Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Forever Changed British History

Image of Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Forever Changed British History
Release Date: 
June 20, 2023
Atlantic Monthly Press
Reviewed by: 

“Borman . . . delivers a captivating and exquisitely heart-wrenching account of the mother and daughter duo who radically changed English history forever.”

Why does one royal dynasty from British history still get so much widespread attention? The Tudors reigned for just shy of 120 years, but Tudormania is extensive, playing out in countless books, television shows, and films. These are well told accounts, but enthusiasm for this particular family never seems to diminish.

Many British historians lament the admiration and obsessive adoration of the Tudors. This isn’t because they can’t recognize the inherent appeal: the central soap opera drama—the marriages, divorces, executions, and political scheming—which is unequalled and extremely entertaining. The Tudors have benefited from their long inclusion in modern cultural and educational life. Tudor food, music, costumes, and, of course, literature offer a sense of vague familiarity with the women and men who were part of this family. For example, William Shakespeare lived most of his life during Tudor rule, and his plays, full of mystery, humor, and murder most foul, are products of the period. Historians aren’t invulnerable to this enticement. But most will agree how much more new information is there to uncover: How can we tell stories about the Tudors that don’t just restate what has been writing countless times before?

The answer might be found in following pop culture rather than fighting it. When we look at this closely, it becomes clear that the newest Tudor trends have attached themselves thoughtfully and provocatively to our social and cultural moment. The most recent Tudor histories often appeal to the tastes of a more wide-ranging and knowledgeable range of audiences.

Much of the fascination with the Tudors centers around the dramas surrounding Henry VIII and his six wives and Elizabeth I’s rumored liaisons. Yet the most fascinating relationship in that historic era may well be that between the mother and daughter who, individually and collectively, changed the course of British history.

The future Queen Elizabeth was not yet three when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded on May 19, 1536, on Henry’s order, incensed that she had not given him a son and tired of her contentious nature. Elizabeth had been raised away from court, rarely even seeing Anne; and after her death, Henry tried in every way to erase Anne’s presence and memory. At that moment in history, few could have predicted that mother and daughter would each leave enduring, and interlocked, legacies.

Tracy Borman’s Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Forever Changed British History, takes a deep and compelling dive into the lives of this extraordinary mother and daughter. Their stories, their similarities, and the love that connected them through their mother-daughter bond shaped British history. Borman is a leading expert in Tudor history and the author of numerous books that include The Private Lives of the Tudors (2016), Crown and Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II (2021), and many others.

In this captivatingly easy read and first-ever joint portrayal Borman accomplishes what she clearly set out to do. Anne Boleyn was a spirited woman and a devoted mother, who might have been a great queen if given a chance. During her brief occupancy of the throne, less than three years, she sparked a religious and political revolution and left a profound influence on her daughter.

“Anne protected her daughter as fiercely as a lioness her cub . . . While Anne strove to protect and promote her daughter’s interests, she was painfully aware that there were few who would do the same.”

Elizabeth was a strong-willed child and a daring woman who pushed the boundaries. She wasn’t without flaws, though, and had dictatorial traits as queen. Above all, like her mother, Elizabeth was hungry for knowledge and flourished in intellectual atmosphere.

“The turbulence and uncertainty that Elizabeth had endured after her mother’s execution had taught her the wisdom of pragmatism and compromise. . . . With peace came prosperity and the emergence of England as a world power. . . .”

With so many books having been written about these two famous women, there was admittedly quite a bit of skepticism about what could possibly remain to be examined that had not already been deliberated ad nauseam in other histories/ biographies. But surprisingly or better said unsurprisingly Borman, who is an amazing writer delivers a captivating and exquisitely heart-wrenching account of the mother and daughter duo who radically changed English history forever. Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I is not overwhelming in its historical details. Thought-provoking and moving in its account, Borman skillfully details how Anne Boleyn’s family, intellect, and tragedy ultimately shaped Elizabeth I’s extraordinary reign. A must-read for any student of history and especially Tudor fans.