Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105

Book Review: “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

91UpsDD9PWL.jpgHenry VIII, the king who was notorious for his six marriages. His first three marriages, to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour, gave Henry VIII his only children that were considered eligible for succession. Catherine of Aragon was his first foreign bride, but he would divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn would later be executed and Jane Seymour would die after giving birth to Henry’s son Edward. Henry wanted to marry again, so his most trusted advisors decided to try for a foreign alliance as well as a new bride for the king. They decided that Anne of Cleves from Germany would be the perfect bride, but it did not work out and Henry decided to divorce her and claim Anne as his “sister”. She is often viewed as Henry’s “lucky wife”, but who was she and what was her life like before and after she met her husband Henry VIII? That is exactly the question that Sarah-Beth Watkins wanted to explore in her latest book, “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife”.

Sarah-Beth Watkins explains who Anne of Cleves was  and how has she has been described in the past:

Contemporary reports of Anne are mixed but time has not been kind to her memory. In a book by Sarah Tytler published in 1896, I was shocked to read Anne described as ‘a woman of entirely negative characteristics’. The author really had nothing good to say about her. She was ‘dull-witted as well as a hard-favoured young woman, possessed of a stolid sluggishness of temper’. Her writing reads as if Anne had personally upset her in some way. She was ‘plain and stupid’ and even had a ‘meaningless expanse of forehead’! She hasn’t favoured much better with other authors. Hume described her as ‘large, bony and masculine’ and Burnet coined the phrase ‘Flanders mare’ which has stuck to Anne throughout the centuries. Strickland, however, wrote with more sympathy that Anne ‘ was a most unfortunate, ill-treated princess…who deserved a better fate than to become the wife of a king so devoid of the feelings of a gentleman as Henry VIII’…She was Queen of England for just over six months and after became the King’s ‘sister’- a role she adopted and thrived on. She became the richest woman in England for a time with an astounding divorce settlement. Henry may not have wanted her for a wife but he did not blame her for the failure of their marriage- that would fall upon his chief minister. Anne would outlive the king and all of his other wives. (Watkins, 2-3).

Watkins begins her book by diving into Anne of Cleves’ life in Germany before she was even considered as a bride for a king. Anne’s life in Germany was simple. She didn’t really have the education that one would expect for a future queen, but she never was expected to marry a king. She was the sister to William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Her sister, Sybilla, was married to John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who was one of the leaders of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and was considered one of the champions of the Reformation. Anne didn’t  follow her sister’s path to the Protestant faith as she was a devout Catholic, but the religious issue doesn’t seem to have caused a rift in the family.

Anne was supposed to marry Francis of Lorraine, but the engagement was broken since Francis was only 10 when it was arranged. After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII needed a new wife. He wanted to make an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, a league of Protestant territories that wanted to defend itself against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Anne was not exactly Henry’s first choice of bride to help join this alliance, but she was the one he decided to marry, and so Anne left her home in 1539. The marriage did not last long, only six months, before Henry divorced her. Anne was a bit disappointed, but Henry was able to provide her with a wealthy lifestyle, one fit for a former queen.  There were talks about Anne becoming queen again after the fall of Katherine Howard, but it never happened. Anne was able to form a close relationship with Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter since they were so close in age. Even when she was not queen, Anne of Cleves kept a close eye on what was happening, not only in the English court but what was happening in her beloved Germany. As stated before, Anne did outlive Henry VIII, the rest of his wives and King Edward VI. Anne of Cleves died at the age of 41 on July 16, 1557.

This is the first time that I have read a book by Sarah-Beth Watkins and I really enjoyed how easy it was to read and the amount of information in this book. I did not know a whole lot about Anne of Cleves before reading this book, other than the fact that she was married to Henry VIII for a short time. Watkins’ book packs in so much information that you want to learn more about Anne of Cleves and her family.  This book is well researched and thoroughly enjoyable. If you want a fantastic book to introduce you to the life of Anne of Cleves, I highly recommend you read “Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.