Recently, I got the opportunity to speak with Chanse Lowell, author of a novel on Anne Boleyn that explores her character from a different approach.
I had to find out more about Chanse and why she decided to write about Anne from this perspective.
Chanse: I’ve been fascinated with Anne Boleyn for my entire adulthood, mostly because I’m a diehard romantic, and there is no other romantic story in history that speaks to me the way Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn does. They had a very intense, passionate relationship that was explosive, and because of that, it’s probably why it didn’t last long once they married. She wasn’t afraid to stand up to him and argue, when no one else would.
Lissa: She must have been incredibly charming to find that balance. Henry hated being thwarted, yet this woman managed to tell him “no” yet avoid his anger. She wasn’t traditionally beautiful, so it had to be her personal charm, intellect and grace that held his attention for so long.
Chanse: You’re exactly right. She was the exact opposite of what was considered beautiful in the Tudor court. They looked for milky white skin, blonde or red hair, blue eyes. Most of Henry VIII’s wives fit that description, including Catherine of Aragon. Most people think because she was from Spain she had an olive complexion and dark hair and eyes, but Catherine was a redhead, with pale skin and blue eyes. Anne was the exact opposite—long dark hair, black eyes, olive complexion and thin and tall. Most women of that age were fairly plump, or voluptuous as I like to call it since I fit in that category.
I’m sure Anne caught Henry’s attention at first simply because she looked so different and stood out, but yes, ultimately, it was her charm and intellect that held his favor and attention for so long. And because he was enamored of her, she was able to find ways to say no and stand her ground.
That’s the stuff true romance is built off of—strong character, wit, charm, integrity and passion. She had it all.
It’s the romance of the ages to me because who else waited 7 years for a woman, being completely celibate during that time, then took on the Church of Rome? That was next to impossible, since the Catholic Church in those days was actually the supreme power in the land, not the king. On top of all that, he then created his own religion. He almost destroyed his country to have her. If that’s not a deep love, then I don’t know what is.
I’ve also always felt like both Henry and Anne are completely misunderstood. She was a visionary and way ahead of her time. She inspired Henry to do so many amazing things during his time with her as his queen, that it would take pages and pages to talk about. And because of her influence, we have the King James Version of the Bible today, because Henry made that happen. He’s had a direct impact on Christianity in our day in a huge way. I actually admire him immensely, though you wouldn’t know it in my SHROAG novels, since he’s made to be the villain in them, even though I see him as anything but in real life. It was fun to write him that way, though, and go with how society sees him.
Lissa: My opinion on Henry differs. I was criticized when I said in a Readers Digest article that I believed Henry fit the profile of a sociopath.
But I agree with you in one respect: he had more impact on Christianity more than almost anyone in history. I believe it was Anne who was the driving force behind most of the religious changes. Henry made it happen, but it was Anne’s faith that was the guiding force. I remember that in the Tower, she said she wished she had her bishops to go to the king and vouch for her. (But, of course, they didn’t. Everyone was too afraid.) She was the one who set up the new reformed church, the backbone of the Reformation.
Chanse: Yes, she was behind all of it. Without her influence, there is no way Henry would’ve ever bucked the system. He wouldn’t have had her guidance, her faith to give him the strength to do it.
And you’re not alone in thinking him a sociopath. Most people I’ve encountered believe that as well. I’m probably the only one that thinks of him otherwise. Which is why I write about him so much. In fact, I just took a college course on creative writing and I wrote a short story about him being the good guy and how Anne’s death came about. I got an A on it and the teacher enjoyed it quite a bit as a fresh take on what could have happened.
Lissa: I’m glad your teacher was so open-minded and willing to explore alternate viewpoints on history. Though we may disagree, there should always be room for open discussion and debate. Challenging established viewpoints can be difficult.
I’ll admit, I had a struggle with seeing Anne Boleyn as a character in an erotic novel, because of my established viewpoint of her. Engaging in this discussion with you has challenged me to push past those self-imposed boundaries of how I see her as a woman, and as a sexual being. Because she wasn’t a bloodless paragon – she was human, a sensual, passionate woman with her own needs and desires.
The Tudors certainly weren’t prudish like the Victorians. They believed a woman had to orgasm in order to conceive. And so Anne’s desires would have been a very important aspect of their relationship.
