After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII was convinced by his advisors to seek another wife. Edward’s health was precarious and a second son would be of great benefit to stability within England. Hoping to secure the Protestant faith’s footing in England, Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell suggested an alliance with the Duchy of Cleves, a Lutheran stronghold. Henry provisionally agreed and commissioned court painter Hans Holbein to paint miniatures of both Anne and Amelia, the princesses of Cleves. Amelia was on the surface the more attractive sister what Holbien saw Anne’s inner beauty and captured this in her portrait, in turn capturing the King’s eye.
Unfortunately for Anne’s happiness, she was not the King’s preferred version of beauty, being neither petite nor slender. Her height, large-boned frame and buxomness prompted the King to refer to her as a “Flanders mare.” She possessed few of the accomplishments common for women of the Tudor court, being more adept at managing a royal household. While they were duly married and Anne quickly won the heart of the people, the King’s eye had already strayed to young Katherine Howard.
Anne of Cleves is rare not only for surviving her marriage to King Henry VIII, she is one of only two of his wives to outlive him, but for speaking her mind to him. Heeding the counsel of her advisors, she agreed to an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation and in return gained her own household and continued access to Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Prince Edward, his children by his previous three wives. In My Lady of Cleves: a novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, Margaret Campbell Barnes tells the story of an unusual woman who discovers herself and finds true freedom only by giving up everything and holding herself apart from the politics consuming his court.
What is intriguing about Campbell Barnes’ novel is the fascinating portrait of Princess Mary. Unlike many novels of the Tudor court which show her as a bitter and unhappy woman, Mary is here portrayed with a nurturing and mothering nature toward Edward and warm emotions toward Anne.
Originally published in 1946, My Lady of Cleves stands the test of time, introducing Henry VIII’s enigmatic fourth wife to a new generation of readers.
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: September 1, 2008
tags: books book reviews historical fiction Margaret Campbell Barnes Henry VIII Anne of Cleves