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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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The Blackened Heart (Six Tudor Queens #1.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir has set about on a new venture, a series about the six wives of Henry VIII. Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by intersperse the novels with short stories that bridge them better together. This piece introduces the reader to Margery Orwell, an energetic young girl who was sent to work for Sir John and Lady Peche. There, Margery learns how to serve and act as a lady while honing her skills about being around those of importance. While in the employ of the Peches, she finds herself interacting with young men: dancing, carrying on, and finally in a tryst that sees her with child. After Sir Peche helps her with the predicament, Margery is sent to court with a recommendation to serve Queen Katherine. There, Margery discovers that the Tudor Court is like nothing she has ever seen, especially with the philandering Henry VIII roaming around. When Katherine learns that the King wishes to annul their marriage, she refuses to accept it, which also goes for her retinue of ladies-in-waiting. Margery stands by her Queen, even as Katherine is banished to a rural dwelling. Staying with Katherine through it all, Margery makes a shocking discovery one day in the market. As she returns to spend time with Katherine, Margery is able to stand tall, knowing that she has made the right choice when it comes to the politics of Tudor marriages, even if many at Court refuse to admit the same. Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known characters in the larger Tudor saga. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for the writing style Alison Weir uses, especially as she pens pieces about the Tudors. While many may know of these six wives Henry VIII took, there are those characters who stood in the shadows, while still being highly important. Margery Otwell was one, with a passion to learn balanced with the inevitable curiosity of teenage womanhood. Even as Margery finds herself in a bind, she refuses to give up and is able to ascend to the Tudor Court and in a position to serve Queen Katherine. Many of the others who find themselves on the pages of this short story influence the narrative and add flavour to an already strong piece. The curious reader will find much of interest within this story, weaving together interesting bits of Tudor history, though Weir remains coy about just how much is fact over fiction. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series has begun with a strong foundation and is sure to remain riveting, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful story that connects two of the strongest wives of Henry VIII. I can only imagine there is a great deal more to come with future publications.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Arthur: Prince of the Roses (Six Tudor Queens #0.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

As Alison Weir tackles her latest book series about the six wives of Henry VIII, she has chosen to intersperse them with some short stories that bridge these books with some of the lesser-known characters whose actions played a role in the respective queen’s life. The first of these is a preface book to the series all about Prince Arthur, the heir to the English Throne who was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon. The birth of Arthur was highly symbolic, uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York, as well as their ‘roses’. Arthur came to represent this unity and was expected to be a strong start to a Tudor dynasty. As a young boy, he was quite precocious, asking questions and learning from those around him. When his father thought him old enough, Arthur was taken around the kingdom to learn of all its holdings, as well as being primed to hold the title of Prince of Wales. Arthur was always aware of his younger brother, Henry, who was just as curious but also mischievous. At a time when political unions were strengthened through marriage, Arthur was told of an arrangement with the Spanish, who would send Katherine, ‘the infanta’, to help in a tumultuous Europe. While he waited, Arthur fell ill, coughing and being forced to bed for a period of time. His parents worried that he might not be well enough to meet his betrothed, but Arthur was determined to do so. When the infanta was called upon, after arriving from Spain, Arthur and his father made their way to her chambers for that ever-important first meeting. What followed has long been documented in the history books and occurs as the story ends. A brilliant launch to the Six Queens series, this prequel short story whets the appetite of the curious reader. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for Alison Weir’s writing, as well as all things Tudor. From non-fiction to fictional accounts of this English House through to television programmes that straddle both entertainment and documentary foci. Weir is able to develop a great story in short order with this piece, injecting a great focus on Prince Arthur and his early years. Arthur is shown to be a curious child who grown and becomes aware that he is truly the symbol of English calmness and perhaps the savour to all warring in the country. Paired off as a teenager, Arthur has little time to process the act before he is thrust to meet his bride, the infanta, later known in history as Katherine of Aragon. Weir keeps her narrative strong and brief, setting the scene effectively while adding some presumptive dialogue to keep the reader interested. The story paves the way for what is sure to be a wonderful opening novel in the Six Queens series which (spoiler) sees Arthur pass away and sets his younger brother Henry on a martial warpath to appease his every need. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series will surely develop into being a powerful collection of novels, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for a stunning piece that packs a punch in a handful of pages. I am eager to see how you develop things in all your writings within this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Unhappiest Lady in Christendom (Six Tudor Queens #3.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Alison Weir’s novels, particularly those related to the Tudors, I was so pleased to hear of the Six Queens series. While Weir is a master at taking fact and fictionalising it on occasion to create novels, I was even more excited to hear that she would add some short stories to bridge the major novels in the collection. I came across this piece and devoured it in a single setting, having recently read the third book in the series, centring around Queen Jane. In this short story, Jane has just died and Princess Mary takes the narrative role. Mary explores her own sentiments about the death of her step-mother who worked so hard to calm sentiments between King Henry VIII and his eldest daughter. With the death of the queen, Mary must wonder if her return to Court will be short lived or if it might be a new and prosperous future for her. With Mary and Elizabeth comes a new child, Edward, who is heir to the throne. However, as a newborn, there is little he can do for the time being. The King has waited just long enough to mourn the death of his wife of seventeen months before realising that he needs another heir and must marry again. Questions arise as to where he might find a new wife, turning to political ties to strengthen the Protestant cause. While Mary worries about how this might dilute her Catholic background, she worries more about how her own life may be seriously harmed. Those around her remain sycophantic to the king, who seeks a wife rather than basking in the love that Jane brought him. When a potential wife is found in Germany, Mary can only hope that this Princess Anna of Cleves will prove a decent step-mother, even if she is only a year older and likely nowhere near as wise as Mary has been while remaining in England. Recommended for those who enjoy Weir’s work and have a soft spot for all things Tudor.

