Title: My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves
Author: Margaret Campbell Barnes
Release Date: September 1, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From the back cover:
My Lady of Cleves reveals the mesmerizing story of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, one of the rare women who matched wits successfully with the fiery king and lived to tell the tale.
Written by world-renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, My Lady of Cleves gives readers an intimate portrait of the warm, unpretentious princess who never expected to become Queen of England. Knowing the king’s ravenous desire for a son, and aware of the disastrous consequences of not bearing an heir, Anne of Cleves bravely took on the duty of weathering the Tudor King’s temper, whims, arrogance, and irresponsible passions – and won the hearts of his subjects in the process.
A treat for readers of Tudor fiction and those fascinated by the complex relationships of Henry VIII and his wives, My Lady of Cleves leads readers into a world of high drama and courtly elegance.
I didn’t know much about Anne of Cleves going into My Lady of Cleves. I know the “gossip” – that she was ugly, fat, and that she smelled. And I have read Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance, which included a section on Anne of Cleves. When Danielle at Sourcebooks, Inc. asked if I would be interested in reviewing this novel, I jumped at the chance. I was really interested in learning more about Anne of Cleves.
One thing I didn’t realize is that the book is a republished novel – it was originally published in 1946. On one hand, this didn’t surprise me, knowing that Sourcebooks, Inc. is responsible for republishing Georgette Heyer’s novels. But on the other hand, there was nothing in the book to indicate that it was written over 60 years ago. I believe that this is a testament to the quality of the writing and the immersive nature of the story.
I found the novel ultimately captivating. I appreciated the portrayal of Anne of Cleves as an intelligent and resourceful woman who picks her battles very carefully. She was very honest with herself and recognized her strengths and failures clearly. I enjoyed reading about how she used her major talent to her own advantage: the ability to run a home. I also liked the way that Henry was portrayed. At the beginning, he is indeed the boorish monster that Anne sees, but slowly, the reader begins to see another side of him; while he cannot truly redeem himself, it is a softer portrait of his later years than readers usually receive.
In terms of historical accuracy, I am aware that the basic events of Anne’s life are portrayed as accurate. But towards the end of the book, certain events take place that Anne plays a part in. I wonder if her presence is fact, or if it is creatively interpreted by the author. (My inclination is towards the latter).
Barnes took great pain to ensure that her physical descriptions of Anne were correct: she based it on actual comments made about Anne by historical figures. She was not fat, or necessarily ugly; in fact, according to Barnes, her portrait is the most attractive of any of Henry’s wives (by modern standards, of course). It definitely leads the reader to wonder what Anne was really like.
I really liked My Lady of Cleves; it was well-written, fast-paced and very enjoyable. I would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction; it is well worth reading this novel on an underappreciated queen.