My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Anne of Cleves was the most unlikely of all of Henry VIII’s wives. She did not especially want to be queen, she was not physically beautiful, and she was rather forced upon him in order to produce an heir. Yet, along with Katherine of Aragon, she is a wife to which Henry should have cleaved to permanently. She is also my favorite. The first time I learned of her and found out that she was from a territory that is now the Netherlands, she had a special place in this Dutch heart of mine. Therefore, when I first heard of this novel on Reading Adventures, I new that I had to read it. I couldn’t have been more pleased when a wonderful co-worker of mine gave it to me for my birthday. Thank you, Poorna!
From the beginning, Barnes covers the known facts about the search for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne’s betrothal, her first regrettable moments with Henry, their short marriage, and swift divorce deftly. As much as I loved The Boleyn Inheritance, it is the author’s interpretation of those events that make this novel such a delight to read. For example, Barnes’ Anne did not want to leave her country, her family, or her people. This is just as well because her sister Amelia was prettier and was excited by the prospect of becoming queen. To her surprise, Hans Holbien, the artist sent to paint the portraits of the royal daughters of Cleves saw a beauty in her that most missed. The way this quality was painted is exactly what captured Henry’s eye. Unfortunately, Henry couldn’t see that when they met in person. The way in which the events surrounding their divorce played out in this novel was interesting and this view of Anne was endearing. I like to think of her in this way.
There was one lost opportunity in this novel. After Henry chooses Anne, we next find her on her journey to England. We do not experience how the news of Henry’s choice impacts Anne, her family, or the people she serves. We do not see her leave her home for the last time. We do not see how being overlooked by a king affected Amelia. As Anne’s life in England as it pertains to the throne are well known, it is precisely those missing details that would really grab and inspire my imagination. Certainly I can make up my own scenes, but I read historical fiction to have those undocumented moments come alive on the page. This was a minor drawback. It did not keep me from enjoying this novel at all. Still, the mild disappointment over what could have been, especially with an author so skilled, remains with me.
My Lady of Cleves is a novel I will always cherish. She was a strong woman who had to work hard to overcome her looks, which always felt like a shortcoming to her. I can’t quite place my finger on a specific passage, but Chapters 17 and 18 were beautiful in the way in which they depict the turning point in Anne’s life. What was accomplished there made the novel and solidified Anne’s place in my heart among Henry’s wives. She deserved the freedom and solitude that she found at Richmond. I’d wager that she was the only woman deeply involved with Henry who died happy and content with her life. I am glad that the author chose to bring Anne to the forefront. Historical figures do not have to be tyrants or tarts to be compelling. Sometimes a heroine with just a dash of fire when scorned is exactly what is needed to satisfy. This novel is a must for Tudor fans, but would be a delight for any reader.
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