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Jane Rochford Week: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”

Adrienne Dillard graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University-Northern and has been an eager student of history for most of her life. Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey, due to be completed in Spring 2014, is her first novel.

The scene from which this excerpt was taken centers on Catherine Carey Knollys, daughter to Mary Boleyn. In November 1539 she is sent to court to attend on Anne of Cleves. This scene is when she first arrives at court. Before she is able to see any friendly faces, the first person she encounters is someone who has been nothing but maligned in her family so obviously she is a bit distressed by that. However, her first encounter with Jane is not what she expected and she gains a bit of insight into her uncle George. Later, they go on to be confidants and Catherine’s pragmatism plays as a foil to Jane’s need to please those in power even at the cost of her life.


Whitehall Palace

London, Whitehall – Winter 1539

We arrived at Whitehall to a joyous celebration.  Lively music spilled out of the great hall and most of the windows in the palace were ablaze in torch light.  I eased my way out of the carriage, stiff from the biting cold and found my footing.  A group of servants rushed over to haul the baggage and trunks out of the cart.  Carefully, I picked my way through the mud and headed for the warmth of the palace.  I had never been to Whitehall so I was unsure of my surroundings, but I hoped there would be someone there to guide me to the maid’s dorm.  The hall was busy enough, servants hurried by with their arms full, but no one to greet me.  I stopped for a moment amid the bustle and listened to the music.  If I could let it lead me to the great hall, surely someone could tell me where to go. 

I walked down the winding corridors, listening intently; as the music got louder, I knew I was close to the celebration.  I turned the corner and saw the big doors.  They were slightly ajar, so I inched closer to get a peek. The hall was packed, but a space had been cleared to allow for dancing.  I had heard that the king loved to see his courtiers dance.  His dancing days were coming to an end, but it did not stop him from vicariously living through the young men and women who graced his court. 

At the center of attention was a couple dancing the volte.  The man was lean and muscular, lifting his lithe companion with ease.  Vivacious and lively, she threw her head back in excitement, her golden hair cascading down her back.  From a distance, it was difficult to tell their age, but the young lady appeared to be of an age as I.  I assumed she was to be a maid to the queen.  I would have to investigate further.

I took in the rest of the scene.  The king was sitting under a cloth of estate in all his finery.  A purple velvet doublet trimmed in ermine graced his large body.  A ring on each finger caught the candle light and glittered.  He wore a full beard, still gloriously red.  He had aged since the last time I saw him, but I witnessed not a trace of grey hair.  He topped off his look with a wide brimmed hat trimmed with a jaunty white feather.  Unseen, I could take him all in.  I stared unabashedly at his highness.  If only I could read his mind.  I watched his eyes follow the young lady in the dance, he smiled at her each time she turned his way.  He may have a bride on the way, but he was a lusty king after all, it would not be long before she was a favorite, if she was not already.

A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump, my heart thudding against my chest.  I spun around to see a face I knew well and was not delighted.  My late uncle’s wife, Jane Rochford, was staring back at me.  I expected a sneer, but I received a smile instead.

“Mistress Catherine!  I am so happy to have found you.  My deepest apologies, I was to meet you at the door, but was detained by a chamber maid.  I am relieved you arrived safely,” she said breathlessly.

She looked genuinely excited to see me.  My feelings for her were of another sort.  I actually dreaded seeing her.  During George and Anne’s trials, it was rumored that Jane had given evidence against them. At least that was what was whispered in the hushed halls at Hever.  I overheard two of our lady maids talking about the shame she had brought on our family.  My heart sank at the idea that she was to be a guide for me.  How would I ever contain my disgust?

Jane left me little time to react.  Immediately she was leading me to the maid’s dorm to see that I was settled in and out of my rain soaked garments.  She waited patiently on my bed while a lady maid helped me into a dry muslin shift and prepared me for bed.  After my long journey I was exhausted and while it was exciting to see the party in the hall, I was in no condition to join it.  The lady maid made her departure, my wet clothes in hand, leaving Jane and I to stare awkwardly at each other.  I waited for her to break the silence.

Jane stood, clearing her throat she said, “I am sure I know what you must think of me and I cannot say that I blame you.  Since I found out that you would be coming to court, I have been going over round and round in my head what I would say to you.  It seems only fair that I tell you the truth.  We will be together much of our time now and I want you to know what it true and what is false and why I did what I did.  Please say that you will give me that chance.”

