The surprising and dramatic life of the least known of King Henry VIII’s wives is illuminated in the fourth volume in the Six Tudor Queens series—for fans of Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel, and The Crown.
Newly widowed and the father of an infant son, Henry VIII realizes he must marry again to ensure the royal succession. Forty-six, overweight, and suffering from gout, Henry is soundly rejected by some of Europe's most eligible princesses. Anna of Kleve, from a small German duchy, is twenty-four, and has a secret she is desperate to keep hidden. Henry commissions her portrait from his court painter, who depicts her from the most flattering perspective. Entranced by the lovely image, Henry is bitterly surprised when Anna arrives in England and he sees her in the flesh. Some think her attractive, but Henry knows he can never love her.
What follows is the fascinating story of an awkward royal union that somehow had to be terminated. Even as Henry begins to warm to his new wife and share her bed, his attention is captivated by one of her maids-of-honor. Will he accuse Anna of adultery as he did Queen Anne Boleyn, and send her to the scaffold? Or will he divorce her and send her home in disgrace? Alison Weir takes a fresh and astonishing look at this remarkable royal marriage by describing it from the point of view of Queen Anna, a young woman with hopes and dreams of her own, alone and fearing for her life in a royal court that rejected her almost from the day she set foot on England’s shore.
About the Author
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen; Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession; Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen; The Marriage Game; A Dangerous Inheritance; Captive Queen; The Lady Elizabeth; and Innocent Traitor, as well as numerous historical biographies, including Queens of the Conquest, The Lost Tudor Princess, Elizabeth of York, Mary Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations of her. At fourteen, she should have learned all the domestic graces, and to impress their guests with her virtues.
Every summer, Vater—or Duke Johann III, as his subjects knew him—brought his wife and children here to the Schwanenburg, the great palace that towered on a steep rocky hill, dominating the mighty river Rhine and the fair city of Kleve. Joining them today for a short visit were Onkel Otho von Wylich, the genial Lord of Gennep, and Tante Elisabeth, who never let anyone forget that she was the granddaughter of Duke Johann I. With them would be Otho, Onkel’s bastard son. For all the reputation of the court of Kleve for moral probity, bastards were not unwelcome there. Anna’s paternal grandfather, Duke Johann II, had had sixty-three of them; not for nothing had he been nicknamed “the Childmaker.” He had died when Anna was six, so her memories of him were vague, yet the living testimony to his prodigious fertility was all around her at court and in the great houses of Kleve. It seemed she was related to nearly everyone in the united duchies and counties of Kleve, Mark, Jülich, Berg, Ravensberg, Zutphen, and Ravenstein, over which her father ruled.
Duke Johann was lavishly dressed as usual, welcoming his guests as their chariot drew up at the gatehouse—dark hair sleekly cut, fringe and beard neatly trimmed, portly figure swathed in scarlet damask. Anna looked at him affectionately; he did love to make a show of his magnificence. At his command, his wife and children were attired in rich silks and adorned with gold chains. Anna stood in a row with her younger siblings Wilhelm and Amalia, who was fondly known as Emily in the family. Vater and Mutter had no need to remind their children to make their obeisances, for courtesy had been drummed into them since they had been in their cradles. Nor were they allowed to forget that they were royally descended from the kings of France and England, and were cousins to the mighty Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Vater’s overlord. Their awareness of that must be reflected in everything they did.
As young Otho von Wylich stepped down, Anna’s heart almost stopped. To her, this cousin by marriage, two years older than she, seemed like a gift from God as he alighted on the cobbles. Oh, he was fair to look at, with his wavy, unruly chestnut locks and his high cheekbones, strong jaw, full lips, and merry eyes, and he was charming too as he greeted everyone, displaying the proper deference to his host and hostess, with little of the gaucheness often seen in boys of his age. When he rose from his bow to Anna, his smile was devastating.
She was already betrothed, as good as wed, and had been since the age of eleven. When people addressed her formally, they called her Madame la Marquise, for her future husband was Francis, Marquis of Pont-à-Mousson, eldest son of Antoine, Duke of Lorraine. They had never met—she had not even seen a portrait of him—and although she was always being reminded of her great destiny, the prospect of marriage still seemed unreal. Some of her dowry had already been paid, and she had long expected her wedding to take place as soon as Francis reached marriageable age at fourteen, this very year.
