15 August 2018

Anne Boleyn’s Little Neck ...

Tuesday Talk - on a Wednesday
 with my guest Kristen McQuinn




Of all the Queens throughout British history, one of the most infamous surely must be Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 - May 19, 1536). Painted throughout history as a temptress, seductress, traitor, and worse, Anne Boleyn has gotten a seriously bad rap. But where does this image of her really come from? Was she really these things? The answer is probably no, not really. Possibly the truth is somewhere in the middle, or maybe we will never know the truth at all. Many historical novelists have had their own interpretations of Anne over the years, and depending on their perceptions, readers are presented with very different people.

A very quick history lesson:
· Much of our basis for how we view Anne Boleyn comes from the letters and documents of Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
·   Chapuys’s job was literally to report what he heard at Henry VIII’s court, including about Anne, much of which came from her enemies. His actual letters reported others’ words, not necessarily his own.
·   The Holy Roman Emperor was Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, so he was naturally inclined to dislike Anne based on her replacement and treatment of his aunt. Often, he referred to Anne as “the Concubine,” which was recorded in letters to and from Chapuys.
·   Chapuys didn’t like Protestants or the French. At all. Anne was both Protestant and had French mannerisms, so it’s easy to see why historians think he hated her.
·   Chapuys and another man, Pedro Ortiz, exchanged a lot of letters in the course of their duties and the two might have become conflated over time. Ortiz was Catherine of Aragon’s proctor in Rome. HE REALLY loathed Anne, and his letters do actually prove it. Chapuys’s letters are fairly unbiased.
·   Chapuys only met Anne once, in April of 1535. All his other information about her came from other sources, including her enemies.
·   Chapuys was one of the only people who publically stated that he thought Anne was innocent of the charges brought against her and was a victim of political machinations.
·  Regardless of politics, Anne was unpopular. Her failure to have a son gave Henry VIII the impetus he was looking for to have Thomas Cromwell charge her with adultery, incest, and treason.
·    Adultery, when one is married to the king, is high treason, punishable by death.
·     Five other men were charged with Anne and executed.

One scene that is often seized upon by authors occurs during Anne’s tenure in the Tower. While she was held in the Tower, both before and after her trial and sentencing, she was attended by Mary Kingston, the wife of the Tower constable, Sir William Kingston. The conversations Kingston recorded and reported to Cromwell were used at that time to seal Anne’s fate, as well as that of the five other men who were executed with her. Today, Kingston’s letters are considered among the most important bits of evidence that Anne and the others were totally innocent. In a letter written May 19, 1536, the morning of Anne’s execution, Kingston wrote:

This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear. And in the writing of this she sent for me, and at my coming she said, 'Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.' I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, 'I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,' and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o'clock after midnight.


This statement serves as the focal point for many interpretations of Anne’s behavior in various novel, TV, and film adaptations. On a surface reading of Kingston’s letter, we might assume that he thought her actions to be aberrant, considering that he noted other condemned prisoners had displayed “great sorrow” at their impending demise, but Anne instead had “much joy in death.” However, a closer look indicates that he isn’t actually offering a commentary on Anne’s state of mind. He is merely observing what his charge is doing, as his job requires, like a doctor charts a patient’s progress. There is no judgment in Kingston’s letter. To the contrary, the letter implies he is a compassionate jailer. He attempts to calm her fears about any pain she will face during her execution, which he didn’t have to do. Perhaps he was kind to her because he believed she was innocent. We may never know, but writers certainly have their views on the matter. Two popular historical novelists, Margaret George and Alison Weir, have each tackled this scene, with very different results.

In Margaret George’s novel The Autobiography of Henry VIII, the scene in the Tower is unsettling to Kingston, who is distracted by preparations he must oversee for the executions. Kingston is on the verge of exhaustion, frazzled by the multitude of administrative functions he has to fulfill, and is perturbed by the lack of instructions from Henry VIII about Anne’s coffin. “Dawn came before five, and Master Kingston was already exhausted from the tasks of the day ahead. …[H]e naturally had many details of both practicality and protocol to attend to. … He was running late. … But still no word about the coffin!” Kingston, when he goes to Anne’s rooms to deliver news of her delayed execution, is relieved by it because it gives him more time to carry out his other duties. When he speaks to Anne, he’s obviously in two places at once and has to be force himself to pay attention to her. When she speaks, Anne’s dialogue is consistent with Kingston’s description in his letter to the king. 

