Tonight, in a two-part documentary, historian Susannah Lipscombe will chart the relationship between Henry and Anne by following in their footsteps through the great renaissance palaces of the Loire, where Anne was groomed as a high born, and extremely sophisticated, lady of the French court, to Henry’s great houses along the Thames Valley, before finally, revisiting the grisly place of execution at the Tower of London.
I must admit that when I read the blurb for the programme, I was immediately catapulted into a montage of my own, very vivid memories, of following in the very same footsteps, as my co-author, Natalie Grueninger and I, charted Anne’s life for our book In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn. We had been inspired way back in 2012 to rediscover Anne, not primarily through the events that crashed through her all too short and dramatic life, but through the places that shaped her thinking and stood as a backdrop to her tumultuous love affair with Henry VIII.
As we soon found out, it is a wonderful way of getting close to a protagonist of history. Natalie once said that when we stand in magnificent palaces, ruined castles and long lost manors, it is only time that separates us from those long since turned to dust. I agree with Susannah in her pre-ambulatory introduction to the program (published online here), that one cannot get closer to bridging the gulf of 500 lost years than by retracing their physical footsteps. Indeed, it is only by following Anne through France, Paris, the Loire and Calais that I personally, began to truly understand the mind of this most enthralling of women.
2013 marked the 500th universality of Anne’s departure to the Hapsburg court of Margaret of Austria, whose indomitable character so indelibly shaped Anne’s early experience, forging in the refined atmosphere of Margaret’s court, traits of the woman Anne would become.It was a a landmark and we were honoured to be retracing such a remarkable life.
It was thrilling to stand in the palaces of Amboise and Blois, where the insouciant nature of the French court, of carefree dalliance and endless summer days were almost tangible. Back on English shores, we tasted Anne’s hour of glory in the hallowed interior of Westminster abbey, whilst feeling her pain and the utter desolation of being left behind by Henry at Hampton Court, having lost her second child to a stillbirth in the summer of 1534. The energy was often palpable when you have an eye to see through the mists of time, and an ear to hear the ghostly whispers of those who have gone before us.
So, I hope the documentary tonight will inspire many more people to pack their bags and literally head off on their own journey of adventure in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn. And if you need more inspiration follow the link, to pick up your own personal guide!