Weir never disappoints, even when she has a limited time to present her work. I found myself able to devour this piece quickly, yet noticed all the information jammed into the story. Offering things up from the perspective of Mary, recently welcomed back to Court, was a genius way of bridging the Jane and Anne marriages to Henry VIII. I had not given as much thought to the change in role that Mary had under Jane’s short reign, though hindsight has provided me many new ideas on the subject. Weir shows that Mary worries about her own future marriage to a worthwhile prince, surely sullied by her father’s ongoing shelving her and giving her a ‘bastard’ moniker. The Court is also going through many transitions, such that the key players close to Henry VIII are forced to shift their mindset to yet another round of irrational thoughts. The story may have been brief, but Weir packs a punch and keeps readers hooked throughout, pining for the release of the next novel, still many months away. I must admit that I am still a little upset that those outside of the United Kingdom cannot readily access these pieces and hope there will soon be progress to offer them to all fans of Alison Weir the world over.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful piece of writing. The Tudors come to life under your pen!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir barely has time to breathe as she churns out yet another masterful novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, this time with a strong focus on Jane Seymour, wife number three. Young Jane had always wanted to join the cloister and become a nun, which seemed to be her destiny right up until her eighteenth birthday. Shipped off to the convent, Jane found herself not quite sure of her choice and decided that, perhaps, God had other plans for her. Returning to her jubilant family, Jane enjoys a quieter life with the Seymours, until, that is, a family indiscretion leaves the family surrounded by scandal and Jane utterly embarrassed. With an arrangement to send Jane to Court in hand, Jane finds herself somewhat hesitant, but agrees to serve as a lady to Queen Catherine. Making her way to the big city, Jane is able to see a different type of life, surrounded by gaiety and lavish lifestyles. While Jane becomes quite close to the Queen, another lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, begins her treachery and erodes the strong marriage between Catherine and King Henry VIII. Jane is forced to watch as the King begins to dismantle his long-standing marriage, going so far as to enter a schism with Rome and declare the creation of the Church of England. While Jane cannot voice her concerns too loudly, she sides strongly with Catherine, even as the King moves to strip his wife of her title. With Anne ascending to the throne, Jane can only watch in wonder as they ‘play house’ for a time. Jane reluctantly takes a role in the new Queen’s household, which only helps to pave the way for the King to visit her and, to no one’s shock, find fancy with her. Soon Henry VIII is seeking to woo Jane and wonders about making her his formal mistress. While young and somewhat naive, Jane knows all too well what is to come and tries her best to fend him off, though the Seymours want nothing more than to see Jane secure her role. Rumours abound about Queen Anne’s activities and soon Jane succumbs to the King’s desires and she becomes pregnant. With the potential of the next male monarch in her womb, Jane watches the downfall of Anne Boleyn and her eventual beheading. This creates an odd situation, whereby Jane is ready to become Henry’s next wife, but protocol and dignity would see her wait. As her pregnancy progresses, Jane can only hope that she will not misstep, as the previous two queens did, and that she can bring England a prince. Everyone watches and waits, as Queen Jane approaches her due date, hoping that the next King of England will soon be born. As with the past two queens, Jane suffers miscarriages, males never brought to term. However, the King seems to be more patient and Jane tries anew to bring her husband, and England, its long-awaited heir. However, no good deed comes without sacrifice and Jane must face more tragedy, something she could not have seen coming. Weir breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty with yet another novel! Series and topic fans will likely find this piece to their liking, allowing Weir to explore some of the rumours of the time in her well-presented narrative.

