Laura Saxton

Date of Submission



Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, has been the subject of fictional and nonfictional historical narratives since her execution in 1536. Although already a contentious figure for her role in Henry VIII’s annulment of his first marriage and England’s ensuing break from the Roman Catholic Church, the nature of her death ensured that she would become a focus of examination, intrigue and scrutiny. This fascination is, in part, fuelled by limited primary source materials, particularly from Boleyn’s perspective; there is an accepted, familiar narrative of her life that is defined by landmark events, however we cannot know precisely how she experienced these events. The reasons for her death are unclear because conclusive evidence confirming either her guilt or her innocence is yet to be uncovered. This combination of fascination and ambiguity means that Anne Boleyn is an apt case study for a consideration of the tensions between history and fiction that appear in all historical narratives. In recent decades, postmodern historiography has highlighted the literary qualities of histories, and scholars such as Hayden White have drawn attention to the narrativisation, emplotment and characterisation that occur in both fictional and non-fictional histories. The role of the historian as author—rather than as objective observer—has been integral to such scholarship. This study examines ten twenty-firstcentury historical narratives, encompassing a range of historical writing, including academic histories, popular biographies, historiographic metafiction and historical fiction. In spite of variations in style, audience, genre and veracity, each of the focus texts constructs both a characterisation of Boleyn and a narrative of her life. A close textual analysis of these narratives reveals that there are representational techniques and practices that are shared by the authors, regardless of their claims to authenticity and accuracy. Thus, the thesis rejects the apparent disjuncture between fictional and non-fictional histories on the basis of their capacity to relate truth, and argues that these texts should each be considered examples of historical writing.


School of Arts

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


281 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts