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.
Weir's fourth installment to the Six Tudor Queens series (after Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen) is a solid rendering of the often grim 16th-century travails of King Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anna, who survived divorce and a backstabbing court. Anna, 24, was a princess from the German duchy of Kleve, chosen to ensure royal offspring and good will with her country. Anna receives an extravagant welcome, but the marriage is never consummated; Henry assures Anna he likes her, "but it seems that God does not intend that I should love you." Obese and suffering from severe leg ulcers, it is suggested that Henry, 46, was impotent; however, Anna's much earlier annulled betrothal was contrived to legitimize Henry's rejection and divorce of Anna. All the while, Anna harbors a secret from before her marriage that would doom her like her successor, Katheryn Howard, who was executed. Humiliated, yet relieved to live independently with her divorce settlement, Anna is a much-loved figure, though forced to contend with court intrigue: manipulative Thomas Cawarden, her tenant who is knee-deep in conspiracies; spies among her staff; and court officials who accuse her of treason for supposedly favoring Elizabeth over the king's rightful heir to the throne, Mary. Weir's clever plot reimagines Anna's deliciously scandalous maidenhood, sacrifices, and yearning for love. This riveting historical resonates long after the last page is devoured.