She looked at me with such hopeful eyes that though my stomach was pitching inside, I knew I could only nod in response.

She began to pace the room, her footsteps kicking up the scent of sage in the newly laid rushes.  “It is true that I gave evidence against George and Anne, but it is not what it appears to be.” She came to a stop and turned to look me in the eye.

“Cromwell had me in a corner and I was terrified of what he might do.  I had to ensure my survival.  But I never said that Anne and George had a carnal relationship.  I never even alluded to the idea, I swear this to you.  I could never come up with that abominable scene, that was all Cromwell and the king’s doing.  I only repeated that Anne said the king had not the ability at all times to bed her as his wife.  Nothing more.” She said earnestly.  Her face was flushed and her eyes shone with unshed tears of emotion.

I was not swayed by her pleading.  “You were concerned with your own survival, but not your husband’s?  Did you not realize that his survival was linked to your own?”

“Please forgive me Catherine, I was afraid,” she pleaded.

“We were all afraid,” I spat out, feeling the anger rising in my throat.  “What makes your fear more important than ours?

She quieted and looked to the floor.  After a moment, she looked up at me, a tear coursing down her cheek. “A week before I was questioned, I realized that I had missed my courses.  I knew then that I was with child, Catherine.”

I gasped.  I knew they had been waiting for that moment.  George could often be found in front of the fire at Hever gazing at the Ormonde ancestral horn.  He turned it over and over in his hands, rubbing his fingers over the smooth ivory, wrapping the silk ribbon in between his fingers.  He longed for a son to pass it on to.  It had seemed, though, as if it would never happen. 

My breath caught in my throat, “Did George know?”

She gave me a sad smile, “Yes, my dear niece, he did know.  He knew that Cromwell was determined to take his family down no matter who gave evidence of what and if I did not give him the responses he craved, I would go down with them.  He instructed me what to tell Cromwell when my interrogation came.  It broke my heart, but I had to do what my husband bid me.  I loved George, I would never do anything to hurt him in any way.”

My heart filled with love for my uncle George.  He was fighting to give his child a chance. I pictured his bright smile, the devilish twinkle in his brown eyes as if he was about to tell some marvelous joke.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that a small piece of him could exist.

“The baby?” I asked hopefully and held my breath in anticipation.

Jane began to sob. “The day they executed George, I awoke in the middle of the night bleeding.  There was nothing to be done.  His child did not want to exist without his father and so he followed him straight to Heaven and left me alone here.”

In that moment, my heart broke for Jane and my head filled with rage for the king.  Not only did he execute my beloved aunt and uncle, but he caused the death of George’s unborn heir.  Jane was just as much a victim as Anne and George.  All she had was taken from her and for her reward, she had earned a vile undeserved reputation.  I suddenly wanted to be very far from court.

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Is Elizabeth Woodville Philippa Gregory’s Apology to Anne Boleyn?

ElizabethIn “Having it All in the Fifteenth Century” I looked at the first episode of BBC/Starz’ “The White Queen” as a 21st century fantasy played out through the ever-flexible genre of the historical drama.  In the world of Elizabeth Woodville the would-be rapists turn out to be tender royal husbands, mom and dad tease each other affectionately across the dinner table, and family ambitions never descend into ruthless scheming.  A little white magic, yes—but no evil motives.  Family life is as cozily domestic as in a Jane Austen novel, as Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) delightedly plans which daughter should marry which royal prospect and Baron Rivers (Robert Pugh) looks on with tolerant amusement.  Its every girl’s dream family—supportive mom, loving dad, protective brothers.

It could even get kind of boring, were it not for the Woodville’s enemies:  Lord Warwick (James Frain), who I’m sure would be in a better mood after a decent shave (preferably by Sweeney Todd), and Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale, an attractive actress elsewhere, here she reminds me Margaret Hamilton as the wicked witch of the west in Wizard of Oz.) Even at this early stage, Beaufort is beginning to look as though she needs to be locked up in the attic, providing no little support to Kyra Kramer’s theory that Henry VIII’s personality problems were genetic.

This world of fairytale heroines and plotting relatives is the stuff of archetypal pleasure, as delicious as a bedtime story and a nice escape from the complexity of real life, where the villains are often clean-shaven and the rapists are rarely marriage material.  It’s also, as I suggested in “Having It All in the Fifteenth Century,” very much a female fantasy—unlike “The Tudors,” for example, a much better written show, but one whose creator and head-writer Michael Hirst had to be poked and prodded by Natalie Dormer to turn Anne Boleyn into someone with whom women could identify.

