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How I discovered this book: I have read all Gemma Lawrence's historical novels and loved them, without exception. This is the 5th and final book in the Anne Boleyn series, and I have been looking forward to it for months!
Genre: Historical fiction from fact, Tudor period.
Judge the Best covers the final period in Anne's life, from her first still-birth (after the birth of Elizabeth) to the bringing about of her downfall by Thomas Cromwell, and her execution. It is a long book, I believe about 160K words, but I never felt that I was ploughing through it. I was riveted all the way through, and felt sad when I got to the end.
So much has been written about Anne Boleyn; I have always been on the 'she was innocent and the whole thing was dreamed up by Cromwell to get rid of her because Henry wanted a new wife who might give him a son' side, and if there was any doubt in my mind, I would be completely convinced of her innocence and the sins committed against her by this book. It has also showed me further sides to the story ~ how much of a danger to Cromwell she had become, aside from other political considerations.
'Guilt and innocence seem to be one and the same at this time. It all depends on the King... not on evidence, confession or actual sin...just on what Henry believes.'
Anne's last moments are told by Thomas Wyatt, in which he suggests a deeper reason for Henry's wish to rid himself of her: he could not control her. She would not behave herself, unlike the insipid Jane Seymour. I see Anne's inability to produce a son as his all-encompassing motivation: to prove himself the strong, virile, god-like figure who could produce male heirs. None of us knows the absolute truth, of course. I feel that Gemma Lawrence's is the most likely, of all I have read. After the end of the novel, she gives much evidence of Anne's innocence, and also discusses Henry's descent into tyranny, lechery and ill health—and provides a brief look at the rest of Henry's life and the unfortunate women who would be chosen to sit on Anne's throne after her, as well as the fates of the other players in the story (I've saved the 'other players' bit to read in bed, shortly!).
'..there would always remain a part of him that would doubt. I knew it was there, in him. That was why I would die by the sword. Because he knew I was innocent.
Cromwell should watch that doubt, I thought. This is the lesson he has not learned.'
As ever, with this series and all of this author's work, it is meticulously researched with the detail unobtrusively woven around her own words, viewpoints, and portrayal of her subject. Never, like in many other works of historical fiction, do I feel I'm reading a text book; every event is told only through the eyes of Anne. She shows Anne as I believe she was: a woman born before her time, who was passionate, loyal, highly intelligent, sometimes cruel, impulsive, generous, strong, dignified, reckless, considerate, deeply emotional, self-critical, and so much more.
'Tomorrow, he will kill me, but he will become the ghost in truth; a pale imitation of the great man he could have been. A demon set up on a throne where a godly king might have ruled.'
I am one who thinks that the idea of gods, heaven, afterlife, etc, is wishful thinking, but sometimes I wonder if there exists, somewhere, a trace of what we were; I can't help but hope this is so, when I think how delighted Anne Boleyn would be to see, nearly 500 years after her murder, how she has lived again in these books, which I recommend most highly to anyone who is interested in her. The series is a terrific achievement, and a magnificent tribute to this most fascinating of women.
'The great irony of Henry's quest for a male heir is that it was his daughter by Anne who would go on to be remembered as the greatest monarch of the Tudor dynasty, rather than his son, or even himself.'