So, what was it that sparked the idea for the series?
Chanse: Well, my idea for the series hit me when I wondered what might have happened if this magnificent woman had actually lived? What other kinds of influence would she have had? What would another man feel about her if he fell in love with her? How would it have changed history, since in some ways, I believe she was the key, or the turning point in history for Western Culture. Her daughter Elizabeth was responsible for a creative time in history that gave rise to Shakespeare, who is largely responsible for our English language today. So, then I thought, what if Anne had lived and bore more children? What kind of influence would they have had as well? Clearly, this was a very powerful woman, and it’s no wonder that she had so many enemies.
Lissa: It makes for amazing speculation. If the baby in 1536 would have survived… How would the entire reformation have been different? Especially if Queen Mary never had the chance to try to set back the clock.
Mary is an interesting character, too… How does your Anne feel about her stepdaughter? Is she ever able to make any progress with her?
Chanse: I don’t actually show Mary in the novel. There simply wasn’t time in the first novel since it was centered around Anne leaving Henry, escaping and giving birth to Elizabeth, which in the end is not Henry’s after all, but Guy Moore’s. I may have Mary show up in book 2, but I haven’t decided yet. From most of the research I have read, when Mary was little she wasn’t at court a whole lot because she was raised in her own separate household, so most of Anne’s contact with her would’ve been at holidays, or big events. I imagine Anne as a loving, caring mother because she tried so hard to always be a good Christian woman. In my mind, she cared about Mary, but because she wasn’t around her much she wouldn’t have had a deep connection with her as a mother/daughter relationship should be.
You do bring up a good point though, on what would have happened if that baby in 1536 had survived? Yes, I believe the reformation would have been affected. I believe Mary would’ve gone to war with that sibling to establish her own reign, and I believe she would’ve failed, causing even more bloodshed than she already had. It would’ve been brutal. And I think the reformation would have been a lot shakier and the church of England would have struggled a lot longer to take root and set down a firm foundation.
Lissa: You mentioned on your blog that viewers of the Tudors television series sometimes felt like they wanted to save Anne. I know when I was writing my book, I had the same temptation, because I would have loved to write a happy ending for her. Did you form an emotional attachment to Anne?
Chanse: Very much so. I identify with her in so many ways, because she’s passionate, intelligent, strong and resilient. I also see her as an alpha submissive, so I feel very attached to her, especially since that’s who I am in the BDSM lifestyle. I think she was very submissive to her husband, yet she had such a strong moral character she couldn’t ever let injustices happen while she stood by, so that’s when she would stand up and say something. I believe she knew when to speak up and when to hold her tongue. The sad part is that in the very end she lost that and lost her way. It was her own mouth that got her in trouble and sealed her fate. But at that point, she was depressed and had lost hope, feeling like a failure after miscarrying twice and knowing very well her duty was to provide a male heir. What woman in her day wouldn’t be crushed after promising this man for 7 years she would absolutely give him a son since Catherine, his first wife, failed at that? And here she was, failing at it, too. It would be devastating, so because of that, she lost faith and acted out.
Lissa: I think both Anne and Henry began their marriage believing they were blessed by God. Anne felt she’d been raised to this position by the lord to reform the Church, and Henry believed he would finally get his son. I believe their happiest period was between January and September 1533 – right after their marriage when Anne discovered she had become pregnant so quickly. During those short few months, everything must have seemed charmed.
I think when Elizabeth was born instead of that expected boy, it badly shook Henry’s faith in the idea their union was ordained by heaven itself. He rallied, saying it was no matter because the next one would be a boy, but he was shaken to his core. And then came the loss of the next two babies…
And for Anne, it had to be crushing, because, as she once said to Henry, she saw children as life’s greatest consolation. As a gentlewoman, her duty was to marry well, which she had, and to produce heirs, at which she failed. I’m sure the poor woman was bewildered as to why this was happening to her when everything had started with such promise.
Chanse: I agree completely, and I think is when she had nothing left to lose and she stopped caring. She became resentful and bitter, and her tongue got away from her. It was her mouth that sealed her fate. If she hadn’t been making fun of Henry behind his back with her friends and her brother, she probably would’ve have gone on to be his queen a lot longer. And most likely she would’ve produced that son he so desperately wanted.