Elizabeth and EdwardWatching episode two, I was especially struck by how much Edward IV-as-dream-husband (at least at this point in the series) seemed to be constructed as the very opposite of Henry VIII in “The Tudors,” whose tenderness toward Anne declines steeply once he’s caught her, and plunges disastrously when the desired male heir does not appear.  Of course, “The Tudors” is not alone in this—for this is the story countless historians, novelists, and film-makers have told about Henry and Anne’s post-marriage relationship, basing their narratives largely on the not-exactly neutral reports of Eustace Chapuys.  In fact, we don’t know much more about Anne and Henry’s intimate life together than we do about Elizabeth Woodville’s and Edward’s—except that Elizabeth and Edward produced many children and had a long life together, and Anne and Henry…. well, we all know how that ended.  In between the beginnings and endings of both relationships, the cultural imagination, wending its way through different eras and different agendas, has filled in the dots according to fantasy and fable.

Edward and babyThe story of Queen Elizabeth’s birth, for example, although challenged by the most responsible historians, almost always has the Henry bitterly disappointed and beginning to simmer with anger at the birth of a girl.  Edward’s reaction, in “The White Queen” is virtually the mirror image.  Presented with his firstborn girl, the briefest flicker of disappointment crosses his face.  But he is quick to reassure Elizabeth, drenched with sweat and anxiously promising him that the next will be a boy, “You’re so lovely; I cannot do without you,” as he lovingly nuzzles the baby. The next scene, meant to be three years later, shows Elizabeth happily herding three little daughters through court and field.  And Edward’s tender love for his wife (you can tell from the sincerity of his kisses) has clearly not abated, despite the fact that her womb had yet to prove itself heir-friendly.

Jacquetta and ElizElizabeth’s life (in “The White Queen”) would be envied by Anne Boleyn (in “The Tudors”) in other ways, too.  In “The Tudors” Anne is coldly manipulated and used as a sexual lure for her father’s ambitions.  In “The White Queen” it is Jacquetta who is the ambitious one, but protectively, like a mother hen, with her daughter’s future in mind and never at the expense of Elizabeth’s honor or agency.  Baron Rivers, on his part, is just a big cuddle-bunny: “You’ll always be my Elizabeth,” he tells his daughter more than once, before he is cruelly eliminated by Warwick. Papa Boleyn, in contrast, remains cowardly and coldly detached as his own children are put to death.

scheming womenIt’s fascinating to consider the fact that the same writer who gave us the nastiest Anne Boleyn since Nicholas Sander went on to create Elizabeth Woodville—and gave her a family and husband befitting her goodness.  You might think her the direct descendant (imagination-wise) of Gregory’s virtuous Mary Boleyn—except Mary had no ambitions, which created a problem for Gregory’s famous claims to being a feminist writer.   “The Other Boleyn Girl” punishes female ambition and rewards more modest aspirations to a non-royal home and hearth.  So far, that isn’t the case in “The White Queen.”  Indeed, at times, Gregory seems to use her characters to explicitly oppose that formula—by having the arch-villain Warwick, for example, represent it.  In one arresting scene, he startles Elizabeth: “Burn her!” he orders a servant carrying Margaret of Anjou’s portrait; “I have no truck with a queen who seeks to rule her husband. There’s no need for scheming women here.”  (Elizabeth, for a second, thinks the “Burn her!” is meant to refer to her; it’s a great touch, and one of the few truly fresh moments in the episode.)

Of course, there will be scheming women.  What fairy-tale can do without them?  But for the time being, at least, Elizabeth, adoring husband by her side, rules.   Ah, Anne, would that you had been so lucky.


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Having It All in the Fifteenth Century

  attachment-3Ever since Thelma and Louise clasped hands and took fatal flight into the Grand Canyon, there’s been no shortage in pop culture of fierce women willing to risk it all for their integrity, freedom, or justice.  Has anyone noticed, however, how unlucky they are in love?  Recently, we even seemed to have generated a new genre of crime-fighting heroine—we might think of them as the daughters of Jane Tennison, Helen Mirren’s professionally steely but personally unstable chief detective in “Prime Suspect”—who quite explicitly pay for their power with disastrous relationships, mental break-downs, and infinite sadness.  The heroines of “The Killing,” “Homeland,” “Top of the Lake”—what a depressed, driven crew!  The only female detective with a cozy home-life is steel magnolia Brenda Leigh of “The Closer,” (Keira Sedgwick), who has now gone off with her beyond-belief supportive FBI hubby and whose successor is “Major Crimes”’ coolly contained Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell.) That neck doesn’t move—her stiffness is part of her charm–let alone bend to receive anyone’s kisses.

