who ought to have loved her. Her father encouraged her disastrous relationship with Henry in the hopes that he would monetarily benefit. When Anne did marry, after years of indecision and vacillation on the part of both Henry and the pope, her world quickly began to fall apart. Henry's desire for her inevitably faded as he realized that she would not bear his son, and he began an affair with another woman even as he searched for ways to dispose of Anne. (Ironically, it was at this time that Henry allegedly wrote "Greensleeves," the earnest and mournful ballad of a forsaken lover.)

When Elizabeth finally finishes the diary, she has an illumining time of personal introspection. She determines never to marry, and in a beautifully written episode declares her determination to remain England's Virgin Queen.

This novel is a wonderful historical resource if nothing else; from what I know of Anne Boleyn and Good Queen Bess, the history presented here is remarkably realistic. However, the book was slightly marred by numerous graphic trysts between Elizabeth and Robin, for which Maxwell makes some assumptions not based entirely in fact, and a few disturbing, disheartening accounts of Boleyn's relationship with Henry. These scenes seem strange inserts in an otherwise well-developed and well-written plot, but detract only a little from the overall experience of the book.

[ by Bethany Matheny ]

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