One can always expect something masterful when Alison Weir is writing, though it may be difficult to parse what is fact from fiction, which may be why reading the Author’s Note at the end of the novel is more important than ever. Those familiar with Weir’s work will known that she is a masterful biographer of many English monarchs, some of whom become central characters in her works of historical fiction. I would venture to say that most of the ‘fiction’ found herein relates more to the added dialogue than fanciful creations of historical happenings, but that is for the reader and well-versed historian to dispute. Turning the focus of this series towards Jane Seymour might have been a gamble, as she was Henry VIII’s wife for so short a period, but Weir offers up a wonderful collection of stories and advances the narrative throughout to show what impact she had on the Tudor Court. From her childhood wanting to be a nun through to her demise while bringing forth England an heir, Seymour saw much growth with the reader and her soft-spoken nature was only slightly tipped askew when trying to bring home a point. She acted as strong mediator between Henry’s first child, Mary, and sought to dilute some of the King’s fanciful antics for which he has become so well known. There is no shortage of characters that surround Jane, both at and away from Court, all of whom influence the story greatly, none more than Henry VIII himself. While it is no shock to anyone, the King could be seen to fly off the handle and become somewhat irrational, be it for his own plans or the push to have an heir. Whatever that might be, it proved to be a threat throughout this novel, which saw much intensity grow with each passing day that a male was not forthcoming. Weir’s attention to the story is, as always, first rate and the reader can bask in such detail without drowning in minutiae. Those who are fans of Tudor writing will surely find this entertaining and engaging, while those not as well-versed may learn a thing or two. The ease with which the chapters flow, the information is presented, and the dialogue balanced will keep the reader wanting more, as I do. However, as I am not living in the United Kingdom, I do not (yet) have access to the short stories that Weir has crafted within this series, and so must wait for Anna of Kleve in 2019.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful novel. I thoroughly enjoy this series and cannot wait to see how you will tackle the second half of the wives of Henry VIII.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today (Six Tudor Queens #2.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

In this short story that bridges two of the larger novels in Weir’s Six Tudor Queens, the reader is able to focus a little more attention on Anne Boleyn. Jo Maddox is tour guide around the Tower of London whose groups are always complimentary of her knowledge. As a historian, Jo is happy to have found a special guide to provide some of the history of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Leading her group towards the Tower, they encounter their guest, whose resemblance and attire parallel Boleyn quite strikingly. As the group follows and learns much of the history of this woman’s final days, Jo continues to see another woman whose dark hair and eyes are also quite like Boleyn. It is said that the Tower holds many ghosts of those slain, but could Anne Boleyn truly be appearing amongst many other tour groups? This is only the first surprise that befalls Jo Maddox. The rest is for the reader to discover herein. Weir does a wonderful job with this extremely short piece, which complements the Six Queens series and keeps fans waiting for the next full-length novel.

When I say that this is a short story, I literally mean ‘short’. A mere seven electronic pages, Weir teases the reader with a narrative that dispels many of the myths attributed to the young queen. Fans of Weir will know that her attention to detail and renowned status as one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent historians has not been offered up lightly. The piece proves entertaining and insightful, weaving fact and fiction onto the printed page. One can only hope that Weir’s full-length novels will captivate the reader as much (teaser chapters for all three full novels find their way as a sort of afterward). While I cannot find any fault with this story, I wanted to take a moment to chastise Amazon (Canada and US) for not getting in synchronicity with their UK counterpart and providing access to these lovely ‘between’ stories. It has taken me a period of real literary gymnastics to get my hands on this one and I cannot see why Weir fans across the Pond are not able to bask in the greatness of these short pieces as easily. Please remedy this soon!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for providing a lovely reprieve from the hectic aspects of life with this piece. Perfect for that morning coffee or evening tea, this story left me wanting more.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2), by Alison Weir

Nine stars

I have long been a fan of things Tudor and the work of Alison Weir. That she can create such masterful biographies and historical pieces is one thing, but to transform all that research into a piece deemed fictional (likely because of the dialogue) and allow a larger reader base to enjoy and discuss her work adds to the awe surrounding her. In this, the second book in her newest series, Weir takes the reader into the life of Anne Boleyn, whose short life offered much to Tudor and English history. Anne appears to have lived much of her life in the shadow of others, as Weir exemplifies throughout. In the early chapters, the reader seems Anne casting her gaze towards her older sister, Mary, who held her parents’ favour and made a name for herself at court. While following in her sister’s footsteps, Anne served in two continental courts before she was called home to spend time as a lady-in waiting to Queen Katherine. While Weir purports that Anne paled in comparison to her sister’s beauty, there were a few men who sought the younger Boleyn sister’s affections, including Sir Henry Norris and the King of England, Henry VIII. Dismissing the affectionate advances of both while serving at court, Anne tried to serve her queen as effectively as possible. The latter Henry would not desist in his approaches, as history has helped us see seemed to be his modus operandi throughout his reign. While Anne stood firm, she was counselled not to rebuff the king for too long and eventually entered into an agreement with him, serving as his mistress but would not engage carnally until there was a dissolution of his marriage to Katherine. Weir spends much time weaving together the narrative of the multi-year journey, during which time Henry VIII tried to divorce the pious Katherine, finding roadblocks to success within both Canon Law and the Catholic Church. However, Anne never seems to have that passionate magnetism to Henry VIII that history presented (and television purported fuelled her desire to betray Queen Katherine), which might be one of the largest surprises to me in the entire novel. Weir portrays Anne as living in the shadow of Queen Katherine during this time, as Henry VIII could be seen to cower when it came to confronting his first wife. The eventual ruling by the Vatican led Henry VIII to create the Great Schism and birth of the Church of England (known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church). This break offers a natural divide in Anne’s life, when she transformed from a simple woman into a dynastic member of history. Some may argue that it was less Anne than Henry’s decision to part ways with Rome, but it came about because of her and for this reason, I feel Weir’s elongated narrative about the lead-up is indicative to a great importance in the Anne Boleyn story.