 The twenty-first century, it seems, is power-friendly to women but cruel to their love lives.  That’s an old trade-off, of course; we’ve seen it in countless female protagonists from Joan Crawford on (usually minus the “friendly” part): the price of standing up to men or a masculinistic system is an empty bed.  The difference now is that these women are no longer misogynist caricatures (for that we’ve got reality television.)  Women like them, root for them and feel an uneasy but undeniable sisterhood with them.

 For relief from this grim state of affairs, which makes for powerful television but doesn’t exactly attachment-6feed female sexual fantasies, we must turn, it seems, to yesteryear. Or rather, yestercentury—and a time, apparently, when the would-be rapists were gorgeous and a woman could turn a knife on one without, like Louise (of “Thelma and…”), having to pay with her life.  Wait; did I say not paying with your life?  It’s better than that: tell him off, turn the knife on your own throat, and he’ll find you irresistible and make you queen.

 This is “power-feminism” Philippa Gregory style, and despite a pretty unanimous critical thumbs-down, women are loving the BBC/Starz production of “The White Queen.”  From the first episode (the only one I’ve seen, as I live in the US), it’s not hard to see why.  By any of today’s standards, Lancastrian beauty Elizabeth Woodville/Grey (Rebecca Ferguson), having met with victorious Yorkist King Edward (dreamy Max Irons, Jeremy’s son) to ask him to return her (dead) husband’s lands to her, breaks all the rules: engages in seductive behavior that can only (political correctness be damned) be described as “leading him on,” humiliates him by unceremoniously throwing him off when she’s had enough, challenges his manhood by daring him to “doubt her courage” and declaring herself “match for any man,” and—most envy-inspiring of all—her hair maintains its perfect crimp throughout.  And, oh yes, then she gets made queen.

 “But it happened!” Phillipa Gregory, who prides herself on her historical rigor, might say.  Well, yes, sort of…perhaps.  That Edward wanted to make Elizabeth his mistress and Elizabeth declined, inflaming the king’s desire for her, is well known, if the exact details are shrouded in mystery. Thomas More and Shakespeare both recount the tale, although minus the knife; their Elizabeth refuses Edward (as Shakespeare put it) with a “good manner” and “words so well set.”  The knife detail comes from the Italian traveler Mancini, writing in 1483, but in his version it is Edward who brandishes the knife, and holds it to Elizabeth’s throat.  The knife only makes it into Elizabeth’s hands in Antonio Cornazzano’s “Of Admirable Women”; in that version she does not hold it to her own throat, threatening to slice herself, but uses it to hold off Edward. 

attachment-8Clearly, writers have been playing with this story for centuries, and I’m not here to complain about historical accuracy, but to explore the current re-creation.  “Don’t doubt my courage,” Elizabeth declares, already drawing a bit of blood from her translucent neck, “I’m match for any man.”  Female strength and courage that is as potent as any man’s is a theme that is trumpeted in ads for the series (“Men Go to Battle; Women Wage War”), that is underscored by Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta (descended from a river goddess as she reminds us several times, even her husband says he is sometimes scared of her) and by the audacity of both Jacquetta and Elizabeth when they meet Edward’s proud and disapproving mother Cecily.  Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) soundly puts her in her place by reminding Cecily of some nasty gossip about her affair with an archer, but little Elizabeth is no slouch either, telling the King’s mother (!!) to curtsy to her.

 Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Elizabeth, was drawn to the role because Woodville “was a woman attachment-7who had power.  She was devoted, strong [and] intelligent”; “She’s a medieval rebel.” Arguably, the same might be said about Anne Boleyn, who, as played by Natalie Dormer in “The Tudors,” also won a large female following.  But notice how differently Boleyn’s refusal of Henry VIII is imagined (by Michael Hirst, whom Natalie Dormer criticized for his male “mind-set” and who later regretted his hyper-sexualizatization of Anne) from Elizabeth Woodville’s, as imagined by two women: Gregory and screenwriter Emma Frost.  Boleyn is depicted as refusing Henry in order to lure him into marriage (a ploy concocted, in the series, by her power-hungry family—and Hirst, of course, isn’t the first to follow this scenario); Elizabeth refuses out of pride in her own integrity.  Anne (in season one, at any rate) is a sexy tool; Elizabeth is “her own woman.” Anne is a temptress (“Seduce me!” she tells Henry, albeit in a dream), while Elizabeth, who is no less flirtatious with Edward, her eyes smoldering and her kisses steamy hot before she throws Edward off her, escapes any condemnation for slutty behavior.   She’s a post-feminist girl; she has every right to get carried away by passion and then say “no.”

