Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets: Six Tudor Queens 4

Written by Alison Weir
Review by Carol McGrath

Anna of Kleve (or Anne of Cleves as she is known to most English readers) is the least known of Henry VIII’s queens because she was speedily divorced, for reasons that remain strange and complex. Weir traces this to a teenage romance.

Anna, aged 14, falls in love with her cousin, Otho, unaware that their sexual encounter will impact upon the marriage negotiated with Henry VIII by her family. The historical record says little about Anna’s upbringing, although it is on record that Henry said to Thomas Cromwell after his wedding night: ‘I liked her not much before but now I like her much worse, for I have felt her body and her breasts and thereby as I can judge, she should be no maid…’

Whilst this romantic theme is speculative, it is plausible. Anna of Kleve is a thoroughly researched novel, conveying the tense atmosphere created by Anna’s anxieties and fears and the threatening factions at Henry’s court. It presents a large gallery of characters, mostly real historical personages, supportive of Anna and detrimental, brilliantly and fully realised. This is an outstanding novel, the most intriguing so far in Weir’s ‘Six Queens’ series.

Weir portrays Anna as pragmatic, clever, attractive (no Flanders Mare), and frequently terrified, kind and down-to-earth as well as queenly. She enjoys her months as Queen and likes Henry throughout her life. He comes to regard her as his sister, and her divorce settlement is generous. Anna is a survivor, even during Mary’s reign when she is suspected of plotting against the Queen. Weir tells her story with passion, a strong emotional pulse and an excellent knowledge base, creating a novel which will keep her readers page-turning.