Writing the concubine: Anne Boleyn, Eustace Chapuys and popular historiography in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy

Journal article


Saxton, L.. (2023). Writing the concubine: Anne Boleyn, Eustace Chapuys and popular historiography in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. Rethinking History. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2023.2269825
AuthorsSaxton, L.
Abstract

Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to Henry VIII’s court, is a vital source for historians of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second queen. His writings are detailed and numerous, but they are also partisan and provocative – particularly in his descriptions of Boleyn. Historians must consider his writings carefully and contextualise his accounts. This article argues that historical novelists also have the capacity to incorporate historiographical analysis into their fictional narratives using the tools of their own craft, such as characterisation and focalisation. The inclusion of Chapuys as a character offers an opportunity for metafictional engagement with historiography and the process of writing historical novels. This capacity is evident in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy and the article offers a close textual analysis of her representation of Chapuys. It will compare Mantel’s approach to three novels which preceded Wolf Hall’s publication: Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Emily Purdy’s The Tudor Wife, and Suzannah Dunn’s The Queen of Subtleties. As neo-historical fiction, Mantel’s novels are authentic in their representation but also exhibit a scepticism toward the possibility of obtaining historical knowledge. Mantel’s representation of Chapuys speaks to this tension; she engages directly with his evidence while emphasising the flaws of its production.

KeywordsHistorical fictionneo-historical fictionpopular historiography; Tudorism;Hilary Mantel; Philippa Gregory; Suzannah Dunn; Emily Purdy
Year2023
JournalRethinking History
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2023.2269825
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Print29 Oct 2023
Publication process dates
Deposited23 Feb 2024
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