 attachment-12My point is not that this is a better show than “The Tudors.” In fact, although I will no doubt become addicted to “The White Queen” (I also haven’t missed an episode of “Dance Moms”), I wouldn’t rate it very highly among historical dramas.  Nor have I ever been a big fan of “power feminism”; Philippa Gregory and I have very different ideas about what constitutes “power.”  I would, however, like to see Carrie Mathison of “Homeland” (Claire Danes) be given some time under a tree with a gorgeous, untormented, exuberant lover like Max Irons’ Edward.  Until that happens, I guess women will have to pay for our fantasies with a ticket back in time, where we can enjoy preposterously bold, “talking back” historical heroines “having it all” with their equally preposterous, strong-woman-loving hunks.  


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Tudor “Justice” in a Florida Courtroom

O'Mara and Cromwell

O’Mara and Cromwell

On May 13 in 1536, preparations were made for the trial of Anne Boleyn and her brother George, on charges of adultery and treason. Ralph Felmingham, sergeant-of-arms, summoned twenty-seven “peers of the Queen and Lord Rochford, by whom the truth can be better made to appear” and physical preparations were begun to make the King’s Hall in The Tower of London amenable to two thousand spectators, with benches lining the walls and a high platform for the interrogator and the condemned, so that all could see. “The King was determined,” Alison Weir writes, “that justice would be seen to be done” and was sure of the judicial strength of the evidence.

Today, the notion that the Tudor court delivered “justice” in the case seems a stretch, to put it minimally. The overwhelming number of the sexual encounters of which Anne was accused not only could not be proved, but would have been virtually impossible. Moreover, the jury had been handpicked to exclude those who might be favorable to Anne and the accused men.  Those who were picked were well aware of the verdict that Henry, eager for marriage to Jane Seymour, wanted.  And—as Wolsey once had remarked—if the Crown wanted it, justice could be found “in a verdict that Abel was the murderer of Cain.”

Yet, as Weir goes on, “This was not to be quite the farcical trial that some historians have claimed it to be.”  What gave it “the appearance” of justice was the law, which had been generously tweaked in 1534 by Thomas Cromwell so that “treason” now covered a vast range of activities, including the “wish, will or desire by words or writing” to harm the king or “deprive [him] of [his] dignity.”  This extension of treason to encompass wishes and words as well as actions gave the already biased jury just the tools that they needed to turn flirtatious behavior that formerly would have been dismissed as courtly banter into proof of treachery against the king.

On the face of it, it seems absurd to compare the George Zimmerman trial to the proceedings of a Tudor court.  Yet, some comparisons are deadly apt.  The jury was not hand-picked to be sympathetic to Zimmerman, but they may as well have been, not so much by virtue of who they were but who they weren’t.  You didn’t need the edict of a monarch to make this happen. Given the requirement of obliviousness to media or social media discussions of the case, most African-Americans, and also those with “progressive” inclinations (both most likely to have followed the case with interest) wouldn’t make the cut.  And the notion that living sealed off from current events insures “neutrality” is a mistake; indeed, it may more likely insure a jury that is under-informed about a whole raft of relevant moral, social, and racial controversies.  Just how equipped were they to examine this case?

It’s painfully clear, from the testimony of juror B29, that although she thought Zimmerman “got away with murder” but was hamstrung by “the law,” she was fundamentally clueless as to what the law was in this case, believing that the killing had to be “intentional” in order to qualify even as manslaughter.  I think that by “intentional” she meant something like “done knowing that Trayvon Martin’s death would result.”  But of course, that isn’t required for manslaughter.

