New Insights on Anne Boleyn’s Fall?

Category : Anne Boleyn, Articles · No Comments Jan 31st, 2014

I would have just been delighted to have my chapter on ‘The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Crisis in Gender Relations?’ in the book I edited with Tom Betteridge for Ashgate, Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance, described as ‘compelling, well-researched and intriguing’.

So imagine my pleasure at Tessa Marlou van Gendt’s suggestion, in her review in The Journal of Northern Renaissance, that my essay sheds ‘new light’ on the greatly contested question of Anne Boleyn’s downfall and brings ‘interesting and oft-forgotten angle to the debate’.

Marlou van Gendt even generously concludes that it is ‘a must-read for anyone interested in Boleyn scholarship’.

Her full text is below:

‘Suzannah Lipscomb, in ‘The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Crisis in Gender Relations’, presents the reader with a different perspective on the debate over Anne’s fall. Quickly, yet convincingly, sketching the various issues surrounding this controversial event, Lipscomb provides readers with an account that, as she herself mentions in general lines, closely matches that of Greg Walker in his article, ‘Rethinking the Fall of Anne Boleyn’(The Historical Journal, 45-1, pp. 1-29). Lipscomb’s exploration of sixteenth-century gender roles and relations, however, is an interesting angle and serves to entertain, as well as to instruct, in the world of courtly love. Her description of the social tensions between the sixteenth-century ideals of a ‘good and chaste woman’ and the notion of the inherent culpability of the female as the origin of sexual sin, relate persuasively to Anne Boleyn’s case and indictments. Her analysis of the discourses of courtly love within the confines of the rigid social structure of the Henrician court, lends credibility to the interpretation that it was, indeed, Anne’s words rather than her actions that caused her eventual demise. The essay is compelling, well-researched and intriguing. Its discussion of sixteenth-century ideas of manhood and impotence provide cause for amusement and enlightenment. The concept of sexual honour introduces an interesting and oft-forgotten angle to the debate, elaborating on the personal struggle Henry must have faced in charging Anne with adultery. The concern arises from the reasons for her supposed infidelity. Clearly, Henry’s ministrations in the bedchamber could be nothing short of entirely satisfactory, he was, after all, the King. It follows then that Anne herself must, in some way, be deficient to crave sexual fulfillment above and beyond what he could provide her. Although the Chapter does not settle the matter of Anne’s fall (nor is it, perhaps, entirely reasonable to expect it to, given the brevity necessary to include it in such a collection as this), it certainly sheds new light on the tensions between the sexes which arguably caused much of the appearance of guilt during her prosecution. An effective and engaging study of gender relations and underlying social currents that furthers our understanding of why, if not how, Anne was condemned, this is a must-read for anyone interested in Boleyn scholarship.’

Anne Boleyn and BBC Breakfast

Category : 1536, Anne Boleyn, BBC, Blog, TV · No Comments May 23rd, 2013

On Wednesday 22nd May, I went on BBC Breakfast with Susanna Reid and Bill Turnbull to talk about the forthcoming programme, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (airing 23 May 2013 at 9pm on BBC 2). If that wasn’t treat enough, I was also sitting on the famous red sofa when Jamie Cullum and his band struck up to sing us out. Boy, they’re good!

You can watch again here:


The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Category : 1536, Anne Boleyn, BBC, BBC History Magazine, Blog, TV · (1) Comment May 22nd, 2013

On 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed on charges of adultery, incest and conspiring King Henry VIII’s death.

But what happened in those last days before her death? Why did Anne, and the five men accused with her, have to die?

A new in-depth drama-documentary on BBC 2 will explore the continuing controversy among historians. Rather wonderfully, rather than giving a single linear account, it recreates the historical debate that rages on. It makes for history at its most contentious and exciting.

It features seven historians and historical novelists: Dr David Starkey, Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Prof. George Bernard, Prof. Greg Walker and me.

For anyone interested in Tudor history and in the extraordinary character of Anne Boleyn, this is unmissable.

It will air on 23 May 2013 at 9pm on BBC 2.

And if you want to know more, in progressively greater depth, do consult the following:



Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

I’ve written the cover article for this month’s BBC History Magazine. In it, I try to answer a perennial question of English history: why did Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, have to be executed on 19 May 1536? Historians debate the evidence and have come up with four possible theories, which I’ve outlined, so you can make up your own mind about which is the most convincing.

The magazine also features articles by Ian Mortimer on Tudor breakfasts and Robert Hutchinson on the Spanish Armada, so is well worth a read!

I recorded a podcast on the AB question with Charlotte Hodgman, at the Tower of London, which you can listen to here.

Guest post at On the Tudor Trail












A few days ago, I posted a guest post at Natalie Grueninger’s On the Tudor Trail website to explain why I wrote A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England and why I think people should visit historic places.

It begins:

‘I am frequently asked two questions: why am I a Tudor historian? And why do I think people remain fascinated by this period? The answer is the same: the Tudor era has all the best stories.

Consider: the remarkable sixteenth century contains our tabloid king – the much married Henry VIII – and our virgin queen – the unmarried Elizabeth I – and huge religious change – the overthrow, restoration and eventual displacing of the Roman Catholic church in England; centuries-old monasteries dissolved; heretics burnt and priests tortured. It is an age of threats against England – the attempted French invasion and the Spanish Armada – and of the discovery and colonisation of new worlds, the beginnings of empire and the founding of the navy. It is the age of Holbein and Shakespeare, of glorious architecture and palaces, and of some of the most extraordinary characters in British history…’

Read on.

Reels of History: The Other Boleyn Girl

Category : Anne Boleyn, Blog, Cinema City, Films, Talks · No Comments Jun 4th, 2011

Tomorrow, I’m introducing The Other Boleyn Girl before a screening at Cinema City in Norwich at 5pm.

Described by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian as ‘a flashy, silly, undeniably entertaining Tudor romp’, the film features Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn (aka The Other Boleyn Girl), and Eric Bana as Henry VIII.

The film, based on Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel, reminds the viewer that Henry did actually also bed Anne’s sister, Mary, before his affair with Anne herself. But there’s some rather pronounced deviation from the historical record on show here too.

Come along and find out what I made of it!

You can buy tickets online at:

Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn – Review

Category : Anne Boleyn, Blog · No Comments May 28th, 2011

This review was written on first viewing of this play in 2011. In 2013, it is playing at the Tower of London with two new – and matchingly superb – actors, Emma Connell and Scott Ellis. Having seen it again, I highly recommend it all the more. The new website is: SL 24.05.13

The writers and actors of history plays are often caught in the snares of hammed up acting, cod English, or dialogue as exposition, and so as an historian and theatre-goer, one approaches them with trepidation.

How marvellous and refreshing, therefore, to attend Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn, where none of the above is true! This new play, written and directed by Joanna Carrick and produced by theatre company Red Rose Chain, is currently showing in a yurt in the grounds of the sixteenth-century Gippeswyk Hall in Ipswich.

For a start, this play, a simply staged two-hander with actors Fleur Keith and Joseph Pitcher playing Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, is beautifully and intelligently written, and never underestimates its audience. The pacy episodic script, with each scene an intimate conversation between the Boleyn siblings, spans from the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 through to their deaths as traitors in 1536. This format gives an insightful and original perspective on these famous events, allowing us into the secret world of the Boleyns to see their hopes and dreams, Anne’s growing arrogance, but constantly engaging character, and the close, edgy nature of their relationship – helping us imagine why they might have been thought guilty of incest even if they were not.

Carrick offers us an interpretation of the events of Anne’s rise and fall that is both historically plausible and dramatically riveting. She is able to do this because this play has been impressively and impeccably researched. It ranges widely in its references – from the fact that the 18 year old Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister wore out her 52 year old, husband, King Louis XII of France in three months of marriage, to the gruesome deaths of the Carthusian monks in 1535; from Cromwell’s house at Austin Friars to – delighting the audience – the fact that Wolsey was a mere butcher’s boy from Ipswich.

Above all, though, it is the actors, Keith and Pitcher, who astound. Bearing a passing resemblance to Rachel Weisz and Jude Law in younger days, Keith and Pitcher are energetic, expressive, and damn near perfect.

The combination of accomplished writing, gifted acting, astute direction, and exemplary history mean that the result is a practically flawless piece of theatre. If I could, I would watch Fallen in Love again and again.

So make the journey to Ipswich and catch this play before it comes off on 5 June 2011. You won’t regret the effort.


Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn

Writer/Director – Joanna Carrick
Producer  – David Newborn
Actors – Fleur Keith and Joseph Pitcher
Red Rose Chain Film & Theatre Company
Twitter: @red_rose_chain


Anne Boleyn’s home

It was a real pleasure to go to see Hever Castle today. It is set in the most glorious countryside: Kent really is the garden of England. It was a very evocative and satisfying visit.