Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Historical faction?

In 2007 The Tudors was released, a serial dramatisation of the period. Since then, there has been growing public interest in the era and a number of fictional and non fictional pieces have been produced. In many cases, these texts and dramas incorporate both fact and fabrication. Alison Weir, Tudor historian and author wrote that due to this there has been 'a disconcerting blurring in the demarcation line between fact and historical fiction.' (Weir, 2011). It's easy to see how a reader without previous knowledge of the period could get confused -especially as many of the fictional elements are based on popular myth.
The genre is best decribed as being based loosely on facts. The setting and characters are usually real whilst the gaps are filled with the authors own opinions and interpretations. Many texts play on real documentation to give the piece validity.
Confusion about the correct version of events is also linked to the sources available.  Even the dates of  birth and death of some courtiers are not recorded. Anne Boleyn's date of birth is unknown and her father was very important at the time. Pieces written describing personalities and people's actions were often with specific intent and shroud in bias. This considered, it would be extremely difficult to write a book completely dedicated to the truth whilst still being novelistic.

Claire Ridgway, Author of the Anne Boleyn Collection Is also not happy with this misrepresentations of past events and historical figures as its confusing and often done just to make things more dramatic. In her book  she draws attention to the Q & A section of Philippa Gregory's best seller The Other Boleyn Girl. Although this Q & A section intends to separate fiction from fact for the reader, Gregory presents an unproven theory as truth.  When discussing whether she believes the charges of incest bought against Anne Boleyn, she states 'Anne had already committed murder' (Gregory, 2002). This statement lacks evidence but puts forth her own belief that if she was capable of incest she could probably kill too. The murder she refers to Anne having committed is the poisoning of Catherine of Aragon. Of course, there is no definitive proof that her death was linked to Anne and not even solid evidence of the death being due to poisoning. The possibility of poison stems from autopsy notes of Catherine which state that her heart was black. It is not entirely implausible that Anne could have played a part in her death but it is highly unlikely. We must consider how much more advanced medically doctors are now then in the 16th century. A black heart to a Tudor however could easily suggests unnatural doing and would have been a logical explanation. There are numerous reasons as to why Anne would be linked to her death. .Catherine was beloved by the people and Anne was hated. If the rumour was not referring to Anne literally having killed her, people may have thought that her actions caused Catherine to die earlier that she should have . Many would have been pained to know that Catherine died in a much smaller place, stripped of her jewels and title and  far from court. Catholics saw her as the rightful Queen and she died without the respect they thought she deserved.  If Catherine's supporters could turn more people against Anne with slander then of course they would. Another basis for this concept could be linked to Anne's hot tempered nature. It was said that she felt her place as Queen was in danger as long as Catherine lived. This rumour may have started with something she'd said in anger. Modern day historians believe that the discoloration of her heart is more likely to be from cancer or heart disease. To put forward her own opinion on the death of Catherine as a fact is even more confusing to a reader learning about the period for the first time. It also reinforces the negative stereotypes surrounding Anne.

Why would Gregory state such an accusation as fact? 

If you read The Other Boleyn Girl , Anne is an awful character who would betray anyone to further herself. From her descriptions, it is evident that she has a poor opinion of the woman Anne was. The amount of negative reports on Anne is likely to be high as she was unpopular with a great portion of society. As none of us will ever meet these people, their personalities are open to debate.

The problem with historical fiction and misinterpretation of events does not lie solely with the reader. It is easy to get misconstrued when fact and fiction are merged in such a way. Especially as many of the fictitious elements are based on fabrications which are hundreds of years old. If authors chooses not to commit entirely to the truth when explaining their novel's imaginative aspects, then it's easy to see how the genre creates problems. We don't have enough evidence to build up entire character profiles of each courtier. All we have are records of events,death, births and opinions from spectators at court. Scandal and the dramatization of events sell a novel and because it is presented as fiction, it has no duty to tell the truth. However i believe, the author should explain their interpretations properly in their afterword as the most important element of the text is the history itself.


Ridgway,C (2012) The Anne Boleyn CollectionMadeGlobal Publishing : London

Weir, A (2011) : Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore' Jonathan Cape : London

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