Marketing vs. Truth, History in the Amazon Era

Marketing vs. Truth, History in the Amazon Era

Video Credit: Stewart Davenport (YouTube)

David McCullough, so deservedly honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is an American treasure. As he openly admits, the Yale educated English major is not a traditional academic historian. Instead, McCullough is exceptionally gifted with exquisite writing and story-telling, combined with deep exploration of original sources in search of the truth — the truth speaking to the lives of real people — people who carved intriguing and remarkable lives in a world long before us.

These multi-faceted gifts not only brought history alive for generations of Americans, it also sparked what at first was a novel but now is a far more common approach to teaching history to ordinary people around the world — that’s right, people like us. The finest teaching historians show the life stories of those who came before us through their deeds, words, letters, and writings — as well as those of their contemporaries. They highlight the life struggles of those researched, along with the world around them. They put the reader right there in time and place. There is no need for “opinions” or “academic disputes”. Gifted history writers tell intriguing and thought-provoking stories, real life stories carved from their research of contemporary sources, and to a lesser degree, those esteemed historians who came before them.

Nearly ten years ago, I was given a cherished gift from my friend Colleen Daly. An avid history lover and accomplished web designer, Colleen owned a domain name she purchased and tucked away before The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors reinvigorated the popularity, intrigue, and mystique of Queen Anne Boleyn. Knowing that some friends and I were looking for a forum to highlight our admittedly novice history writing, Colleen offered to donate her time and talent to create and host a website, one with the domain name she once had hidden away,

As John F. Kennedy once shared, influenced by a simple Bible verse,  “For of those to whom much is given much is required.” Thus, a wonderful gift from a friend turned into a vision and mission to highlight all that is wonderful about history through not only my writing, but primarily and far more abundantly through the work freely given by esteemed historians, historical fiction writers, and other lovers of Tudor History. The most common topics on the website? The answers are obvious: Queen Anne Boleyn, her family, her husband, her daughter, her mentors, her friends, her allies, her rivals and her enemies. Our Contributors Page tells the story. From Nathan Amin to Sarah Gristwood to Leanda de Lisle to Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, history lovers, authors and poets shared their expertise, many with an acute knowledge, respect, love and admiration for Queen Anne Boleyn, her reputation as a remarkable and brilliant women of British and World History repeatedly rehabilitated over, over and over again. Need proof? Here you go —>> Queen Anne Boleyn: Guest Writers


Imagine my surprise then to learn Anne Boleyn, 500 Years of Lies was nearing publication, a book stated as a “correctional biography” highlighting “the uncensored truth about Anne Boleyn”. Author Hayley Nolan proclaims, “Every lie exposed about Anne Boleyn is backed up by fact and hardened evidence that has been kept from the general public at large.” After all, “the truth has been there all along, cherry-picked out to manipulate your perception of Anne Boleyn.” Who knew all this? Who is hiding the truth? Claire Ridgway? Leanda de Lisle? Amy Licence? Tracy Borman? Elizabeth Norton? Lauren Mackay? Diarmaid MacCulloch? (Well, at least his most recent biography was about Cromwell.) Susan Bordo? Alison Weir, whose biography of Mary Boleyn was burned in a video marketing stunt concocted by Hayley Nolan? Dare I say, Eric Ives?

Evidently, the “truth” does not lie with Queen Anne Boleyn’s or her contemporaries’ biographers, but instead with Amazon — yes that Amazon, the only business in the world that can get the Unites States Postal Service to deliver on Sundays. And that right there is the issue. We are moving from the brilliance of nuanced real-life story telling of history writers like David McCullough to history marketing madness… and very clever marketing at that, marketing that demonizes any historian that speaks up through threatening letters and quite literally censure. And just who is being censured here? Queen Anne Boleyn or her biographers? Through the juggernaut that is Amazon, Anne Boleyn by their estimation, of course. That now stated and set aside, in contrast, to disagree, to provide critical analysis, to simply state the facts, to even share this editorial — in short anyone, especially a respected historian or historical fiction writer, who objects to this book objects to the “real and honest truth” about Anne Boleyn. How brilliant a marketing ploy is that?

It is not my intention or inclination to provide a review Anne Boleyn, 500 Years of Lies. Others have already spoken to the flamboyant and inflammatory writing, the dire lack of contemporary sources, the crediting to Anne Boleyn the work of others (Cromwell? Are you kidding me?), the repeated penchant to view a 16th century woman through 21st century sensibilities, and the flat-out historical inaccuracies. Interesting enough, you will not find a single historian among them, unless a few are in hiding. Nor will you find a single historian championing this book. In our close and supportive “Tudor World” where “paying it forward” is not only common practice but a cherished value, that speaks volumes. Through the silence of Queen Anne Boleyn’s greatest champions, we hear them roar.

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.