Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Queen's Scribe: Claire Ridgway & The Anne Boleyn Files

She was standing in a crowd, Claire Ridgway remembers, her eyes fixed on the elegantly dressed black-haired woman standing on the scaffold. It was May 19, 1536, and the woman was Anne Boleyn, condemned to death on trumped-up charges of adultery and incest. As she listened to the queen’s final speech, Ridgway was “completely overcome with horror that this innocent woman was going to be executed….Even now, I can remember being rooted to the spot and being so terrified that I could not speak. I just couldn’t believe that this brutal act was really going to happen before my eyes and that nobody was going to stop it.”

Fortunately, Ridgway woke up before the final bit of swordplay by the French executioner that Anne’s husband, Henry VIII had specially sent for. (Men really don’t know how to give gifts like they used to.) The nightmare left her in a cold sweat…and with a most unusual epiphany. She shook her husband, Tim, awake and told him that she was going to start a website called The Anne Boleyn Files “to educate people about Anne’s real story.”

And she did. The Anne Boleyn Files (TABF) started in February 2009, designed by her husband -- a man who nowadays matter-of-factly refers to himself as an “Anne Boleyn widower.” She “had no idea that anybody would ever find the site,” says the British-born writer, who lives with her family near the Alhambra in Spain. “So it started out just as a diary of my research into Anne’s life, my journey to the truth, and it still is today.” That journey has had an amazing impact on her life: she no longer freelances, and she spends much of her day researching the Tudor period and writing about Henry’s second wife. “I’ve grown so much as a person,” she remarks, “and love the fact that I’m finally doing a job that I love and that I have a real purpose in my life. There’s nothing better than writing an article on Anne and then reading comments from people who really learned something from my work – that is so fulfilling!”

Historian Eric Ives (The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn) has himself called Anne “the third woman in my life after my immediate family,” adding that it “is true once she interests you, fascination grows, as it did for men at the time, and finally for Henry himself.” Ridgway and I discuss this fascination, which has led to so many books (fiction and non-fiction) and dramatizations about Anne. Why, more than 475 years after her execution, does it still endure? “I think it’s a combination of the tragedy of her story, the awful miscarriage of justice she suffered, the love story between her and Henry VIII,…and the myths that surround her,” the writer reflects.

Indeed, it’s a story that has “all the ingredients of a good romance and even a thriller.” Like Ives, she believes that somehow the luckless queen’s “magnetic personality reaches through the ages and grabs us.” The novel that best captures this for Ridgway is Jean Plaidy’s Murder Most Royal (1949), which “really brings Anne to life without maligning her in any way.” And her favorite Anne movie is “Anne of the Thousand Days.” She especially loves “the scene where Henry visits Anne in the Tower, and Genevieve Bujold, as Anne, gives that amazing speech about how it will be her daughter who will be queen and that her blood will have been well spent. I so wish Anne had really had the chance to give that speech!”

Aside from TABF, Ridgway has also written a resource guide to all things Anne Boleyn – newspaper/magazine articles; details about places that figure into her story; podcasts; fact sheets; portraits, heraldry, and crests; archives and documents; poetry, stories, and music; movies and videos; and much more. ((For more information on that guide, check the website.) And somewhere further down the line, Ridgway would like to write a non-fiction account of Anne’s life.

But it doesn’t stop there. She has also created a sister site, The Elizabeth Files, which is – you got it – about Elizabeth I, Anne’s greatest legacy to England. The writer sees the Virgin Queen as being “her mother’s daughter in so many ways. Both Henry and Anne were highly intelligent people, so Elizabeth inherited that from both of them; but she definitely had her mother’s magnetism, wit, charm, perseverance, passion, and hot temper. She also had Anne’s 'way' with men. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that either woman was a ‘tart’ or an outrageous flirt, but Elizabeth knew how to ‘work’ the men she was surrounded by. She was a woman in a man’s world, but she managed to gain the undying loyalty and love of the men advising her. She inherited that skill from her mother.”

You’re bound to take a few hits when you’re in love, and Ridgway has taken them – on the home front, no less: “Researching her [Anne] every working day has obviously made her and her family a huge part of my life and has had a knock-on effect with my family.” She ruefully tells me about the day her kids were making gingerbread men: her youngest boy bit the head off his and exclaimed, “Ooooh, look, Mum, it’s Anne Boleyn!” She is, she admits, “very fond of the whole Boleyn family and get very annoyed when they are maligned.”

Indeed, you can tell from both the tone of the blog and her comments that Anne has become an old friend to her – someone whom she knows almost as well she does herself. That being the case, what sort of woman does she feel Henry’s second queen would’ve become had she been allowed to live out her life? “I think if Anne had been given a chance, she would have eventually had a son,” Ridgway reflects, “and this would have cemented hers and Henry’s marriage. She was a patron of the arts, had an interest in charity, education, and architecture, and so I believe that she would have continued being a good queen and a worthy consort and partner to Henry.”

Related links:


Anne of the Thousand Days


Lisa said...

Those are my two favorite websites. Claire really does an excellent job of presenting an objective view of the people of the Tudor period. I have learned so much from both of her sites.

T. J. Banks said...

I agree, Lisa. I was impressed by The Anne Boleyn Files from the beginning; once I interviewed Claire, however, I was truly amazed at all the time and energy she has channeled into it. Talk about following your passion.

Claire Ridgway said...

Thank you! I love what I do and feel blessed to to be able to spend every day researching the Boleyns and Tudor history.

T. J. Banks said...

You've done some wonderful work there, Claire. Folks, check out Claire's recently released book, THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION.