Alison Weir, Arguing The Case For Anne Boleyn The best-selling British historian has chronicled the lives of great ladies including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Now she's written a new biography of Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn — and Weir says much of what you may think you know about the ill-fated queen is just plain wrong.
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Alison Weir, Arguing The Case For Anne Boleyn

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Alison Weir, Arguing The Case For Anne Boleyn

Alison Weir, Arguing The Case For Anne Boleyn

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Right up until the very end, Anne Boleyn professed her innocence. A few days before she was beheaded for plotting to kill her husband, Henry VIII, the fallen queen stood before her accusers.

Ms. ALISON WEIR (Author, "The Lady in the Tower"): (Reading) My lords, I will not say your sentence is unjust nor presume that my reasons can prevail against your convictions. I'm willing to believe that you have sufficient reasons for what you have done, but then they must be other than those which have been produced in court for I am clear of all the offenses which you then laid to my charge.

RAZ: On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed on the grounds of the Tower of London. Eleven days later, the king married his third wife, Jane Seymour. Now, a lot of ink has been spilled about the Tudor dynasty and Anne Boleyn, and writer Alison Weird has been among the most prolific. She's written historical novels based on that period, but her latest is what she calls a forensic investigation into the last four months of Anne Boleyn's life, something that's never been done before.

This is a history book but written with all the intrigue and tension of a novel. It's called "The Lady in the Tower." And Alison Weir is in London.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. WEIR: Hi, Guy.

RAZ: This book reads almost like it was written by a private investigator or maybe a lawyer trying to build a case for Anne...

Ms. WEIR: That's what it felt like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Trying to build a case for her, for Anne Boleyn. What were you hoping to prove?

Ms. WEIR: I was hoping to look at the case in unprecedented detail, to go into have that scope, to have a whole book in which to write about four months and to see if I could get any closer to what was probably the truth.

RAZ: Were you, I mean, as you eventually did, trying to acquit her of the charges?

Ms. WEIR: No. In fact, you have to clear your mind when you do something like this of all previous conceptions about it, look at the evidence anew. And in this case, I was able to study sources that other people had ignored incredibly, and then at the end, you can make your conclusions from that.

RAZ: Given that historians have looked at all of these documents and records for hundreds of years and written about Anne Boleyn, were you sort of wondering whether there was anything new to discover about her?

Ms. WEIR: Yes, I was. But in a way, it's good to have the scope to tell that story in unprecedented detail, even if nothing new comes out of it. I wasn't looking for anything new to come out of it. I was wondering if anything would, and it did.

RAZ: Many people associate Anne Boleyn with England's Protestant reformation. But you write that Anne was actually trying to restrain Henry VIII from pushing the reformation too far, too fast.

Ms. WEIR: Yes. It was Thomas Cromwell she was trying to restrain. Thomas Cromwell was the king's principal secretary and the man who was probably the architect of her downfall.

Ms. WEIR: Henry VIII of course endorsed the coming dissolution of the monasteries, but Cromwell wanted their wealth to go into the royal coffers, as did the king. Anne wanted that wealth used for either reform of the monasteries or for education and charitable purposes.

RAZ: Now, Thomas Cromwell, who of course was Henry VIII's main advisor, he was the person who really built a case against Anne Boleyn. Before we talk about the case, I want to ask you why he was after her.

Ms. WEIR: Originally, he'd been her supporter. But by 1535, a year before her downfall, they'd become rivals, and probably this has something to do with his planned measures in respect to the monasteries.

Also, I think he saw her as a threat to his own power. His natural inclinations tended towards an alliance with the emperor who was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon, and Anne would be an obstacle to that.

RAZ: Talk about how Thomas Cromwell built the case against Anne.

Ms. WEIR: Well, some of the first evidence is said to have come to him from abroad, from the French court. We don't know what it was, but he himself said that there were rumors going around the queen's household about her infidelities and that her servants became so shocked that they couldn't keep it to themselves any longer. And they came and, you know, revealed what they had heard to himself and other members of the privy council. And thereafter, interrogations took place of every member of her household.

RAZ: Many historians have looked at the evidence and have concluded that it was, at best, flawed but most likely just wrong, just made up.

Ms. WEIR: That's true.

RAZ: What do you make of it? I mean, when you actually look at the evidence, was it I mean, you come to the conclusion that it was wrong, but it was - was it actually crafted in a way that was convincing?

Ms. WEIR: The problem is most of the evidence doesn't survive. But it was sufficient at the time to convince the king, Cromwell and 97 judges and jurors that Anne was guilty.

But if you look at the surviving evidence, and a lot of it's inferential or circumstantial, and you look at the reasons for her innocence in the case for her guilt, you will find an overwhelming case for her innocence almost to be conclusive.

RAZ: Now, Alison Weir, tourists who go to the Tower of London will see the place where Anne Boleyn was killed. They'll see the place where it's thought she was buried. They will see the tower, which of course is why your book is named "The Lady in the Tower." You've uncovered information to suggest that a lot of what we thought we knew is wrong.

Ms. WEIR: Yes. I was quite astonished, actually, to uncover this. All these revelations came towards the end of my research. I did discover quite a few things about her imprisonment, namely that she wasn't executed where people think she was. She wasn't imprisoned where people think she was. She's not buried where people think she was.

The executioner, I now know, I've been able to establish, was sent for before her trial, thus preempting the verdict.

RAZ: That's Alison Weir. She's the author of the new biography "The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn." And she joined me from our studio in London.

Alison Weir, thank you.

Ms. WEIR: Thank you, Guy.

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