In mid-May, I finally got round to reading Anna of Kleve: The Queen of Secrets by bestselling author and acclaimed historian, Alison Weir. It is the fourth volume in Weir’s ambitious six-book series, Six Tudor Queens, which chronicles the lives of each of Henry VIII’s wives. I was absolutely captivated by the previous volumes about Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, however I put off picking this one up, due to other bloggers being disappointed with it.
For this tale of Henry’s briefest and least known of queens, Weir takes us back to 1530 to meet the young Anna, the second daughter of John III, Duke of Kleve and his wife Maria, Duchess of Jülich-Berg, who has grown up secluded, in comfort and instilled with duty, in a small German duchy. Well that is until a couple of chapters in, when Anna is led into a scandalous mistake, that truly shocked me (not in a good way) and will have repercussions for the rest of her life. So when her betrothal to Francis, the future Duke of Lorraine is annulled, Anna resigns herself to a quiet, spinster life.
However, in 1539, a truly unexpected and extraordinary marriage proposal is made to Anna, from non other than the mighty Henry, King of England; who at forty-six, overweight and unwell, and with only one weak infant son, realises he must marry again to insure the royal succession. Being much taken with her portrait, Anna soon finds herself setting off in full splendour for the long, arduous journey by land and sea to an utterly foreign land to become its new queen, but this is a doomed marriage from the start!
Neither partner is what the other was expecting physically and they come from two very different worlds; plus Henry’s roving eye has already alighted upon the pretty Katherine Howard, one of the maids in Anna’s wedding train. So only months after their glorious wedding, with all its pomp and ceremony, Henry calls for an annulment and Anna has little choice but to wisely except his will. Yet this is not the end, in fact it is only the beginning, as so grateful for her peaceful acquiescing, Henry bestows upon Anna palaces, wealth, and the title of ‘most beloved sister’.
Anna will go on to live as an independent woman of means and witness the downfall of Cromwell and Katherine Howard; the marriage to Katherine Parr; the death of Henry; and the succession of Edward and then Mary. And yet always, Anna is plagued by fear of the secrets she is hiding. I loved how Weir was able to vividly bring alive the Tudor world and I loved getting to know Anna better. I didn’t enjoy, find believable or feel Anna’s so-called ‘secrets’ enhanced the story though. Usually I would be praising how well Weir was able to merge historical fact with her imagination, but this time there was perhaps too little material to go off and/or Weir was trying too hard to add more drama.
That being said, I still thought Anna of Kleve: The Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir was a beautifully written historical-fiction, which, while not as strong as the previous books, was still a very enjoyable read. I have the next volume, Katherine Howard: The Tainted Queen lined up in my Kindle’s to-be-read folder. Good read
Now I’d love to hear from you: Have you read this? Have you read any other books about Anna or Anne? Or have you read any of the other books from this series?