What most people don’t understand about this time period and the pressure Anne was under, and Henry as well—up to this point no woman had ever ruled England (gives a new perspective on how amazing it is that his and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, ruled as long as she did on her own—that had never happened before). It was always a King, not a queen to reign supreme. Henry wanted to avoid another 100 years war that had taken place not too long before his reign. He wanted peace and stability, and the only way to guarantee that there would no future bickering over the throne was to have an heir.
And he knew firsthand one son was not enough. His brother Arthur was meant to be king, not Henry. He wasn’t actually raised to take the throne. He was basically the spare, throw away child. But Arthur got the sweating sickness at 15 years old, just after marrying Catherine of Aragon, and he died. Catherine survived the illness miraculously. Henry suddenly had to take on the role of future king as the younger brother. So, he knew from his own experience, if his parents had not had 2 sons, England would’ve been in a state of chaos over who the next king should be when his father died.
The other underlying fact that scared Henry VIII to death about not having a male heir was that his family’s original claim to the throne was very weak. They didn’t have much to stand on, but it was really given to his father, Henry VII, at the battle of Bosworth against King Richard III because Richard was despised by his people due to the belief that he had secretly murdered and hidden the bodies of his two prince nephews who were actually in line for the throne above him. Richard’s army turned against him in this battle and joined Henry’s forces, virtually giving Henry the crown and making him King because they hated Richard so much.
Henry VIII wanted to solidify this dynasty so there would be long standing peace. Anne knew all this as well, so there was a ton of pressure on her to produce male babies to keep things stable in the kingdom for now and later.
Lissa: Have you encountered history buffs who are offended or outraged that you’ve written Anne the way you have? I know I’ve encountered some heated arguments and very strong opinions about the historical figures I wrote about. I think it ties in to that emotional attachment we sometimes form with these people, or at least our interpretation of these people.
Chanse: Oddly enough, no, I haven’t. I kept thinking I’d get bashed like crazy because of it and get irate messages, but none ever came. I tend to get more of that when I write Henry the way I see him—as the good guy who was cornered into killing her and under tremendous pressure, being manipulated and backstabbed by his so called loyal advisers.
Most people feel bad for Anne and they sympathize with her, so really, I’m playing on that emotion that people already tend to have for her.
Lissa: I’ve encountered some people who are hostile to her. Some people essentially believe she was a home-wrecker who deserved what she got, and that she was vicious to Katharine and Mary. Fiction has had an enormous impact in that regard.
Do you think your readers will walk away seeing her in a new light?
Chanse: I hope so. I hope they see her for the innovative, inspired woman that she was. She never chased after the throne. Henry pursued her, but I can see why people might think she was a home-wrecker.
Lissa: Some people seem to credit her with a sort of supernatural foresight, like she knew from the outset his flirtation with her would end with her sitting on the throne. “I’ll bewitch the king with my charms, and I’ll refuse to become his mistress. This will inflame him with wild desire and make him even more determined to have me (even though he’s always courteously backed off when a lady refused him in the past). He’ll leave his wife for me - even though such a thing has never happened before. You’ll see. Ignoring him is only the first step in my very complex plan for taking the throne!”
It’s preposterous, but this is the notion that has stuck in some people’s minds. This idea that she was a creature of raw, ruthless ambition is one of the hardest myths about her to dispel.
Chanse: I agree, that this was not the case at all, yet many people believe this of her. She did not seek his advances or plot to ensnare him. She had another man she was in love with and wanted a future with.
Actually, I do have to point out that the idea he would leave his wife is very plausible because Henry’s sister had obtained a divorce very easily and so had other royal family members. It was a shock to Henry that he had to fight so hard for his divorce from Catherine. He clearly fully expected a divorce to be simple to obtain. Or at least simpler than it turned out being, so that idea of him divorcing Catherine wasn’t as foreign as we believe it was. The divorce was more of a political/religious statement by the Church to ensure their authority and ultimate power.
Anne deserves much more credit than she receives. She had a great impact on more than religion. She changed the way a lot of the entire country was run in terms of fresh water supply, delivery of it and sanitation. She was odd in her day because she bathed daily, and that was considered a way to open the pores of the skin and let in disease. She also influenced architecture, music, fashion and a whole myriad of other issues. It’s incredible that a woman who was only married to him for 3 years did that much. It’s no wonder Elizabeth was such a fabulous queen—she took after both her parents. It was in her blood to be intelligent, wise, thoughtful, and creative. Her country flourished because of her influence.