She had been too young for a betrothal ceremony: her consent had been implicit in the contract her father had signed. She had accepted without question the husband chosen for her, having been schooled in her duty from infancy; but now, having seen Otho von Wylich, she wished for the first time that she was not spoken for. She could not drag her eyes away from Otho’s engaging smile.
As she struggled to hide the fact that her world had just shifted seismically, Vater led the guests through the majestic Knight’s Hall, his serious, craggy features becoming animated as he pointed out the decorative sculptures to Otho.
“This hall is said to have been built by Julius Caesar,” he said proudly.
“I well remember the great ceremonies that took place here,” Tante Elisabeth said.
Slowly, they processed through the state rooms. Anna was aware only of Otho, standing just inches away, and of his eyes on her.
“We had these apartments built on the model of the great French chateaux on the Loire,” Vater boasted, waving a beringed hand at the fine furniture and tapestries. Anna saw her uncle and aunt exchange envious glances. Mutter seemed serenely unaware. All this splendor was no more than her due, for she had been a great heiress, and had brought Vater rich territories and titles. She graced the court of Kleve in a manner that was regal yet humble, as deferential as a woman should be. Both she and Vater were strict in maintaining the elaborate code of etiquette laid down by the dukes in the manner of their Burgundian ancestors; in matters of courtesy and style, the court of Burgundy had led fashionable Christendom for nearly a hundred years now. Mutter and Vater also welcomed new ideas from the magnificent court of France, not far to the west of Kleve, and from Italy, which permeated north by means of visitors traveling up the Rhine. Anna sometimes sensed that Vater’s court was too sophisticated and free-thinking for Mutter’s taste; it seemed much more liberal than the court of Jülich had been. But Mutter would never criticize what went on in Kleve.
When they reached the private apartments, wine was served, the sparkling Elbling that Vater regularly had brought upriver from the vineyards on the Mosel. Onkel Otho and Tante Elisabeth accepted their goblets with alacrity. It was as well that it was not evening, for the rules at court were strict, and all wine, even the Duke’s, was locked away at nine o’clock by his Hofmeister, who took his duties very seriously.
As they sipped from their goblets of finest Venetian glass, the adults talked, stiffly at first, then gradually relaxing, while their children sat silently listening, Anna intensely aware of Otho, who was sitting beside her.
“Your father has a wondrous palace,” he said.
“I hope you will be able to see more of it,” she replied. She felt sorry for him, for he had no hope of inheriting any great houses, even though it was no fault of his that he was a bastard. “But I am sure you live well in Gennep.”
“Not as well as you do here, Anna,” he told her, with another of those devastating smiles, and she thrilled to hear her name on his tongue. “But I am fortunate. My father and stepmother treat me like their lawful son. They have no other children, you see.”
“But you have friends?”
“Yes, and I have my studies, and an amiable tutor. One day, I will have to make my own way in the world, probably in the Church.”
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, before she could stop herself. “I mean, you could surely have a happier life doing something else.”
He grinned. “You are thinking of the pleasures I would have to give up,” he said, making her blush. “Believe me, I think of them too. But I have no inheritance, Anna. It will all go to a cousin when my father dies. What else can I do?”
“Vater will find you a post here, or Dr. Olisleger, his chancellor, I am sure!”
“How kind you are, Anna,” he murmured. Their eyes met, and she read in his gaze all she could have hoped for. “I can think of nothing I would like more than being at the court of Kleve. It would mean I could see you more often.”
His words took her breath away. “Then I will ask for you,” she promised.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Much more then expected I was disappointed that she didn’t have more of a relationship with Queen Mary at the end but overall a very interesting tale.
