Princess Elizabeth was only three when Queen Anne Boleyn was executed for treason. Shortly after young Elizabeth I ascends England’s throne, a former servant of her mother presents her mother’s secret diary to her. Now queen, Elizabeth is asserting her authority and considering marriage to a favorite courtier. Wanting to understand the woman she was taught to hate, Elizabeth reads the diary avidly.
Anne’s journal describes how she caught King Henry’s eye while serving his aging wife, Katherine. Anne tolerates the king’s passionate advances. For six years Henry schemes to divorce Katherine.
Soon Anne is pregnant. Since she promises Henry a male heir, he marries her and dismisses the popular Katherine. Ultimately, Henry’s second marriage is declared legal and Anne is crowned queen.
When Anne gives birth to Elizabeth, instead of a male heir, she loses Henry’s favor. Yet Anne loves her daughter and takes steps to assure Elizabeth a place in the royal succession. She tries to regain Henry’s love by becoming pregnant again, but she bears a stillborn son. Henry, enraged, looks for a way to discard her. Katherine’s supporters supply him with trumped-up charges of treason, and Anne is beheaded.
In Anne’s last entry, she writes that she learned too late never to submit entirely to men’s wishes. However, it is not too late for Elizabeth. Vowing to justify her mother’s love, the queen decides to control her own destiny and remain unmarried.
THE SECRET DIARY OF ANNE BOLEYN is Robin Maxwell’s first novel. Though it tends to glamorize Elizabeth, the story is richly detailed and compassionately told.