If Anne Boleyn Cared About Queenship, She Should Have Stopped Being Queen

Anne Boleyn, known chiefly as the mother of Elizabeth I

Anne Boleyn, known chiefly as the mother of Elizabeth I

A short while ago, an author of literary mysteries, Lynn Shepherd, devoted a Huffington Post column (titled “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It”) to the decidedly peculiar idea that the enormously popular J. K. Rowling should stop writing adult fiction in order to give “other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.” Rowling, Shepherd graciously allowed, could return to writing for children: “By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.”

I won’t comment further on this, except to observe that perhaps only a literary novelist, used to receiving accolades from other literary novelists, could have possibly thought that her post would be met with delighted cries of “How witty and clever!” I’ll also observe that Shepherd’s published books, two of which were inspired by Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, one of which is based on the lives of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley, wouldn’t have been possible if Dickens, Austen, and the Shelleys had thoughtfully stopped writing in order to give other writers room to breathe. No, instead, I’ll ponder this: what if a few historical figures had followed Shepherd’s advice?

1. Richard III

Soon after taking the throne, Richard III, concerned that Richard I and Richard II as well as his brother Edward IV will be overshadowed, decides to step down and let his nephew Edward V be crowned after all. Allowed by his nephew to retire to his northern estates, Richard devotes the rest of his life to sheep farming and dies in relative obscurity. Future generations hopelessly confuse Richard, Duke of Gloucester, with Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and obsess about Edward V’s very colorful sex life.

2. Anne Boleyn

Having failed to deliver on her promise of a son, and not wishing to overshadow other sixteenth-century women, Anne offers to step aside so that Henry VIII can find another wife. Delighted at her gracious retreat, Henry helps to free Anne’s old beau Henry Percy from his own marriage, allowing Anne to become the new Countess of Northumberland. Anne promptly bears Northumberland twin boys but only gets to gloat for a few days before dying of childbed fever. Jane Seymour, without Anne’s beheading to learn from, spends rather too much time alone with her brother Thomas and dies on the scaffold.

3. Abraham Lincoln

Not wishing to overshadow other Presidents, Lincoln decides not to run for a second term and retires to Springfield, where he accumulates rather too many cats and Mary Todd Lincoln accumulates rather too many bonnets. Salmon Chase, the next President, not only refuses to go to the theater on Good Friday, April 14, but on any other occasion. Unable to find any opportunity to assassinate President Chase (and not wishing to overshadow other assassins), John Wilkes Booth finally gives up his plan and marries Lucy Hale. He lives long enough to play the lead in a silent version of King Lear, but neither this nor any of his other silent films have been preserved.

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15 Responses to If Anne Boleyn Cared About Queenship, She Should Have Stopped Being Queen

  1. Although I could actually see Lynn’s point in her original post, even if I didn’t quite agree with how it was being made, this, I think, is absolutely genius. :)

  2. bluffkinghal says:

    Bloody awesome post!

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    Susan, I am laughing my head off!~ I had not heard of the original post–having been w/grands for a week! but this is a gem! THank you!

  4. Peggy says:

    What a great article. I loved it.

    I suppose if Ulysses S. Grant had really cared about his West Point colleagues in the Union Army, he would have stepped aside and let somebody else defeat Robert E. Lee. Julia Dent Grant would have been madder than a wet hen–she wanted to be Mrs. Lt. General and the First Lady.

  5. Hans says:

    when I read about the original post my jaw dropped… LoL
    After reading yours it came back into the natural position: forming a wide grin together with my upper jaw!

  6. Gayle Simmonds says:

    Actually Anne Boleyn believed that Henry would banish her from court and divorce her. And she was ready for that sentence. She was taken by surprise at the execution order. After all no other king had murdered their queen! There was no precedence for Henry to condemn her to death!

  7. Celia Parker says:

    Like it. In England J.K. Rowlings’ first adult novel was not well-received, something which may underlie the review. Perhaps in the spirit of the original,Lady Margaret B. should approach Richard III and suggest that he return to ruling just northerners, something in which he has proven success, and give more capable candidates (H.Tudor?) room to breathe in the being king department. Let’s face it, Richard’s reviews as king were pretty damning- only his mates in York were appreciative.
    As you’re the expert on all things Woodville:. I was in Pontefract the other day and wondered where Rivers and Grey were buried. I had a notion it was the parish church just below the castle, but can’t find any confirmation. Can’t see anything in your book. Do you know?

    • boswellbaxter says:

      Good idea about Margaret!

      I don’t think their burial place is recorded. Anthony in his will asked to be buried before an image of Mary with Richard Grey, but he didn’t say where the image was, so I suppose it could be either in the parish church or the castle chapel. I’ll take a look to see if Hall has anything to say.

  8. Sonetka says:

    There are a number of die-hard Anne fans who will say quite seriously that Catherine of Aragon should have quietly retired to a nunnery so as to make things easier for Anne, so you’re not that far off reality. (Apparently strong women who stand up to abusive husbands are only to be encouraged if you happen to like them personally). As for Lynn Shepherd, that little “I would never deny anyone that” is the cherry on an already-repellent cake. I wonder how J.K. Rowling can possibly thank the gracious literary chatelaine enough for allowing her to write for fun? By giving her free publicity, perhaps? :)

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