#135 ~ My Lady of Cleves

January 14, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading | 9 Comments
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My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Anne of Cleves was the most unlikely of all of Henry VIII’s wives. She did not especially want to be queen, she was not physically beautiful, and she was rather forced upon him in order to produce an heir. Yet, along with Katherine of Aragon, she is a wife to which Henry should have cleaved to permanently. She is also my favorite. The first time I learned of her and found out that she was from a territory that is now the Netherlands, she had a special place in this Dutch heart of mine. Therefore, when I first heard of this novel on Reading Adventures, I new that I had to read it. I couldn’t have been more pleased when a wonderful co-worker of mine gave it to me for my birthday. Thank you, Poorna!

From the beginning, Barnes covers the known facts about the search for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne’s betrothal, her first regrettable moments with Henry, their short marriage, and swift divorce deftly. As much as I loved The Boleyn Inheritance, it is the author’s interpretation of those events that make this novel such a delight to read. For example, Barnes’ Anne did not want to leave her country, her family, or her people. This is just as well because her sister Amelia was prettier and was excited by the prospect of becoming queen. To her surprise, Hans Holbien, the artist sent to paint the portraits of the royal daughters of Cleves saw a beauty in her that most missed. The way this quality was painted is exactly what captured Henry’s eye. Unfortunately, Henry couldn’t see that when they met in person. The way in which the events surrounding their divorce played out in this novel was interesting and this view of Anne was endearing. I like to think of her in this way.

There was one lost opportunity in this novel. After Henry chooses Anne, we next find her on her journey to England. We do not experience how the news of Henry’s choice impacts Anne, her family, or the people she serves. We do not see her leave her home for the last time. We do not see how being overlooked by a king affected Amelia. As Anne’s life in England as it pertains to the throne are well known, it is precisely those missing details that would really grab and inspire my imagination. Certainly I can make up my own scenes, but I read historical fiction to have those undocumented moments come alive on the page. This was a minor drawback. It did not keep me from enjoying this novel at all. Still, the mild disappointment over what could have been, especially with an author so skilled, remains with me.

My Lady of Cleves is a novel I will always cherish. She was a strong woman who had to work hard to overcome her looks, which always felt like a shortcoming to her. I can’t quite place my finger on a specific passage, but Chapters 17 and 18 were beautiful in the way in which they depict the turning point in Anne’s life. What was accomplished there made the novel and solidified Anne’s place in my heart among Henry’s wives. She deserved the freedom and solitude that she found at Richmond. I’d wager that she was the only woman deeply involved with Henry who died happy and content with her life. I am glad that the author chose to bring Anne to the forefront. Historical figures do not have to be tyrants or tarts to be compelling. Sometimes a heroine with just a dash of fire when scorned is exactly what is needed to satisfy. This novel is a must for Tudor fans, but would be a delight for any reader.

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To buy this book, click here.

#52 ~ The Autobiography of Henry VIII

December 20, 2007 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Sexual Identity | 8 Comments
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The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George

As 2007 was the year that I fell in love with the Tudors, what better way to close it than by reading this book by Margaret George? It was a great choice. From the beginning where Will Somers and Catherine Carey Knollys exchange letters regarding the “manuscript” of Henry’s memoirs through the very end where Will writes about Henry’s funeral it is a pleasure to read.

Having read all of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series and the Carolly Erickson‘s The Last Wife of Henry VIII first in no way diminished this book. George’s descriptions of the executions of Anne Boleyn and her male companions gave me an almost physical response despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen. I had a hard time getting to sleep the night I read those accounts. I found myself willing Catherine Howard to get a clue/brain and change her behavior. Alas, she did not.

It was interesting to see how different authors portrayed the different historical characters. For example, Mary Boleyn is portrayed completely different here than she is in The Other Boleyn Girl. She is simply a royal whore in this book while she is a woman forced to become a token in her family’s plot in Gregory’s novel. It may simply be naive on my part, but I hope that she really was a woman of some virtue. Someone had to have been. I also enjoyed the characterization of both Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon.

In the other books, Henry came off as plain crazy and perhaps even a touch evil. In George’s book I liked that Henry felt more human. We can all delude ourselves when we want reality to fit into a specific box. It’s just that Henry had executioners available to take care of the messier realities. I really enjoyed this version of the love affair between Henry and Katherine of Aragon. How might history have changed had their son lived? Where would the Tudors be today? Although this book was over 900 pages long, it was a quick and enjoyable read. It was a wonderful way to complete my reading goal for the year.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#24 ~ The Last Wife of Henry VIII

May 22, 2007 at 10:52 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading | 6 Comments
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The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson

This was my first foray into books about the wives of Henry the 8th that was not written by Philippa Gregory. I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned that the quality of the writing and the story would not meet my expectations. Thankfully, that was not so. I enjoyed The Last Wife of Henry VIII very much.