Upon learning of the delay, Ms. George describes Anne as disappointed and sad. Anne goes on to comment that she thought by noon to be past her pain. But then she grabs Kingston’s arm and whispers frantically to him that she is innocent. Abruptly, she has another mood swing and asks him fearfully if her death will be painful. Her volatile swings in mood make her seem mentally unstable, which at the time could also imply her guilt. This version of Anne is worried about how big the executioner’s axe is: “I have a little neck. … But the axe is so thick, and rough.” Upon learning that she was to be beheaded by a swordsman, she laughed, saying that Henry was ever a good and gentle sovereign lord. That, friends, is what I like to call sarcasm. Her laugh is described as “that hideous, raucous laughter,” like a witch’s cackle, and Kingston is thoroughly unnerved by it. Her laughter again starts up when she jokes to Kingston that she will be known as Queen Anne Lack-Head. Here, her laughter is described as “shrieking,” and Kingston is actually frightened by it, all but fleeing her Tower chambers.


The overtones of witchcraft, overlaid with her added comments about Henry making her a martyr, underscore the implied mental instability implicit in the text, neatly tying up the issue of her unsuitability to be queen. All told, her mannerisms combine to create a character that is unsympathetic, severing any lingering tender feelings readers may have had for her. Given that this novel is told from Henry’s perspective, it makes sense for Ms. George to make Boleyn a character that readers no longer like at this point. We are seeing her through his eyes, and by now, he truly believed that she was guilty and had wronged him grievously.




In Alison Weir’s novel, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, readers get another interpretation of Anne’s famous “little neck” comment. Right away, the novel has a decidedly favorable bias towards Anne, whereas the other two either did not. From the moment Anne arrives at the Tower, concessions are made to her rank as queen: “At least, as queen, she would be properly attended…” Her clothes were richly described, and pomp and ceremony were seen to more so than in other novels. Kingston is referred to as the “Gentleman Jailer of the Tower,” making him sound as though he is a courtier there to wait upon her and lending more dignity to Anne’s imprisonment than it would have had otherwise. After her sentencing, Kingston was more forthcoming with Anne and was very gentle, taking time to talk with her and answer any questions she asked of him, acting very much the gentleman indeed. When he informed Anne of the time of her execution, she was relieved, for she had just been forced at Henry’s order to watch from the Tower the executions of the other five men. Kingston showed no hint that her relief was aberrant, as in other interpretations. Here, Anne is described as “agitated and panicky” when her execution is delayed. This seems the more natural reaction in the two novels. Who among us hasn’t been agitated and panicky over facing something that we are dreading and have no choice to go through with? Hysteria and inappropriate reactions seem the most logical explanation. Anne has spent days dwelling on the fact that she’s going to die by having her head cut off. She is asking a normal question to a person who is a logical choice, having witnessed many executions in his line of work. Anne says, as we know, that she had hoped to be past her pain, because she’s been brooding about it and the suspense is eating her alive. Kingston is quick to reassure her it will be painless.

When Anne says, “I have heard you say the executioner is very good, and I have a little neck,” she gives a nervous laugh afterwards. Of course she is nervous. She’s beyond nervous; she’s petrified. But she is also acknowledging Kingston’s role as a figure who has given her succor, because he was the one who told her about the swordsman from Calais, and that he was skilled and humane. Kingston went out of his way to try to calm her, without judgment. She explains to him that she wants to die now but her body “shrinks from it, so I am heartily glad it will be over quickly” and Kingston assures her it will be, and squeezes her hand kindly. This is a very human moment for both of them, the most poignant and touching of the entire book, to be honest. This is a woman who went from being a queen to taking comfort from the man who will lead her to her execution. More so than any other scene, this is truly the full circle moment for Anne.