Juror B37 (although married to a lawyer) was confused in a different way. The defense had not defended Zimmerman on the grounds of “crime of passion” or as a “stand your ground” case.  Nonetheless, that’s how juror B37, in her interview with Anderson Cooper, explained her finding of “not guilty”:

“…[B]ecause of the heat of the moment and the stand your ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”

It may (or may not be) that Juror B37 was looking for any excuse.  She was amazingly upfront about her biases, as she declared Zimmerman an “overeager helper” whose heart was “in the right place” and, incredibly, felt as “sorry” for him as for Trayvon Martin.  She readily admitted that she believed all the defense’s witnesses and found none of the prosecution’s credible.  The baseline assumption governing her “examination” of the evidence was that Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night was accurate.  She seemed to be conflating “presumption of innocence until proven guilty” with “presumption of truthfulness even when proven to be lying.”  When it came to Zimmerman, that is.  The testimony of key prosecution witnesses, such as Rachel Jeantel, was dismissed on the most spurious (and disgusting) of grounds—lack of “education” and “poor communication skills”—except, tellingly, when Jeantel’s testimony confirmed Zimmerman’s (Juror B-37 felt “the most important thing” in Jeantel’s testimony was the time of the phone call “coincides with George’s statements and testimony of time limits and what had happened during that time.”)

But it’s also true that although “stand your ground” played no part in the defense’s case, it was certainly there in the instructions to the jury, which included:

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

images-4Apparently, at least some of the jurors felt trapped into their verdict by this instruction.  But the jury instructions—I’ve read them myself, several times—were convoluted beyond belief.  Clearly, the jurors had problems with the criteria for “manslaughter,” as evidenced not only by Juror B 29’s confusion but by the fact that the jury asked for clarification.  When the court returned the message to them to be more specific, they did not do so, but instead returned their verdict of “not guilty” suspiciously speedily, given the fact that they obviously had unanswered questions.  I believe that they were so fundamentally confused by the instructions that they were not able to formulate a more specific question.

ANDERSON COOPER: Did you feel like you understood the instructions from the judge? Because they were very complex. I mean, reading them, they were tough to follow.

JUROR: Right. And that was our problem. I mean, it was just so confusing what — with what and what we could apply to what. Because I mean, there was a couple of them in there that wanted to find him guilty of something. And after hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law and reading it over and over and over again, we decided there’s just no way — other place to go.

Of course, there was another place to go: They might have dismissed Zimmerman’s account on the basis of inconsistencies, physical impossibilities, and lack of credibility, due to his numerous lies.  They might also have thought more carefully and deeply about the notions of “regard for human life,” “ill will” and “hatred” and how they might have indeed applied in the case.  They might have sent the instructions back to the judge and told her: “These are an incomprehensible mess, and no one—neither prosecution nor defense nor you, judge—has clarified them for us.”  They might have asked, for example, about that arcane phrase “depraved mind”—which amazingly, still appears in the criteria for murder two.  It’s unlikely that a person in 2013 (who wasn’t also a lawyer) would see this description as applying to anyone except a psychopath or career criminal.

Although it wasn’t mentioned in either Juror B37 or B29’s remarks, I would be surprised if the jury was not also confused by defense lawyer Mark O’Mara, who in his concluding statements, gave the jury his own “instructions” as to how to determine reasonable doubt. It’s very simple, he said. When you get into that room, he said, just ask yourselves: “Do we think that he might have acted in self-defense?” O’Mara then scripted some possible thoughts a juror might have in considering that question: “I’m not convinced. I have some doubt, have some concern, that he just may have acted in self-defense.”  And then the punchline: “Well, if you reach that conclusion, you get to stop. You really do.”

“Might have”? “Some” doubt? “Some” concern? “Just may have?”

I thought “reasonable doubt” and “beyond a shadow of a doubt” were two very different things.  What about the “reason” part? Isn’t it supposed to play some role here?

Not according to the jury instructions, which specify that doubt is “reasonable” only if it is able to topple a juror’s “abiding conviction of guilt.” But to have an “abiding conviction,” unfortunately, does not necessitate the application of reason. Webster’s defines it as “a firmly held belief or opinion.” And that corresponds, pretty much, to ordinary usage. We have all come across people who are “convinced” of irrational beliefs, errors of judgment, mistakes about facts.

 Convictions, to be worth anything, have to be subjected to logic, examination of physical possibility or impossibility of various narratives, credibility of the testimony on which ones convictions are based. .

