RE­CLAIM­ING

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.

S/ - - CULTURE -

“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.

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