Lissa: Those things are often ignored in the “bitchy” portrayals of her, as is her generous charity. In fact, she might have been targeted by Cromwell because of her heated arguments with him that the money from the dissolved monasteries should go to building schools instead of into the king’s treasury.
Chanse: You’ve hit it right on the head. Cromwell was skimming off the top and a thief. Anne threatened what he was doing, so he was directly responsible for her downfall.
Lissa: How did you research the historical aspects of the novel?
Chanse: I have been studying them both for years, so I just dusted off a few books, but mostly my main source is the Anne Boleyn files online by Claire Ridgeway, and her book The Anne Boleyn Collection. She’s the only one I’ve found that I agree with 100% on who Anne actually was. Claire is a wealth of knowledge and dedicates much of her time to unearthing facts about Anne Boleyn and sharing what she finds. I have nothing but respect for her as an author and as an Anne Boleyn historian. I have various other resources I rely on heavily as well, but she’s the main one. Claire’s a godsend if you’re an Anne Boleyn fan and want to write about her or anyone she had contact with regularly in court.
Lissa: I love Claire Ridgeway! She has such an interesting blog.
The internet has been an amazing resource because all of these documents are now online and can be read as though you were there in person.
Chanse: It definitely makes it much less time consuming when there are fabulous websites like hers around with the facts there at a writer’s fingertips.
Lissa: Considering that so many people learn about history from fiction, did you feel any pressure to get the details right?
Chanse: Yes, I always take the historical facts very seriously, feeling pressured, and I always try to avoid twisting facts around if I can help it. If I do change them, I make sure to note it at the end of the novel so my readers know where I took liberties.
Lissa: You sound like me! When I submitted my manuscript, I had sixty pages of notes at the end. My publisher coaxed me into trimming out most of them. (“Really, Lissa, do we need a full bio of a character mentioned only twice in the whole novel?”) The material that came out became my Tudor blog. I can be as wordy and nerdy as I like there.
Did you run in to any of those issues when you were going through the editing process?
Chanse: I have tons and tons of notes, where I too, could write a whole new novel just on the research I did. But no. I kept my notes short so my reader’s didn’t have to wade through a lot of info. I knew most of them weren’t going to avid Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII fans like I am.
Lissa: That was something I really struggled with in the novel, because I had these lengthy explanation sections and my editor kept trying to gently nudge me back to the realm of fiction. I have a tendency to get wrapped up in this stuff and go off on tangents. It’s just so fascinating! But I know a lot of people are like, “Yes, yes, Lissa… no one cares how Henry VIII’s bathtub worked.”
Chanse: Haha! But I do. I loved knowing about the garderobe and how he was one of the first people ever to develop a hot shower. He was revolutionary in so many ways, and with modern day conveniences we take for granted on a daily basis. I also found it fascinating that his toilet seat was covered in red velvet. Wow. That would the life, right? Sitting on a plush, padded velvet toilet seat? Not to mention he had someone to wipe his said tushy afterward. I think I might pass on that part, though. Lol!
I’m in the same boat, though, Lissa. No one wants to hear me wax on about how he cleaned out the moats around his palaces and refused to let the kitchen staff dump refuse in the moats any longer, changed the plumbing from the latrines to empty into the Thames instead of into the moats to cut down on disease and pestilence and the horrific odor. He stocked the moats with fish and made sure the water source was kept clean. Then I have to explain to people this was why the river was so nasty because it was their sewer essentially. It stunk to high heaven, was brown in color, and Henry had to burn herbs and incense while on his royal barges and wear herbs on his person to deal with the putrid stench. But hey, people in court were not getting sick as often as they used to. See how genius he was and how he suffered for his people while traveling?
I find facts like these absolutely thrilling! It tickles my geek nerve in a huge way.
I would never want to be accused of teaching false history and having people believe made up stuff to be fact. It’s one of the reasons Philippa Gregory has gotten such flack for her book The Other Boleyn Girl—she took speculation on Mary Boleyn and passed it off as fact. She also did the same with George, their brother. That being said, I still enjoyed reading The Other Boleyn Girl, merely for the interesting story and excellent writing style.
