Renowned historian and author Alison Weir gives female figures from the past a voice in her upcoming series of novels that bring six of England’s most iconic queens—the ill-fated wives of Henry VIII—to life. Sienna Vittoria Lee-Coughlin reports.
“the biggest-selling female historian in the United Kingdom,” Alison Weir doesn’t believe in rewriting history. Recently, popular books, films, and television shows like The Tudors have fostered much interest in some of history’s most important characters—and in particular, the often underrepresented female ones. Anne Boleyn, for example, has become a virtual superstar, and some have come to see her as a feminist icon. But the tendency of pop culture’s greatest hits to skew historical details in order to boost a story’s entertainment value has its risks. “I worry that the distinction between history and fiction is breaking down,” says Weir. “There is no justification in playing fast and loose with the facts,” she says. "And I don’t subscribe to the view that any history is better than no history.”
Weir has a number of published historical works under her belt: a comprehensive genealogical tome on Britain’s royal families and numerous biographies on historical female figures, from medieval monarchs like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France, to royal mistresses like Katherine Swynford and Mary Boleyn (the other Boleyn girl, immortalized in recent years by Scarlett Johansson in the film rendition of Philippa Gregory’s popular novel). However, it was discovering frustrating gaps in the history of Eleanor of Aquitaine—one of Europe’s most wealthy and powerful women of the 12th century—that inspired the historian to dabble in fiction, a genre that allowed Weir the creative freedom to fill in the missing pieces of this important story.