The prosecution, remarkably, (and for reasons that I cannot fathom) did not choose to counter O’Mara’s torqued conception of “reasonable doubt.” And so, whatever ideas, assumptions, perceptions, biases those jurors brought with them into the deliberation process were provided a legal “hole” through they were permitted entry and authority.

images-3Social historians know that “the law,” even when applied correctly, does not always bring “justice” with it. It’s easy to fall in love with the word and, as in many love affairs, stop thinking. I suspect that the 1536 jury who found Anne Boleyn guilty believed that they had followed the letter of the law, and perhaps they had. For the legal definition of treason had been twisted out of shape by Cromwell, and so had the composition of the jury.  They had no problem dismissing physical impossibilities, because their sympathies were bent and their “convictions” trumped logic and fact.  So, too, the Zimmerman case was surely among those in which the appearance of a judicially “correct” verdict, aided and abetted not only by the skewed composition of the jury, convoluted instructions, and a politically motivated revision of the law, working in a surreptitious but deadly way —the “stand your ground” concept—trumped actual justice.

“The Law.” It’s time to stop invoking it, blaming it, or using it to excuse the verdict in the Zimmerman case.  Let’s admit it simply didn’t function here (or undoubtedly in countless other cases) in any kind of coherent or effective way, and start cleaning up our act.

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Erin Lyndal Martin Interviews Susan About The Creation of Anne Boleyn

images-9Earlier this week, Erin Lyndal Martin interviewed Susan for a piece that appeared in the online magazine “Bitch.” While only a few of the questions were used, we knew that many would be curious about the full interview. Enjoy!

What did you not get to include in your book that you wanted to?

There are lots of interesting books and movies that I didn’t discuss, but my goal was to focus on the cultural “highlights.”  After six years of touring the historical, literary and media-depictions of Anne, I think I had a pretty good sense of what I wanted to include and what needed to be put to the side in the interests of the narrative.  I could have written much more, for example (and now that I think about it, at one point I did!) on representations of “the bitch” in contemporary culture.  But it started to feel like a whole other book, so with some sadness but no regret I cut it out. 

I was struck by your use of the terms “erasure” and “revision” to describe the period after Anne’s execution and before Jane Seymour’s arrival.  Those terms highlight the way Anne is a narrative (or a set of narratives) in addition to being a historical figure. How did you choose those terms?

That’s a great observation, and really gets at one of the main ideas of the book, which is that Anne Boleyn is, in many ways, less a historical figure than a set of (ever-changing) cultural images and narratives.  Of course, she actually existed, she actually gave birth to Elizabeth, she actually was beheaded.  But we know so little about her personality and character that hasn’t been filtered through the tongues and pens of enemies (and some friends), have virtually nothing in her own words (I think I will sooner forgive Henry for beheading her than for destroying her letters) (JK), and the myths, stereotypes, and encrusted narratives have virtually swamped the little that can be justified through the historical record.  She is, in many ways, a missing person—but one about whom we think we know so, so much.  In the end, what we think we know winds up revealing more about “us” than about Anne herself.

Do you believe the theory about Henry and Mary being involved? If so, why didn’t Henry marry Mary?

I do believe that they were involved.  But whether or not he was involved with Mary, we know that no other mistresses before Anne were considered as a prospective wife (including Elizabeth Blount, with whom he had a male child.)  The tantalizing question, actually, is not so much “why not them?” but “why Anne?”  I devout a whole chapter to speculating (because that’s all that we can do) about that.
What fictionalized depiction do you like best?

Hands down, my favorite fictional Anne is the Boleyn of “Anne of the Thousand Days”, if for no other reason than for her speech to Henry in the Tower as she is awaiting execution.  It never happened, of course—it’s total invention—but it should have! As far as historical fiction goes, I don’t have one favorite; I love the way Anne changes in them through the centuries.   A few of the authors I have special affection for:  Margaret Barnes, Mary Hastings Bradley, Jean Plaidy, Robin Maxwell, Nell Gavin, Norah Lofts.

What is your favorite thing about Boleyn?

 I’ve always been attracted to women who seem to have been misunderstood in their own times, but come to “speak” to later generations.  Anne was surely one of those women!!  But if I had to name one quality that is most appealing to me, it would have to be what seems to have been an ironic, somewhat “dark,” and highly attuned sense of how political her world was.  We only have fragments that suggest this—her sharp, skeptical reactions to Constable Kingston’s mealy-mouthed reassurances in the tower, and her amazing trial speech, in which she confessed only to not having had “perfect humility” with Henry—but these tiny bits speak volumes to me about what set her off from other women at court.  She wasn’t a great beauty (the media to the contrary) but she seems to have been so conscious, and (by her own admission) so unwilling to remain silent about what she felt and thought.  And from her trial speech, it appears that she knew that was one of the main reasons for her fall.

