Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait, by Alison Weir

Nine stars

Alison Weir returns with yet another novel in her Six Tudor Queens series, turning the attention to one of the lesser known (and seemingly, least scandalous) queens. Anna of Kleve served a brief time on the Tudor throne, but much about her differed greatly from the other wives of Henry VIII. Anna grew up in the House of La Marck, part of Germany, and was tied to the Duchy of Kleve. Her family ruled the region effectively and ensured that the princess had all she could want. A chance encounter with a cousin led to a scandalous event in the early 1530s, one about which only a few were aware, though it marked Anna deeply. As the years passed, Anna could not help but wonder what might come of her life, though she did have a loose betrothal to a local prince, but nothing was ever solidified. When news arrived from England that King Henry VIII was looking to make strong political ties with Kleve, which could include a wedding, Anna was a likely candidate to secure the union. Sending a miniature portrait to secure the king’s favour, Anna waited to see if she would be invited to Court and potentially made the new wife in the Tudor realm. A delayed arrival in England saw Anna accepted, though neither Princess Anna nor King Henry seemed ready for what was to come. Her wedding delayed for political reasons—said to be tied to her potential betrothal back in Germany—and then a wedding night that proved disastrous, Anna was left to wonder if this was a huge mistake. However, she sought to bring forth children for the king, in hopes of not ending up like his past wives. Health and seeming impotence impeded any marital congress, which turned out to be the out King Henry sought to annul the marriage. Anna was left shocked and completely beside herself, but was not sent off or scorned by Henry. Rather, she was given all the amenities that one might expect of a dear family member and given the title of ‘Sister of the Queen’. However, there were still issues, particularly with her small retinue, as she was no longer respected. Henry had moved on to a new (and spritely) wife, leaving Anna to bide her time and turn to those she knew back in Kleve to provide much needed attention. In the final years of her life, Anna saw significant changes to the House of Tudor and of England’s foundation, which would dramatically flavour the path forward. By the end of her life, Anna had shown herself as a respected member of the English Court, even if she was not active in affairs. Recounting many little-known facts about Anna and her years after being queen, Weir dazzles the reader with stories, some factual and others completed fabricated, to tell of the most unique—read: bizarre— of the six wives. A stellar piece of work that will keep the reader enthralled throughout. Recommended to all those who love Weir’s work and especially those who enjoy all things Tudor!

It is always a pleasure to see a new piece by Alison Weir, as I am permitted the chance to learn something while being entertained. This Six Tudor Queens series has proven helpful in fuelling my passion for all things Tudor while also introducing me to a great deal more information about which I had no idea. Anna of Kleve is the queen about whom I know the least, though Weir made sure to fill the book with much that left me wondering and racing for the ‘author’s historical note’. Anna began life as a naive princess, overcome by the wiles of an older relative, but still kept the secret in order not to stain her family. Her use as a pawn in the England-Kleve political alliance seems not to have soured her resolve to make the most of her responsibility, as she knowingly and voluntarily loved Henry VIII as best she could. Tossed into quite the quagmire, Anna was left to fend for herself when demeaned by Henry and his advisors, but did not become a shrinking violet (rose?) for the latter years of her life. Seeking to move on, she grew in personality and resolve, as Weir depicts throughout. There are the usual characters who fill the pages of the novel effectively, from King Henry through to the lowest servants, all of whom add a flavour to this fourth novel in the series. The reader is even able to see ahead, looking at the final two queens chosen after Anna was tossed to the side. The premise of the story is intriguing, offering up some interesting facts that I knew nothing about before, including in the opening chapters of the book. Weir is one who always spins a tale, adding fiction into her factual findings and creates an effective final product that will keep the reader wondering. I cannot wait to see what else is to come, with two queens yet to receive their own novels. I know Weir will keep her readers enthralled, though I will have to wait until next spring for the next instalment.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful novel. I thoroughly enjoy your writing and all you bring to the story.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: