The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn is based on a creative, if far-fetched idea: Anne keeps a diary chronicling her journey from lady-in-waiting to Queen Consort to her tragic end. She tells a servant to keep the diary and give it to her daughter Elizabeth when she’s old enough to read it. More than a quarter of a century later, twenty-five year old Elizabeth has ascended the throne as Elizabeth I and is in love with her Master of Horse Robert Dudley. The servant gives her the diary, and thus we are propelled between Elizabeth’s life and Anne’s experiences, recorded in the diary.
The idea is surprisingly well-executed. Anne is portrayed sympathetically and Elizabeth’s relationship with Dudley is very sweet–but like everything else in the book, far too sentimental. The Elizabeth/Dudley relationship for the most part was not sweet; it was passionate and bitter and based on a shared love of power as much as love for each other. Similarly, I appreciate that Anne Boleyn was not characterized as a scheming whore, but I didn’t recognize the mild, almost naive girl in the book. And while the idea that Elizabeth used her mother’s mistakes as the inspiration for her much vaunted vow of celibacy is touching, it does Elizabeth a disservice to ignore the very complicated psychological and political reasons that turned her into “the Virgin Queen.”
I liked that the author tried to humanize Anne and Elizabeth, but in doing so they lost their bite. While I believe both were capable of love, they were primarily political animals. The watered-down version of both women portrayed in this book does not do either of them justice.