This is the fourth installment of Weir's Six Tudor Queens series. I have been a fan of Weir's non-fiction work for over a decade and equally love her fiction work. Her non-fiction has become like gospel to many of her readers, myself included, which does factor into my review of this book as I don't feel like this is her best work. I give it 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Anna is Henry VIII's wife I know the least about & was excited to learn more, even in the fiction format. As in Weir's previous fiction work, she includes a lot of relevant insight of the daily life of the time such as the dress and food of the period. This only enhances the atmosphere of the book in my opinion. The book follows Anna through her strict and sheltered upbringing in her small German duchy to her eventual marriage to Henry VIII and move to England. I like Weir's style of telling the story in the first person and showing how Anna likely felt. She uses as much historical fact as is known and, as with all historical fiction, supplements the rest. This is the aspect I had the most trouble with. Although the author's reasoning in her end note explanation makes sense, I struggle to believe the story line of Anna coming to her marriage not a virgin. I just find it hard to come to terms with Anna really being "compromised" when she came to Henry VIII and that it wasn't just another rumor he started to fit his version of reality and to save face in light of his impotence. That is the biggest problem I had with the book. The story line made for an excellent work of complete fiction, which I am well aware this is. I just had higher hopes for Alison Weir who is known for fact emphasized fiction. However, because I know so much about this era, largely from the author's own non-fiction work, it was almost too much for me to overcome. I felt myself disassociating the real historical person from the character in the book. Had I read this book with little knowledge of Tudor history, I probably would've given it 4.5 out of 5 stars because Weir did weave an excellent love story for a woman that history tells us had love very much lacking from her life! Overall, Anna does come to life and I learned a lot about the struggles she faced after she became the king's "beloved sister" and Henry VIII's death. Anna's life after the divorce is far from glossed over in the novel. Weir shows that although Henry took care of her financially for the most part, there were real struggles both political and financial Anna went through. I'm glad to have read the parts of her story that were based on actual fact, no just conjecture. The writing was excellent, even when I felt the story was lacking. I look forward to the Katherine Howard installment of the series! Thank you to NetGalley, Random House/Ballantine Publishing, and Alison Weir for the electronic ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
There is an extremely shocking event that occurs in the beginning of this book that really blindsided me. As a passionate Tudor History lover, 4th wife Anna of Kleve is a bit of a mystery in comparison to some of King Henry VIII's more notorious wives. Alison Weir is an icon of British history authors, but has recently travelled the path of poetic license while presenting these historical fiction novels of King Henry VIII's six wives. She explains the leaps she took based on research materials in an "Author's Note" at the end of the book. The irony of the fact that information is scanty regarding this wife is that this book is an arduous almost 500 pages! I felt hard pressed to get through it as I neared the end, which isn't a good sign. I think this book would have done well to have been whittled down considerably. After marrying for love on three previous occasions, all ending in disaster, King Henry VIII is urged to marry for political alliance purposes. Anna of Kleve in Germany is suggested by Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to the King. The King send his master painter Hans Holbein to paint a portrait of Anna so he can judge her likeness. In scores of historical documentaries and books over the centuries, it is said that perhaps Holbein painted her too favorably from the front, concealing her long nose and chin. In addition, as legend has it, on the marriage night when the King and Anna took to bed, he was turned off by her smell, sagging breasts and belly. He couldn't bring himself to consummate the marriage, which lasted just six months. Physical failings put aside, Anna was known for an even temperament, a patient, thoughtful and sensible character, and these favorable traits served her well when Henry put her aside. Upon their divorce, Anna was to be known as the King's "sister" and was provided several handsome estates in England and a generous income. She wasn't banished to unhealthy houses and ignored to die, wasn't beheaded, and didn't die post childbirth like Henry's previous wives. Because of her level-headedness and plain smarts, I always held a high regard for this wife that was never crowned. I was rather looking forward to the ride Alison Weir would take me on, but was sadly disappointed. I asked myself if I was jaded from reading so many Tudor books over the decades. The endless minute details of Anna's windswept, rainy journey from Germany to England, as well as the various progresses she would take being introduced to the English public bored the hell out of me. Another thing that turned me off was hearing about all the elaborate homes Anna was given upon her divorce, much of which had belonged to people that were executed by order of the King, and some that used to be Catholic religious houses until Henry closed them all. I just kept thinking about the incredible waste of life.. moving every so often among these homes with staff to wait upon you... Perhaps I've just become cynical about all this. I guess in summation my gripe with this book was it should have been at least 200 pages less. The author fleshed out what we know already about Anna of Kleve with another storyline that exploded at the beginning of the book. That initial spark really got my attention, but the endless political maneuvering at court, especially at the end of the book, had me skimming through the pages. Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