This novel tells the story of Catherine Parr, the woman who was to become Henry’s last wife – and one of only two who managed to survive him. Unlike several of Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr did not have ambitions to become queen or to hold any lofty title at that. She remained in Henry’s favor long after she first asked him to intercede on her behalf when settling the issue of her first marriage. From that point forward, it was simply a matter of the right stars falling into proper alignment.

The wife I did not write about

The wife I did not write about

Catherine blamed Henry for the death of her first husband and her unborn child. She cursed him and avoided him whenever possible. She even accepted the marriage proposal of a kindly, yet old, man to “escape” the king’s request that she join the court as one of Queen Katherine Howard‘s ladies in waiting. She did not love Lord Latimer, but he was a gentleman in every sense of the word and she enjoyed caring for her stepdaughter. It was while married to him that she met and became lovers with Thomas Seymour, the uncle of Henry’s only male heir, Prince Edward. There plans for marrying after Lord Latimer’s death were thwarted, however, by Henry. As her soveriegn king, Catherine could not turn down his proposal. All that Catherine had left was the courage and the hope to survive her third marriage with her life.

While reading this book, I felt as though I got to know a little of what it was like to live with our King Henry at the end of his life. It was actually quite sad how paranoid and unhappy he became. He started down the slippery slope of believing his own hype years before, but as his health declined, his common sense and ability to discern situations and people quickly deteriorated. He was a man who had everything, yet nothing at all.

#19 ~ The Boleyn Inheritance

April 30, 2007 at 8:22 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

I was so excited to begin reading this book. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl so much that I had to force myself to read other types of books before buying this one. The Boleyn Inheritance did not disappoint me. It is the continuation of the Boleyn family story after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and is told from the perspective of three different women who cannot avoid Henry the 8th’s dangerous court: Jane Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard. Jane Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister-in-law who sent the Queen and her own husband to their deaths, has been taken into the confidence of the Duke of Norfolk. He is the Howard family patriarch who bailed out on his niece and nephew to secure his place in King Henry’s court and to save his own life. He brought Jane back to court to be his loyal informant when Henry married Anne of Cleves.

We meet Anne of Cleves posing for a portrait to be sent to King Henry. He was to use the portraits to select his fourth wife. His third wife, Jane Seymour, had died from an infection brought about by the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward. Anne desperately wanted to Henry to select her so that she could flee the land of her birth and be rid of her family. Her brother was the Duke of Cleves. He locked his own father away because of the loss of his mental faculties. Anne feared for own sanity if fate kept her in her brother’s household under her mother’s suspicious eye.

Katherine Howard is a young, selfish girl. Although she was not raised in prosperity, she believed that she was meant only for luxury. While living in her grandmother’s house at the tender age of 14, she does not choose her friends carefully. She also didn’t guard her “maidenhood” or see any reason to refrain from anything that was fun or could advance herself financially. In her naiveté, she agrees to marry a young man and even exchanges vows with him in church in secret. In that day, doing such constituted marriage just as much as a ceremony with a priest. After her “groom” leaves to make their fortune in Ireland, she jumps at the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle’s offer to join the court as a maiden-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves. Little does she suspect that the Duke of Norfolk was only interested in her good looks as it might provide a way to get a Howard woman back into King Henry’s bed.

Much is known about the life and monarchy of Henry the 8th. In this book, the stories of his marriages of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard to Henry the 8th are told from the perspective of each of these women as well as Jane Boleyn. Although her books are works of fiction, Philippa Gregory brings the women in his life to life for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you know their fate before you read this book. The voices of these women are engaging. They become more than just Henry’s wives or members of court. The reader becomes interested in their lives and their dreams. Just because you know who will lose her head doesn’t mean you don’t want to yell out to her to stop as she makes the wrong turn that leads her to the scaffold.

Once again, upon finishing this book, I had to force myself to read something that had nothing to do with Henry the 8th, his wives, England, or anything old enough to be considered historical. It was difficult. I find that my interests are pointing me more and more to these books. It could be said that I’m giving in to “chick lit,” but I don’t believe that is true. This was a novel, but it was based upon facts that were researched by the author. I did not know what was to become of any of the three narrators when I started this book. I learned some history as a result. I may not have learned dates but I can now give an overview of five of Henry’s six marriages and explain how they took place and what brought them to an end. It’s not all about the women, either. I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I begin The Autobiography of Henry the 8th. He was a fascinating man. I’d like to learn more about him from his perspective, even if it is from another work of fiction.

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To buy this book, click here.

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