You talk briefly of Henry being the “spare heir.” How do you think that influenced his reign?

Henry was raised in a highly protective atmosphere—and mostly by his mother (unlike Arthur, who was reared to be king from the get-go).  It was a stifling upbringing in many ways—for everyone was highly aware that should Arthur die, Henry would have to step forward, and they weren’t about to subject Henry to any of life’s dangers that could be avoided.  It was also a much more “feminized” upbringing than Arthur got.  That is, more emphasis on literature, poetry, the traditions of courtly love, much more time devoted to reading, thinking. So you had this very interesting combination of qualities come to the fore when he ultimately became king.  His suppressed “masculine” energy burst forth full force—he was tremendously athletic, impulsive, risk-taking.  But at the same time, he cultivated the friendship of More, Erasmus, and other humanist intellectuals, wrote music, loved learning, and had a highly romantic streak.  It was a pretty winning combination—for a while!!!

You also mention Henry being more egalitarian than his contemporaries (if such a word can be used).   In what other ways was Henry different than other men of his time?

I don’t actually use that word, for I don’t think he was egalitarian according to any modern understanding of that word.  What I do suggest is that he may have had fewer of the standard misogynist ideas about the inferior intellectual nature of women, and less knee-jerk aversion to women’s advice, guidance, etc.  And I suggest that this may have been the result of being raised by a very strong woman (who operated almost as a single parent with him.)  The fact that he was so attracted to a woman like Anne, whom many other men at court saw as an interfering harpy, suggests that at least at this stage in his life he didn’t have as limited an idea of a woman’s “place.” As far as other differences from men of his time, that would require much more room than I have here, as so many aspects of his life made him “different”: the fact of being king, for one, and then too (as I argue in the book), he had a very black and white view of things, especially as he got older.  Perhaps it developed as a result of being constantly deferred to, perhaps it was simply his personality type, perhaps (as Kyra Kramer suggests in “Blood Will Tell”) he suffered from a genetic disorder that radically affected his moods.  Whatever the source, in Henry’s world, you were either for him or against him.  No in-between.  When he loved you, the sun beamed down on you.  But cross him even a little bit, and very threatening clouds would form.  And the weather could change in an instant! 

Is the feminist appropriation of Anne Boleyn dangerous in any way?

I’m not sure what that would mean. “Danger” seems a bit strong a term to me. I do think that idealizing anyone to the point of enshrining them, whether for feminist reasons or otherwise, is ultimately to do them a disservice.  For eventually, there’s going to be backlash against what others will see as an ideological bias—and then human complexity will yield to a battle between the “fors” and the “againsts.”  Indeed, that’s largely what has happened with Anne.  Her catholic enemies demonized her.  Then her protestant “rehabilitators” turned her into a martyr.  Early historians, wanting to de-sanctify her, went too far in to the other direction and—relying largely on highly biased documents from Anne’s time–turned her into a scheming, ambitious temptress.  Which naturally has provoked the ire of feminists.  And on and on it goes.

How much influence do you think Anne or her politics had on Elizabeth?

I’m not qualified to answer this question, as my knowledge of Elizabeth is limited.  But without even knowing anything about Elizabeth, one can safely say that Anne had an enormous influence on Elizabeth’s life simply by playing such a pivotal role in the Protestant Reformation. Beyond that, I would refer interested readers to Tracy Borman’s book “Elizabeth’s Women,” which has a chapter on Anne.

You get into the age-old question of Henry and Anne’s sex life, like which of them said no and held out the longest. Do you think that matters in a larger sense?

We will never know, and to the extent that the same waiting game would have been played out no matter who “held out,” it really doesn’t make a difference—to history.  Where it does make a difference is in our perception of Anne.  The standard narrative has her withholding her favors in order to manipulate Henry into marriage.  Obviously, if it was Henry who wanted to wait, that scenario goes out the window.  My own view is that they both were invested in waiting until they were close to marriage, so their children would unquestionably be legitimate. In his letters, Henry was quite amorous—but it was in the tradition of courtly wooing to be quite seductive with words without necessarily urging any action.  We don’t have Anne’s letters, but there’s no evidence beyond Henry’s unfulfilled ardor (which doesn’t prove anything) that she was behaving in a “tempting” fashion.  That’s all part of the mythology, much of which can be laid at the feet of the “anti-Anne” faction at court (and later.)

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