Lissa: I tried to stress that I’m a fiction author, and I’m not claiming to be a historian - just someone who loves history. And the great thing about history is that there’s room for multiple interpretations and it leads to some great discussions.
Chanse: I try to do the same thing as well. Especially when I write Henry as I see him—as the good guy. When I present him that way I make sure people know this is merely my interpretation of the facts and my way of filling in some of the holes.
Lissa: BDSM is an interesting topic to explore in the context of the Tudor era, when women were expected to be submissive to men, and physical discipline of one’s spouse was considered to be spiritually beneficial. How does your male lead feel that he fits in with the culture of the era?
Chanse: I wrote Guy Moore as a Dom, trained and experienced enough he could mentor and teach other SHROAG agents how to be one as well. He has a different mindset than most of the other agents who take the easy way out. He wants to explore the women he has to bed. He wants to takes his time to know them, learn what turns them on so he can seduce them, then impregnate them. His theory is that if the woman falls for him and is loyal to him, they are less likely to miscarry and lose the baby. The other agents basically drugged the historical women they had to get pregnant and then just did what we’d basically call Invitro.
He fits in perfectly with the time period because he’s charismatic, cunning, suave, and in control of himself in all ways… Until he meets Anne. She stirs him up like no one else ever has, and we get to see him flounder a bit because she gets to him. A Dom would fit into the Tudor era perfectly. (By the way, I believe Henry VIII was absolutely a natural untrained Dom—no question in my mind…)
Lissa: Very interesting! I never really thought of him that way, but I certainly can see that aspect of his character.
Does submission come naturally to your Anne?
Chanse: Yes, submission comes completely naturally to my Anne. She doesn’t have to think about it, she just does it. It’s who she is. If you look at history, almost everything this woman ever did was to please Henry, unless she felt he was asking her to do something that would offend God. For example, being his mistress. She would never do that. But everything else she did was to please him and for the good of the country. Many people believe she had her own agenda, but that’s not really what the facts point to. The fact she actually turned to Catherine of Aragon for advice on how to spurn Henry’s advances, which most people are unaware that these two women were ever on good terms at all, shows she cared deeply for him and felt a sense of honor and duty to him. A submissive woman takes into account the Dom’s well-being because she wants to serve only him. She wants to nurture him, take care of him, make his life better and make him as happy as possible in all ways. So, even though it seems counter to his happiness to seek out Catherine’s help, it’s in fact all for him. She worried for his soul, and in the long run, that’s the happiness that mattered to her most.
Lissa: Obedience was something she was trained to her entire life, as all girls were of the era. Do you think if she was raised in our modern era she would still have the same submissiveness to her temperament, or do you think it was something that came from the way she was shaped by her upbringing?
I don’t think it was her upbringing. You can’t teach someone to be a submissive at that level she was. It’s something you either are or you aren’t. Just like you can’t really train a man who isn’t naturally dominant to be a Dom. It just doesn’t work.
Lissa: Certainly. I just wonder if the prevailing attitudes of her day created an environment where her natural submissiveness could flourish, and if she would have had more of a conflict with her nature in the modern day, where submission isn’t necessarily seen as a positive trait by society as it was then.
Chanse: Yes, it would on both accounts. It’s harder to be a submissive woman in our day because especially in the US we are expected to be out in the working world, totally in charge and independent, not needing a man, and being submissive is looked down and treated as being weak or inferior. In those days, yes, it was expected and the more outwardly meek and submissive a woman was, the more she was regaled and looked up to. Anne is interesting to me because the way she displayed her submissiveness was very different than most around her. She was what we call an alpha submissive. It means she’s a very strong willed personality, and she doesn’t give her submission easily. It has to be earned by going through a lot of rigors and passing tests if you will. Henry did that by the way he fought for her, so her devotion to him was unreal. On a whole new level.
A good example of what I’m referring to is if you look at the rest of Henry VIII’s wives, with similar backgrounds and upbringings, they didn’t act the way she did—not to the degree she did.
Lissa: Anna von Kleefes, especially. It took Henry about five minutes to discover this was not a woman who was going to suit his temperament!