There is a reason why novelists continue to write about the Tudors. Yes, in part it is because the books will sell. But more than that, there is still a deep current of compassion we feel towards the people then, a desire to understand their motives and thoughts, and to better understand ourselves through them. Anne Boleyn remains a tragic figure - hated by some, beloved by others, mysterious in many ways to all. Her story encompasses so much depth that it is hard to look away, regardless of how one views her. Nearly 500 years after her death, the lingering controversy, intrigue, and curiosity surrounding Anne Boleyn may be the best elegy she could have asked for.


© Kristen McQuinn
References:
Bordo, Susan. “When Fictionalized Facts Matter.” The Chronicle Review, 6 May 2012. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/When-Fictionalized-Facts/131759
George, Margaret. The Autobiography of Henry VIII, With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1987.
Hibbert, Christopher. Tower of London: A History of London from the Norman Conquest. Newsweek Publications, 1971.
Mantel, Hillary. “Anne Boleyn: Witch, Bitch, Temptress, Feminist.” The Guardian, 11 May 2012. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/11/hilary-mantel-on-anne-boleyn
Mantel, Hillary. Bring Up the Bodies. Henry Holt and Co., 2012.
McKay, Lauren. “Did Eustace Chapuys really despise Anne Boleyn?” HistoryExtra.com, 6 May 2016. Retrieved from https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/did-eustace-chapuys-really-despise-anne-boleyn/
Weir, Alison. Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. Ballantine Books, 2017.

< previous Voyaging Round the Blogs with Helen Hollick and a pirate or two...

29 July 2018

Follow The Tour... With A Pirate Or Two For Company



My non-fiction pirate book Pirates: Truth and Tales is out in paperback in the UK (and in the US soon - available to pre-order.) To mark the occasion I Voyaged Round the Blogs on an on-line book tour 'Dropping Anchor' at a wonderful variety of welcoming Ports Of Call to talk about everything piratical. Thank you to all of you who sailed along with me - it has been great fun, and I hope you discovered a few things about pirates that you didn't know before! (And there's LOTS more to discover in the book itself!)


Missed the Boat? Never fear! All my articles should remain anchored at the various harbours I visited, so why not hop aboard a passing Tall Ship and enjoy an interesting Voyage with a pirate or two...




buy or pre-order from Amazon HERE 

24 July 2018

Discovering about Diamonds Long ago and Far Away


Tuesday Talk with  J.G. Harlond


 Once upon a time I had gap year job in a jewellery and antique shop. I was taken to their workshop to see how jewels were cut and set, and gradually learned what sort of antiques sold to what sort of customer. It was a pleasant job, but not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Looking back, however, much of what I learned then has come in very handy for my historical fiction.

Budding authors are advised to write what they know: my first novel, The Magpie, subsequently re-written as The Empress Emerald, is about Leo Kazan, a young man in colonial Bombay who has a fascination for all things shiny. I had a basic knowledge of the gems, and what I knew about India during the Raj came from tales of a great uncle who loved his time in India. In writing this novel – and without giving it any thought – I was combining the far away and long ago with personal experience. A technique I extended for The Chosen Man trilogy, drawing on my time living in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain with events that happened centuries ago.

While preparing for my new release, A Turning Wind, (book 2 in The Chosen Man trilogy), I came across the writing of the French merchant-explorer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689). In a spell-binding account of how diamonds were mined in the Golconda region of India he quotes an account supposedly written by Marco Polo of how diamonds were found and traded in the area centuries before. It was too good not to use so I wove it into the opening scene of A Turning Wind, it also sets the scene for what is to come later perfectly.

Reviewed by
Discovering Diamonds
Goa, India, September 1639

It was a ramshackle affair for such valuable goods. A makeshift marketplace created out of crimson and brightly striped awnings. Lengths of scarlet, orange, turquoise, purple and blue formed curtains between trees; sheltering the splendid commodities from the late summer sun. Vendors were still laying out their wares when Ludo arrived: gems and trinkets in copper and gold, ivory combs and bangles, shimmering sari silk and embroidered fringed shawls, all transported from one coast of India to the other on heads and shoulders. The costly cargo had passed through the famous alluvial diamond valleys of Golconda, the human caravan collecting ever more precious gems along the way – a cargo now watched over by guards with arm muscles that rippled ‘beware’ and vicious knives tucked in wide belts.

