When Flora Chapman’s husband dies in a bizarre ballooning accident, she suddenly realises her new freedom. Edward Chapman dominated Flora’s life, but now she can return to researching in earnest the history of their village, Hurcott Ducis, only one of her ideas that Edward hijacked for his own.
A reference to Anna of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, leads Flora to Paris and the Louvre. Hans Holbein’s portrait of Anna captures Flora’s imagination and, fascinated, she does not stop until she has unearthed the true story behind the woman who was rejected by Henry and blighted by the title of the ‘Flanders Mare’.
In her own words Anna tells her story: how she was brought up as a devout Catholic, a virgin when she married Henry whose obese, disease-ridden body disgusted her. After their brief marriage Anna was retired with comfortable accommodation and a generous pension, often acting as surrogate aunt to the princesses, Mary and Elizabeth. But, fearful of Henry’s reputation, she could never be certain of her safety. The possibility that she might end up on the executioner’s block was never far from her thoughts, but Anna keeps her counsel and her head.
Flora finds a soul mate in Anna, both amenable women. When her history of the village is applauded, as usual, Edward steals her thunder and is awarded the posthumous glory.
In a delightful interweaving of two histories, Mavis Cheek produces an in depth study of love, life and self-preservation with understanding and humour.