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Anna of Kleve, the Princess in the Portrait…
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Anna of Kleve, the Princess in the Portrait

by Alison Weir

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Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is another brilliant addition to the Six Tudor Queens series by historian Alison Weir. This is the fourth historical fiction novel in the series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

The Author's Note is quick to inform the reader that Anne of Cleves actually signed her name 'Anna'. She also tells us that Henry VIII came to refer to her Anna, informing her decision to refer to her as Anna in this novel. Furthermore, Kleve is the German name of her town and Duchy, while Cleves is the anglicised form. Therefore, in order to be historically accurate, Anna should be referred to as Anna von Kleve. Who knew?

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve and I predict it will be a polarising one for fans of Tudor history. I was open to an alternate storyline and wasn't scandalised by what the author has proposed here. Besides, historians can't be 100% sure about the secrets of a life lived in the 1500s - especially when it comes to women - as so little was recorded and much less has survived the ravages of time.

What is agreed, is that there has been much speculation that at the time of wedding Anna of Kleve, King Henry VIII was suffering from impotence. It has been posited that the reason the King didn't consummate their marriage is that he couldn't muster the will.

My favourite episode from The Tudors TV show is the night after King Henry is supposed to have consummated his marriage with Anna of Kleve. Cromwell asks the King: “How does your Majesty like the Queen?”

He replies: “Surely My Lord, I didn’t like her very much before and I like her much worse now. She is nothing fair and she has evil smells about her. And I know she’s no maid because of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens. So I had neither the will nor the courage to prove the rest. I have no appetite for unpleasant airs. I left her as good a maid as I found her.”

In the Author's Note, Alison Weir tells us more about what was actually said, and it wasn't much different.

On the morning after his wedding night, the King told Thomas Cromwell: "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse, for I have felt her belly and her breasts, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid, which so strake me to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters."

For weeks afterwards, he made similar complaints to others, saying he "plainly mistrusted her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her belly and breasts and other tokens", and stating, "I have left her as good a maid as I found her." Page 488
Of course, much has also been made of the portrait of Anna of Kleve painted by Hans Holbein and whether it was a true representation or not. This is also covered in the novel, as is the possibility King Henry didn't find Anna attractive as she wasn't skilled in dancing or playing music, which was much desired in a lady of her status at an English court.

Prior to reading Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, my knowledge extended only as far as the King having their arranged marriage annulled and Anna being known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. I've always admired that Anna seemed to deem it safer to acquiesce to King Henry's demands than to protest.

In Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, we stay with her beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and her own death a decade later in 1557. I enjoyed reading and learning about the rest of her life, which I hadn't explored in fiction until now.

The proposed love affair between Anna and her cousin is bound to cause controversy, however the author makes a good argument for the relationship in her Author's Note.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series and am already looking forward to the next one. No doubt it'll be the story of Catherine Howard and I know I'll be in Alison Weir's expert hands once again.

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia * ( )
1 vote Carpe_Librum | May 14, 2019 |
The novel was sent to me by the publisher Ballantine Books/Random House via Netgalley. Thank you.

Because Henry VIII’s fourth marriage was purely political it does not appear to have the same drama as his other marriages. Yet, in Alison Weir’s biographical novel Anna of Kleve, The Princess in the Portrait, the author infuses this queen with personality and strength. Weir uses her German title, rather than the more familiar Anne of Cleves throughout the book.

Anna was raised in a very rigid court where she and her sister were expected to learn the skills of the perfect German noblewoman. Education is deemed an unnecessary waste of a girl’s time when she should be concentrating on needlework, cooking so she could run a perfect kitchen, and mastering other housewifely skills in anticipation of keeping her noble husband comfortable and happy. Art and music were frivolous and there was no need to develop an entertaining conversational manner since she would remain a silent single woman until she married when she would defer to her husband at all times. Her ideas and thoughts would remain private. Her knowledge of the marriage bed would be innocent. Nevertheless, Anna loved her family, the court, and her country She was both excited and afraid when, at 24, she was contracted to the much married king of England based on a portrait by Holbein and her valued reputation.

Weir takes her princess to the English court where her shining prince is actually an obese middle-aged man in constant pain from a leg covered in smelly, weeping wounds. Anna has to navigate a society which counteracts everything she has been taught. Her formal clothes are too German; her manners too crude; her social skills nonexistent. Still, if Henry does not find her the beauty he expected, he slowly begins to appreciate her honesty, loyalty, and kindness.

Weir illustrates just how treacherous Anna’s life was. She has to stay true to her Catholic faith while accepting Henry’s split with Rome and she has to ignore the fact that reformers believe her to be sympathetic to the reformers and followers of Luther. She has made enemies even before she sets foot on English soil….men who would sacrifice her to see a member of their own family as queen. One step wrong on her part and she could be sent back to Kleve in disgrace with the alliance between the countries in shatters or worse, she could suffer the fate of Boleyn. For the years she is in England, both as queen and as the beloved “sister” of the king, she has to be wary. At any hint of scandal, she could be cut off without a penny and her retinue would be destitute even as she is expected, somehow, to keep a quality establishment.

Anna in this book is charming, clever, and inventive. Weir bases her heroine on extensive research, diaries, letters, and court records. I found the account fascinating. Although I enjoyed it, I was less able to accept the substantial subplot with Anna’s cousin Otho. In her author’s notes, Weir explains why she added to Anna’s story and that she realized that the plot would be controversial. I agree that it humanized Anna, but I think her story really did not need it.

This is a very interesting and fast-moving story. ( )
  Liz1564 | May 11, 2019 |
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