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Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Lady of Cleves

Barnes, Margaret Campbell. My Lady of Cleves.

The story of Henry VIII's brief marriage to Anne of Cleves has always been a curious episode in England's history. Well, Henry's reign and his six wives is a long-running curious episode...

Yet Anne of Cleves, whose six-month marriage to Henry ended in annulment (and her new title as his sister ) is one of those historical characters about whom too little is known. I've always loved historical fiction and realize that each novel about historical personages must involve a lot of embroidery.

An author has a lot of discretion in developing characters, even with individuals about whom much has been recorded, both in their own words and in primary sources of the time period. With Anne of Cleves, Margaret Campbell Barnes has only the skeletal outline and within that firm chronology of important events, she creates a charming Lady of Cleves, who is rejected by the king, yet seems to grow in stature as she endures the difficulties and humiliations inflicted by the king and court.

I've always wondered why Holbein would have risked provoking Henry, a dangerous patron at best, by painting a portrait that flattered beyond reason the subject. Barnes has presented a possibility I never would have considered, and while it is part of the embroidery of the author, it helps make an interesting story. Of course, there is also the suggestion by some historians that Anne deliberately made herself unattractive to Henry, who was no great prize as a man.

The novel presents Henry in a more flattering light than I would have expected, but Brandon and Suffolk have a nicer characterization as well. However, regardless of his comment about "the Flanders Mare," Henry and Anne did develop a congenial relationship.

I looked on line for Anne's will, which the author mentioned in the Author's Note and in the novel itself, but was unable to find a copy, although several other sources mentioned the charming aspect of the will as well.

The novel was an enjoyable excursion in the "might have happeneds" of history, and now I definitely want a good biography of Anne of Cleves. Also, need to reread Antonia Fraser's The Wives of Henry VIII and to look for Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which has received excellent reviews.

I may be back on a Reading Itinerary that I've been on before. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives looks good, as do a number of other fiction and nonfiction books about Tudor England.

Thanks again to Danielle of Sourcebooks for sharing this one with me!

Fiction. Historical fiction. 1946/2008. 328 pages.


  1. I really enjoyed this book when I read it a while ago! Whilst I do think that there is a bit of Tudor overkill in HF publishing at the moment, a well written book (like this one) is still well worth tracking down!rq

  2. Yes, I read a review on your blog! I haven't seen the Tudor TV series, I'm sure it has initiated a lot of interest--enough that they've republished Margaret Campbell Barnes after all these years.

  3. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this one -- I'm looking forward to reading my copy of Barnes's Brief Gaudy Hour -- I do enjoy historical fiction!

  4. Dorothy - Hope you enjoy Brief Gaudy Hour!

  5. I really enjoyed David Starkey's (nonfiction) book on Henry VIII's wives - it's called Six Wives, and it was published not too long ago, I believe. He's a good writer, and I've enjoyed the two of his books I've read.

  6. Sounds interesting. She is often neglected due to the short length of their marriage so I will look out for this one.

  7. Jenny - It is on my list! Glad to hear confirmation that it is good - thanks!

    Rhinoa - Yes, maybe the fact that she is so often overlooked is what makes her interesting. I enjoyed having a fictional fleshing-out of her situation.