What would you sacrifice for your best friend?
Would you die for her?
Meg Wyatt has been Anne Boleyn’s closest friend since they grew up together on neighboring manors in Kent. So when twenty-five-year-old Anne’s star begins to ascend, of course she takes Meg along for the ride.
Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling… at first. Meg is made mistress of Anne’s wardrobe, and she enjoys the spoils of this privileged orbit and uses her influence for good. She is young and beautiful and in favor; everyone at court assumes that being close to her is being close to Anne.
But favor is fickle and envy is often laced with venom. As Anne falls, so does Meg, and it becomes nearly impossible for her to discern ally from enemy. Suddenly life’s unwelcome surprises rub against the court’s sheen to reveal the tarnished brass of false affections and the bona fide gold of those that are true. Both Anne and Meg may lose everything. When your best friend is married to fearsome Henry VIII, you may soon find yourself not only friendless but headless as well.
A rich alchemy of fact and fiction, To Die For chronicles the glittering court life, the sweeping romance, and the heartbreaking fall from grace of a forsaken queen and Meg, her closest companion, who was forgotten by the ages but who is destined to live in our hearts forever.
I don’t think I am ever going to get tired of reading Anne Boleyn’s story. I know her story, beginning, middle, and end, and yet I still keep picking up novels related to her life. Not unexpectedly then did Sandra Byrd’s To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn catch my attention. I set upon this historical fiction read expecting what I have read in many other accounts of Anne Boleyn’s life; what I found was something wholly different and exciting.
To Die For opens in 1518, with Anne Boleyn still a maiden living in her father’s home. She is but a child and often found dallying with her best and most loyal friend, Meg Wyatt. The two girls are young, naïve, and living only for the moment when their respective father’s will make them a marriage match both agreeable and beneficial. For Anne, there is little concern this will happen as she is smart, beautiful, and from a respected and wealthy family bordering on noble. Meg Wyatt on the other hand is also intelligent and quite lovely but her family is neither as wealthy nor noble as Anne’s. Neither girl can imagine the journey they are to embark on in the ensuing years.
Byrd recounts what is historically known about Anne Boleyn’s life but is one of the very few authors who does not make Anne out to be a conniving, scheming, and heartless bitch bent only on achieving her own goals and desires. Instead, as Byrd traces the events of Anne’s life she takes care to present her as an intelligent girl who unfortunately falls prey to the desires of a man significantly more powerful and persuasive than herself. Anne is presented as a girl who well and truly loved Henry Tudor and wished nothing more than to be by his side and please him with the birth of a male heir. Furthermore, Byrd goes even further and presents Henry (as I have always imagined he was) as a grown and selfish child who repeatedly set aside or killed those he thought could no longer further his plans or fulfill his desires. As we well know, Anne was one of those who fell from Henry’s favor.
As Anne’s story progresses, she is attended almost constantly by her long-time friend Meg Wyatt. In her own way, Meg is just as tragic as Anne and is often subject to the whims of the men in her life – if she is parted from Anne, it is due to one of those whims. Meg feels called to be by Anne’s side and truly believes it is her duty to advise and guide Anne as well as to protect her at every turn. In many ways, Meg is far, far more intelligent and insightful than Anne and warns her friend of the trouble she will face at Henry’s side. Unfortunately, even Meg’s guidance will not be enough to save Anne from her fate.
The Bottom Line: I enjoyed this reading and accounting of Anne Boleyn’s life and very much appreciate that Byrd took care to present Anne as something more than she is often presented in historical fiction. I also appreciate that Byrd does not expound on every moment of lust and sex between Henry and Anne but focuses more on the issue at hand, the conversion of England from Catholicism to the Protestant faith which made Anne’s marriage to Henry possible. Bound in all of this is Meg Wyatt, a character who, to the very end remained loyal to her friend. Byrd has made sure to entwine Meg’s story with Anne’s thus creating a far more interesting account of these events. For those who are as fascinated by Anne Boleyn as I am, I heartily recommend this read as it is a refreshingly new view of an old story.