Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: My Lady of Cleves

Title: My Lady of Cleves
Author: Margaret Campbell Barnes
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 1946
Genre: Historical Fiction/328 pages
Source: Paperback Purchase
My rating: 4/5

Princess Anne of Cleves has been selected by King Henry VIII to become his fourth wife after the death of his third wife Jane Seymour after childbirth. The king had sent his German court painter, Hans Holbein, to paint three princesses for him so that he could choose one of them to become his new wife and to make alliances with a foreign country for political purposes. Hans falls in love with Anne of Cleves and genuinely paints a stunning portrait of Anne, and the King of England chooses her from the three princesses. However, he is not too happy with her when they meet in person, and immediately he decides she is not anything like the English women he is very attracted to - ones who are young, subservient, tell him all he wants to hear, always complimentary of him, and of course, beautiful. Anne is not anything like this.  She is already 24 and on the heavy side. She is dowdy, plump, and doesn't speak English well.  She doesn't like to dance or sing. And she does not kowtow to him. The king likens her to a "Flemish Mare". From the very first meeting, he forms a negative opinion of her, and notices the lovely fourteen-year-old Katherine Howard who is being pushed by her family to catch the king's eye and keep it. 

I enjoyed watching Anne's attempt to become an English queen. She takes the advice of the Archbishop Cranmer to be herself, be more relaxed, become a little more subservient to the king, and to really show what she does have to offer to the king: her love of children, gardening, and other qualities which could bring stability to the king.  This is a turning point in her relationship with the king, especially when he sees how kind and natural a mother she can be to his little son, prince Edward. At this point however, the Howard family and especially the Duke of Norfolk have seduced the king with the coquettish, cunning, and beautiful Katherine Howard, so that it is too late for Anne to gain favor with the king. 

I was intrigued by her relationship with the German painter, Hans Holbein. He fell in love with her when he first painted her portrait, but then set aside his feelings for her when she became Queen of England. He never expected that her marriage would be annulled. Even though Anne was known as sister to the king afterwards, she was not allowed to remarry or leave England. However, she was very happy with all the property and annual money the king granted her. Also, Anne retained her strong relationship to the King's daughters, as she became known to them now as their aunt instead of stepmother.

The author's version of these historical facts are brought to life with Anne, King Henry VIII and all the other characters from this time in Tudor England in a forthright and pleasurable manner. I really enjoyed this intriguing story of Henry VIII's fourth wife.

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