What made Henry most unusual was that he had a very modern outlook to romance and relationships. He wanted to be happy and fulfilled and wanted out of his relationships if he wasn’t. I’m sure the court, filled with people who married virtual strangers for status or money and got along the best they could, were utterly bewildered by this attitude.
Chanse: They were indeed. He was very odd in that way. You married for political alliances and to further advance your children. He almost slapped people in the face with the way he fought for love and disgraced the women he did not have a connection with. You provided a perfect example of that. He needed a particular kind of submissive woman in addition to having love be a part of the relationship.
Even Jane Seymour, who many think of as mousy and completely submissive, did not serve him the way Anne did. She mostly kept to what she knew she ought to do. She was a strong woman in her own right, don’t get me wrong, but there is nothing there to point to her being a submissive in my mind.
Lissa: I see Jane Seymour as a much more complex woman than she gets credit for being. Yes, she was outwardly obedient, but I think there was a lot more going on behind those downcast eyes than most would suspect. She’s an enigma. She was queen for such a short time, and apparently, people didn’t find her as interesting as Anne and so she wasn’t watched and reported on with the same avidity. But we do get a few glimpses. She had a strong sense of identity and tried to establish herself as Anne’s opposite. She had ambitions of her own, such as trying to reestablish Princess Mary in the king’s favor, and making political suggestions until the king darkly warned her to take notice of what happened to the last woman who meddled in his affairs. She was smart enough to keep her head down after that, and had she lived after her little prince was born, I think she would have established herself more firmly as a political presence in Henry’s court. She was bold and firm, but within the “obedient” framework of Tudor womanhood.
Chanse: I agree. Jane was a magnificent woman. Very powerful in her own right, intelligent in many ways. She knew exactly how to co-exist in peace and yet find ways to move her own agendas forward.
I didn’t mean to slight her, only point out that she is not what I would call a submissive in the BDSM sense of the term, but Anne is—absolutely. There’s a difference in how they served, where their attention was at and how they thrived in their roles. They are very opposite in many ways, and Jane does not fit the mold of a Dominant’s submissive the way Anne does. I’m sure there will be many to disagree with me, but I have my reasons for believing this.
Lissa: I’ve always gotten the impression that Henry was somewhat conflicted and frustrated in his desires. Maybe that plays into your theory that he was an untrained dominant, and today, he’d be able to find guidance that would let him express his desires in a healthy way.
Chanse: Yes, that’s exactly what I think. If he had born today, he would not have been conflicted and frustrated at all about his desires. He would have found the means to express what was in his soul in a very healthy way, and he would’ve had the peace he deserved.
Lissa: Do you intend to write about other historical characters in the SHROAG series?
Chanse: Yes. In fact, in the second book the main character is Nicholas Carew, and we get to see his journey, and how he becomes an active SHROAG agent. He’s a natural Dom as well, but with a very different personality from Guy. Nicholas Carew was Henry VIII’s squire of the king’s body. It was a very coveted position, and it meant you were highly trusted and favored by the king. He was also a very close friend to Henry. His position at court meant he had his constant ear, so Nicholas Carew was a very powerful man in his own right. He was also said to be quite the ladies’ man in his day. He’s another character I have become fascinated with during Henry’s reign, and once again, I wondered what would have happened to his man if he hadn’t been put on trial and beheaded in 1539, three years after Anne.
There will be more scenes with Elizabeth I along the way, and William Shakespeare may make an appearance as well. I haven’t decided for certain on his involvement in the story yet, since that’s still being worked out in my head. There may be others that pop up from Henry’s court like Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and maybe Anne’s parents and siblings as well. But other than that, there won’t be any other historical figures. I may, however, in book two use current politicians because that story gets involved with American government. But again, I’m still hashing out those details in my head, so I don’t have anyone definitively that I could name.
Chanse Lowell grew up in the desert southwest and still lives there with her children. She’s addicted to five things—her Daddy Dom, learning more about the BDSM lifestyle, reading erotica, writing erotica and sandwiches with a side of erotica to aid with digestion before she’s tied up in black silk ropes and teased endlessly by her Sir. She grew up watching programs with science fiction and historical fiction themes, and enjoys combining her three favorite genres, creating a new breed of novel with scifi, historical and smut sandwiched in the middle.