With the dust still settling and the ink not yet dry on the new Royal Decrees, Anne agreed to marry Henry VIII with this impediment removed and soon bore him an heir, though it was not the son that had been sought. Still, Princess Elizabeth would be the apple of her father’s eye, at least until a son was forthcoming. Like Katherine, Anne’s attempts to have a son were troublesome, as each subsequent birth was either a stillborn or miscarriage. Fraught with concern, Anne was forced to battle with the others who held some confusing sway over Henry VIII, including his counsellors and Princess Mary, his daughter from Katherine. Anne was yet again forced to remain in the shadows, with the princess acting as pious as her mother in regards to the ‘true’ Queen of England. Add to this, the strain of the ongoing attempts to turn away from Rome and Henry VIII’s temper was much shorter, which left Anne to face his wrath over minute concerns at court. After numerous failed attempts to bring forth a son, Anne’s allure lessened in the eyes of King Henry and he sought pleasure elsewhere. With rumours swirling, Anne was forced to live in the shadow of these others, the new mistresses of Henry VIII. It was only when Anne pushed back and refused to allow other women to share Henry’s affections that she found herself on the wrong side of a charge of treason. Weir supports this latter part of the narrative well, as Anne struggles to understand why she has been subjected to this charge and the apparent false accusations of her unions with the likes of the aforementioned Sir Henry Norris and her own brother, George, surface. Anne struggles to pronounce her innocence and lives in the shadow of the Tower of London, her eventual home as she awaits a verdict of beheading. Struggling throughout, Anne was forced to accept her fate, which came about through a set of purported lies and scandalous behaviour. All this because she upset a man that she likely did not love passionately. A powerful second book in the series, Weir does a masterful job at bringing Anne Boleyn to life, as well as adding depth to some of the struggles that are peppered throughout the history books. A must-read or Tudor fans who enjoy the intricacies of that time period, but would also be of interest to those who love history and all things royal. 

I will admit that I have been significantly influenced in my views on Anne Boleyn by Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of her during the television programme, THE TUDORS. Her beauty, her air, and even the general conniving nature of the young lady-in-waiting lweft me with a strong sentiment of a less than lovely Anne. Reading this book has given me a new outlook on Anne and has helped me piece together a better understanding of things at court during that time. It is impossible to understand the true story of Anne Boleyn without an understanding of numerous other actors who played various roles. Weir develops these characters so well and tied them together wonderfully, allowing the reader to bask in a richer and more complete narrative. While there are surely historical inaccuracies (that I know my buddy read companion will be able to recite), the story flows so seamlessly as Anne ages and changes from a naive girl into a woman who seeks to hold her own. Weir offers up a slow, but consistent, transformation of Anne throughout the piece, which is further exemplified by chapters whose focus is a particular period in time. As I mentioned above, I feel that the only thing pushing this novel into the realm of fiction would be its use of dialogue, which could not have been substantiated with complete accuracy. Still, the reader can get the sense that they are right in the middle of these historical events and conversations, which is surely a positive aspect of Weir’s writing. The story is so rich and Anne has so much to offer, the reader will surely want to pace themselves, or at least pay special attention to the story, so as not to miss anything. Then, the eager reader (of which, I admit, I will not be one) can cross-reference things from the first novel and even into the third (when it is released) to see how Anne is portrayed as a minor figure there. The only major downside to the novel, in my humble opinion, is that the reader rides such a high when in the middle of it, that the crash thereafter and knowing that there is a waiting period stings even more. And don’t get me started on trying to get the two short stories that accompany this series to date. UK fans should rejoice that they can easily be acquired.

Kudos, Madam Weir for bringing a key Tudor character to light in this novel. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us in the coming years.