Review: My Lady of Cleves
My Lady of Cleves covers the life of Anne of Cleves from right before her marriage to Henry VIII until his death in 1547. The story opens with an agitated King Henry VIII, talking with his ministers about his need for a new wife after the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour in childbed. Among the candidates are the Duchess of Milan and the Cleves Princesses. The Duchess of Milan has already replied with “Only if I had two heads”! Smart girl!
Hans Holbein is sent to Cleves to paint both Anne and her sister, Amelia. Once there he becomes quite smitten with Anne and they begin a friendship. He paints a flattering picture of her because that is the way he sees her. Unfortunately, Henry does not see the same way and is almost instantly put off by Anne’s looks and hard mannerisms. Henry likes the petite type (go figure!).
We follow Anne through her short marriage to Henry, her annulment, “retirement” to Richmond Palace, Henry’s next marriage to Katherine Howard and her eventual downfall. Anne even plays a part in the infamous scene where Katherine is desperate to talk to Henry and goes screaming for him through the halls of the Palace. Anne seems to resign herself to her fate; after all she still has her head! She genuinely enjoys the life of a Princess of England; she can come and go as she pleases and has no husband or man to answer to. In seeing the freedom that Anne as a “woman” had, that had to have been a big impact on Elizabeth I, who always said she would never have a master.
My Lady of Cleves was an interesting look into a woman that survived marriage to Henry VIII. Anne is a very likeable, intelligent, straightforward woman and I think she would have made a wonderful Queen, had she been given the chance. It pulls on your heartstrings to know that she never had the children she wanted and never married. I wish the story was longer and covered the time during Mary’s rule as Queen - I would have liked to have heard Anne’s thoughts on “Bloody Mary”.
Margaret Campbell Barnes is also the author of Brief, Gaudy Hour, a novel on Anne Boleyn. Click here for more information on Brief, Gaudy Hour click here.
Note: Anne of Cleves died at Hever Castle on July 16, 1557. She lived 10 years past Henry. Her tomb is in a “hard to find place” in Westminster Abbey.
Song: "Sweet Dreams" by Tori Amos