Book Review – ‘Mistress Anne’ by Carolly Erickson

'Mistress Anne' by Carolly Erickson (1984)
‘Mistress Anne’ by Carolly Erickson (1984)

Carolly Erickson, ‘Mistress Anne’ (London: Simon & Schuster, 1984) Paperback, ISBN 978-0-312-18747-7

Title: The title of this particular book is a little vague, not specifically about Anne Boleyn – could do with some clarification as it doesn’t specify which Anne through history. Apparently it comes from a letter where Anne is addressed as ‘Mistress Anne’, and it is what she was popularly known as before she was crowned as Henry’s queen.

Preface: The preface mainly explains why changes had to be made in the reissue of this book to account for more modern scholarship. The preface also explains the title as a term Anne was commonly known as in her own time.

Citations: Not brilliant – there must be more direct references that haven’t been listed. There is a comprehensive bibliography, but it isn’t listed as to which are actually used within the text itself, and which is further reading.

Contents: The chapter titles are all sixteenth century quotes that explain what will be discussed in the chapters. A downside is that it doesn’t tell you where the quotes come from (who said them, where they are written, and who to).

Genre/Audience: This history book is more a popular history than a scholarly history. It is narrative rather than analysis, which means that it is aimed at a general history audience, rather than a specifically intellectual audience. However, its inaccuracies do make it an inadvisable first read for someone interested in Anne Boleyn.

Concepts: Because the book was first published in 1984, several parts of Anne Boleyn’s important childhood and time in the Netherlands were left out. Nevertheless it is clear and concisely written. It is deceptive in places because some of the information that was debatable then is more or less established now. Erickson also harks back to the popular myths surrounding Anne Boleyn which were almost certainly false, like the fact that she had six fingers or a wen under her chin. These glaring inaccuracies make it impossible to take some of Erickson’s ideas seriously.

Sources: The variety of sources is not brilliant, as it is confined to older texts, but the date of publication makes this obvious. Eric Ives is considered the pre-eminent historian in Tudor history, but he hadn’t even written a text at that point, and so the secondary sources used are older and more debateable. The primary sources that Erickson uses are the same ones as are used in modern texts, only interpreted in different ways. Nowadays, historians have a different view on sources it seems, and Erickson still adheres to a lot of the old views. It makes for an interesting historiographical study, but not a background into current thinking on Anne Boleyn.

Illustrations: There are no colour illustrations in the book; it seems to be rather old fashioned, as it doesn’t have any picture insert pages on special photo paper in colour. As a result, some of the detail is missing. The range consists mainly of portraits, making it a very political collection. The images include Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, amongst others. It is actually interesting to see the portraits in black and white rather than the traditional colour because it hides some of the details while revealing others. The illustration on the front of the book isn’t noticeably Anne Boleyn, it’s not a popular portrait.

Carolly Erickson
Carolly Erickson

Other works: Carolly Erickson has written several other works, both non-fiction and fiction. In the non-fiction section these include ‘Bloody Mary: the Life of Mary Tudor’ (1978), ‘Great Harry: the Extravagant Life of Henry VIII’ (1980), and ‘The First Elizabeth’ (1983). In the fiction section these include ‘The Last Wife of Henry VIII’ (2006), ‘The Spanish Queen’ (2013), and ‘The Favoured Queen’ (2011).

My Rating: 13/20

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