The Anne Boleyn Files

Historical Figures: Behind the Mask

Monday, April 16th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Claire Ridgeway of the Anne Boleyn Files asked a question today on Facebook and Twitter that I had not given any thought to before. Namely, who was the real Thomas Boleyn? Beyond the father of Mary, George and Anne Boleyn, I mean. Was he truly the demon portrayed in The Other Boleyn Girl? Was he the smarmy pseudo-politician of The Tudors? Or was he a loving father caught up in the politics of the age? The true answer is probably none of the above.

I love to read about Tudor history but it is not my specialty. Still, the question lingers, how do we look back down the corridor of time to discern who these people really were?

As an historical fiction writer, I read the sources that tell us what these people did. Each source has a bias of its own which must be taken into account as I research. Luckily, since I am not an historian myself, I can revel in my own bias instead of trying to kill it. I can worship Eleanor of Aquitaine as the goddess she was. I can honor Anne Boleyn for her life and the tough choices she made, the choices that eventually killed her. I can even look at a popular villain like Thomas Boleyn and ask, could a man who educated his daughters so well be all bad?

How do we peer behind the masks of historical figures? I think this is a question that has many answers, and none. We read all we can, we search through the piles of what is known to discern some traces of who they may have been. All the while, we face the truth that we will never know them. So we glean what we can from history, then open our imaginations to ask the question, what if? What if Thomas Boleyn was a political, sometimes a villain, and a loving father too? If, as a writer, I could encompass a character who is all of those things and more, then I have come closer to drawing on the page the image of a full human being. As writers, that is what we strive for: to bring our characters, historical and otherwise, to life.

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