Curious, colourful, magnificent . . . everything Ludo had hoped for. He was delighted. Yet, wandering among the displays, he began to wonder why he had come – what, apart from uncut diamonds, he was actually seeking.

As he finished his first circuit, a white bullock ambled in pulling a cart laden with clay flagons. Happily over-paying an urchin for a drink of water then returning the cup, Ludo strolled back among the folding tables, trestles and floor mats, this time stopping to examine a miniature chest of drawers decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl for women’s trinkets. It was pretty, but no, not special enough to add to his ship’s cargo. Moving on, he encountered an awkward Englishman dabbing at his forehead with a sodden handkerchief. The pink-faced sahib was struggling to keep up with an Indian agent’s heavily accented sales patter without losing his cherished dignity.

“Let me tell you how they are found,” the Goan agent was saying as he ran a hand seductively through a wide lacquered bowl of uncut diamonds. “When it rains, water rushes down the mountains, taking these precious stones with it and leaving them trapped at the bottom of gorges and in caverns. When the dry season comes and there is not one drop of water to be had, when the heat is enough to kill an Englishman as he walks from his door, brave men risk their lives to collect the stones. But they must go where wild serpents thrive. Venomous serpents and vast – serpents that crush and swallow men whole . . .”

Ludo shuddered along with the Englishman: snakes were another of the reasons he had made no attempt to travel inland during his stay in Goa.

“. . . but these diamonds are precious not only for the means by which they are obtained, not only for their special rarity, but for their quality. Look, sahib, see how fine they are, how they bring light into our lives. Each one is perfect, flawless . . .”

The Englishman put a forefinger in the bowl and peered at a stone the size of a sparrow’s egg, then at another the shape and form of a woman’s fingernail. The Goan agent took his hand and placed an uncut stone in the sweating palm then exchanged it for a cushion-cut diamond ring magicked from among his robes saying quietly, “This is not for everyone to know, sahib, but I should tell you, there may not be many more of these diamonds. Each year there are fewer. It is said the serpents now eat them to preserve their heritage.”

Ludo swallowed a grin and gestured with a hand to attract the agent’s attention. Half-convinced, half-enthralled, and knowingly walking into an enticement worthy of his own invention, Ludo stepped forward and cocked his head to one side enquiringly. The agent retrieved the ring from the Englishman and put it in Ludo’s open palm then whisked a heart-shaped ruby from thin air and put it next to the ring.

Ludo’s hand was broad but there was barely room for the two wonderful gemstones. The agent picked the ring from Ludo’s hand, leaving only the ruby to burn through his palm in the warm light of the coloured awnings.
“A gem worthy of a queen, sahib,” the agent murmured.
“Worthy of a queen . . . it is indeed,” Ludo murmured. This was what he wanted: this ruby. “But it is too much for a humble merchant such as me.”
“No, sahib, this ruby is for you. This is what you seek.”
Ludo shot him a surprised glance. The agent’s expression was open, generous, but two black-bead eyes under a startlingly white turban bore into him, hypnotising him, holding his gaze.
“You must know, sahib, a ruby of this quality has such virtues from the Sun that a man living in ignorance or consumed by sin, or pursued by mortal enemies, is saved by its wearing. When stones such as this are found they are named: this is Rani Saahasi’. There is no perfect translation that I know in Portuguese: in English you could call it ‘Queen of Courage’.

Ludo forced himself to look away, shook his head to clear his vision and pulled himself back to the multi-coloured market place. But his fingers clenched the ruby of their own accord: the stone, as red as pomegranate seeds, as cool as the waters of Kashmir, sang in his palm. He had to have it.

“No,” he said. “No, I cannot risk my small income on a bauble such as this.”
The Englishman’s jaw dropped. Ludo willed him to move away, not wanting to risk haggling against the flushed-faced mister as well. The Englishman stayed exactly where he was.
Reluctantly, Ludo held out the ruby saying, “I seek smaller, uncut gems . . .” As he spoke a set of long-nailed, hairy fingers plucked the stone from his palm and the thief escaped round the trunk of the nearest tree.

