July 2023

Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I

By Tracy Borman
Review by
Historian Tracy Borman triumphantly shows that Anne Boleyn’s love and influence guided her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, through her tumultuous life and much-glorified reign.
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Mothers—for better, worse or somewhere in between—shape the people we become. Whatever lessons we learn from their example, whatever traits we inherit, go on to become shaping forces for our identities and lives. Author and historian Tracy Borman (Henry VIII, The King’s Witch) illustrates this in Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Forever Changed British History. Despite living in a strict patriarchal society, the love and influence of her infamous mother guided Queen Elizabeth I through her tumultuous life and much-glorified reign.

As one of England’s Chief Curators of Historic Palaces and the author of Elizabeth’s Women, Borman is well placed to explore the intertwined lives of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and reformer of the English faith, and their daughter, the celebrated “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I. This required some detective work, as both time and circumstance make the relationship seem practically nonexistent: Anne was executed when Elizabeth was only 3, and for many years after, Anne either went unmentioned in court to avoid provoking Henry VIII’s vicious temper or was slandered as a “strumpet” and seductress who had an affair with her own brother and enchanted the king with witchcraft. Even before Anne’s death, royal custom stipulated that princes and princesses were raised by nursemaids in separate households from their parents. It would be unsurprising if Anne had been an invisible figure to Elizabeth, holding little to no influence over the woman and ruler she became.

Yet Borman insists this was not so. Citing evidence from correspondence, material objects and the observations of witnesses during Anne’s brief reign as queen and Elizabeth’s long one, Borman re-creates the relationship between the two women as loving and full of significance, even after Anne’s death. Letters and receipts for purchased items reveal a mother who adored her small daughter and took their separation hard, consoling herself by ensuring Elizabeth was impeccably cared for, primarily by Boleyn relatives. Many of these caretakers would go on to become lifelong advisors and friends to Elizabeth, helping to sustain her through her uncertain adolescence and her imprisonment during her sister Mary’s years on England’s throne. From her coronation to her deathbed, Elizabeth’s time as queen was peppered with mementos of Anne: She incorporated her mother’s badge into her own insignia, packed her court with her Boleyn relations and honored those who had been allies during Anne’s lifetime and could share stories with Elizabeth about her charismatic, brilliant mother.

Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I offers a fresh perspective on Tudor history. Set against the many volumes about Henry VIII’s rule and Elizabeth I’s influence, Borman’s book triumphantly pulls the fiery, educated Anne from the shadows and restores her to her rightful place as a reformer, patron and queenmaker.

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Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I

Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I

By Tracy Borman
Atlantic Monthly
ISBN 9780802162069

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