Anna of Cleves is considered one of the successful wives of Henry VIII in that she survived the marriage; however, her life is somewhat of a mystery. Alison Weir has done a superb job of filling in some of the blanks with her new book Anna of Kleve, The Princess in the Portrait. This tome is the fourth in her new series, Six Tudor Queens. I had always thought Anna’s life would be easy once she was divorced/annulled from Henry but Weir details Anna’s known struggles with money and religion along with a new twist of a left behind son and lover. Her precarious position lasted throughout her life. After Henry dies and his generous gifts become a thing of the past, money becomes scarce as Parliament regularly neglects to pay Anna her promised income. On top of that, prices skyrocket as inflation overtakes the country. Time and again she was forced to relinquish valuable properties as her importance waned due to new political powerhouses. Often thought a Protestant and a support of Luther, Anna was a Catholic in a country where religion was an ongoing battle. Power shifted back and forth between the two factions and Anna was always viewed with suspicion by both sides which filled her life with uncertainty. Multiple sources detail Henry’s claim that Anna was no maid due to the condition of her breasts and belly on their wedding night but his statement has habitually been seen as an extension of his desire to end the marriage with no real credence being given to the assertion. Weir, however, explores the theory as if it is fact and weaves a plausible tale of seduction, motherhood, and a fostered child. Details of Anna’s life are scarce but Weir offers conceivable scenarios to bridge the known events and helps Anna come alive on the page and in the mind. Anna’s world was fraught with insecurity and powerlessness but she managed to do well where so many others failed. She found love and happiness in a life governed by others.
The Story: Alison Weir starts the story off with a young Anna of Kleve. Anna’s family has some visitors in attendance, including her cousin Otho. Seeing that the youth are becoming restless, Mutter has Anna and her siblings show Otho around the castle. Anna’s older brother is into history and legacy and enjoys pointing out all of the different aspects of the castle that would typically bore young people. Anna on the other hand, enjoys more whimsical things and offers to show Otho a tower with an amazing view of the land. Wilhelm, Anna’s older brother, goes off to plan the rest of the tour while Anna takes Otho on a much-needed detour. While the tower and the view is gorgeous, something happens to Anna and Otho that would forever change their future and put them in peril later on in their lives. After Anna grows a little more mature, her brother informs Anna that he is trying to match her with the king of England. It is an enormous honor to be considered, but she is not happy about the possible match. After much inner struggle, she comes to terms with the fact that she is indeed going to marry King Henry. During her journey to England, she comes across a portrait of the King in his youth and falls in love with is picture, only to be horrified by the appearance of the king in his current age and health. During her short marriage, she is constantly in fear of her husband not wanting her. In the end, as history goes, they divorce but find great friendship with one another. After his death, her life is not easy and is often a struggle between the fear of running out of money, and a love she cannot have. My Thoughts: 4 Stars I love Alison Weir and her historical fiction novels. This is the first book that I have read in her Six Tudor Queens series, and it just so happens to be the wife that I have the most sympathy for. Anna’s life is not easy. She does not to get to marry for love, and she has no true choice but to marry whomever her brother desires her to. In this case, it is an older man who has seen better days with his health. She is put off by the stench from his old leg wound and his appearance. Henry also does not feel any amorous feelings towards Anna but shows her kindness in whatever way he is capable. He shows her great respect and affection even after their divorce and leaves her a wealthy woman. I believe the story flowed well, and Weir did a wonderful job in influencing the reader to feel how Anna would have felt in certain situations. As historical fiction, obviously artistic license was taken for a good amount of time in order to keep Anna’s story interesting. However, there were times when it felt as if the story started slowing down and leading to nowhere in particular, but then life and drama would happen once again to Anna. There was always a great risk for Anna that someone would reveal her scandalous secret from her youth that would destroy everything she had. I really enjoyed this read and hope to pick up Weir’s other books from this series in the future. I was given a copy by the publisher through Netgalley and this is my honest opinion.
I have read so many books on Henry VIII and how he had so many wives and how he ordered them for exile. But, this story is the most intense /twisted story of that matter that I have ever read. Anna was such a beautiful young woman and the power of royalty overtook her beauty and Henry VIII knew that he could never love her and then falling for her cousin and trying to exile her just because her family wanted the royal bloodline in their family. This was such an enticing story with so much history embedded in and Alison Weir did an amazing job with her research and incorporating a lot of the Historical References throughout the entire book. We will consider adding this title to our Historical Fiction section at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.