A troop of other practised thieves appeared above, peering with the faces of buffoons between the different coloured awnings then scrambling helter-skelter from branches or shimmying like circus performers down supporting wooden props. The Goan agent screeched not unlike the unwanted visitors and grabbed the corners of his open cloth on the low table behind him, hugging the rapid sack to his bony chest so no more of his valuable goods could be taken. Suddenly there was a commotion around the bullock cart carrying water; a thief had upturned the clay cups and made off with a jug, carrying it awkwardly on three legs for she had a baby on her back. Her sister, meanwhile, discovered a display of brass incense holders and bells. Seizing as many as she could, she began to juggle; the bells ringing into the air then clanging to the soft mud beneath her feet. Then up went a candlestick, and then another and another, caught by one cousin and tossed to an uncle who, brandishing it as trophy, bared his teeth at the buyers and headed for home. 

But as he went, more of his clan arrived, targeting push-carts, floor mats and head-rolls; some stealing arm bangles and pushing them up their thin, hairy arms before running back up the tree trunks into the branches and awnings, or jumping on tables, scattering wares that had crossed perilous oceans and scorching plains to be brought undamaged, intact across mountains and marshes down to Goa.

Ludo started to laugh at the shock and surprise of the invasion, then stopped as if the scene were frozen in time when the ruby he so coveted dropped to his feet from above. 
“Choke on it, choke on it!” the monkey cursed, for it was inedible and he did not want it.
Slowly, slowly, hardly believing his luck, Ludo bent to pick up the gem. His right hand closed over it and it was his.
But it was not.

He started to walk out of the covered square, but his legs would not move. The ruby held him to the spot, telling him perhaps that a man living in ignorance or consumed by sin, or worse – pursued by a mortal enemy – is saved by its wearing. Ludo did not believe he was consumed by sin or that he lived in a state of ignorance, but he was pursued by enemies, one, possibly two, or even three if you counted the ridiculous Count Hawk – but he was no thief. No common thief, anyway.

***

‘Write about what you know’ and what you pick up along the way . . .  My research has taken me down all manner of exotic rabbit holes, and (reported) truth can be much stranger than fiction. Quoting Marco Polo again, Tavernier explains how diamond gatherers supposedly avoided serpents to harvest precious stones:
“Now it is so happens that these mountains are inhabited by a great many white eagles, which prey on the serpents. When these eagles spy the flesh (raw meat men have flung into the valley) lying at the bottom of the valley, down they swoop and seize the lumps and carry them off. The men observe attentively where the eagles go, and as soon as they see that a bird has alighted and has swallowed the flesh, they rush to the spot as fast as they can. (…) When eagles eat the flesh, they also eat − that is, they swallow − the diamonds. Then at night, when the eagle comes back, it deposits the diamonds it has swallowed with its droppings. So men come and collect these droppings, and there they find diamonds in plenty.”
‘Diamonds in plenty’ – at seventeen I couldn’t see a future in them; now I cannot imagine how at least two of my novels could have been written without them.

© J.G. Harlond
Author of :
The Empress Emerald - featured in Diamond Tales on Discovering Diamonds



 The Chosen Man trilogy




Local Resistance

About J.G. Harlond

Originally from the south west of England, J.G Harlond (Jane) studied and worked in various different countries before finally settling down with her husband, a retired Spanish naval captain, in rural Andalucía, Spain. Despite being ‘rubbish’ at history at school because she wanted to turn everything into a story, she survived the History element of her B.A. and went on to get an M.A. in Social and Political Thought. Her historical fiction, set in the 17th century and the first half of the 20th century, features many of the places Jane has visited – along with flawed rogues, wicked crimes, and the more serious issues of being an outsider. Apart from fiction, Jane also writes school text books under her married name. Her favourite reading is along the Dorothy Dunnett lines: well-researched stories with compelling plots and complex characters. Jane is currently writing about the theft and fate of the Crown Jewels during the English Civil War for the third in her Ludo da Portovenere trilogy.

Find Jane on

Blog http://wp-harlond.jgharlond.com
Amazon USA.          Amazon.co.uk  


Twitter: @JaneGHarlond